BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 139 (554) (April 1982): 129-45.

[Copyright © 1982 Dallas Theological Seminary; cited with permission;

                   digitally prepared for use at Gordon College] 




Isaiah’s Songs of the Servant

                                  Part 2:



The Commission of the

Servant in Isaiah 49:1-13




F. Duane Lindsey




      In the first Servant song (Isa. 42:1-9) Yahweh conveyed a

distant prophecy of His Servant who will bring salvation and

establish a proper order on the entire earth.1 The passage in-

troduced the Servant and predicted His faithfulness in accom-

plishing the mission to which He was divinely called. Scarcely a

hint was given of the pathway of suffering to be trodden by

the Servant on the way to His completed mission. The task

itself involved mediating a New Covenant with Israel and caus-

ing a just order to prevail on the whole Gentile world.

      The second Servant song (Isa. 49: 1-13) brings out the

same basic concepts as the first poem, though the establish-

ment of a worldwide righteous order is not stressed. Instead

greater emphasis is placed on the physical and spiritual res-

toration of the nation Israel. The primary new feature in the

second song is the apparent initial failure of the Servant in His

mission to Israel which brings about an expanded commission

from Yahweh to bring salvation to the Gentiles.

      The second Servant song begins a new division (49:1-

57:21) in Isaiah’s Book of Comfort (chaps. 40-66). It is note-

worthy that this division also contains the remaining Servant

songs (50:4-11; 52:13; 53:12). Contrary to much critical

opinion,2 the Servant songs seem to form the backbone of the

structure of this division. Each song begins a cycle that cul-

minates in a powerful message of salvation.3 For example, the



130     Bibliotheca Sacra—April-June 1982


second song culminates in the proclamation of salvation to

Israel regarding future restoration (49:14-26).

      The message of the second song is that the rejected Ser-

vant will bring salvation to the Gentiles and ultimately

will restore Israel to the land and to Yahweh. The passage empha-

sizes not only the Servant’s expanded commission to the Gen-

tiles but also His ultimate success in fulfilling His initial mis-

sion to Israel. Whereas Yahweh was the speaker throughout the

first song (42:1-9), the initial strophe of the second song

(49:1-6) is a prophetic report by the Servant, followed by two

proclamations of salvation (v. 7; vv. 8-12) in which Yahweh

addresses the Servant, climaxed by an eschatological hymn by

the prophet (v. 13). The second Servant poem includes these

facts: (1) The Servant reports to the nations that Yahweh has

expanded His ministry to the Gentiles in view of his rejection

by Israel (49:1-6). (2) Yahweh promises His Servant tht He will

bring to completion both the Gentile and Jewish aspects of the

Servant’s mission (49:7-12). (3) The prophet calls on all cre-

ation to praise Yahweh who thus comforts His people (49:13).


      The Servant Reports His Expanded Mission

                        to the Gentiles (49:1-6)


      1Listen to me, you islands;

            here this you distant nations:

      Before I was born the LORD called me;

            from my birth he has made mention of my name.

      2He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,

            in the shadow of his hand he hid me;

      he made me into a polished arrow

            and concealed me in his quiver.

      3He said to me, “You are my servant,

            Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”

      4But I said, “I have labored to no purpose;

            I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.

      Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand,

            and my reward is with my God.”

      5And now the LORD says—

            he who formed me in the womb to be his servant

      to bring Jacob back to him

            and gather Israel to himself,

      for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD

            and my God has been my strength—

      6he says:

      “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant

            to restore the tribes of Jacob

The Commission of the Servant in Isaiah 49:1-13       131


            and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

      I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,

            that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the



      The Servant reports to the nations His expanded commis-

sion by Yahweh to minister to them in view of His rejection by

Israel. Whybray thinks that the literary genre of this paragraph

belongs to the “general category of the prophetic call narrative

…in which the prophet seeks to authenticate his claim to

speak on God’s behalf”5 (cf. Amos 7:14-15). Muilenburg lists

several points of similarity between the prophetic call of Jere-

miah and this call of the Servant6 (cf. Jer. 1:5). Melugin, how-

ever, holds that “the poem does not make it clear whether it is

the commissioning of a prophet or of a king or of some other

kind of official.”7 Even if it can be demonstrated that the

genre of the passage is the report of a prophet, Whybray is

incorrect in maintaining that the Servant is “Deutero-Isaiah”

himself.8 Rather, it must be contended with Blocher that:


      ...apart from the third Servant Song [Isa. 50:4-11], and the

      kindred prophecy of Isaiah 61, this kind of I-discourse is found

      nowhere else in the entire book of Isaiah. When the prophet tells

      us about events in his own life…the style, mood, and situation

      are altogether different. The kind of I-discourse which we have in

      the second Song is found only when God is the speaker. God—

      and the Servant.9


      The development of the paragraph (49: 1-6) indicates that:

(1) the Servant directs attention to His call, preparation, pres-

ervation, and commission by Yahweh (49:1-3); (2) the Servant

makes reference to His past confession of apparent failure and

to His past (or present?) affirmation of trust in God (49:4); and

(3) the Servant relates the enlargement of His call to bring

salvation to the Gentiles (49:5-6).




