Isaiah 49 Commentary


The servant’s task (49:1-7)

Leaving behind the subject of Cyrus’s conquest, the prophecy now develops the theme of the servant of Yahweh. The second Servant Song begins by recording how Israel was chosen by God to be his servant, and prepared by God to do his work. As Israel did the work faithfully, it would bring praise to God (49:1-3).

Israel as a whole failed, but from generation to generation a minority within Israel, the remnant, remained loyal to Yahweh as his servant. They were unable to save their people from captivity, but they still trusted in God that he would bring some good from their work (4). They now see God’s purpose in preserving and strengthening the faithful remnant through the captivity. He wants to use them to lead his people back to their land, from where they will send the light of his salvation to the darkened heathen nations (5-6). God’s servant will then no longer suffer the shame that Israel experienced in the captivity. On the contrary, those who once despised God’s servant will now give him honour, proving to all that God is faithful to his people and faithful to his word (7).

Again the nation as a whole failed in its task, though, as always, a small minority remained faithful (cf. Luke 1:16-17; John 20:21; Acts 13:46-47). Jesus the Messiah, the perfection of Israel, was the one who truly brought his people back to God, sent the light of God’s salvation to the Gentiles, and receives homage from people of all nations (Matt 1:21; Luke 2:30-32; Acts 26:23; Rom 15:8-12; Rev 3:7).

Israel rebuilt (49:8-50:3)

Once more God promises the return of the captive Jews to their homeland. God will protect them along the journey and help them as they rebuild their ruined country (8-10). Whether exiled in Babylon or scattered in other places, the people will return home amid much rejoicing (11-13).

Some of the Jews thought God had forgotten them. God now shows that for him this is impossible (14-16). Israel will return and rebuild its homeland. Opponents who try to ruin Israel’s work will not be successful and will leave in shame and defeat (17-18). People born in exile will flock to the rebuilt Jerusalem. The land previously uninhabited and in ruins will become well populated and prosperous again (19-21). Scattered Jews in other countries will also return, helped by generous aid from the nations among whom they have lived (22-23).


Among the exiles were some who apparently doubted the prophet’s promise of restoration, for Babylon seemed unconquerable. How can a captive people possibly be freed when they are in the grip of such a powerful tyrant (24)? God replies that he can do it. He reminds the doubting exiles that he is the all-powerful God and Israel’s covenant redeemer. He will crush the Babylonians in a judgment suited to the cruel oppression that they inflicted on their helpless victims (25-26).

Other Jews blamed God for their troubles, as if he had cast them off like a husband who divorces his wife or a father who sells his children to pay off his debts. God replies that they have no evidence to support such an accusation, for he has neither ‘divorced’ them nor ‘sold’ them. Rather their sins are the cause of their troubles (50:1). They ignored God when he spoke to them through his servants the prophets. But he still loves them and has the power to save them. Nothing in all creation can withstand his power (2-3).

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