Isaiah 49:1 Commentaries: Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me.
Isaiah 49:1
Listen, O isles, to me; and listen, you people, from far; The LORD has called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother has he made mention of my name.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XLIX.

(1) Listen, O isles . . .—The argument against idolatry has been brought to its close, and a new section opens, and with it there is a new speaker, the mysterious “Servant of the Lord,” (Isaiah 42:1), at once identified with Israel (Isaiah 49:3), in fulfilling its ideal, and yet distinguished from it, as its Restorer and Redeemer. “Isles” as before stand vaguely for “far off countries.” The invitation is addressed to the heathen far and wide.

The Lord hath called me from the womb.—The words indicate a predestined vocation. (Comp. Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:15; Luke 1:41; Galatians 1:15.) Admitting the thought of a Divine order working in human history, the idea of such a vocation follows in inevitable sequence.

Isaiah 49:1. Listen, O isles, &c. — “Hitherto the subject of the prophecy has been chiefly confined to the redemption from the captivity of Babylon, with strong intimations of a more important deliverance sometimes thrown in; to the refutation of idolatry, and the demonstration of the infinite power, wisdom, and foreknowledge of God. The character and office of the Messiah were exhibited in general terms, at the beginning of chap. 42., but here he is introduced in person, declaring the full extent of his commission; which is not only to restore the Israelites, and reconcile them to their Lord and Father, from whom they had so often revolted, but to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, to call them to the knowledge and obedience of the true God, and to bring them to be one church, together with the Israelites, and to partake with them of the same common salvation procured for all, by the great Redeemer and Reconciler of man to God.” — Bishop Lowth. By the isles here, and the people from far, the Gentiles are meant, who are frequently addressed by the appellation of isles, and who, in general, lived in countries far remote from Judea, now the only place of God’s special presence and worship. The person who addresses them is the Messiah, as evidently appears from Isaiah 49:6, and several other passages of this chapter. If the character here exhibited can, in any sense, as some think it may, belong to the prophet, “yet, in some parts,” as Bishop Lowth justly observes, “it must belong exclusively to Christ; and in all parts to him in a much fuller and more proper sense.” God having, in the last words of the preceding chapter, intimated by his prophet, that many of the Jews, notwithstanding the glorious deliverance from Babylon vouchsafed them, would be wicked, and foreknowing that he would cast them off for their wickedness, the Messiah here addresses his speech to the Gentiles, and invites them to hearken to those counsels and doctrines which he foresaw the Jews would reject. The Lord hath called me from the womb — This, or the like expression, is used of Jeremiah 1:5, and of Paul, Galatians 1:15; but it was far more eminently true of Christ, who, as he was chosen to this great office of redemption from eternity, so he was separated and called to it before he was born, being both conceived and sanctified by the Holy Ghost in his mother’s womb, and sent into the world upon this errand.49:1-6 The great Author of redemption shows the authority for his work. The sword of his word slays the lusts of his people, and all at enmity with them. His sharp arrows wound the conscience; but all these wounds will be healed, when the sinner prays to him for mercy. But even the Redeemer, who spake as never man spake in his personal ministry, often seemed to labour in vain. And if Jacob will not be brought back to God, and Israel will not be gathered, still Christ will be glorious. This promise is in part fulfilled in the calling of the Gentiles. Men perish in darkness. But Christ enlightens men, and so makes them holy and happy.Listen - This is the exordium, or introduction. According to the interpretation which refers it to the Messiah, it is to be regarded as the voice of the Redeemer calling the distant parts of the earth to give a respectful attention to the statement of his qualifications for his work, and to the assurances that his salvation would be extended to them (compare Isaiah 41:1). The Redeemer here is to be regarded as having already come in the flesh, and as having been rejected and despised by the Jews (see Isaiah 49:4-5), and as now turning to the Gentile world, and proffering salvation to them. The time when this is supposed to occur, therefore, as seen by the prophet, is when the Messiah had preached in vain to his own countrymen, and when there was a manifest fitness and propriety in his extending the offer of salvation to the pagan world.

