Tag Archives: servant

Isaiah 49:9-13 and the Christian Life

Our security is not found in abundant circumstances, but in the care of our Shepherd. Today we look at the New Testament fulfillment of an Old Testament description of Jesus’ salvation. If you haven’t already, start with Isaiah 49:1-7 and the Servant’s Mission and Isaiah 49:8 and Three Ways Jesus Has Begun to Fulfill the Land Promises.

saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” and to those in darkness, “Appear.” They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture;

Isaiah 49:9

Jesus came to heal those oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38), and the church continues to free people from Satan’s power through repentance and forgiveness (Acts 26:18–20). We come out of Babylon now, so we are safe when she falls (Revelation 18:4–8).

In Isaiah, darkness represents ignorance, sin, and judgment. Jesus is the light who gives us knowledge (2 Corinthians 4:6), righteousness (1 John 2:8–11), and life (John 8:12).

I’m no shepherd, but roads and “bare heights” don’t sound like the best place for sheep to graze. Our security does not come from abundance in our circumstances, but from the care of our Shepherd.

they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun will strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.

Isaiah 49:10

The fulfillment of this verse is explained in Revelation 7:16–17. Our security is not found in physical circumstances, but in God’s seal that prevents us from worshipping the beast. The beast and the harlot might physically starve us or kill us, but we will escape the wrath of the lamb and enjoy the living waters of eternal life.

And I will make all my mountains a road, and my highways shall be raised up. Behold, these shall come from afar, and behold, these from the north and west, and these from the land of Syene.

Isaiah 7:11-12

The Lord will remove every obstacle to His people’s journey. The road to salvation is hard, but nothing can stop us if we just stay on the path.

The final place God’s people come from is unclear. “Syene” (an ancient Egyptian city) comes from the dead sea scrolls. The Masoretic text reads “Sinim,” which might mean China. The Septuagint says Persia. In any case, the picture is of the dispersed Israelites returning from every direction, and the final fulfillment is found as God gathers his elect from the ends of the earth into His kingdom.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and rejoice, O Earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.

Isaiah 49:13

This passage ends with creation worshipping God for the compassion He shows in the salvation of His people. The servant’s work will glorify God (Isaiah 49:3) because it will demonstrate God’s character and inspire everlasting praise. The creation that was cursed because of sin will fulfill its ultimate purpose of glorifying God.

Isaiah 49:8 and Three Ways Jesus Has Begun to Fulfill the Land Promises

Thus says the Lord: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages.”

Isaiah 49:8 ESV

The Lord continues to speak to the servant of the Lord. The servant had faith that the Lord was His strength (Isa 49:6), and so the Lord helped him, saved him, and kept him. This is true for Jesus, whom God raised to eternal life and seated at His right hand. But it is also true that the day of salvation is today (see how Paul uses this verse in 2 Cor 5:20-6:2). Whoever will be reconciled to God through Jesus’ death and resurrection will be helped, saved, and kept by God. The mission that looked like a failure in Isa 49:4 will overwhelmingly succeed by the power of God.

Jesus is given as a new covenant, and what may surprise Christian readers is that the blessings he brings are what we normally associate with the old covenant. The goals of the old and new covenants are not different; the difference is that the new covenant enables us to fully reach the goals. “Apportion desolate heritages” means to divide up the promised land between God’s people. But in Isa 49 we’ve already seen that the promised land is not only Canaan, but will grow to the ends of the earth (Isa 49:6). So when Jesus says “the meek will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5), he means the Earth.

A notoriously difficult question is whether the land promises have begun to be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. I remember G. K. Beale giving an uncharacteristically weak answer to this question in his New Testament Biblical Theology (I have no idea what page, so just read the whole book): he said the land promises may have begun to be fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection body. That is a glorious beginning to the physical new creation, but is it really the most we can say about the present fulfillment of the land promises? I haven’t given this enough thought to answer that question, but I think it should be raised. So here are a few quick thoughts.

  1. Paul speaks to this issue when he says the Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance (2 Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:14). These three verses are looking forward to a future fulfillment of land promises, but see the beginning of fulfillment in the gift of the Spirit. What does the Spirit have to do with land? The land promises will be completely fulfilled in the new creation, and the Spirit has begun the new creation in us (2 Cor 5:17). The blessings described in Isa 49:9-10 will be fully experienced after Jesus returns, but today the Spirit truly gives us spritual sight, light, life, provision, security, and guidance.
  2. The New Testament authors see New Jerusalem as a heavenly city, and in a sense we are already there in Christ (Gal 4:26-7 Heb 12:22-4, c.f. Eph 2:7). We look forward to the same city as Abraham (Heb 11:8-16), and we are already citizens of that city (Phil 3:20). I’ll probably write more on this when I cover the second half of Isa 49.
  3. Most controversially, if Jesus already has all authority in heaven and in earth (Matt 28:18), then can Josh 1:3 be applied to Jesus and therefore the church? “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you” (John 1:3). Just as the Israelites filled Canaan little by little (Deut 7:22), Jesus is conquering the world gradually. Matt 13:24-43 would be an interesting passage to consider, because the parables about the gradual growth of the kingdom are shoved in the middle of a parable that flattens out this age and sees the whole world as Jesus’ kingdom. Finally, if Acts 2:8 is fulfilled in the resurrection (Acts 13:33), then hasn’t Jesus already begun to receive the nations as his heritage (Psalm 2:9)?