The Servant announces to the nations His prenatal call

by Yahweh (49:1). The Servant introduces the announcement

to His prenatal call by Yahweh with a summons to the nations

—“Listen to me, you islands; hear this you distant nations” (v.

1a) —for “the servant speaks with absolute authority, com-

manding the world to listen.”10 The speaker (“me”) is the “Ser-

vant” of verse 6, identical with the Servant of 42:1-9. The

132     Bibliotheca Sacra -April-June 1982


worldwide Gentile audience is addressed as “islands”11 and

“distant nations.” The Servant then refers to His prenatal call:

“Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has

made mention of my name” (v. 1b). The Hebrew employs vivid

imagery in speaking of the process of birth. The phrases could

be translated literally “from the womb” and “from the belly of

my mother.” Young over-optimistically suggests, “It is the refer-

ence to ‘my mother’ that makes it clear that the speaker is the

Messiah.”l2 Yet it is significant that there is no mention of Mes-

siah’s human father in the Old Testament (cf. Gen. 3:15; Ps.

22:9). The idea of calling before birth clearly indicates sovereign

choice, but to say that such calling is equivalent with predes-

tination (i.e., pretemporal, rather than just prenatal choice) is a

theological rather than an exegetical conclusion which may or

may not be implied in this text. “He has made mention of my

name” is literally “He caused my name to be remembered.” It is

not so much a naming process as a designating event, pointing

to the Servant’s office and vocation.l3

      The Servant affirms His preparation and preservation by

Yahweh (49:2). The first and third lines of this verse employ

synonymous parallelism to indicate the preparation of the Ser-

vant—“He made my mouth like a sharpened sword” (simile)

and “he made me into a polished arrow” (metaphor). The con-

notation of preparation is seen in that Yahweh “made” the

Servant these things. Sharpening and polishing also imply a

process of preparation. Similarly, it is possible to speak of the

Servant’s gifts in terms of His speaking ability. The Servant’s

“mouth” is probably a metonymy for his “words” which are

described under the figure of a sharpened sword as cutting or

effective. The Servant functions as “the mouthpiece of

Yahweh,”l4 the sword being a figure for the revelation of God

(cf. Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:16). North thus maintains

that “the ‘sharp’ word [sic] of the Servant is the word of a

prophet rather than the edict of a king.”15 Thus “the word of

the LORD is a formidable weapon, and it is because the Ser-

vant’s task is arduous and dangerous that Yahweh does not

send him to it until he has been properly equipped to face it.”l6

The “polished arrow” is a less common figure (cf. Jer. 23:29),

but it seems to indicate either the piercing or the far-ranging

effect of the Servant’s prophetic word: “God has endowed the

Servant’s word with the power to penetrate (a ‘sharp sword’)

and to range far and wide (‘a polished arrow’).”l7

The Commission of the Servant in Isaiah 49:1-13       133


      The second and fourth lines of verse 2 —“in the shadow of

his hand he hid me;…and concealed me in his quiver”—further

indicate the Servant’s relationship to Yahweh who prepared Him

in terms of preservation by Yahweh. But a question arises as to

the purpose of the preservation. Is it a concealment until the

proper time? Or does it simply indicate God’s care and pro-

tection? If the former, it might refer to the period of over thirty

years in Jesus’ preparation for public ministry,18 or to His pres-

ent session in heaven during the interadvent period as He

awaits the Second Advent (cf. Rev. 1:16, where He is described

as having a sharp sword coming out of His mouth). On the

other hand “to be hidden by the Lord means to be under his

care and protection (cf. Psalms 17:8; 27:5; 31:20; 64:2; Jer.

36:26).”19 Perhaps both elements—concealment as well as

protection—are included in Yahweh’s preservation of the


      The Servant reports His divine commission as the true

Israel to glorify Yahweh (49:3). In addition to announcing His

divine call, preparation, and preservation, the Servant con-

tinues His report to the Gentiles with a rehearsal of the words

of divine commission. “He said to me, ‘You are my servant,

Israel, in whom I will display my splendor’” (v. 3). The literary

genre appears to move at this point from the call of the prophet

to the designation of a king (cf. Isa. 42:1-4; Ps. 2:7). This in-

volves no inconsistency since the promises concerning the

Davidic Messiah (beginning in 2 Sam. 7) and the prophet like

Moses (cf. Deut. 18:15), which ultimately merge in the person

of Jesus Christ, already began to intertwine in Isaiah’s Servant


      On the surface, the statement “You are my servant, Israel,”

explicitly identifies Yahweh’s Servant as the nation Israel (cf.

