Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.
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).
And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;
2. my mouth … sword—(Isa 11:4; Re 19:15). The double office of the Word of God, saving and damnatory, is implied (Isa 50:4; Joh 12:48; Heb 4:12).
shaft—(Ps 45:5). "Polished," that is, free from all rust, implies His unsullied purity.
in … quiver … hid me—Like a sword in its scabbard, or a shaft in the quiver, Messiah, before His appearing, was hid with God, ready to be drawn forth at the moment God saw fit [Hengstenberg]; also always protected by God, as the arrow by the quiver (Isa 51:16).
And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.
3. Israel—applied to Messiah, according to the true import of the name, the Prince who had power with God in wrestling in behalf of man, and who prevails (Ge 32:28; Ho 12:3, 4). He is also the ideal Israel, the representative man of the nation (compare Mt 2:15 with Ho 11:1).
in whom … glorified—(Joh 14:13; 17:1-5).
Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God.
in vain—comparatively in the case of the greater number of His own countrymen. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (Isa 53:1-3; Lu 19:14; Joh 1:11; 7:5). Only a hundred twenty disciples met after His personal ministry was ended (Ac 1:15).
yet … my judgment … with the Lord—Ultimately, God will do justice to My cause, and reward (Margin for "work," compare Isa 40:10; 62:11) My labors and sufferings. He was never "discouraged" (Isa 42:4; 50:7, 10). He calmly, in spite of seeming ill success for the time, left the result with God, confident of final triumph (Isa 53:10-12; 1Pe 2:23). So the ministers of Christ (1Co 4:1-5; 1Pe 4:19).
And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength.
5. The reason why He was confident that His work would be accepted and rewarded, namely, because He is "glorious in the eyes of Jehovah," &c.
to bring Jacob again to him—(Mt 15:24; Ac 3:26).
Though Israel be not gathered—metaphor from a scattered flock which the shepherd gathers together again; or a hen and her chickens (Mt 23:37). Instead of the text "not," the Keri has the similar Hebrew word, "to Him," which the parallelism favors: "And that Israel may be gathered to Him."
yet—rather, parenthetically. "For I am glorious, &c., and My God is My strength." Then (Isa 49:6) resuming the words from the beginning of Isa 49:5, "He saith" (I repeat), &c. Horsley explains, "Notwithstanding the incredulity of the Jews, Messiah shall be glorified in the conversion of the Gentiles," reading as English Version: but if the Keri be read, "Israel shall at one time or other be gathered, notwithstanding their incredulity during Messiah's sojourn on earth."
And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
6. It is a light thing—"It is too little that Thou shouldest," [Hengstenberg], that is, It is not enough honor to Thee to raise up Jacob and Israel, but I design for Thee more, namely, that Thou shouldest be the means of enlightening the Gentiles (Isa 42:6, 7; 60:3).
the preserved—namely, those remaining after the judgments of God on the nation—the elect remnant of Israel reserved for mercy. Lowth, with a slight but needless change of the Hebrew, translates for "tribes" and "preserved," the "scions"—the "branches."
Thus saith the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the LORD that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee.
7. whom man despiseth—Hebrew, "the despised of soul," that is, by every soul, by all men (Isa 52:14, 15; 53:3; 50:6-9; Ps 22:6). Lowth translates, "whose person is despised."
abhorreth—literally, "who is an abomination to the nation" (Lu 23:18-23). The Jews contemptuously call Him always Tolvi, "the crucified." I prefer, on account of Goi, the Hebrew term for nation being usually applied to the Gentiles, and that for people to the Jews (Ho 1:9; so the Greek terms respectively also Laos and Ethne, Ro 9:25), to take "nation" here collectively for the Gentile world, which also spurned Him (Ps 2:1-3; Ac 4:25-27).
servant of rulers—(Mt 17:27). He who would not exert His power against the rulers (Mt 26:52, 53).
shall see—namely the fulfilment of God's promises (Isa 49:3, 6), "when He (shall be) a light to the Gentiles."
arise—to reverence Thee (Ps 72:10, 11; Php 2:10).
princes also—rather, for the parallelism, supply the ellipsis, thus, "Princes shall see and shall worship."
faithful—namely, to His promises.
choose thee—as God's elect (Isa 42:1).
