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Isaiah 49

Jehovah empowers his servant after he is rejected to restore his people and to implement their new exodus.

1 Hear me, O isles; listen, you distant peoples:Jehovah called me before I was in the belly;before I was in my mother’s womb,he mentioned me by name.

Jehovah having spoken of his servant (cf. Isaiah 41:1-3, 25-27; 42:1-7; 44:26-28; 45:1-6, 13; 46:11-13; 48:14-15), the servant speaks of himself, asserting Jehovah foreordained him before his mother conceived him. Jehovah’s “naming” him and “calling” him to an international mission—to “the isles” and “distant people”—signify ascent to the seraph category. Jehovah had likewise called Jeremiah to an international mission before his birth: “Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you. Before you came out of the womb, I sanctified you. I ordained you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5, 10).

2 He has made my mouth like a sharp swordin the shadowa of his hand he hid me.He has made me into a polished arrowin his quiver he kept me secret.

Jehovah’s “hiding” and “secreting” his servant suggests that the world knows nothing of his calling until the time Jehovah empowers him. Even Jehovah’s people don’t know him or are ignorant of him until he fulfills his mission: “You will summon a nation that you did not know; a nation that did not know you will hasten to you” (Isaiah 55:5). He himself, therefore, is one of the “new things” Jehovah does suddenly that test the loyalty of his people (Isaiah 42:9; 48:6-8; 51:4-11). The terms mouth, sword, hand, and arrow designate Jehovah’s servant metaphorically (Isaiah 31:8; 51:16; 62:2-3).

3 He said to me, You are my servant,Israel, in whom I will be glorified. 4 I had thought, I have labored in vain,I have spent my strength for nothingand to no purpose!Yet my cause rested with Jehovah,my recompense with my God.

Jehovah’s calling his servant “Israel” parallels Jehovah’s calling his people’s ancestor Jacob by his new name Israel after Jacob had proven loyal to him (Genesis 32:28). The servant’s receiving a new name, in other words—which the name Israel here symbolizes—attests to his ascent to a higher spiritual level after he has proven loyal to Jehovah. It also implies that he—Jehovah’s individual servant—serves as a surrogate of and as an exemplar to Jehovah’s collective servant; that is, to Jehovah’s people in the Jacob/Israel category to whom Jehovah sends him (vv 5-9; Isaiah 41:27; 42:6-7; 48:16).

One way the servant proves loyal is to continue laboring in Jehovah’s cause even in the face of few positive results. By all appearances, he at first spends a great deal of energy “in vain” and “for nothing and to no purpose.” And yet, desiring to serve Jehovah even under the most adversarial conditions (v 7; Isaiah 50:6-9; 52:13-14), he submits to Jehovah’s will: “My Lord Jehovah has endowed me with a learned tongue, that I may know how to preach to those grown weary a word to wake them up” (Isaiah 50:4). Before ascending to Isaiah’s seraph level, he descends through trials that consume him.

5 For now Jehovah has said—he who formed me from the wombto be his servant, to restore Jacob to him,Israel having been gathered to him;for I won honor in the eyes of Jehovahwhen my God became my strength— 6 he said: It is too small a thingfor you to be my servantto raise up the tribes of Jacoband to restore those preserved of Israel.I will also appoint you to be a light to the nations,bthat my salvation may be to the end of the earth.

A reversal of circumstances takes place for Jehovah’s servant when the trials he endures have served their purpose to purify, perfect, and sanctify him to a higher spiritual level, thereby qualifying him for a new commission. Jacob/Israel’s restoration, to which task he was foreordained (v 1), Jehovah augments with a mission to serve as a light to the “nations” or “Gentiles” (goyim) “to the end of the earth.” From there, Jehovah’s people are to return (Isaiah 41:8-9; 43:5-6), so that all who desire it might participate in Jehovah’s salvation and prepare for Jehovah’s coming as salvation (Isaiah 52:7; 62:11).

Jehovah “appoints” his servant when he “wins honor” in Jehovah’s eyes by proving faithful through trials (v 4), at which time his God becomes his “strength.” The servant’s physical exploits that follow—subduing nations, releasing captives, leading the new exodus, and rebuilding ruins (Isaiah 9:2-5; 11:10-16; 41:2-3, 25; 45:1-3, 13; 48:14; 61:1-4)—should thus be seen in the context of an ascent phase of divine empowerment that follows his descent phase through afflictions as he fulfills his role of proxy savior to the Jacob/Israel category of Jehovah’s people under the terms of the Davidic Covenant.

