Listen, O isles, to me; and listen, you people, from far; The LORD has called me from the womb…
The Servant of Jehovah is wearied with the obstinacy of the Israelites, and turns to the lands afar off, that he may unfold to them his high mission and its purport. The offer of salvation is to be extended to the heathen world.
I. HIS CALL. From his very birth he has been destined as a missionary to the heathen world (cf. Ver. 1:5; Galatians 1:15; Luke 1:31). The emphasis is on the fact. He was not self-called, and there was no presumption on his part. There is all the difference in the world between calling one's self missionary, or apostle, or minister, and feeling that "God has made mention of one's name."
II. HIS ENDOWMENT. His mouth has been made a sharp sword; a vehicle for that Word which is elsewhere compared to a sharp and two-edged sword, to pierce the conscience, to overcome the proud and the stubborn (cf. Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 51:16; Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17; Revelation 1:16; Revelation 19:15. See also, for the pungency of eloquence, Ecclesiastes 12:11). It is a lesson: pointless speech is no speech for the minister of God. We do not speak to "gain time," but to gain hearts. In some respects we may be compared to marksmen. In Gentile poets the like figures occur of the sword or the arrow.
"His powerful speech Pierced the heater's soul, and left behind,
Deep in his bosom, its keen point infixt.
Say through what paths of liquid air
Our arrows shall we throw?"
(Pind., 'Od.' 2, 160.) And so with the apostolic preaching. They told the world in plain terms "that he who believed should be saved, and that he who believed not should be damned." "This was the dialect which pierced the conscience, and made the hearers cry out, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' It tickled not the ear, but sank into the heart; and when men came from such sermons, they never commended the preacher for his taking voice or gesture, for the fineness of such a simile or the quaintness of such a sentence, but spoke like men conquered with the overpowering force of truth." The Servant of God is also compared to a "polished shaft" (cf. Jeremiah 51:11). His words penetrate easily, because natural, familiar, and not above the capacity of the hearer. "Nothing is more preposterous than for those who profess to aim at men's hearts to shoot over their heads" (South).
III. HIS DEARNESS TO GOD. This polished shaft is covered in the quiver of God. The Almighty takes care of his tools, as every good workman does. Through Israel as his instrument, he designs to manifest his glory. "His Servant will become the Head of a regenerated and expanded Israel, which Jehovah will hold forth to the universe as his fairest prize" (Cheyne). This sense of being related to God and his purposes is the source of the purest consolation. It is true the Servant of God is tempted to despondency, as in the typical case of Elijah in the wilderness. The "flesh is weak." On the other hand, just when he is weak, then is the Servant of God strong. The cry of seeming despair in Psalm 22:1 is absorbed in the jubilant exultation of the singer at the close, in the prospect of the extension of the kingdom (cf. Matthew 27:46). So here, after the melancholy outburst, "I have laboured in vain," etc., the Servant of Jehovah "gives the lie to all delusive appearances," assured that his recompense is with God. The Servant of God has his rights founded on the nature of God himself and on his covenant. The missionary of the great King has a right to be protected, and to expect submission to his message. "The mention of recompense shows that 'Servant' here has a special meaning of its own. A slave can have no recompense" (Cheyne). He will have a" portion among the great" (Isaiah 53:10, 12). And what is the great "recompense of the reward"? The noblest that can be thought of - to "bring back Jacob," to "gather Israel," and still more, to be the Light of the nations, to be the Instrument of Jehovah's salvation unto the earth's end. It is natural, it is noble, it is Christian, to have respect to such a recompense. The quality of life's rewards is the main throe to be considered. There can be no contradiction between the doctrines of grace and the hopes of reward, if that reward be conceived as, first and last. consisting in the favour, the friendship, the enployment of the righteous and merciful Governor of the world.
IV. GLIMPSES OF THE GREAT REWARD. Already faith, revived in the breast of Jehovah's Servant, is encouraged by large views of the future.
1. His promised honours. He is now heartily despised by man; but the "God of Israel," the Redeemer and Avenger, saith that he stroll in his future fortunes be the Representative of Israel's glories. He is now under the sway of great despots, heathen lords. The time shall come when kings shall rise up to do him homage, and princes shall-bow down before him; for behind him is Jehovah himself, the faithful Covenant-keeper, who has chosen, and therefore will support his Servant.
2. His mediatorial office. When the season of Providence has come, the Servant shall not only be helped and saved, but shall become the Source of salvation to others (cf. Psalm 22:23-27). He shall raise up the ruined land; he shall assign to the different families the heritages belonging to them; he shall say to the captive Jews, "Go forth!" and they shall return, like a well-shepherded flock, finding pasture everywhere on the way. They shall not be afflicted by the burning sun nor by the illusive mirage. Led by refreshing springs, and finding a highway through the mountains, they shall come from all quarters to the wished-for end of their pilgrimage. The description may be taken as an allegory of life's pilgrimage. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.