O isles - Ye distant lands (see the note at Isaiah 41:1). The word is used here, as it is there, in the sense of countries beyond sea; distant, unknown regions; the dark, pagan world.

Ye people from far - The reason why the Messiah thus addresses them is stated in Isaiah 49:6. It is because he was appointed to be a light to them, and because, having been rejected by the Jewish nation, it was resolved to extend the offers and the blessings of salvation to other lands.

The Lord hath called me from the womb - Yahweh hath set me apart to this office from my very birth. The stress here is laid on the fact that he was thus called, and not on the particular time when it was done. The idea is, that he had not presumptuously assumed this office; he had not entered on it without being appointed to it; he had been designated to it even before he was born (see Isaiah 49:5). A similar expression is used in respect to Jeremiah Jer 1:5 : 'Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.' Paul also uses a similar expression respecting himself Galatians 1:15 : 'But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb.' That this actually occurred in regard to the Redeemer, it is not needful to pause here to show (see Luke 1:31).

From the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name - This is another form of stating the fact that he had been designated to this office from his very infancy. Many have supposed that the reference here is to the fact that Mary was commanded by the angel, before his birth, to call his name Jesus Luke 1:31. The same command was also repeated to Joseph in a dream Matthew 1:21. So Jerome, Vitringa, Michaelis, and some others understand it. By others it has been supposed that the phrase 'he hath made mention of my name is the same as to call. The Hebrew is literally, 'He has caused my name to be remembered from the bowels of my mother.' The Septuagint renders it, 'He hath called my name.' Grotius renders it, 'He has given to me a beautiful name, by which salvation is signified as about to come from the Lord.' I see no objection to the supposition that this refers to the fact that his name was actually designated before he was born. The phrase seems obviously to imply more than merely to call to an office; and as his name was thus actually designated by God, and as he designed that there should be special significancy and applicability in the name, there can be no impropriety in supposing that this refers to that fact. If so, the idea is, that he was not only appointed to the work of the Messiah from his birth, but that he actually had a name given him by God before he was born, which expressed the fact that he would save people, and which constituted a reason why the distant pagan lands should hearken to his voice.

CHAPTER 49

Isa 49:1-26. Similar to Chapter 42:1-7 (Isa 49:1-9).

Messiah, as the ideal Israel (Isa 49:3), states the object of His mission, His want of success for a time, yet His certainty of ultimate success.

1. O isles—Messiah is here regarded as having been rejected by the Jews (Isa 49:4, 5), and as now turning to the Gentiles, to whom the Father hath given Him "for a light and salvation." "Isles" mean all regions beyond sea.

from the womb—(Isa 44:2; Lu 1:31; Joh 10:36).

from … bowels … mention of my name—His name "Jesus" (that is, God-Saviour) was designated by God before His birth (Mt 1:21).Christ, being sent to the Jews, complaineth of them, Isaiah 49:1-4. He is sent to the Gentiles with.gracious promises, Isaiah 49:5-12. God’s love to his church perpetual, Isaiah 49:13-17. The ample restoration of the church, and its enlargement, Isaiah 49:18-23, Powerful deliverance out of captivity, Isaiah 49:24-26.

Listen, O isles. God having in the last words secretly signified the wickedness of the Jewish nation, after so glorious a deliverance, and foreseeing that, for their wickedness, he should cast them off, he here turneth his speech to the nations of the Gentiles, who are frequently described in this prophecy and elsewhere under the title of isles, as hath been formerly noted, and inviteth them to hearken to those counsels and doctrines which the Jews would reject.

Unto me; unto Christ; for it is apparent from Isaiah 49:6, and other passages of this chapter, that Isaiah speaks these words ill the name of Christ, by whose Spirit they were dictated to him, 1 Peter 1:11, and unto whom alone they belong, as we shall see. So this chapter is a prophecy of Christ, which also is very proper and seasonable in this place. The prophet having at large prophesied of the deliverance of the Jews out of Babylon, he now proceeds further, and prophesieth of the redemption of the world by Christ, of which that deliverance out of Babylon was a type and forerunner.

Hearken, ye people, from far; which live in countries far from Judea, now the only place of God’s special presence and worship. It is evident from the foregoing clause, and many other passages following, that he speaks of distance of place, not of time.

