Isaiah 49:21
Then shall you say in your heart, Who has begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? and who has brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been?
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(21) Who hath begotten me these . . .?—Better, who hath borne . . .? The widowed daughter of Zion cannot believe that these crowding children are her own, and asks, Who then is their mother? She, the widowed one, the prisoner, dragged hither and thither, could not claim them.

49:18-23 Zion is addressed as an afflicted widow, bereaved of her children. Numbers flock to her, and she is assured that they come to be a comfort to her. There are times when the church is desolate and few in number; yet its desolations shall not last for ever, and God will repair them. God can raise up friends for returning Israelites, even among Gentiles. They shall bring their children, and make them thy children. Let all deal tenderly and carefully with young converts and beginners in religion. Princes shall protect the church. It shall appear that God is the sovereign Lord of all. And those who in the exercise of faith, hope, and patience, wait on God for the fulfilment of his promises, shall never be confounded.Then shalt thou say in thine heart - Thou shalt wonder at the multitude, and shalt ask with astonishment from where they all come. This verse is designed to describe the great increase of the true people of God under the image of a mother who had been deprived of her children, who should suddenly see herself surrounded with more than had been lost, and should ask in astonishment from where they all came.

Who hath begotten me these - The idea here is, that the increase would be from other nations. They would not be the natural increase of Zion or Jerusalem, but they would come in from abroad - as if a family that had been bereaved should be increased by an accession from other families.

I have lost my children - Jerusalem had been desolated by wars, and had become like a widow that was bereft of all her sons (compare the notes at Isaiah 47:8-9).

A captive, and removing to and fro - A captive in Babylon, and compelled to wander from my own land, and to live in a strange and distant country.

These, where had they been? - The image in this entire verse is one of great beauty. It represents a mother who had been suddenly deprived of all her children, who had been made a widow, and conveyed as a captive from land to land. She had seen ruin spread all around her dwelling, and regarded herself as alone. Suddenly she finds herself restored to her home, and surrounded with a happy family. She sees it increased beyond its former numbers, and herself blessed with more than her former prosperity. She looks with surprise on this accession, and asks with wonder from where all these have come, and where they have been. The language in this verse is beautifully expressive of the agitation of such a state of mind, and of the effect which would be thus produced. The idea is plain. Jerusalem had been desolate. Her inhabitants had been carried captive, or had been put to death. But she should be restored, and the church of God would be increased by a vast accession from the Gentile world, so much that the narrow limits which had been formerly occupied - the territory of Palestine - would now be too small for the vast numbers that would be united to those who professed to love and worship God.

21. Who, &c.—Zion's joyful wonder at the unexpected restoration of the ten tribes. Secondarily, the accession of spiritual Israelites to the mother church of Jerusalem from the Gentiles is meant. This created surprise at first (Ac 10:45; 14:27; 15:3, 4).

lost … am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro—rather, "bereaved of … have been barren, an exile and outcast" [Horsley]. She had been "put away" by Jehovah, her husband (Isa 50:1); hence her wonder at the children begotten to her.

Then shalt thou say, not without admiration,

Who hath begotten me these? whence or by whom have I this numberless issue?

Seeing I have lost my children; seeing it is not long since that I was in a manner left childless. Am desolate; without a husband, being forsaken by God, who formerly owned himself for my Husband, Isaiah 54:5 Jeremiah 31:32, and elsewhere.

A captive, and removing to and fro; which condition is in many respects a great impediment to the procreation of children. Who hath brought up these? the same thing repeated again to express the miraculousness of this work, and the great surprisal of the Jews at it; which showeth that he speaks of the conversion of the Gentiles. Then shalt thou say in thine heart,.... In, a way of admiration, secretly within herself, astonished at the numerous crowds flocking in;

who hath begotten me these? not their natural parents, nor they themselves;

for they are not born of blood, nor of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh; nor ministers of the Gospel, though they are instruments, yet not the cause; but God only, Father, Son, and Spirit, to whom regeneration is only ascribed: regeneration is a wonderful work of God; it is unaccountable to the natural man; it is amazing to the saints themselves; and it is matter of astonishment to the church of God; especially when on a sudden, and without means, and in great numbers, men are born again; and particularly when these come from among the Gentiles, which seems to be the case here:

seeing I have lost my children; by captivity and the sword, by the tyranny and cruelty of the man of sin:

