Chapter Ten - The Suffering Servant as the Redeemer (49-57), Part 1
As a result of this chapter, you should be able to:
describe the contents of Isaiah 49-52 as it relates to the outline given in the commentary; and
correctly interpret the servant passages in this chapter.
This chapter is divided into the following five parts:
God's salvation through the servant (49:1-26);
exhortations to the unbelieving (50:1-11);
exhortations to the righteous (50:1-23);
Zion's joy in the Lord's deliverance (52:1-12); and
The middle section of the three that make up the second part of Isaiah centers on the Messiah as the suffering Servant of the Lord. This is Christ the Redeemer. The section may be outlined as follows:
2. The Suffering Servant as the Redeemer (49:1-57:21)
2.1 God's Salvation Through the Servant (49:1-26)
2.2 Exhortations to the Unbelieving (50:1-11)
2.3 Exhortations to the Righteous (51:1-23)
2.4 Zion's Joy in the Lord's Deliverance (52:1-12)
2.5 The Suffering Servant of the Lord (52:13-53:12)
2.6 Restoration of Israel to the Place of Blessing (54:1-17)
2.7 Appeal to Come to God for Salvation (55:1-13)
2.8 Moral Exhortations in View of God's Salvation (56:1-12)
2.9 Contrast of the Contrite and the Wicked (57:1-21)
While the idea of the servant is constantly changing, sometimes referring to Israel and sometimes to the Messiah, this section emphasizes the messianic aspect. Messiah was introduced as the Servant of the previous section (Isaiah 42), but here His person and work are more clearly set forth.
1. GOD'S SALVATION THROUGH THE SERVANT (49:1-26)
As chapter 49 opens, the Messiah is speaking. The first half of the chapter tells of the exaltation of Messiah (vv. 1-13); the second half, of the glory that is to come to Zion (vv. 14-26).
Even though the speaker is called "Israel" in verse 4, the context shows it is obviously not the nation that is speaking. The description is individualistic. As many commentators have asserted, the Servant of this passage is the Immanuel of 7:14. Charles Ryrie says:
"Here the Messiah (cf. 41:8; 42:1), called Israel because in Him alone all of God's expectations were realized (49:3). His mission is to restore Israel to God and to bring light to the Gentiles (v. 6). Though despised at His first coming, He will be worshiped at His second coming (v. 7)" (Charles C. Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible, NASB, p. 1086).
Taking up an idea that has been given before (45:22), God says to the Servant: "I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (v. 6).
Through that marvelous salvation Zion is to be comforted. Zion is a title used often in Scripture for the city of Jerusalem and was originally the hill on which the ancient citadel was erected. In her captivity and judgment Zion is tempted to think that God has forgotten and forsaken her (v. 14), but He assures her that that cannot be (vv. 15-16). In glorifying Israel God will make use of Gentiles and will hold to a strict accounting all those who have oppressed His people (v. 26).
2. EXHORTATIONS TO THE UNBELIEVING (50:1-11)
In chapter 50, which contains exhortations to the unbelieving, God draws a contrast between the submissive Servant and disobedient Israel.
In the opening paragraph He shows His people that He has not rejected them, but that their sufferings arise from their own sins (vv. 1-3). God asks, "Why was there no man when I came?" (v. 2). He "came" by His servants the prophets (cf. Hebrews 1:1) and later by the Servant Himself, His beloved son (cf. Hebrews 1:2; John 1:10-11), but Israel did not give the proper response. Even when Christ came, He was rejected.
The next paragraph (vv. 4-9) amplifies the thought of the opposition to the Lord's Servant (cf. Hebrews 12:4). In verse 4, the King James Version is better than the New American Standard Bible - "the tongue of the learned."
It is not Isaiah who is speaking in this passage, nor is it an idealized portrait of the nation of Israel. It is an individual, not a group; it is the Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. He says: "I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting" (v. 6). That verse finds its historical fulfillment in the accounts in the gospels of the sufferings of Christ (see Matthew 26:67; 27:30). The Servant allowed Himself to be made subject to the worst indignities. He did not hide His face in confusion (contrast Jeremiah 51:51). Comparison of those with other passages shows the applicability of Isaiah's prophecy to the Lord Jesus Christ exclusively.