7 Thus says Jehovah,the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel,to him who is despised as a person,who is abhorred by his nation,a servant to those in authority:Kings shall rise up when they see you,princes shall prostrate themselves,because Jehovah keeps faith with you,because the Holy One of Israel has chosen you.

Although Jehovah’s servant is at first “despised as a person” and “abhorred by his nation” as his own reject him, Jehovah exalts him in the eyes of those who see him as a threat to their authority. Jehovah rewards his servant’s faithfulness toward him in the face of opposition with his own acts of faithfulness toward his servant. Henceforth, as the servant begins the temporal phase of Jacob/Israel’s restoration, he becomes prominent worldwide (Isaiah 11:10-12; 52:15; 55:5). Kings and princes now honor him who was dishonored and assist in the restoration of Jehovah’s people (vv 22-23; Isaiah 60:3-11).

8 Thus says Jehovah:At a favorable time I have answered you;in the day of salvation I have come to your aid:I have created you and appointed youto be a covenant of the people,to restore the Land and reapportion the desolate estates, 9 to say to the captives, Come forth!and to those in darkness, Show yourselves!They shall feed along the wayand find pasture on all barren heights;

The servant’s reversal of circumstances portends a reversal of circumstances for Jehovah’s elect. As Jehovah empowers his servant, so the servant empowers them (Isaiah 61:1-5). Both follow the same pattern of loyalty to Jehovah: “Your faithfulness in time [of trial] shall prove to be a strength, your wisdom and knowledge your salvation” (Isaiah 33:6). The “favorable time” in which Jehovah answers his servant’s intercession on behalf of his people under the terms of the Davidic Covenant coincides with the “day of salvation”—Jehovah’s Day of Judgment that precedes his coming to the earth.

Jehovah’s “creating” or re-creating and “appointing” his servant as a covenant to his people (cf. Isaiah 42:6) denotes his ascent to the seraph level and his role as mediator of Jehovah’s covenant. After freeing the spiritual captives of Jehovah’s people (Isaiah 42:7)—those who were blind and deaf on account of their idolatries (Isaiah 42:17-20)—the servant frees them physically (vv 24-25; Isaiah 45:13). Those who were subject to physical darkness—to the king of Assyria/Babylon—the servant appoints lands of inheritance as Jehovah’s coming as salvation draws near (v 8; Isaiah 52:7; 58:8, 12).

9 to say to the captives, Come forth!and to those in darkness, Show yourselves!They shall feed along the wayand find pasture on all barren heights; 10 they shall not hunger or thirst,nor be smitten by the heatwave or the sun:he who has mercy on them will guide them;he will lead them by springs of water.

Released from captivity, the exiles travel in the wilderness as did Israel’s ancestors who were released from captivity in Egypt (Isaiah 63:11-14). Jehovah guides them safely home: “Like a shepherd he pastures his flock: the lambs he gathers up with his arm and carries in his bosom; the ewes that give milk he leads gently along” (Isaiah 40:11). His cloud of glory protects them from the elements: “It shall be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, a secret refuge from the downpour and from rain” (Isaiah 4:6). They neither hunger nor thirst: “Bread is provided them, their water is sure” (Isaiah 33:16).

11 All my mountain ranges I will appoint as roads;my highways shall be on high. 12 See these, coming from afar, these, from the northwest,and these, from the land of Sinim.

The new exodus of Jehovah’s elect out of Babylon (Isaiah 48:20-21; 52:11-12) is from all parts of the earth: “From the isles they are gathering to me, the ships of Tarshish in the lead, to bring back your children from afar, and with them their silver and gold, to Jehovah Omnipotent, your God, to the Holy One of Israel, who has made you illustrious” (Isaiah 60:9; cf. 11:11-12; 43:5-6). “Taken from the ends of the earth, called from its farthest limits” (Isaiah 41:9; cf. 45:22), they return in a joyful pilgrimage to Zion (Isaiah 30:29; 60:3-11). Many return from as far as the “land of Sinim”—China or the Orient.

Not only do they traverse mountains but also deserts, seas, rivers, and fire (Isaiah 11:15; 35:6-7; 43:2, 16, 19-20). Those who return are Jehovah’s elect or holy ones: “There shall be highways and roads which shall be called the Way of Holiness, for they shall be for such [as are holy]. The unclean shall not traverse them; on them shall no reprobates wander. . . . But the redeemed shall walk them, the ransomed of Jehovah shall return; they shall come singing to Zion, their heads crowned with everlasting joy. They shall have won joy and gladness when sorrow and sighing flee away” (Isaiah 35:8-10).