Isa. 41:8-16; 42:18-25; 43:1-13; 44:1-4; 48:20-21). However,

an apparent contradiction then arises in verses 5-6 in which

the Servant’s task is to bring Israel back to Yahweh and to the

land. This apparent contradiction leads Kelley to exclaim: “The

elusiveness of the Servant’s identity is nowhere more apparent

than in this second Servant Song.”20

      Some scholars remove the problem by removing the term

Israel” from the text in verse 3. Westermann, for example, re-

gardsIsrael” as “a later addition” to the text, “the ancient wit-

ness to the collective interpretation of the Servant, one gloss

among the many that seek to interpret the text.”21 But this

134     Bibliotheca Sacra -April-June 1982


view is contradicted by the manuscript evidence which clearly

supports inclusion of the term “Israel.”22

      Those who retain “Israel” in the text normally follow one of

two interpretive paths: (1) “Israel” means the nation which in

this passage is pictured corporately under the figure of an indi-

vidual servant, or (2) an individual servant is here designated by

the generic name “Israel.” North advocates the first view and

says that “Israel [v. 3] could have a mission to Israel [vv. 5-6]

very much as we say that the first mission of the Church is to

the Church.”23 But, as Leupold responds, “this seems too much

like exhorting a nation to draw itself up by its own

bootstraps.”24 Furthermore, the vivid detail in the description

of the Servant as an individual “goes beyond possibilities of

metaphor”25 (e.g., the expression, “from the bowels of my

mother,” v. 1, AV).

      The view of Young that “Israel then is a description of the

true people of God, the whole body of the redeemed as mem-

bers under the Head, the Messiah,”26 is just as deficient as the

similar view of Alexander.27 Birks refuted that view over a cen-

tury ago as a view “opposed to the plain words of the text….

For the Church is no single person, has no mother, was not

named by prophecy before birth, does not restore Israel, is the

receiver, not the giver of salvation.”28 Thus the view that

Israel” (49:3) is a title of the individual messianic Servant29

harmonizes most satisfactorily with the passage and context.

      The glorification of Yahweh is indicated as the ultimate

purpose in the commission of the Servant—“in whom I will

display my splendor.” While the Servant speaks in verse 5 of

His honor and success in the eyes of Yahweh, in verse 3

Yahweh directs attention to the Servant’s glorification. Wester-

mann avers that it is expected of a servant to glorify his mas-

ter, not of the master to glorify the servant, and views the glor-

ification as “a hidden and paradoxical one; partly because the

lord’s [sic] purpose is to glorify himself at the hands of the

Servant, and partly because only the opposite of glory can be

discerned in the Servant.”30 The ultimate resolution of this

paradox is discerned in the distinction between the Servant’s

distinct accomplishments at His two advents, the First Advent

culminating in “the sufferings of Christ” and the Second Advent

manifesting “the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:11). This

glorification is manifested in part by the Servant’s ultimate

acceptance by Gentile kings and princes (Isa. 49:7).

The Commission of the Servant in Isaiah 49:1-13       135





      This present acknowledgment by the Servant of His past

confession of apparent failure and of His past (or present?)

affirmation of trust in God possibly reflects several motifs of

the thanksgiving or declarative praise psalm.31 Westermann

calls it a “lament of a mediator.”32 It is not clear whether the

confession of trust (v. 4b) is a part of the past lament (the NIV

includes it within the quotation that follows “I said”) or a pres-

ent statement in contrast with the past lament. In either case

the context implies a continuing confidence in God on the part

of the Servant.

      The Servant reports His apparent past failure (49:4a).

The Servant’s affirmation of confidence in God (v. 4b) comes in

the wake of His reference to apparent failure regarding the

fruitfulness of His mission to Israel (cf. v. 5). “But I said, ‘I

have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain

and for nothing’” (v. 4a). Though these words may reflect dis-

couragement or despondency on the part of the Servant, they

do not reflect doubt or defeat, for the Servant retains His confi-

dence in Yahweh despite difficulties (cf. 42:4; Ps. 22). The

adversative “but” contrasts the high calling and remarkable

abilities of the Servant (vv. 1-3) with His seemingly disappoint-

ing results in carrying out His task (v. 4a). The passage is remi-

niscent of the situation of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet (cf.

Jer., 15:10,18; 20:14-18), and was fulfilled in the death of

Christ on the cross.

