Isaiah 49:1-71NIV New International Version Translations
1 Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. 2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. 3 He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” 4 But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’S hand, and my reward is with my God.” 5 And now the LORD says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength—6 he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” 7 This is what the LORD says—the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
The 66 chapters of Isaiah consist primarily of prophecies of the judgments awaiting nations that are persecuting Judah. These nations include Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Israel (the northern kingdom), Ethiopia, Egypt, Arabia, and Phoenicia. The prophecies concerning them can be summarized as saying that God is the God of the whole earth, and that nations which think of themselves as secure in their own power and might will be conquered by other nations, at God’s command.
Isaiah lived during the late eighth and early seventh centuries BCE, which was a difficult period in the history of Jerusalem. He was part of the upper class but urged care of the downtrodden. At the end, he was loyal to King Hezekiah, but disagreed with the King’s attempts to forge alliances with Egypt and Babylon in response to the Assyrian threat.
Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of four kings — Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. According to tradition, he was martyred during the reign of Manasseh, who came to the throne in 687 BCE. That he is described as having ready access to the kings would suggest an aristocratic origin.
Our verses come from the section of Isaiah called “The Book of Comfort” which begins in chapter 40 and completes the writing. In the first eight chapters of this book of comfort, Isaiah prophesies the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of the Babylonians and restoration of Israel as a unified nation in the land promised to them by God. Isaiah reaffirms that the Jews are indeed the chosen people of God in chapter 44 and that Hashem is the only God for the Jews (and only the God of the Jews) as he will show his power over the gods of Babylon in due time in chapter 46. It is of much interest to note that in chapter 45:1, the Persian ruler Cyrus is named as the person of power who will overthrow the Babylonians and allow the return of Israel to their original land.
Biblical Truths and Theology3Lectionarystudies.com
The passages speak to the church today. It describes our place in God’s sight, our task in the world and our ultimate rule over all things. The passage opens with the Servant speaking to the Nations. He was set apart for service and empowered by the creator of the universe. He serves as the mouthpiece of God. Like a sharpened sword, a polished arrow, he is to proclaim God’s truth. God said of him that he is the one who will display the splendor of God to the nations, the Glory of the Lord to all mankind. At the present moment he is suffering, he is oppressed, “I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” Yet, now the Lord has this to say of the one who is to gather in lost Israel. Not only will the Servant seek out the lost of Israel and gather them as a people for the Lord, but the Gentiles will also be gathered in. God’s salvation involves the rescuing of mankind for fellowship with himself, and this salvation will extend to the ends of the earth. Not only this, but the Lord the redeemer says to his Servant, the despised and rejected one that the Nations will soon bow before him. The Servant will rule with powerful authority.
Isaiah’s description of the Servant of the Lord finds its fulfillment in Jesus and because we are one with Jesus, there is a sense where we, the church, must serve as the Servant to our broken world. We perform the Servant role when we proclaim the mystery of God’s gracious kindness in Christ, a truth that sets us free. When it comes to ministering the truth, believers have tended to opt for two different approaches. Some want to do and be the truth while others want to say the truth. Obviously, both go hand in hand.
Items for Discussion
- Who is the Servant of the Lord?
- He is to “display” God’s “splendor”. This to “you islands” and “distant nations”. What is this revelation and who is to display it?
- In what sense has the Servant “spent” his “strength”? Apply this to Jesus and to the church today.
- How does the Servant “restore the tribes of Jacob” and “make you a light for the Gentiles”? Again, relate this to Jesus and the church today.
- In the days of the Bible there weren’t things like magazines and television or the Internet, but there were people — and God says that we, as people are like this lamp. How do you interpret this?
- What does a lamp need to shine?
- A vessel
- A wick
- What is the vessel and what is the oil?
42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. 49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
The traditional name for this book is “Acts of the Apostles,” but a more accurate name might be “A Few Acts of a Few of the Apostles.” Peter and Paul are particularly prominent; the other apostles play little or no role. The book describes some developments in detail, but sometimes skips several years at a time.
“Acts of the Risen Jesus” might also be an appropriate name for this book. Luke tells us that his first book (the Gospel of Luke) was “about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:1-2). Acts, the second volume of Luke’s history-writing project, is about what Jesus did after his ascension into heaven — he directed and taught the apostles through the Holy Spirit.
As Jesus had promised (John 16:7, 13), he sent the Spirit to guide the apostles after he returned to heaven. Since this book frequently reminds us that the actions of the apostles were inspired and guided by God’s Spirit, “Acts of the Holy Spirit” has also been suggested as a descriptive title.
Biblical Truths4Matthew Henry’s Commentary
The Jews opposed the doctrine the apostles preached; and when they could find no objection, they blasphemed Christ and his gospel. Commonly those who begin with contradicting, end with blaspheming. But when adversaries of Christ’s cause are daring, its advocates should be the bolder. And while many judge themselves unworthy of eternal life, others, who appear less likely, desire to hear more of the glad tidings of salvation. This is according to what was foretold in the Old Testament. What light, what power, and what a treasure does this gospel bring with it! How excellent are its truths, its precepts, its promises! Those came to Christ whom the Father drew, and to whom the Spirit made the gospel call effectual, Romans 8:30. As many as were disposed to eternal life, as many as had concern about their eternal state, and aimed to make sure of eternal life, believed in Christ, in whom God has treasured up that life, and who is the only Way to it; and it was the grace of God that wrought it in them. It is good to see honorable women devout; the less they have to do in the world, the more they should do for their own souls, and the souls of others: but it is sad, when, under color of devotion to God, they try to show hatred to Christ. And the more we relish the comforts and encouragements we meet with in the power of godliness, and the fuller our hearts are of them, the better prepared we are to face difficulties in the profession of godliness.
Items for Discussion
- What are the attributes of “Light” that make it the perfect metaphor for the “Good News of Salvation?”
- Reflecting back on the ideas that an oil lamp had both a vessel and a fuel, what fuels the modern day Christian?
- Can a church run out of fuel? If so, how?
- What makes the Christian’s message of “Good News” so unique?
- There are two ways to believe in the “after life.” One that it exists and one that it does not, what would be the “apologetics” for each way?
- How do we get more fuel into our church’s oil lamp?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations
- 4Matthew Henry’s Commentary