Thus saith the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages;
8. Messiah is represented as having asked for the grace of God in behalf of sinners; this verse contains God the Father's favorable answer.
an acceptable time—"In a time of grace" [Hengstenberg]. A limited time (Isa 61:2; 2Co 6:2). The time judged by God to be the best fitted for effecting the purposes of His grace by Messiah.
heard thee—(Ps 2:8; Heb 5:7).
day of salvation—when "the fulness of time" (Ga 4:4) shall have come. The day of salvation is "to-day" (Heb 4:7).
helped—given Thee the help needed to enable Thee, as man, to accomplish man's salvation.
preserve—from the assaults and efforts of Satan, to divert Thee from Thy voluntary death to save man.
covenant of the people—(See on Isa 42:6). "The people," in the singular, is always applied exclusively to Israel.
establish the earth—rather, "to restore the land," namely, Canaan to Israel. Spiritually, the restoration of the Church (the spiritual Israel) to the heavenly land forfeited by man's sin is also included.
cause to inherit … desolate heritages—image from the desolate state of Judea during the Babylonish captivity. Spiritually, the Gentile world, a moral waste, shall become a garden of the Lord. Literally, Judea lying desolate for ages shall be possessed again by Israel (compare Isa 61:7, "in their land"). Jesus, the antitype of, and bearing the same name as Joshua (Heb 4:8), shall, like him, divide the land among its true heirs (Isa 54:3; 61:4).
That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.
9. (Isa 42:7; Zec 9:12).
prisoners—the Jews bound in legal bondage.
them … in darkness—the Gentiles having no light as to the one true God [Vitringa].
Show yourselves—not only see but be seen (Mt 5:16; Mr 5:19). Come forth from the darkness of your prison into the light of the Sun of righteousness.
in the ways, &c.—In a desert there are no "ways," nor "high places," with "pastures"; thus the sense is: "They shall have their pastures, not in deserts, but in cultivated and inhabited places." Laying aside the figure, the churches of Christ at the first shall be gathered, not in obscure and unknown regions, but in the most populous parts of the Roman empire, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, &c. [Vitringa]. Another sense probably is the right one. Israel, on its way back to the Holy Land, shall not have to turn aside to devious paths in search of necessaries, but shall find them in all places wherever their route lies; so Rosenmuller. God will supply them as if He should make the grass grow in the trodden ways and on the barren high places.
They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.
10. Messiah will abundantly satisfy all the wants, both of literal Israel on their way to Palestine, and of the spiritual on their way to heaven, as their Shepherd (Isa 65:13; Mt 5:6), also in heaven (Re 7:16, 17).
And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.
11. my—All things are God's.
mountains a way—I will remove all obstructions out of the way (Isa 40:4).
exalted—that is, cast up (Isa 57:14; 62:10); for instance, over valleys. Vitringa explains "mountains" as great kingdoms, Egypt, Syria, &c., subjected to Rome, to facilitate the spreading of the Gospel; "highways," the Christian doctrine wherein those who join the Church walk, and which, at the time of Constantine, was to be raised into prominence before all, and publicly protected (Isa 35:8, 9).
Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim.
12. Sinim—The Arabians and other Asiatics called China Sin, or Tchin; the Chinese had no special name for themselves, but either adopted that of the reigning dynasty or some high-sounding titles. This view of "Sinim" suits the context which requires a people to be meant "from far," and distinct from those "from the north and from the west" [Gesenius].
Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.
13. So Re 12:12. God will have mercy on the afflicted, because of His compassion; on His afflicted, because of His covenant.
But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.
14. Zion—the literal Israel's complaint, as if God had forsaken her in the Babylonian captivity; also in their dispersion previous to their future restoration; thereby God's mercy shall be called forth (Isa 63:15-19; Ps 77:9, 10; 102:17).