      The Servant affirms His confidence in God (49:4b). The

Servant’s apparent failure does not abort His expression of

confidence in God. “Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand

[lit., “my right is with Yahweh”], and my regard is with my

God” (v. 4b). The word translated “what is due me” (NIV) or “my

judgment” (AV) is yFiPAw;mi the word so significant in the first

Servant song.33 It is tempting to translate and interpret FPAw;mi

here in a sense identical with its usage in 42:1,3,4 (referring

to the Servant’s activity in establishing a just order on the

whole earth).34 Yet it is probably “best to preserve the judicial

sense of Fpwm that the verdict of Yahweh on the service of the

Servant will be a favorable one.”35 Thus “vindication” (or “just

reward”) would be an appropriate translation. The parallel with

Ytil.AfuP;, meaning “reward” or “recompense” (i.e., the fruit or re-

136     Bibliotheca Sacra -April-June 1982


sult of His labor; cf. Lev. 19:13; Prov. 10:16; 11:18; Isa. 61:8),

supports this meaning. In further support of this view, Pieper

points out that “the suffix [the pronoun “my” in English]

shows that this right is a personal prerogative of the

Servant.”36 In contrast with the apparent failure of His mis-

sion, the Servant voices His deepest trust that Yahweh will

confirm and vindicate His work by granting His Servant ulti-

mate success (cf. Isa. 50:8; 53:11-12). Although the dark sha-

dow of the Cross apparently blacks out the accomplishment of

God’s purpose, the brilliant splendor of the crown reflects the

ultimate success of the Servant.





      Rather than resulting in the discontinuation of His mis-

sion, the apparent failure of the Servant leads on to an enlarge-

ment of His mission to include all nations. While the Gentile

mission of the Servant is an advancement in the task of the

Servant to glorify God and follows on His rejection by the Jews

(cf. Acts 13:47), the enlarged task neither annuls nor changes

God’s purpose for Israel to be fulfilled through the Servant.

      The Servant affirms Yahweh’s purpose to restore Israel

spiritually through Him (49:5). Before rehearsing the enlarged

call (“And now the LORD says…”) concerning the Gentile mis-

sion, the Servant recapitulates and evidently reaffirms

Yahweh’s initial calling and purpose to bring salvation to

Israel. “He who formed me in the womb to be his servant to

bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel again to himself, for

I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my

strength” (v. 5). Westermann justifiably calls verse 5 “a longish

introduction” to the new commission in verse 6.37 This em-

phasis on the originally revealed purpose of God through the

Servant is not to introduce its nonfulfillment but rather to reaf-

firm its ultimate fulfillment. The Servant was born to accom-

plish a certain divine purpose and the power of God through

the Servant will not fail in the accomplishment of that pur-

pose. MacRae’s suggestion that the phrase “formed me in the

womb” possibly refers to the virgin birth38 must be evaluated

in the light of one’s conclusion regarding the birth process in

verse 1.

      The purpose of the Servant’s mission as stated in this

verse is spiritual —to bring Israel back to God Himself (cf. Isa.

The Commission of the Servant in Isaiah 49:1-13 137


55:7; Jer. 4:1), not to bring them back from Babylon.39 The

Hebrew text (i.e., Kethiv) has the negative xlo, “not” (AV), which

has the same sound as the Ol, “to himself” (NIV and other

modern translations). Ol is probably to be preferred, having the

support of  IQIsa and some other manuscripts and versions.

The resulting synonymous parallelism between “bring back to

him” and “gather to himself” also gives a smoother under-

standing of the passage. However, if xlo is correct, then the verb

probably has the sense of “sweep away”—“that Israel might

not be swept away.”40

      The verse concludes with an assurance of the Servant’s

vindication before Yahweh, probably anticipating His ultimate

success in His mission to Israel.

      The Servant affirms Yahweh’s enlarged call (49:6). The

Servant affirms Yahweh’s enlarged call not only for the Servant

to restore Israel physically to the land but also to bring salva-

tion to the Gentiles spiritually. The Servant first quotes

Yahweh’s commission to Him regarding an enlarged mission to

the Gentiles. Yahweh answers the Servant’s “discouragement”

(v. 4a) with a call to greater responsibility (cf., Jer. 12:5; 15:19-

21; 1 Kings 19:9-18). The enlarged task is related to the initial

task regarding Israel—“It is too small a thing for you to be my

servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of

Israel I have kept” (v. 6a).