I’ve raised the question. Comment if you have an answer.

Isaiah 49:1-7 and the Servant’s Mission

Listen to me O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.

Isaiah 49:1, ESV

This monologue by the Servant of the Lord begins with no indication that the speaker has changed, except that someone other than the LORD is now speaking. Is it Isaiah? Or Israel? Or Cyrus? We will gradually discover that this is the Servant of the Lord who is introduced in Isa 42, who speaks in Isa 48:16, and whom Christians recognize as their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In Isa 42:4, the coastlands waited for his law– and now he speaks to them. The universal scale of the message is due to the servant’s unique qualifications (Isa 49:1-3) and the universal scale of his mission (Isa 49:6). He is named Jesus while in the womb, because he will save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21).

He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away.

Isaiah 49:2

The servant is the Lord’s secret weapon, hidden in the Lord’s eternal plan until the right moment. A sharp sword for close combat, and a polished arrow for long range, he is effective in any battle. David built his kingdom with a sword, but the son of David judges the wicked with his mouth (Isa 11:4). Cyrus conquered with a sword, but Jesus simply annouces the arrival of his kingdom and commands obedience (Matt 4:17). Like God, he creates and destroys by his words. The sword he brings creates war within households, because his gospel demands absolute allegiance (Matt 10:34-37). In Revelation, Jesus uses the sword of his mouth to make war against heretics (Rev 2:15-16), and at his coming he will kill the lawless one with his breath (2 Thess 2:8). Christians continue Jesus’ kingdom building work by wielding the word of God as a sword (Eph 6:17, c.f. Heb 4:12, 2 Cor 10:5).

And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

Isaiah 49:3

Jesus is the righteous remnant of Israel, the heir of its blessings and responsibilities. He can be called Israel for the same reason he is called David (e.g. Hos 3:5): He is the son and heir of the man named Israel. He is also the head and source of the renewed kingdom of Israel. He inherits and fulfills the calling passed from Abraham to Israel, to bless all the families of the earth (Gen 12:3). He glorifies God (John 17:1-4), and when his people abide in him they also glorify God (John 15:5-8).

But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.”

Isaiah 49:4

The servant has poured out all of his strength, and it looks like it was all for nothing. But the Lord will always enforce justice, and so the righteous servant expects a reward from God. The Lord Jesus preached and did good to people his whole life, and what did it profit him? Few truly believed in him, and only a few friends stood with him during his execution. But the Lord raised him to eternal life, and gave him all authority in Heaven and Earth. Likewise, we should trust that our labor is not in vain, because the Lord will reward all of our work.

And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him– for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength–

Isaiah 49:5

Bringing true repentance is a spiritual task that Cyrus is unfit for, but this is what the servant was born to do. The Lord’s spirit (Isa 42:1) and the sword of the servant’s mouth (Isa 49:2) perfectly equip him for this task. The servant is now confident that the Lord will give him the success he deserves. Don’t miss the paradox between this verse and verse 3: The servant is Israel, and the servant is born to bring back Israel. This implies that Jesus is the beginning of a renewed Israel that can be distinguished from the nation of Israel. Jesus is Israel, he is on mission to Israel, and he himself fulfills the mission of Israel.

he says– “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Isaiah 49:6

Far from failing in his mission to Israel, Jesus was overqualified! Jesus began his ministry with the lost sheep of Israel (Matt 15:24); and after his death, resurrection, and ascension he expanded his ministry to grant repentance even to us gentiles (Acts 11:18). Paul and Barnabas see Isa 49:6 as a command to them: since the Jews aren’t listening, they must do Jesus’ work of bringing salvation to the gentiles (Acts 13:46-7).

Light and darkness are recurring images in Isaiah, and the extended descriptions in Isa 8:16-9:7 demonstrate their complex meanings. Darkness is the aimlessness that comes from ignoring the Lord’s teaching, and it results in the further darkness of judgment (Isa 8:16-22). Light is the opposite of this, and will be seen in a kingdom of peace, justice, and prosperity under a divine son of David (Isa 9:1-7). Jesus is this light of revelation and salvation for Israel and for the ends of the earth (Luke 2:32).

Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Isaiah 49:7

Jesus was hated by his own nation of Israel, and he was a servant of Rome. Then he rose to eternal life and ascended to the right hand of God as king of kings. The kings of the earth will either submit to him willingly, or be conquered on the last day. The kingdom of light will fill the earth, and its enemies will be cast into outer darkness.