13 Shout for joy, O heavens; celebrate, O earth!Burst into song, O mountains!Jehovah is comforting his people,showing compassion for his afflicted.

As Songs of Salvation followed Israel’s exodus out of Egypt (Exodus 15:1-21), so they follow the new exodus. Those who were afflicted—whom Jehovah tested “in the crucible of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10; cf. 30:20)—he now comforts and shows compassion (Isaiah 14:1; 51:3; 52:9; 54:7-10; 60:10; 61:2; 66:12-13). Having passed the test of their loyalty and expiated their iniquities (Isaiah 33:6; 40:1), they shout and sing for joy (Isaiah 12:6; 24:14-15; 35:6). His people’s rebirth on a higher spiritual level leads to their ecstatic praise and celebration and giving Jehovah the glory (Isaiah 65:18; 66:8-10).

14 But Zion said, Jehovah has forsaken me,my Lord has forgotten me. 15 Can a woman forget her suckling infant,or feel no compassion for the child of her womb?Although these shall forget, I will not forget you. 16 See, I have engraved you on my palms;cI have sealed youc to be continually before me.

Because the higher a person ascends spiritually the greater the descent through trials that precedes it, so the Zion/Jerusalem category of Jehovah’s people—those of Jacob/Israel who repent of transgression (Isaiah 59:20)—endures greater afflictions than before. So much, that at times those who are in the midst of their descent phase feel that Jehovah has forsaken or forgotten them. Jehovah reminds them that he never forgets them, that he went through descent before ascent when they “pierced my hands and my feet” as he atoned for their sins (Psalm 22:16; cf. Isaiah 43:24-25; 53:4-5; 63:8-9).

Zion/Jerusalem’s travail resembles that of a woman when she gives birth, the whole purpose being Zion/Jerusalem’s rebirth or re-creation on a higher spiritual level: “Who has heard the like, or who has seen such things? Can the earth labor but a day and a nation be born at once? For as soon as she was in labor, Zion gave birth to her children. ‘Shall I bring to a crisis and not bring on birth?’ says Jehovah. ‘When it is I who cause the birth, shall I hinder it?’ says your God” (Isaiah 66:8-9; cf. vv 20-22; 45:11; 54:1). Jehovah’s covenant love and loyalty far exceed a mortal mother’s toward her child.

17 Your sons shall hasten your ravagers away—those who ruined you shall depart from you. 18 Lift up your eyes and look around you;with one accord they gather and come to you.As surely as I live, says Jehovah,you shall adorn yourself with them all as with jewels,bind them on you as does a bride.

Reborn or re-created on the son/servant level, Zion/Jerusalem’s “sons” and “daughters” (v 22)—Jehovah’s elect—return to Zion to inherit permanent promised lands. Divine empowerment accompanies their ascent, enabling them to vanquish enemies who “ravaged” and “ruined” them. Comprising two chief blessings of Jehovah’s covenant, land and offspring (Isaiah 51:2-3; 54:3) become unconditional for Jehovah’s sons and daughters. Bridal imagery alludes to Jehovah’s individual covenants with his elect, their comparison with “jewels” signifying a precious spiritual category (Isaiah 61:10; 62:3-5).

19 For your ruins and ravaged places,and your land laid waste,shall now be too small for your inhabitants,despite the departure of your devourers. 20 The children born during the time of your bereavementshall yet say in your ears,This place is too cramped for us;give us space in which to settle!

Those who return from exile to inherit the lands Jehovah promised their ancestors find them ravaged and laid waste by the Assyrian alliance and others (Isaiah 1:7; 9:12; 33:9). Even when they are rebuilt (Isaiah 44:26; 58:12; 61:4), the sheer numbers of Jehovah’s returning people necessitates that they spread out from there: “Expand the site of your tent; extend the canopies of your dwellings. Do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you shall spread abroad to the right and to the left; your offspring shall dispossess the nations and resettle the desolate cities” (Isaiah 54:2-3).

21 And you will say to yourself,Who bore me these while I was bereaved and barren?I was exiled, banished;by whom were these reared?When I was left to myself, where were they?

The “time of bereavement” of Jehovah’s people (v 20)—when they were “bereaved,” “barren,” “exiled,” and “banished”—ends with a huge influx of offspring as those at home welcome the returning exiles from abroad: “Open the gates to let in the nation righteous because it keeps faith” (Isaiah 26:2); “Nations will come to your light, their kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you! They have all assembled to come to you: your sons shall arrive from afar; your daughters shall return to your side” (Isaiah 60:3-4). Cut off from each other for many centuries, they now reunite.