      The phrase “tribes of Jacob” implies political organization

and so a political task, that is, restoring the tribes of Jacob

back to the position of dignity they do not now enjoy.41 As verse

5 identified the spiritual aspect of the Servant’s task toward

Israel—to bring Israel back to God—so this verse indicates

the physical/political aspect of the mission—to bring Israel

back to the land. Yet even this is “too small a thing,” that is, it is

insignificant in comparison with the greater task of bringing

salvation to the whole world. This neither belittles nor annuls

the Servant’s mission to Israel, but enlarges it. “The greater

task…does not exclude the lesser.”42 Yahweh promises the

Servant success in both His Jewish and Gentile missions


      Young sees this work of restoration as first alluding to the

return from exile and finally referring to “the spiritual restora-

tion of [spiritual] Israel [i.e., in the church] accomplished by

Christ.”43 His conclusion that “nowhere does the Bible teach

that the entire physical Israel will be saved”44 cannot be harmo-

138     Bibliotheca Sacra -April-June 1982


nized with a proper understanding of Romans 11:26-27. At the

Second-Advent judgment on living Israelites (described in Matt.

25:1-30; Ezek. 20:37-38; Mal. 3:2-3, 5), the unbelievers will be

purged out of Israel through physical death, leaving on earth a

regenerate nation Israel (along with regenerate Gentiles) at the

beginning of the millennial kingdom.45

      The enlarged mission to the Gentiles climaxes the Ser-

vant’s commission from Yahweh—“I will also make you a light

for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of

the earth” (v. 6b). “Light” is here parallel with “salvation” (cf.

Isa. 42:6). Yahweh’s initiative is clearly indicated in the verb (“I

will also make you”), as seen by Young, “God has appointed the

servant to this work and determined that he should carry it



Yahweh Promises a Completely Fulfilled Mission

                        to the Servant (49:7-12)


      7This is what the LORD says—

            the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel

      to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,

            to the servant of rulers:

      “Kings will see you and arise,

            princes will see and bow down,

because of the LORD, who is faithful,

the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

8This is what the LORD says:

“In the time of my favor I will answer you,

and in the day of salvation I will help you;

I will keep you and will make you

to be a covenant for the people,

to restore the land

and to assign its desolate inheritances,

9to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’

and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’

They will feed beside the roads

and find pasture on every barren hill.

10They will neither hunger nor thirst.

nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them.

He who has compassion on them will guide them

and lead them beside springs of water.

11I will turn all my mountains into roads,

and my highways will be raised up.

12See, they will come from afar—

some from the north, some from the west,

some from the region of Sinim.”

The Commission of the Servant in Isaiah 49:1-13       139


      The speaker in this unit is Yahweh (cf. v. 7a), the person

addressed is the Servant (cf. v. 7b),47 and the subject is the

ultimate success of the Servant with respect to both Israel and

the Gentiles. Yahweh promises to His Servant that He will ful-

fill both the Gentile and Jewish aspects of the Servant’s mis-

sionthat the Gentiles will worship Him (v. 7) and that Israel

will be restored by Him (vv. 8-12). This twofold fulfillment of

the Servant’s mission (Gentile and Jewish aspects) corres-

ponds with the literary genre of the passage which consists of

two oracles or announcements of salvation—one concerning

the worship of the Gentiles (v. 7) and the other regarding the

restoration of Israel (vv. 8-12). Thus the development of the

unit is twofold: (1) Yahweh promises His despised Servant that

the Gentiles will worship Him (v. 7) and (2) Yahweh promises

His Servant that at the appointed time He will restore Israel in

safety from all over the earth (vv. 8-12).





The messenger formula that introduces this announce-

ment of salvation is expanded (cf. 42:5) with two divine titles:

“This is what the LORD says—the Redeemer and Holy One of

Israel” (v. 7a). These two titles are often combined by Isaiah (cf.

41:14; 43:14; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5). The term lxeGo (“Redeem-

er”) customarily referred to a “near kinsman” who protected a

distressed relative in various circumstances (e.g., Lev. 25:47-

49; Num. 35:19; Ruth 3:11-13). Isaiah often uses it figuratively

of Yahweh’s intimate and binding relationship to Israel. The

title “Holy One of Israel” indicates that the God who judges

Israel (cf. Isa. 1:4) is the same God who redeems Israel.

      Yahweh addresses the Servant in words which show the

completeness of Israel’s rejection of Him: “to him who was de-

spised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers” (v.

7b). The NIV translation incorporates the term wp,n, into the

verb. “Despised of soul” could mean “despised in regard to his

soul,” that is, deemed unworthy to live, or “despised from the

soul,” that is, heartily despised.48 If wp,n, is taken to mean “peo-

ple” (cf. Gen. 17:14), then the translation “despised of men”

would parallel both Isaiah 53:3 and the parallel phrases here in

49:7 (“abhorred by the nation” and “servant of rulers”). The

word yOG probably does not refer to “the human race

generally,”49 but rather to the nation Israel. The “rulers” could

140     Bibliotheca Sacra -April-June 1982


refer to both Jewish and Gentile leaders who reject Him before

the ultimate Success of His mission.