In verse 7 the Servant rests His case with God and goes forward with unflinching determination - what Stier called the "holy hardness of endurance." That same expression is found in Ezekiel 3:8-9. "1 know that I shall not be ashamed," He says, because He is free from real dishonor; everything that He endures is vicarious. How wonderful that He was willing to undergo all that for our salvation!
The Servant proceeds to show that He is not discouraged, because His justifier is near. The word translated "He who vindicates Me" is a legal term (cf. Deuteronomy 25:1). God will declare Him just, free from all the accusations of His enemies. Who is able to enter into a legal controversy with the Servant when God Himself is the Judge? (Cf. 41:1, 21; 43:9, 26; 45:20; 48:14, 16)
The chapter closes with the mention of two ways: the way of trust (v. 10) and the way of sorrow (v. 11); that is, dependence on God or dependence on self. The first way leads to peace and salvation, the other to destruction. Those are in essence the same two ways presented in Psalm 1 and in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-14).
In the closing verse the Lord is speaking to the nation and telling them that what they have prepared for the Servant will be the means of their own punishment. "The fire of wrath becomes the fire of divine judgment, and this fire becomes their bed of torment" (Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, 2:281).
3. EXHORTATIONS TO THE RIGHTEOUS (51:1-23)
It might be said that the previous exhortations were addressed to the nation as a whole, whereas these in chapter 51 are addressed to the godly remnant, those "who pursue righteousness" (v. 1). The first part of the chapter gives comforting assurances to those who seek the Lord (vv. 1-16); the remainder again speaks of the triumph of Jerusalem and the destruction of her enemies (vv. 17-23).
The exhortation of verse 1 is for those who sustain the proper relationship to God, in contrast to the wicked of 46:12 and chapters 48 and 50. The "rock" and the "quarry" are figurative expressions for their extractions or descent. The righteous are exhorted to look to those who have gone before, their ancestors or progenitors.
In verse 2 the figure of the preceding verse is stated literally with the mention of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham, as the ancestor of the nation of Israel, is mentioned one hundred fifteen times in the Bible in addition to the numerous times he is named in Genesis, but Sarah is referred to only a few times. Emphasis is placed here on the fact that Abraham was only one when God called him. The contrast is between the one and the word multiplied (cf. Genesis 15:5 and Ezekiel 33:24). The increase given by God as described in verse 2 looks forward to what is said in the next verse about the fulfillment of God's promises. The promise-keeping God will fulfill His word even more abundantly in the future.
The statement at the beginning of verse 3 looks back to the opening note of this part of Isaiah (40:1). The change that is to come on the land is set forth in very strong language (cf. Ezekiel 31:9). "As Sarah gave birth to Isaac after a long period of barrenness, so Zion, a second Sarah, will be surrounded by a joyous multitude of children after a long period of desolation." (Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, 2:283).
The words righteousness and salvation in verse 5 are used synonymously (cf. 46:13). There is salvation for God's people at the same time as there is judgment on His enemies. "My arms" is an allusion to God's power, as in verse 9 and in 53:1.
In verse 9 an appeal is made that Yahweh's power may be exerted on Israel's behalf. There is reference to the manifested power of God in the deliverance from Egypt (represented here by the term rahab) and in the further deliverance at the Red Sea (v. 10). It is followed by the same joyous refrain found previously in 35:10. Characteristic repetitions in Isaiah, such as the interweaving of themes and refrains and reappearances of leading ideas, help to show the perfect unity of the book.
The same God who created the heavens and divided the sea for Israel in her earlier history will bring about this glorious deliverance. Jerusalem, who has drunk the cup of God's fury to the dregs, has the promise that she will never drink of it again (v. 22). Instead, the oppressors of Israel shall drink of it (v. 23).
4. ZION'S JOY IN THE LORD'S DELIVERANCE (52:1-12)
This chapter portrays Zion's joy in the Lord's deliverance. Again (as in 51:17) Jerusalem is called on to awaken (v. 1). The city is pictured as a beautiful woman who has been prostrate in the dust, but who is now to get up and sit on the throne that God has prepared for her (v. 2). Sitting or lying in the dust indicates her mourning and the fact that she had been a prisoner.