and am desolate; or alone, as if without a husband, or any to take care of her: this represents the church in the wilderness, during the reign of antichrist, Revelation 12:14, while she seems to be forsaken of the Lord her husband, though she is not:

and a captive; to the Romish antichrist; see Revelation 13:10,

and removing to and fro; being forced to flee from place to place, by reason of persecution: there is, no doubt, an allusion in all this to the case of the Jews in the Babylonish captivity:

and who hath brought up these? the same that begot them, even the Lord himself; who nourishes and brings up his children with the milk of the Gospel, and the breasts of Gospel ordinances; so that they are brought up from children to young men, from young men to fathers, till they become perfect men; even the church in the wilderness, with her children, are nourished by him, for a time, and times, and half a time, Revelation 12:14 which is wonderful:

behold, I was left alone; seemingly without husband or children, in a desolate and wilderness state:

these, where had they been? in the ruins of Adam's fall; in a state of darkness; in the graves of sin; in a pit wherein is no water; in the hands of Satan, and among wicked men; even in Babylon itself, but now called out; see Revelation 18:4.

Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been?
21. Zion is bewildered at finding herself once more “a joyful mother of children” (Psalm 113:9).

Who hath begotten] Rather, Who hath borne (in spite of the masculine gender of the verb). The peculiar figure is probably to be explained by the custom illustrated in Genesis 16:1 ff; Genesis 30:1 ff., &c. The exile was the time of Zion’s barrenness; the generation of Israelites that had grown up in a foreign land are regarded as not her natural children, although legally they belong to her, having been borne for her by a stranger.

seeing I have lost &c.] seeing I am childless and unfruitful. The clause immediately following (which must be rendered exiled and put away) introduces a conception alien to the image of the verse. Zion herself was not “exiled” but “left alone,” when her children were taken from her. The words are wanting in the LXX. and may be a gloss.

these, where had they been?] If this were the sense intended, the verb “had been” (or “were”) would probably require to have been expressed. But the question that Zion broods over is not where her children had been, but how she comes to have children at all, who are strangers to her. Render, therefore (with Dillmann), these, how (is it) with them? of what description are they? (cf. Jdg 8:18).Verse 21. - Who hath begotten me these? The Jewish Church is astounded at the influx of the Gentiles, and asks, "Where did they come from? Who has made them my children? Who has trained them?" That they are not her natural children she is sure, since she knows that she has been for a long time "bereaved and unfruitful" (Cheyne) - a captive, and a "wanderer" (Kay). It is certain that the Jewish Church did not at first altogether welcome the incoming of the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-3; Acts 15:1-11; Galatians 2:11-14, etc.). But the guidance of the Holy Spirit surmounted the difficulty (Acts 15:28). The prophet, looking back at the period of suffering from the standpoint of the deliverance, exclaims from the midst of this train of thought: Isaiah 49:14 "Zion said, Jehovah hath forsaken me, and the Lord hath forgotten me." The period of suffering which forces out this lamentation still continues. What follows, therefore, applies to the church of the present, i.e., of the captivity. Isaiah 49:15, Isaiah 49:16 "Does a woman forget her sucking child, so as not to have compassion upon the child of her womb? Even though mothers should forget, I will not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls stand continually before me." In reply to the complaining church, which knows that her home is in Zion-Jerusalem, and which has been kept so long away from her home, Jehovah sets forth His love, which is as inalienable as a mother's love, yea, far greater than even maternal love. On עוּל, the min in mērachēm is equivalent to ὥστε μή, as in Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 24:10; Isaiah 33:15, etc. גּם, so far as the actual sense is concerned, is equivalent to גּם־כּי (Ewald, 362, b): "granted that such (mothers) should forget, i.e., disown, their love." The picture of Zion (not merely the name, as Isaiah 49:16 clearly shows) is drawn in the inside of Jehovah's hands, just as men are accustomed to burn or puncture ornamental figures and mementoes upon the hand, the arm, and the forehead, and to colour the punctures with alhenna or indigo (see Tafel, xii., in vol. ii. pp. 33-35 of Lane's Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians). There is the figure of Zion, unapproachable to every creature, as close to Him as He is to Himself, and facing Him amidst all the emotions of His divine life. There has He the walls of Zion constantly before Him (on neged, see at Isaiah 1:15; Isaiah 24:23); and even if for a time they are broken down here below, with Him they have an eternal ideal existence, which must be realized again and again in an increasingly glorious form.
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