      The Servant will ultimately be recognized and worshiped

by Gentile kings—“Kings will see you and arise, princes will

see and bow down” (v. 7c). This recognition of the Servant for

what He actually is anticipates 52:15. The reversal of the Ser-

vant’s circumstances (from rejection to recognition in worship)

depends on the faithfulness of Yahweh—“because of the

LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen

you” (v. 7d).



TIME (49:8-12)


      Yahweh’s promise to restore Israel through His Servant is

perplexing to some scholars such as North, who says, “This

looks very like the political task which Yahweh had said he no

longer requires of the Servant.”50 The solution does not lie in

the deletion or transposition of certain lines of the text, as

done by North,51 but rather in the recognition that God is not

through with Israel as a nation even though she was involved

in the initial rejection of the Servant.

      Yahweh promises His Servant help in restoring Israel

(49:8). The keynote of the paragraph is struck as Yahweh

(“This is what the LORD says”) promises His Servant help in

restoring Israel at the appointed time. “In the time of my favor

I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I

will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people,

to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances” (v.

8). The verbs (“answer” and “help”) probably imply a previous

lament by the Servant (as alluded to in v. 4a; cf. Ps. 22:19-21).

The temporal nouns (“time” and “day”) indicate not the time

limits but the certainty of the events to be accomplished.

Whybray regards the clause, “I will keep you and will make you

to be a covenant for the people,” as a later addition from 42:6

(where he thinks it refers to Cyrus). He suggests as evidence for

this view that since the context (49:8-12) is “wholly con-

cerned with the restoration of Israel,” the phrase “a covenant

for the people” is unfitting in this context. 52 But this argument

presupposes the conclusion that “the people” (MfA) are Gentiles

rather than Israel. It was indicated in the previous article in

this series that the phrase “a covenant for the people” refers to

Yahweh’s New Covenant with His people Israel which He will

The Commission of the Servant in Isaiah 49:1-13             141


establish through His Servant-Messiah.53 The same truth is re-

peated here in the context of Israel’s future restoration to the

land, thus combining the spiritual blessings of the New Cove-

nant for Israel with the physical blessings of her restoration to

the land.

      Leupold approaches the promise of restoration differently

by limiting the fulfillment of this promise to the period of Jew-

ish restoration from Babylon: “This means that the Restora-

tion from Captivity in particular will be brought about by the

Messiah. Strangely, before his Incarnation he brings blessings

to his people.”54 It is better, similar to the view of Delitzsch,55 to

view the Incarnation of the coming messianic Servant as immi-

nent (but unfulfilled) during the period of the return from

Babylon. Young asserts concerning the restoration in verse 8,

“The picture refers primarily not to the return from exile, but

to the reestablishment of the Davidic kingdom under the Mes-

siah, when all the true seed of Abraham will receive their prom-

ised inheritance.”56 Unfortunately, Young intended the phrase

“all the true seed of Abraham” to identify believers during the

present age of the church. If the phrase is taken to identify

those regenerate Jews at the Second Advent to whom the New

Covenant will be fulfilled (cf. Rom. 11:26-27), it is an excellent

statement of the meaning of this passage. The “desolate inheri-

tances” relate to the physical land of Israel (cf. 1:7; 6:11; 17:9;

54: 1; 61 :4; 62:4; 64:9). Thus the promise of Israel’s final and

permanent restoration to the land (cf. Amos 9:11-15) awaits

fulfillment following the return of the Servant-Messiah.

      Yahweh promises that the Servant will regather His cap-

tive people (49:9a). Yahweh’s promise to help His Servant re-

store Israel at the appointed time (v. 8) includes the promise

that the Servant will regather Yahweh’s captive people—“to

say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be

free!’” (v. 9a). While the language of this promise may be taken

from the Exile, the ultimate fulfillment in the context relates to

the future day when the messianic Servant will establish the

New Covenant with Israel at His return (cf. Isa. 42:7).

      Yahweh promises that the Servant will shepherd His

needy flock (49 :9b-10). The imagery of the promise indicates

that the Servant will shepherd Yahweh’s needy flock. “They will

feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill.

They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or

the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will

142     Bibliotheca Sacra -April-June 1982


guide them and lead them beside springs of water” (vv. 9b-10).

The language is reminiscent of the Exodus and was appropri-

ate and potentially could have been fulfilled if the Servant had

come at the time of the return from the Babylonian Captivity.

When the Messiah did come, it could have been fulfilled in the

Herodian period of the first-century Roman Empire, but the

rejection of the Servant has delayed its fulfillment (from the hu-

man perspective) until the Second Advent.

      Yahweh promises to regather His people from all over the

earth (49:11-12). The promise concludes that Yahweh’s people

will be marshalled from great distances and all directions on

the earth. The figure appears to be changed from that of a

shepherd and his sheep to that of a great people on the march.

