Matthew Poole's 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.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.
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;He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; as he made me the great Teacher of his church and of the world, so he assisted me by his Spirit, and made my word or doctrine quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, &c., as it is said to be, Hebrews 4:12, killing men’s lusts, convincing, humbling, and converting their souls; and mighty to the pulling down of strong holds, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, as we read, 2 Corinthians 10:4,5.
In the shadow of his hand hath he hid me; he will protect me by his power from all mine enemies, until I have finished the work for which he sent me.
Made me a polished shaft; like an arrow, whose point is bright and polished; which therefore pierceth deeper. This metaphor signifies the same thing with the former, Christ’s piercing of men’s hearts by his word and Spirit.
Quiver; where arrows are hid and kept. The quiver signifies the same thing with the shadow in the foregoing clause, even God’s powerful and gracious protection of him from dangers and mischiefs.
And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.As the name of David is sometimes given to his successors, 1 Kings 12:16, and particularly to Christ, Jeremiah 30:9 Ezekiel 34:23 Hosea 3:5, and Jacob is called, as many think, by the name of his grandfather, Abraham, Acts 7:16, and the name of Isaac is given to his posterity, Amos 7:9; so here the name of Israel may not unfitly be given to Christ, not only because he descended from his loins, but also because he was the true and the great Israel, who, in a more eminent manner, prevailed with God, that name signifies, of whom Jacob, who was first called Israel, was but a type. And as the name of Christ, the Head, is sometimes given to the body, the church, as 1 Corinthians 12:12; so it is not strange if, on the contrary, the name of Israel, which properly belongs to the church, be given to Christ the Head of it. But this word may be otherwise rendered, being joined either,
1. With the foregoing words,
Thou art my servant unto, or in, or
for Israel, i.e. to bring them back unto me, from whom they have revolted; or,
2. With the following words; it is Israel,
in whom I will glorify myself by thee.
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.Then I said, by way of objection. Lord, thou sayest thou wilt be glorified by my ministry; but I find it otherwise. I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, without any considerable fruit of my word and works among the Israelites.
My judgment; my right, the reward which by his promise and my purchase is my right. Judgment is oft put for that which is just or right, as Exodus 23:6 Job 8:3, and in many other places. And so this clause agrees with the next; and the sense of both is this; Though I see no fruit of my labour among the Jews, and meet with nothing but contempt, and reproach, and ill usage from them; yet God sees my fidelity and diligence in my work, and he will give judgment for me, and my reward is laid up with and by him, which he will give me in due time.
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.To bring Jacob again to him; to convert the wicked and apostate Israelites unto God.
Though Israel be not gathered; not brought home to God by my ministry. This word implies that the Israelites were divided and scattered from God, and divided among themselves, as they were in a high degree when Christ came into the world, and turned every one to his own way, as is said, Isaiah 53:6, and therefore needed to be gathered. Either it is a metaphor from wandering sheep, Which the good shepherd diligently seeketh, and bringeth home to the fold; or it is an allusion to the state of the Israelites, who either now were, or shortly were to be, dispersed into several parts of the world, from whence God had promised to gather them, and bring them into their own land, and unto his temple, Isaiah 43:5,6, and elsewhere. The sense is, Though Israel, God’s own and only people, reject me, which will be an occasion of great wonder and scandal.
Yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord; God will not despise me for the unsuccessfulness of my labours, but will honour and glorify me, both with himself and in the face of the world, in crowning my endeavours with glorious success among other people.
My God shall be my strength, to support and strengthen me under this and all other discouragements and difficulties in the discharge of mine office.
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.He; the Lord, expressed both in the foregoing and following verses.
It is a light thing; this is but a small favour in comparison of what follows.
To raise up the tribes of Jacob; that remnant of them which shall survive all their calamities and desolations.
I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation; I will make thy labour effectual for the illumination, and conversion, and salvation of the Gentiles in all the parts of the world; which cannot be said of Isaiah with any truth or colour, and therefore must be understood of Christ, by whom this was literally and fully accomplished. By my salvation he means the great instrument and author of that eternal salvation which I will give to the Gentiles.