The Lord hath called me from the womb: this or the like expression is used of Jeremiah, Isaiah 1:5, and of Paul, Galatians 1:15; but it was far more eminently true of Christ, who, as he was chosen to this great office of redemption from eternity, so he was separated and called to it before he was born, being both conceived and sanctified by the Holy Ghost in his mother’s womb, and sent into the world upon this errand; of which see Matthew 1:21 Luke 1:31, &c.; it. 11, &c.

Made mention of my name; called by my name, and by such a name as signified my office and work, in the places now mentioned.

Listen, O isles, unto me,.... These are not the words of Cyrus, as Lyra mentions; nor of the Prophet Isaiah, as Aben Ezra, Kimchi, and other Jewish writers think; but of Christ, calling upon the inhabitants of the isles to hearken to him; by whom are meant the inhabitants of islands properly so called, as ours of Great Britain, and may be chiefly designed, being a place where the Gospel of Christ came early, and has been long; or all such that dwell in countries beyond the sea, it being usual with the Jews to call all such countries isles that were beyond sea to them; Christ is the great Prophet of his church, and is alone to be hearkened unto, and in all things, Matthew 17:5,

and hearken, ye people, from far; that were afar off from the land of Judea, as well as afar off from God and Christ, and the knowledge of him, and of righteousness and salvation by him; the Gentile nations are meant; see Ephesians 2:12, for this is to be understood of kingdoms afar off, as the Targum paraphrases it; and not of distant and future things, to be accomplished hereafter, as Aben Ezra; taking this to be the subject they are required to hearken to, and not as descriptive of persons that are to hearken:

the Lord hath called me from the womb; to the office of a Mediator; to be Prophet, Priest, and King; to be the Saviour and Redeemer of men; he did not assume this to himself, but was called of God his Father, Hebrews 5:4, and that not only from the womb of his mother Mary, or as soon as he was conceived and born of her; but from the womb of eternity, from the womb of eternal purposes and decrees; for he was set forth, or foreordained in the purposes of God, to be the propitiation for sin; and was predestinated to be the Redeemer before the foundation of the world, even before he had a being in this world as man. So the Targum,

"the Lord, before I was, appointed me;''

he prepared a body for him, and appointed him to be his salvation. The Syriac version join, the words "from far" to this clause, as do the Septuagint and Arabic versions, contrary to the accents, and renders them, "of a long time the Lord hath called me, from the womb"; even from eternity:

from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name; Jarchi interprets this of Isaiah, whose name was fixed and given him by the Lord, while he was in his mother's bowels, signifying that he should prophesy of salvation and comfort; but it is much better to understand it of Christ, whose name Jesus, a Saviour, was made mention of by the Lord, while he was in his mother's womb, and before he was born, Matthew 1:20, for the words may be rendered, "before the womb, and before the bowels of my mother" (r); that is, before he was in them.

(r) "ante uterum----ante viscera matris meae", h. e. "antequam essem in utero, et in visceribus matris meae", Vitringa.

Listen, to me O isles; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called {a} me from {b} the womb; from the body of my mother hath he made mention of my name.

(a) This is spoken in the person of Christ, to assure the faithful that these promises should come to pass: for they were all made in him and in him would be performed.

(b) This is meant of the time that Christ would be manifested to the world, as in Ps 2:7.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1–3. The call and equipment of the Servant by Jehovah. The nations of the world are addressed, because the great announcement that the speaker has to make (Isaiah 49:6) concerns them. Although Jeremiah had already been conscious of being a “prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5), the self-consciousness here attributed to the Servant is too great to be that of any private individual, whether prophet or teacher.

O isles] see on ch. Isaiah 41:1. For people render peoples (R.V.).

the Lord hath called me (Isaiah 42:6 &c.) from the womb] Cf. ch. Isaiah 44:2; Isaiah 44:24, Isaiah 46:3, where the same metaphor is used of the beginning of the nation’s history. made mention of my name] Cf. Isaiah 43:1.