God is the One who delivers. "Since God had received no price for them, He was under no obligation to release them" (Joseph Addison Alexander, Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, 2:274). God is pictured here as absolute. He is sovereign and in need of nothing, but able to give all things on behalf of His people. Verse 4 lists the oppressions of Israel by Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. The rulers mentioned in verse 5 are the pagan oppressors who exult cruelly over the plight of Israel and blaspheme the name of God, which is deserving of the highest honor. God presents Himself as the One who is true and omnipotent in fulfilling His promise of redemption (v. 6).
The herald is next pictured as coming on the mountains around Jerusalem to proclaim God's salvation and reign (v. 7). Paul makes an application of this in reference to the gospel in Romans 10:15. The "watchmen" (v. 8) are the prophets, as in other passages (cf. 56:10; Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17; 33:2, 7).
The baring of God's holy arm (v. 10) is a reference to the practice in ancient warfare of going into battle with the right arm unencumbered. The result of the display of God's power will be to convince the nations so that "all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God" (v. 10).
Verses 11 and 12 describe the going out from Babylon. There is a parallel in the mystical Babylon of the end time, as God's people are commanded to come out of the evil world-system (Revelation 18:4-5). This going out is in contrast to the Exodus from Egypt, on which occasion the Israelites were told to ask for possession from the Egyptians to recompense them for the many years of slavery they had endured (see Exodus 12:36). The mention of the vessels of the Lord (v. 11) "is an indirect prophecy, and was fulfilled in the fact that Cyrus directed the gold and silver vessels," which Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from the Temple and taken to Babylon, "to be restored to the returning exiles as their rightful property (Ezra 1:7-11)" (Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, 2:301).
The fact that they were not to go out in haste is also in contrast to the departure from Egypt (Exodus 12:11). In the last sentence of Isaiah 52:12 is evidently an allusion to the pillar of cloud (cf. Exodus 14:19-20).
It is as though a complete cycle has been made from chapter 40, for the message again is related that "the Lord has comforted His people" (v. 9). With the Lord both before and behind them, Israel is safe (v. 12).
5. FINAL THOUGHTS
Needless to say, commentators who are amillennial in their eschatology and those who do not have a dispensational viewpoint regard Jerusalem or Zion as the church and find a "spiritual" meaning as the only valid extension of the prophecy. Some, of course, take the position that the return from Babylon in Cyrus's day or a later period exhausts the prophecies. They will not, or cannot, see national Israel as having any part in the future. The return from Babylon was a fulfillment of prophecy both in Isaiah and in other books; there is no doubt about that. But Scripture also abounds in predictions concerning the worldwide restoration of the people of israel to their own land in the end time.
It has been mentioned repeatedly in this study guide that the deliverance through Cyrus is a foreshadowing of a greater deliverance through the Messiah. That does not rule out application of those great spiritual truths to all believers of every age or dispensation. How thankful New Testament saints can and should be to God for including them in so many of His great promises! Principles that apply to Israel in the Old Testament can be seen as applying to the church in the New Testament. But Israel is Israel, Jerusalem is Jerusalem, Zion is Zion, and to call any of those entities the church, as the Reformers (great men and Bible scholars though they were) did and as so many of their followers do, is to introduce hopeless confusion to the interpretation of Scripture.
Some segments of the church that are ready to claim all of Israel's physical and material blessings as well as the spiritual ones are not so ready to accept God's judgments and curses on Israel. The church is never called Israel in the New Testament. Paul's reference to "the Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16 is evidently to the true Israel, the godly remnant, who during this present church age are a part of the church, as Paul himself was (Romans 11:1-6). The New Testament recognizes three ethnic divisions of mankind: "Jews," "Greeks" [that is, Gentiles], and "the church of God" (1 Corinthians 10:32). That last group contains those believers in Christ from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.
We may thank God that believers of this church dispensation have already experienced many of the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant, which Israel nationally will not receive until a future day. That day is previewed in the next section.
6. REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDATION FOR FURTHER STUDY
An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books, Chapter 6, Moody Press: Chicago, 1986 Edition, by C. Hassell Bullock.
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