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
15. (Isa 44:21; Ps 103:13; Mt 7:11).
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
16. Alluding to the Jews' custom (perhaps drawn from Ex 13:9) of puncturing on their hands a representation of their city and temple, in token of zeal for them [Lowth], (So 8:6).
Thy children shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.
17. Thy children—Israel (Isa 49:20, 21; Isa 43:6). Jerome reads, for "Thy children," "Thy builders"; they that destroyed thee shall hasten to build thee.
haste—to rebuild thy desolate capital.
shall go forth—Thy destroyers shall leave Judea to Israel in undisturbed possession.
Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee. As I live, saith the LORD, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on thee, as a bride doeth.
18. As Zion is often compared to a bride (Isa 54:5), so the accession of converts is like bridal ornaments ("jewels," Isa 62:3; Mal 3:17). Her literal children are, however, more immediately meant, as the context refers to their restoration; and only secondarily to her spiritual children by conversion to Christ. Israel shall be the means of the final complete conversion of the nations (Mic 5:7; Ro 11:12, 15).
as a bride—namely, binds on her ornaments.
For thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away.
19. land of thy destruction—thy land once the scene of destruction.
too narrow—(Isa 54:1, 2; Zec 10:10).
The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other, shall say again in thine ears, The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell.
20. children … after … other—rather, "the children of thy widowhood," that is, the children of whom thou hast been bereft during their dispersion in other lands (see on Isa 47:8) [Maurer].
give place—rather, "stand close to me," namely, in order that we may be the more able to dwell in in the narrow place [Horsley]. Compare as to Israel's spiritual children, and the extension of the gospel sphere, Ro 15:19, 24; 2Co 10:14-16. But Isa 49:22 (compare Isa 66:20) shows that her literal children are primarily meant. Gesenius translates, "Make room."
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. 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.
Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.
22. lift … hand—that is, beckon to (see on Isa 13:2).
bring … sons in … arms—The Gentiles shall aid in restoring Israel to its own land (Isa 60:4; 66:20). Children able to support themselves are carried on the shoulders in the East; but infants, in the arms, or astride on one haunch (Isa 60:12). "Thy sons" must be distinct from "the Gentiles," who carry them; and therefore cannot primarily refer to converts among the Gentiles.
And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.
23. lick … dust—that is, kiss thy feet in token of humble submission.
for they … not … ashamed … wait for me—The restoration of Israel shall be in answer to their prayerful waiting on the Lord (Isa 30:18, 19; Ps 102:16, 17; Zec 12:10; 14:3).
Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?
24. the prey—Israel, long a prey to mighty Gentile nations, whose oppression of her shall reach its highest point under Antichrist (Da 11:36, 37, 41, 45).
lawful captive—the Jews justly consigned for their sins (Isa 50:1) as captives to the foe. Secondarily, Satan and Death are "the mighty" conquerors of man, upon whom his sin give them their "lawful" claim. Christ answers that claim for the sinners, and so the captive is set free (Job 19:25; 14:14; Mt 12:29; Ho 6:2, where Isa 49:4 shows the primary reference is to Israel's restoration, to which the resurrection corresponds; Isa 26:19; Eph 4:8; Heb 2:14, 15). Others not so well translate, "the captives taken from among the just Israelites."
But thus saith the LORD, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.
25. (Isa 53:12; Ps 68:18; Col 2:15).
contend with him, &c.—(Isa 54:17).
And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the LORD am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.
26. feed … own flesh—a phrase for internal strifes (Isa 9:20).
own blood—a just retribution for their having shed the blood of God's servants (Re 16:6).
sweet wine—that is, must, or new wine, the pure juice which flows from the heap of grapes before they are pressed; the ancients could preserve it for a long time, so as to retain its flavor. It was so mild that it required a large quantity to intoxicate; thus the idea here is that very much blood would be shed (Re 14:10, 20).
all flesh shall, &c.—the effect on the world of God's judgments (Isa 66:15, 16, 18, 19; Re 15:3, 4).