1–6. The Servant’s address to the nations. The passage forms the natural sequel to ch. Isaiah 42:1-4, and adds some fresh features to the portrait there presented. (1) The Servant, speaking now in his own name, expresses his consciousness of the mission entrusted to him by Jehovah (Isaiah 49:1-3). (2) He records his failure in the past, and the sense of disappointment caused in him by the apparent fruitlessness of his labour; yet his faith in his mission remains constant (Isaiah 49:4). (3) But now his doubts have been removed by a revelation of the great purpose for which Jehovah has raised him up; viz., to be the organ of His salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:5-6).

It still remains the most probable view that Israel is here spoken of under the name of the Servant of Jehovah; although two objections are raised in addition to those suggested by Isaiah 42:1-4. (a) The Servant is described as one who has a history and an experience behind him, as well as a mission to fulfil. Now this experience is not that of the nation, which was conscious of no unique religious mission, and therefore had no such sense of defeat as is described in Isaiah 49:4. And if we say that it is not the actual but the ideal Israel that is meant, we are asked to explain how an ideal can have a history, or when the ideal Israel was born, or before whom Jehovah mentioned its name (Duhm). (b) Another difficulty is created by the fact that the Servant is here expressly distinguished from Israel when it is said that the restoration of the nation is to be effected by his activity. These objections are perhaps sufficiently met by the consideration that the ideal represented by the Servant is one that has been partially realised in the experience of the best part of the nation. Since the beginning of prophecy there had been a section of the people that had laboured for the conversion of Israel, and there were doubtless many among the exiles whose feelings of disappointment are truthfully reflected by the language put into the mouth of the Servant. There is nothing unnatural in the supposition that this party should be regarded as embodying the true genius of Israel, or that their experience should be transferred to the ideal figure by which the prophet sets forth his inspired interpretation of Israel’s history. Nor is there any great difficulty in the further thought that the ideal Servant, as represented by this minority, laboured for the reunion and upbuilding of the future Israel. This also corresponds to a fact of history, for nothing is more certain than that but for the influence of the prophetic teaching the Israelitish nationality would have perished during the Captivity. The prophet’s conception of Israel’s unique position is singularly profound as well as elevated; but it does not appear that any feature thus far introduced into the portrait of Jehovah’s Servant violates the conditions of a natural personification. (See further Introduction, pp. xxxiii f.; and Appendix, Note I.)

Ch. Isaiah 49:1-13. The Servant of Jehovah: His Fidelity amidst Discouragements, and the ultimate Success of His Mission

The beginning of ch. 49 seems to mark a distinct advance in the development of the prophet’s conceptions. “The controversial tone, the repeated comparisons between Jehovah and the idols, with the arguments based upon them, disappear; the prophet feels that, as regards these points, he has made his position sufficiently secure. For the same reason, allusions to Cyrus and his conquest of Babylon cease also; that, likewise, is now taken for granted” (Driver, Isaiah 2, pp. 148 f.). In the remaining discourses (ch. 49–55) the author concentrates his attention almost exclusively on his central message of consolation, and the glorious future in store for Israel. His treatment of this theme moves along two lines, which alternate with each other as the manner of the writer is. The first is represented by the idea of the Servant of the Lord, the second by the figure of Zion, both being personifications, although in very different senses, of the people of Israel (see on ch. Isaiah 40:1). The Servant represents the ideal Israel as Jehovah’s instrument, first, in restoring the unity and prosperity of the nation, and second, in extending the knowledge of God to the nations of the world. Zion, on the other hand, is the representative of Israel in its passive aspect, as deserted and humbled in the present, but at the same time the recipient of the blessings which accrue from the work and sufferings of the Lord’s Servant.