“I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will

be raised up. See, they will come from afar—some from the

north, some from the west, some from the region of Sinim” (vv.

11-12). An ancient interpretation links “Sinim” to China—a

view which still has many adherents.57 Whybray represents

many modern scholars who identify it as modern Aswan, a dis-

trict on the southern frontier of ancient Egypt.58

      Regardless of the exact location of this area, the thrust of

the promise is that Yahweh will remove all obstacles that hin-

der the return of His people Israel to their land from all over

the earth.


Isaiah Calls on All Creation to Praise Yahweh (49:13)


      13Shout for joy, 0 heavens;

            rejoice, 0 earth;

            burst into song, 0 mountains!

      For the LORD comforts his people

            and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.


      The Prophet Isaiah has communicated the Servant’s report

of His expanded mission to the Gentiles (vv. 1-6) and Yahweh’s

promise to the Servant that the Servant will completely fulfill

His mission, not only in the expanded Gentile aspect (v. 7) but

also in the originally stated purpose of the spiritual and

physical restoration of the nation Israel (vv. 7-12). Therefore

Isaiah now calls on all creation to praise Yahweh who thus de-

livers His people, because when the nation Israel is properly

related to Yahweh, then all creation will rejoice (cf. Isa.. 42: 10-

12; 52:9; 55:12-13).

The Commission of the Servant in Isaiah 49:1-13             143




      Isaiah follows the normal structure of the hymnic genre

(cf. Ps. 117) by introducing the cause for praise (v. 13b) with a

preceding call to praise (v. 13a) —“Shout for joy, 0 heavens;

rejoice, 0 earth; burst into song, 0 mountains!” The verbs are

characteristic of the vocabulary of praise found in the Psalter.59

Isaiah’s synonymous parallelism characteristically draws the

whole universe into singing Yahweh’s praise.




      Yahweh is worthy of all praise because of His infinite great-

ness and grace. In this case the cause for praise is His grace

toward His people Israel in redeeming them and restoring

them to the land. “For the LORD comforts his people and will

have compassion on his afflicted ones” (v. 13b). The context

suggests that the verbs relate to the future when Yahweh will

“have compassion on his afflicted ones” as manifested in His

redeeming acts, and thus He will comfort His people Israel.




      Yahweh’s called and gifted Servant is rejected at first by

His own people Israel, but in a future day of grace He will ulti-

mately succeed not only in fulfilling an expanded mission to

bring salvation to the Gentiles, but also in restoring Israel both

to the land (physically and politically) and to Yahweh (spiritual-

ly), thus eliciting universal praise to Yahweh, the Redeemer

and Holy One of Israel.





1 Cf. the preceding article in this series, “The Call of the Servant in Isaiah

      42:1-9, Part 1 of Isaiah’s Songs of the Servant,” Bibliotheca Sacra 139 (January-

      March 1982):12-31. In this article it was concluded that the anonymous Ser-

      vant of Isaiah 42: 1-9 can be none other than the royal Davidic Messiah, the

      Lord Jesus Christ, who will cause a right order to prevail on the earth following

      His second advent at the time of the fulfillment of the promised New Covenant

      for the nation Israel. This introduces the millennial kingdom in which world-

      wide spiritual and physical blessings will extend not only to Israel but also to

      the Gentiles.

2 Cf. Claus Westermann. Isaiah 40—66: A Commentary (Philadelphia: West-

      minster Press, 1975), pp. 20-21, 29.

3 Robert B. Chisholm, “Toward a Form Critical/Structural Analysis of Isaiah,”

144      Bibliotheca Sacra -April-June 1982


      paper submitted for course 158 Old Testament Theology III, Dallas Theological

      Seminary, Fall 1980, pp. 62-63.

4 All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) un-

      less designated otherwise.

5 R. N. Whybray, Isaiah 40—66, New Century Bible Commentary (Grand

      Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981), p. 137.

6 James Muilenburg, “The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66,” in The Interpreter’s

      Bible, 12 vols, ed. George R. Buttrick (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956), 5:566.

7 Roy F. Melugin, The Formation of Isaiah 40-55 (New York: Walter de Gruy-

      ter, 1976), p. 143.

8 Whybray, Isaiah 40—66, p. 135.

9 Henri Blocher, Songs of the Servant (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975), pp.


10 Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah: The English Text, with Introduc-

      tion, Exposition, and Notes, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub-

      lishing Co., 1965, 1969, 1972),3:268.

11 “Islands” refer to “the distant shores of the West, representative of all re-

      mote areas of the then-known world” (H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Isaiah

      [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 19711,2:63).

