Isaiah 49

Isaiah 49
by Pastor Mark Hudson

            This chapter begins a new section in this part of the book.  I want to focus on structure for this devotional. I find it helpful not only find out what a  verse means, but where I am in the argument of the author.  What is the big idea Isaiah is teaching.  Once we understand the larger context, we are guided as we strive to understand individual verses.  The outline I am following is found in Oswalt’s commentary on page 287 and following.  Part of his outline is below:

  1. The vocation of Servanthood (40:1-55:13)
  2. Motive for Servanthood: Grace (40:1-48:22)
  3. The Means of Servanthood: Atonement (49:1-55:13)
  4. The Marks of Servanthood: Divine Character (56:1-66:24)
  5. Human Inability (56:1-59:21)
  6. The Lord has Glorified You (60:1-62:12)
  7. Divine Ability (63:1-66:24)

          This provides you one way of looking at this section.  This outline is not THE only way to look at Isaiah.  The best method to verify an outline, interpretation, or suggestion is to try it out.  Does is make sense with what Isaiah is saying?  Does this clarify or muddy the issue?  It is helpful to know where So, we begin a discussion on the atonement that begins in chapter 49 extending through chapter 55.  In somewhat subtle ways, the focus moves away from the physical captivity to the spiritual captivity of Israel and the whole world. 

          The highlighted section we are looking at is structured in three parts: 49:1-52:12; 52:13-53:12; 54:1-55:13.  The first section is marked by anticipation.  The climax of this section is 52:7-12 where God has indeed won the victory and the people are free.  The second section 52:13-53:12 is a revelation of what God’s arm looks like.  The Servant has defeated sin and made possible fellowship between a holy God and sinful people.  In the third section (54-55), the king is no longer anticipated, now Israel is being invited to participate in something that has already been achieved (p. 288).  So if the first section looks forward with anticipation, and the third section unfolds and invitation, we would expect the second to reveal which it does.  What is revealed is the substitutionary death of the Servant.

          So how do we understand the chapter before us?  The first section is 49:1-13.  Notice vs. 1-6: The Servant’s calling.  Verse 7 is transitional but could go with vs. 1-6 or vs. 8-13.  The second section, vs. 8-13 is The Servant’s work. 

          In vs. 14-26, Zion will not be forgotten.  In fact in these verses, Zion will be written on my hands.  In vs. 14-23 children will be restored and 24-26 Oppressors are destroyed.  In chapters 40-48, God’s sovereign rule of nature and history provides the basis for calling Israel to have hope.  But in this section, Isaiah stresses God’s unfailing love for His people.  If people think the God of the Old Testament is harsh, you know they have not read the Old Testament.  (BTW, don’t ever discuss a book with people who have not read the book.)

          So, as Oswalt observes in p. 304, “At the heart of the Servant is eternal love, which lives to forgive, redeem, and restore.  Thus chs. 40-55 show that the mission of Israel first displayed in 2:1-5, to be the servant of God for the sake of the world, is made possible through the sovereign power (chs. 40-48) and the unfailing love of God (chs 49-55).”  This is clear summary and a remarkable insight.  The fact that God loves us so much just breaks your heart.  Will we ever get over the eternal love that God has for us?  I don’t think we will ever understand it.  I suspect our consideration of God’s love will continue to grow and expand for all eternity.

          Oswalt makes the following observations about the servant in a footnote of his commentary on p. 287.  “There seems to be two kinds of servants.   The first one is not identified but is a humble, responsive servant who will be God’s agent to bring God’s light to the world (42:1-9).  But thereafter in chs 40-48, the servant is blind, deaf, unbelieving Israel, who is nonetheless God’s chosen.  Through what he has done and will do for Israel, God will show the world that he is God alone.  Israel is assigned no task but promised many benefits.

          But in chs. 49-55, the proportions and orders are exactly reversed.  Here it is the servant of ch. 42, whose task is large and whose benefits are small, who is at center stage.  Israel is still called to serve God and is in fact called to be the servant.  But no nation can fulfill the idea of the Servant.  Only one person, the Lord Jesus.

          Father help me to be a servant to you toward others.  Help me to serve You in obedience, humility, and with an eye to Your glory.  Help me to look to Your most faithful Servant, Your Son who was perfectly humble, obedient to the point of death, and loved Your glory more than anything else.  Help me to copy His attitude and actions.  In Christ’s Name, Amen.