The opening section consists of:—

i. A new description of the mission and experience of the Servant of Jehovah (cf. ch. Isaiah 42:1-4) in the form of an address by the Servant to the nations (Isaiah 49:1-6). These verses form the second of the four “Servant-passages” which occur in the book.

ii. A promise of speedy restoration to Israel, obviously based on the preceding description (Isaiah 49:7-12).

iii. A hymn of gratitude to Jehovah, called forth as usual by the prospect of deliverance (Isaiah 49:13).Verses 1-12. - JEHOVAH'S ATTESTATION OF HIS SERVANT'S MISSION. Jehovah called his Servant from the womb; mentioned him by name; made his mouth a sharp sword; held him in his hand; caused him to be a polished weapon; appointed him his Servant; assured him of a right and a recompense; appointed him, not only to restore and recover Israel, but to be a Light to the Gentiles, and to give salvation to the ends of the world (vers. 1-6); chose him (ver. 7); will help him (ver. 8); through him will both deliver the captive everywhere (ver. 9), and cause joy to break out in every part of heaven and earth (vers. 11-13). It is quite impossible that these things can be said of aught but a person, or of any person other than him in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed (Genesis 22:18). Verse 1. - Listen, O isles (comp. Isaiah 41:1; Isaiah 42:1, 4, 6). Since the beginning of ch. 43. Israel alone has been addressed. Now that the mission of the Servant of Jehovah is to be treated of, all the world must be summoned to hear, for all the world is directly interested. Ye people; rather, ye peoples, or ye nations. The Lord hath called me from the womb. Isaiah could not have said this of himself, for his "call" took place when he was of mature age. But Christ was designated for his office from the womb (Luke 1:31-33). He was also still "in the womb of his mother" when the name of Jesus was given to him (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31). The exhortation is now continued. Israel is to learn the incomparable nature of Jehovah from the work of redemption thus prepared in word and deed. The whole future depends upon the attitude which it henceforth assumes to His commandments. "Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I, Jehovah thy God, am He that teacheth thee to do that which profiteth, and leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldst go. O that thou hearkenedst to my commandments! then thy peace becomes like the river, and thy righteousness like waves of the sea; and thy seed becomes like the sand, and the children of thy body like the grains thereof: its name will not be cut off nor destroyed away from my countenance." Jehovah is Israel's rightful and right teacher and leader. להועיל is used in the same sense as in Isaiah 30:5 and Isaiah 44:10, to furnish what is useful, to produce what is beneficial or profitable. The optative לוּא is followed, as in Isaiah 63:19, by the preterite utinam attenderis, the idea of reality being mixed up with the wish. Instead of ויהי in the apodosis, we should expect ויהי (so would), as in Deuteronomy 32:29. The former points out the consequence of the wish regarded as already realized. Shâlōm, prosperity or health, will thereby come upon Israel in such abundance, that it will, as it were, bathe therein; and tsedâqâh, rectitude acceptable to God, so abundantly, that it, the sinful one, will be covered by it over and over again. Both of these, shâlōm and tsedâqâh, are introduced here as a divine gift, not merited by Israel, but only conditional upon that faith which gives heed to the word of God, especially to the word which promises redemption, and appropriates it to itself. Another consequence of the obedience of faith is, that Israel thereby becomes a numerous and eternally enduring nation. The play upon the words in כמעותיו מעיך is very conspicuous. Many expositors (e.g., Rashi, Gesenius, Hitzig, and Knobel) regard מעות as synonymous with מעים, and therefore as signifying the viscera, i.e., the beings that fill the heart of the sea; but it is much more natural to suppose that the suffix points back to chōl. Moreover, no such metaphorical use of viscera can be pointed out; and since in other instances the feminine plural (such as kenâphōth, qerânōth) denotes that which is artificial as distinguished from what is natural, it is impossible to see why the interior of the sea, which is elsewhere called lēbh (lebhabh, the heart), and indirectly also beten, should be called מעות instead of מעים. To all appearance מעותיו signifies the grains of sand (lxx, Jerome, Targ.); and this is confirmed by the fact that מעא (Neo-Heb. מעה numulus) is the Targum word for גּרה, and the Semitic root מע, related to מג; מק, melted, dissolved, signifies to be soft or tender. The conditional character of the concluding promise has its truth in the word מלּפני. Israel remains a nation even in its apostasy, but fallen under the punishment of kareth (of cutting off), under which individuals perish when they wickedly transgress the commandment of circumcision, and others of a similar kind. It is still a people, but rooted out and swept away from the gracious countenance of God, who no more acknowledges it as His own people.
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