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.His Holy One; the Holy One of Israel, as he is frequently called.
To him whom man despiseth; to Christ, to whom, as he was in the days of his flesh, this description doth most truly and fully agree, being the same in effect with that, Isaiah 53:3; for men, both Jews and Gentiles among whom he lived, did despise him from their very hearts and souls, as is here implied; and the whole nation of which he was a member, and among whom he conversed and preached, abhorred both his person and his doctrine; and he was so far from being a great temporal monarch, as the Jews vainly imagined, that he came in the form of a servant, and was
a servant of rulers, professing subjection and laying tribute unto Caesar, Matthew 17:24,25 22:21, and being treated by the rulers, both of the Jews and the Romans, like a servant, being despitefully used and crucified, which was the proper punishment of servants.
Kings shall see: though for a time thou shalt be despised, yet after a while thou shalt be advanced to such royal majesty and glory, that kings shall look upon thee with admiration and reverence,
and arise from their seats in token of reverence, as was usual, Leviticus 19:32 Judges 3:20 Job 29:8, or to worship thee, as the next clause explains it:
shall see and arise, may be put for when they see thee they shall arise to thee; which is a common Hebraism.
Because of the Lord that is faithful; because God shall make good his promises to thee concerning the raising thee from the dead, and concerning the effusion of his Spirit upon thy disciples, by whose assistance they shall preach most powerfully, and confirm their doctrine by evident and glorious miracles, and concerning the
giving unto thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession, as he promised, Psalm 2:8. These and such-like considerations were the great motives which prevailed with the princes and people of the Gentiles to receive thee as the true Messiah and Saviour of the world.
He shall choose thee: and although thou shalt be rejected by thine own people, and refused by their builders or rulers, as was prophesied, Psalm 118:22, and for a time and in some respects forsaken by God himself, Matthew 27:46; yet God will return to thee and choose thee again, and manifest unto the world, that thou, and thou only, art the person whom God hath chosen to be the Redeemer of mankind, and whom, in spite of all opposition, he will make the Head-stone of the corner. For the phrase, See Poole "Isaiah 48:10". But these words are well rendered by others, who will choose or hath chosen thee, the conjunction and being put for the pronoun relative, as Isaiah 44:14, and in many other places, as hath been observed before.
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;Thus saith the Lord, God the Father, unto Christ, In an acceptable time, Heb. In a time of good-will; in that time when I shall have, and in a special manner manifest, my good-will unto the sons of men; in the day of my grace, and of man s salvation, as this phrase is explained in the next clause; in the time of the gospel, which is the time of God’s good-will towards men, as the host of heaven declared at the birth of Christ, Luke 2:14; In the days of thy flesh, when thou didst offer up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save thee from death, as we read, Hebrews 5:7, which text is a good comment upon this place. Heard thee; though not so as to deliver thee from death and from the sense of my wrath, yet so as to keep thee from sinking under these burdens, and so as thou shouldst not be holden under the pains or power of death, Acts 2:24, and so as to crown thee with glory and honour, and a blessed success of all thy labours and sufferings.
In a day of salvation; in the time of grace and of the gospel, which I have appointed for the working out of man’s salvation by thee.
I will preserve thee upon earth till thy work be finished, and unto that eternal kingdom and glory which is prepared for thee.
Give thee for a covenant; to be the Mediator and Surety of that covenant, which is made between me and them; as Christ is called, Hebrews 7:22 8:6; to renew and confirm the covenant, which the Messiah is said to do, Daniel 9:27, by his own blood, by which God and men are reconciled and united one to the other. And therefore he may well be called the covenant by a known metonymy, which is very usual in such eases, as upon the same account circumcision, the sign of the covenant, is called God’s covenant, Genesis 17:10, and the paschal lamb is called the passover, Exodus 12:11, and the sacramental cup is called the new testament, Luke 22:20, and the communion of the blood of Christ, 1 Corinthians 10:16. Of the people; indefinitely of all my people, not only Jews, but also the Gentiles, as may be gathered from the context, and by comparing this place with Isaiah 42:6, where the same phrase is used; from both which places it is most manifest that the Messiah is designed, and not Isaiah, to whom this and divers other phrases here used cannot be ascribed without great force.
