Isaiah 49

The Servant Called to be a Light to the Nations

What assignment did God give to the Servant?
The identity of the servant is difficult to determine. Verse 3 identifies the servant as Israel yet verses 5-6 point to an individual (the Lord Jesus Christ) rather than to the nation. Biblical commentator Page H. Kelley writes, “For while the servant coexists with Israel, and may even be addressed as Israel, he is, nevertheless, distinct from Israel, and has a ministry to perform to Israel.”

The Servant called the nations to pay attention to his words. He declared that the Lord called him (49:1) and prepared him for his mission (49:2). The Servant’s weapon is the word of the Lord (49:2). He is protected by the Lord (49:2). The Servant’s assignment is to restore Jacob/Israel to a right relationship with the Lord, to bring them back from the exile of sin as well as the Babylonian exile (49:5), and to be a “light” (salvation) to the nations (49:6).

Practical Consideration: We are to be a light to the nations.
God’s people were to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). They were to both embody and express the truth of God’s love to a world in darkness. They failed in that responsibility. Instead of overcoming the darkness around them, they allowed themselves to be overcome by the darkness of idolatry and apostasy. The Servant was assigned the task of leading God’s people to once again fulfill their responsibility of being a light to the nations.

We too, are to be a light to those around us. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14a). The purpose of light is not to draw attention to itself, but to enable men to see what they would otherwise be unable to see. Our lives should enable men to see the truth of the gospel. Our lives should enable men to see and understand that there is a way to God through Jesus Christ.

The prophet addressed those still in exile in Babylon (49:7) and other places of the earth (49:13). He assured them of their release from captivity (49:8-12). God assured the people that He would personally lead them home on this second Exodus. He would care for them along the way (49:9) and refresh them by springs of water (49:10) as He led them home across a highway in the wilderness (49:11). This caused the prophet to burst forth in praise to God (49:13).

God Had Not Forgotten the Exiles

Had God forgotten the exiles?

The city of Zion (God’s people) is personified as a woman who laments that she has been forsaken and forgotten by God (49:14). God reassured His people that while it was possible for a mother to forget her nursing child it was not possible for Him to forget His people (49:15). They were “inscribed” (perhaps tattooed) on the palms of His hands (49:16).

Verses 17-21 describe the rebuilding and repopulation of Zion. She is told to lift her eyes to behold the return of her children (49:17-18). Verses 19-21 describe the land as being too small to contain the vast numbers of returning exiles. Zion, the bereaved mother, is amazed at the great influx of people and can only ask, “Behold, I was left alone; from where did these come?” (49:21).

When God gives a signal to the nations they will bring Zion’s children home (49:22) and the rulers of other nations will pay homage to Jerusalem (49:23). Verse 24 records a question that was surely on the minds of the exiles, “Can the prey [exiles] be taken from the mighty man [Babylon]?” or “Is God able to deliver us?” (Refer also to 49:14 where they asked “Does God care?”). The question receives an affirmative reply in verse 25. The exiles will be delivered (49:25) and their captors will destroy themselves through civil war and internal strife (49:26a). As a result, people will know that God is a mighty God (49:26b).

Practical Consideration: We are important to God.
The exiles asked two questions that men often ask when they are in trouble: “Does God care?” (Isaiah 49:14) and “Is God able to deliver us?” (Isaiah 49:24). The answer to both of these questions is a resounding “Yes!” God assured His captive people that His care for them was greater than the care of a mother for her infant child. He also assured them that He was greater than their captors and able to deliver them. Our circumstances can often blind us to the fact that God cares for us and is able to deal with anything that touches our lives. He cares and is able to deliver us from anything that threatens or enslaves us.

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