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The Servant of God – Isaiah 49

Read the Passage: Isaiah 49

Called and Restored (49:1–13)

The book of Isaiah contains four so-called “Servant Songs,” sometimes called “Servant Poems,” which describe a particular Servant of God, who ultimately is Christ. These Songs, which especially emphasize Jesus’ sufferings, are recorded at Isa. 42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–7; and 52:13–53:12. The second of these Servant Songs is contained within today’s passage. In this brief poem the Servant is identified as “Israel” at Isa. 49:3, yet it is clear that the Servant is distinct from the nation of Israel, for the Servant himself speaks about Israel in this very song. This apparent discrepancy can be resolved by noting that Jesus is the true Israel. This can be seen in that God refers to Israel as His “Son” (Exod. 4:23), the Bible applies passages about Israel to Christ (cf. Hos. 11:1; Col. 2:16–17), and Scripture reports that the promises made to Abraham were actually made to Christ (cf. Gal. 3:16).

In Isa. 49:1–6 the Servant is personified as He recounts His calling by God. While this call is similar to that of Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 1:5), it actually occurred before the foundation of the world (cf. 1 Pet. 1:19–20; Rev. 13:8). Note the fact that Jesus is the Son of God is a statement about His authority (or power), not about His chronology (or position). Here Isaiah writes that the Servant’s words are “like a sharp sword” (Isa. 49:2; cf. Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:16; 19:15). Isa. 49:3–4 reports that while the Servant faithfully served God, there was little visible effect from His service, for “He came to his own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Nevertheless, God vindicated the Servant, via Jesus’ resurrection, and will eventually “bring Jacob back to him so that Israel may be gathered to him” (Isa. 49:5; cf. Rom. 11). Further, note the Gentiles will come unto Christ and will bow down to Him (cf. Isa. 49:6–7; Phil. 2:9–11).

Whereas in Isa. 49:1–7 it is the Servant of God—that is, Jesus Christ—who is speaking to the world, in Isa. 49:8–13 it is God the Father who speaks to God the Son. This divine monologue is a special passage, for it is one of a few instances in Scripture where readers get to listen in on an inter-Trinitarian dialog that took place in eternity past. In this passage God tells the Servant that He has heard Him (cf. Isa. 49:8a), God promises to protect the Servant (cf. Isa. 49:8b), God informs the Servant that He will rescue His people (cf. Isa. 49:9a), God notes that the Servant will provide abundantly for His people (cf. Isa. 49:9b–10), God describes the path the Servant would make for His people (cf. Isa. 49:11), and God writes that His people will come from afar to His servant (cf. Isa. 49:12). In Isa. 49:13 God calls for universal joy because of the great comfort given to His people.

Abandoned and Remembered (49:14–21)

In Isa. 49:14, exiled Israel is personified as a woman who errantly laments that she has been abandoned by God. By way of response, in Isa. 49:15–21, God speaks of both the future return of Israel to Jerusalem and of the eschatological return of believers into God’s presence on a renewed earth. As He replies and relates to the lamenting woman, who is Israel, God likens His love for His people to a mother’s love for her own nursing children (cf. Isa. 49:15). God’s declaration in Isa. 49:16—that is, “I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands”—may be an allusion to Jesus’ future crucifixion, which allows for the end-times gathering of God’s people into His presence. In any event, in Isa. 49:18–21 God notes that Israel’s children will be so numerous and abundant that the city will seem too small to hold them and Israel will even wonder how so many children could have been fathered.

Vindicated and Glorified (49:22–26)

In Isa. 49:22–26 God continues His response to Israel. In the immediate context, God speaks here of the miraculous return of the Jews to Palestine from Babylon, as well as the judgment of their captors. In a broader context, however, the words of Isaiah in this passage speak of the end-times gathering of God’s people—that is, the church—into His presence on a renewed earth. As with the Babylonian captives, so it is easy for modern Christians to get discouraged by their immediate context; yet, here God declares, “They shall not be ashamed who wait for Me” (Isa. 49:23). Waiting is difficult; however, we must remember that just as God was merciful and long-suffering toward us, so is He patient with unbelievers who sometimes persecute the church. In accord with God’s message to captive Israel, we must remember that God oftentimes saves His best for last.

Application Questions:

  1. What does it mean to be a servant of God? What have you found to be the most fulfilling aspect of serving God?
  2. Why do many Jews have a difficult time believing that Jesus is the Suffering Servant about whom Isaiah prophesied in these Songs?
  3. Is the fact that Jesus came to the Jews first, before going to the Gentiles, a statement about spiritual priority or about temporal chronology?
  4. Has your life in Christ resembled the description of the work of the Servant of God that is detailed Isa. 49:8–12?
  5. Do you find it difficult to wait on the Lord? What types of things cause you to get spiritually discouraged? How can you refocus on Christ?
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