To establish the earth; to compose and settle the earth, and the inhabitants thereof, by making peace between God and men, and between Jews and Gentiles, and by establishing truth, and righteousness, and holiness upon earth, and by subduing those lusts and passions which are the great disturbers of human society; which was the design of God in sending, and of Christ in coming into the world.
To cause to inherit the desolate heritages; that desolate places may be repaired and repossessed. That Christ may possess the heathen, according to Psalm 2:8, who were in a spiritual sense in a most desolate and forlorn condition.
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.That thou mayest say, to wit, with power and effect, as when God said, Let there be light, &c. To the prisoners; to the Gentiles, who are fast bound by the cords of their sins, and taken captive by the devil at his will, as this same phrase is understood, Isaiah 42:7.
Go forth; come forth to the light, receive Divine illumination and consolation.
They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places; they shall have abundant provision in all places, yea, even in those which commonly are barren and unfruitful, and such are both common roads and high grounds.
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.They shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor sun smite them; they shall be supplied with all good and necessary things, and kept from all evil occurrents.
He that hath mercy on them shall lead them; God who hath magnified his mercy to them will conduct them with safety and comfort.
And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.I will remove all hinderances, and prepare the way for them, by levelling high grounds, and raising low grounds; of which see on Isaiah 40:3,4.
Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim.These shall come from far; my people shall be called and gathered even from the most remote parts of the earth. He speaks here, and in many other places, of the conversion of the Gentiles, with allusion to that work of gathering and bringing back the Jews from all parts where they were dispersed into their own land.
From the north and from the west; from the several parts of the world; which are here synecdochically expressed, as they are in many other places.
From the land of Sinim; either of the Sinites, as they are called, Genesis 10:17, who dwelt about the wilderness of Sin, which was southward from Judea; or of Sin, a famous city of Egypt, called the strength of Egypt, which may be synecdochically put for all Egypt, and that for all southern parts. And so he here mentions the several quarters of the world, where the generality of the Jews were dispersed; the north, which is every where named as the chief place of their banishment and dispersion, as Jeremiah 16:15 31:8, and elsewhere; the west, the western countries and islands; and the south.
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.The Lord hath comforted his people; God hath now sent that long-desired consolation of Israel.
But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.This is an objection against all these glorious predictions and promises hitherto mentioned. How can these things be true, when the condition of God’s church is now so sad and desperate? as it was when the Jews were captives in Babylon, in which the prophet here supposeth them to be.
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.Earthly parents sometimes are so unnatural and monstrous; but do not entertain such unworthy thoughts of me. I will remember thee effectually, to bring thee out of Babylon, and, which is infinitely greater, to send my Son into the world to work out eternal redemption for thee.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; mine eye and heart is constantly upon thee. He alludes to the common practice of men, who use to put signs and memorials upon their hands or fingers of such things as they dearly affect, and would remember. See Exodus 13:9 Deu 6:8 Proverbs 6:21 Song of Solomon 8:6 Jeremiah 22:24.
Thy walls are continually before me; my thoughts run continually upon the walls of Jerusalem, which are now broken down, that I may repair them as soon as ever the set time cometh, and then proceed to do far greater things for thee.
Thy children shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.Thy children; or, as others render it, thy builders; which is favoured by the next clause, where the destroyers are opposed to them. Howsoever, the sense is the same; for her children were her builders, as we read in Ezra and Nehemiah.
Shall go forth of thee; shall be separated and driven from among thee, and so shall neither hinder nor annoy thee.
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.All these, to wit, the Gentiles, as sufficiently appeareth from what hath been already said, and from that which followeth. The sense is, Thy church shall not only be restored and established in Jerusalem, but it shall be vastly enlarged and adorned by the accession of the Gentiles to it.
