Isaiah 49. The Second Servant Poem.
Key Notes: Was the Servant frustrated, discouraged? God will make Him king. Discouragement is normal in servants.
The problem of identity comes up in Isaiah often. Who is the Shoot from the stump of Jesse (11:1-), or the King of Babylon (14:3-), one stirred up from the east (41:2), or The Servant who opens the eyes of the blind (42:7), but who is also blind (42:19)? Who is the Arm of the Lord? (Isa.53:1. ) We are challenged by the "Who am I" question again in Isa.49.
The Servant speaks in the first person, saying that he was born of woman and commissioned before birth. 49:1
His mouth is like a sharp sword. He is like a polished arrow. His power is hidden. 49:2
He is named as My Servant, Israel. 49:3
His ministry is frustrating and in vain. 49:4
He is to bring Israel back to God. 49:5
He will be a light to the nations. 49:6
He will be despised by the nations. 49:7
He will be a covenant to the people (49:8), to establish the land, and bring forth the prisoners. 49:9
•The first possibility is that the Servant is Isaiah himself, because he speaks in the first person. But would we find him as one to whom princes prostrate themselves? (49:7). It is unlikely, too high a calling even for Isaiah.
•The second possibility is that the Servant is Israel / Jacob because he is called Israel. Was Israel / Jacob called from his mother's womb? "Two nations are in your womb" (Gen.25:23) shows that Jacob was prophesied by God before birth. But this Servant will call Jacob back to Him (49:5). It is not likely that Jacob will call Jacob back to God.
•A third possibility is that the Servant is the Israel of God, the godly remnant. But the servant is clearly a man born to woman and not a group of people.
•The best fit is that the Servant is Christ.
He was named before birth. Matt.1:20–21; Lk.1:31
His mouth is like a sharp sword. Isa.11:4 speaks of "the rod of His mouth". Revelation (1:16; 2:16;’:15) says He will slay with the breath of his mouth, as with "a sharp two-edged sword". (IIThes.2:8). In other words, He has the power to condemn.
But was His work in vain?
Rejected by Nazareth, vilified by the priests, rejected by the Gadarenes, betrayed by a close disciple, denied by another and forsaken by all, torture-killed by the Romans and buried in a borrowed tomb.
He is a light to the nations (Lk.2:32), His salvation reaching to the end of the earth.
Kings will bow to Him. Every knee shall bow. Phil.2:10
He will bring forth the prisoners. Isa.42:7
We conclude that the Servant is Christ. The word of God comes from His mouth. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing, dividing, and discerning. (Heb.4:12). His Word will pierce the heart, reveal hidden thoughts, and separate the wheat from the chaff. No greater power is necessary.
49:2.God hid Him like a polished arrow in the quiver: a carpenter's son, living among Galileans and polished until aged 30, with only three years of public life, suddenly appearing in the temple with overwhelming power.
Was he discouraged? Discouragement is hidden from us in the Gospels, but brought out plainly here. Why not? That He was incredulous at unbelief, disappointed with the disciples, and angry with the Pharisees, is certain. We do not know what He said in all-night prayers, supposing they are mostly in preparation--for ministry, calling disciples, going to the Cross. He may have been asking for renewed patience and strength.
God strengthens Him with three responses. 49:5
1. It is a small thing to restore the remnant of Israel. God will give Him as a light to the nations to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. 49:6
2. God will make the Redeemer, His Holy One, now despised and abhorred by the nations, into the King before whom other kings prostrate themselves. (49:7,8). Thus, He is King of Kings.
3. God has made Him a Covenant to the people.
a. to re-establish the Land. 49:8
b. to apportion lost inheritances. 49:8
c. to bring prisoners out of darkness. 49:9
d. to pasture them by springs of water. 49:9–10
e. to bring His people back from North, West, even Egypt or China! 49:12
[How will this happen?]
49:14. Israel complains meantime that she is forsaken and forgotten.
49:15–17 But God answers her as well. A suckling cannot be forgotten by its mother. Israel is graven on the palm of His hand.
49:18–26. What will the future of Israel be?
a. the builders will outdo the destroyers.
b. children will flock into the land.
c. kings will care for your children.
d. the oppressors will self-destruct.
Those who wait on the Lord will not be put to shame. 49:23
In summary, the second Servant Poem describes Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry as feeling that He was laboring in vain. In response, God rewards Him with world-wide success.
A simple application of the lesson is that we, much more than He, perceive ourselves as laboring in vain. Discouragement is a normal part of Christian work. Many of our early missionaries labored for years with no sign of a convert. I know one who worked in North Africa for 20 years and met with nothing but stiff resistance, counter-preaching. The Rasmussens of Pakistan cannot point to a single convert in spite of a their combined eighty years of witness.
Rather than blame ourselves for lack of faith, we are better to realize that even Jesus suffered massive resistance. But also, our successes are frequently invisible to our eyes. It is God who has sponsored the missionary enterprise, and it is He who will see it fulfilled.