22 Thus says my Lord Jehovah:I will lift up my hand to the nations,raise my ensign to the peoples;and they will bring your sons in their bosomsand carry your daughters on their shoulders. 23 Kings shall be your foster fathers,queens your nursing mothers.They will bow down before you,their faces to the ground;they will lick the dust of your feet.Then shall you know that I am Jehovah,and that they who hope in me are not disappointed.

Jehovah’s raising his hand and ensign—his end-time servant—brings about his people’s return from exile: “In that day the sprig of Jesse, who stands for an ensign to the peoples, shall be sought by the nations, and his rest shall be glorious. In that day my Lord will again raise his hand to reclaim the remnant of his people—those who shall be left out of Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the islands of the sea. He will raise the ensign to the nations and assemble the exiled of Israel; he will gather the scattered of Judah from the four directions of the earth” (Isaiah 11:10-12; emphasis added).

The kings and queens of the “nations” or “Gentiles” (goyim) escort Jehovah’s “sons” and “daughters”—his elect who ascend to the son/servant category—in a new exodus out of all nations when Jehovah empowers his servant (Isaiah 11:15-16; 48:20-21; 51:9-11; 52:11-15; 55:3-5, 12). Having attained the seraph category, these spiritual kings and queens exercise power over enemies and obstacles in the pattern of Moses and Elijah, enabling Jehovah’s people to walk through deserts, mountains, seas, rivers, and fire in the new exodus to Zion (v 11; Isaiah 11:15; 35:6-10; 41:10-13, 17-18; 43:2; 51:10).

A disparity exists between these same spiritual kings and queens of the Gentiles and other Gentiles who, instead of repenting, oppose Jehovah’s people (Isaiah 29:7-8; 54:15-17; 66:5). While the Gentiles’ kings and queens fulfill their roles of proxy saviors under the terms of the Davidic Covenant on the seraph level, those Gentiles who turn into Jehovah’s enemies end up bowing down before his people and licking the dust of their feet (Isaiah 45:14; 60:14; 66:5). Those who “know” Jehovah in the end are those who “hope in” or “wait for” (qiwweh) him through a time of adversity (Isaiah 19:21; 25:9; 52:6).

24 Can the warrior’s spoil be taken from him,or the tyrant’sd captives escape free? 25 Yet thus says Jehovah: The warrior’s spoileshall indeed be taken from him,and the tyrant’s captivesf escape free:I myself will contend with your contenders,and I will deliver your children.

As the “warrior” and “tyrant” who takes “spoil” and “captives” (Isaiah 10:3-6; 14:16-17; 33:1, 4), the king of Assyria/Babylon (Isaiah 10:13-14; 14:4; 37:21-27) is deprived of his gains when Jehovah reverses his people’s circumstances. Upon Jehovah’s empowering his servant, the servant releases the captives (v 9; Isaiah 42:7; 43:6-8; 61:1) and recovers the spoil (Isaiah 9:3; 33:23; 53:12). Under his warrior aspect, Jehovah fights for his people (Isaiah 41:11-12; 42:13; 59:17-19) and delivers his “children” or “sons” (banayik)—those who ascend and become his elect (Isaiah 27:12; 29:20-24; 66:8).

26 I will feed your oppressors with their own flesh;they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.And all flesh shall know that I Jehovah am your Savior,that your Redeemer is the Valiant One of Jacob.

After his people have suffered at the hands of tyrants local and foreign—to try their faith and to expiate their iniquities (Isaiah 40:1-2)—Jehovah takes vengeance on their enemies: “Hear this, O wretched one, drunk, though not with wine. Thus says Jehovah, your Lord and God, who defends the cause of his people: ‘I am taking the cup of stupor from your hand; you shall drink no more from the bowl of my wrath. And I give it into the hand of your tormentors’” (Isaiah 51:22-23). The Valiant One of Jacob demonstrates his valor in the eyes of “all flesh” when he redeems his elect from their oppressors.

  • a2 Also, guise.
  • b6 Also, Gentiles; compare verse 22; 42:1, 6.
  • c16 Hebrew ḥômōtayik, your walls, emended to ḥātamtîk.
  • d24 So 1QIsaa; LXX. MT ṣaddîq, the righteous one’s.
  • e25 So 1QIsaa; MT captives.
  • f25 So 1QIsaa; MT spoil.


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