Come to thee, to receive instruction from thee, and to be incorporated with thee into one and the same church.
As with an ornament; they shall not be a burden, as the Gentiles formerly were when they mixed themselves with the Jews; but an ornament, in respect of those excellent gifts and graces wherewith they shall enrich and honour thy church.
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.Thy waste and thy desolate places; thy own land, which is now waste and desolate, and whereof divers parts lay formerly waste and desolate for want of people to possess and manage them.
The land of thy destruction; or rather, thy land of destruction; so called because it is devoted and shall be exposed to destruction. Shall be far away, to wit, from thee.
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.The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other, Heb. The children of thine orbity or barren and childless state. Those children which thou shalt have when thou art grown past the ordinary age and state of childbearing, as Sarah was made the mother of a most numerous posterity; . to which he seems here to allude. Those Gentiles which shall be begotten by thee, to wit, by the ministry of thy children, Christ and his apostles, when thou shalt be deprived of thine own natural children, when thou shalt become barren and unfruitful as to conversion of natural Jews, when the generality of the Jews shall cut themselves off from God, and from his true church, by their apostacy from God, and by their unbelief and obstinate refusal of their Messiah.
Shall say again, or rather,
shall yet say, though for the present it be otherwise.
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?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.
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.I will lift up mine hand; I will call them to me, and command them to do this work, as men commonly signify their calls and commands by this gesture.
Set up my standard, as generals do to gather their forces together. See Poole "Isaiah 11:12". To the people; unto thee, or to thy church and people. Shall bring thy sons; those which shall be thine, if not by natural generation, yet by adoption, that shall own God for their Father, and Jerusalem for their mother.
In their arms; with great care and tenderness, as nurses carry young infants. The sense is, Even the heathen shall contribute to the increase and preservation of those children which shall be begotten to thee.
Thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders; as sick or infirm persons used to be carried.. See Mark 2:3 Luke 15:5.
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.Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers; kings and queens shall have a sincere affection and tender regard unto thee and thy children, which was in some sort fulfilled by Cyrus, Ahasuerus, and some few others of the Persian kings or queens, but much more truly and fully by those many kings and emperors of the Gentile world, which after Christ’s time did both themselves embrace the true religion, and also set it up in their several dominions.
They shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; they shall highly reverence and honour thee, and shall most humbly and readily submit themselves unto thee, which was not verified in any of the Persian kings, but only in these kings who were converted to the Christian faith and church. The expressions are borrowed from the practice of the Eastern people in their prostrations and adorations, when they bowed so low as to touch and kiss the ground, whereby they did or might seem to lick up the very dust of the ground which was about or under the feet of those whom they adored.
They shall not be ashamed that wait for me; their hopes and expectations shall not be disappointed, but abundantly satisfied.
Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?Shall the prey be taken from the mighty? here he starteth an objection against the forementioned promises: How can God’s church be delivered, when she is become a prey to, and is in the hands of, her most potent enemies?
Or the lawful captive delivered? he who was taken captive in a just war, as God’s people might in some sort be said to be, because God himself had delivered them into their enemy’s hands, and that justly for their sins. So here is a double impediment to their deliverance out of their corporal and spiritual bondage; the great power of the enemy which kept them in bondage, and the justice of God, which pleads against them and against their deliverance.
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.The prey of the terrible; or, of the violent; which is opposed to the lawful captive in the foregoing verse; and it is hereby intimated, that although God was just in delivering them into captivity, yet their oppressors were guilty of injustice and violence, both in desiring and endeavouring to keep them in perpetual bondage beyond the seventy years which God had fixed, and in their cruel usage of them.
I will contend; I the Almighty God will undertake thy quarrel and this work, and therefore it must necessarily be accomplished.
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.I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; I will make them eat their own flesh, either through hunger, as Leviticus 26:29 Isaiah 9:20, or through rage and madness. Or, I will make thine enemies to destroy one another, and that greedily and with delight, as the next clause implies. All their enemies are here represented as one body; and so when one part of them devoured another, it was their
own flesh that was destroyed.