12 Young, Isaiah, 3:268.

13 Ibid.

14 Whybray, Isaiah 40—66, p. 137.

15 Christopher R. North, The Second Isaiah: Introduction, Translation, and

      Commentary to Chapters XL-LV (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 187.

16 Ibid.

17 Westermann, Isaiah 40—66, p. 208.

18 T. R. Birks, Commentary on the Book of Isaiah (London: Rivingtons,

      1871), p. 250.

19 Page H. Kelley, “Isaiah,” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, 12 vols.

      (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 5:330; cf. Westermann, Isaiah 40-66, p.


20 Kelley, “Isaiah,” p. 329.

21 Westermann, Isaiah 40—66, p. 209.

22 Cf. North, Second Isaiah, pp. 187-88.

23 Ibid., p. 189.

24 Leupold, Isaiah, 2:175.

25 Whybray, Isaiah 40—66, p. 136.

26 Young, Isaiah, 3:270.

27 Alexander interpreted “Israel” as a “complex subject including the Messiah

      and his people,” i.e., the Christian church (Joseph Addison Alexander, Com-

      mentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing

      House, 1953], 2:226).

28 Birks, Isaiah, p. 250.

29 The words of Delitzsch are significant at this point: “Israel was from the

      very first the God-given name of an individual. Just as the name Israel was first

      of all given to a man, and then after that to a nation, so the name which

      sprang from a personal root has also a personal crown” (Franz Delitzsch,

      Isaiah, Commentary on the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans

      Publishing Co., 1973], 2:260). Payne concludes, “Verse 3 entitles this coming

      Servant ‘Israel’ who will bring glory to God, in marked contrast to the historical

      Israel” (David F. Payne, “Isaiah,” in The New Layman’s Bible Commentary, ed.

      G. C. D. Howley, F. F. Bruce, and H. L. Ellison [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub-

      lishing House, 19791, p.805).

30 Westermann, Isaiah 40—66, pp. 209-10.

The Commission of the Servant in Isaiah 49:1-13    145


31 For example, the declarative praise psalm reports a past lament before de-

      claring God’s delivering actions. See Claus Westermann, The Praise of God in

       the Psalms (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1965). pp. 102-16.

32 Westermann, Isaiah 40—66, p. 210.

33 Isaiah 42:1, 2, 4; cf. Lindsey, “The Call of the Servant,” pp. 12-31.

34 Cf. Allan A. MacRae, The Gospel of Isaiah (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977),


35 Scott Rae, “An Exegetical and Theological Study of Isaiah 49:1-13,” Th.M.

      thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1981, p. 37; cf. North, Second Isaiah, pp.


36 August Pieper, Isaiah II: An Exposition of Isaiah 40—66 (Milwaukee:

      Northwestern Publishing House, 1979), p. 355.

37 Westermann, Isaiah 40—66, p. 211.

38 MacRae, The Gospel of Isaiah, p. 106.

39 Young, Isaiah, 3:273-74; Young correctly notes that the Servant rather

      than Yahweh is the subject of the infinitive (ibid., p. 273, n. 10).

40 Whybray, Isaiah 40—66, p. 139; North, Second Isaiah, pp. 185-86.

41 But contrast Young, Isaiah, 3:275.

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid.

45 Cf. John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan

      Publishing House, 1973), pp. 186-93.

46 Young, Isaiah, 3:276.

47 The “Servant” in 49:7-12 is not Israel (contra Westermann, Isaiah 40—66,

      p. 214; Whybray, Isaiah 40—66, p. 140), although North asserts that this pas-

      sage has been claimed as a Servant song less often than 42:5-9 (Second

      Isaiah, p. 191). The view taken in this series of articles is that both 42:5-9 and

      49:7-12 are developments within their respective Servant songs.

48 So Whybray, Isaiah 40—66, p. 141; Young, Isaiah, 3:276-77.

49 Delitzsch, Isaiah, 2:264.

50 North, Second Isaiah, p. 191.

51 Ibid.

52 Whybray, Isaiah 40—66. p. 141.

53 Lindsey, “The Call of the Servant,” pp. 23-25.

54 Leupold, Isaiah, 2:181.

55 Delitzsch views the Prophet Isaiah as foreseeing Yahweh’s Servant in the

      time of the Assyrian oppressions, “rising up in the second half of the captivity,

      as if born in exile, in the midst of the punishment borne by his people, to effect

      the restoration of Israel” (Isaiah, 2:258-59).

56 Young, Isaiah, 3:279.

57 MacRae, The Gospel of Isaiah, pp. 110-11.

58 Whybray, Isaiah 40—66. p. 142.

59 Ronald Barclay Allen, Praise! A Matter of Life and Breath (Nashville:

      Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980), pp. 64-69.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

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Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:

Thanks to Stephen Taylor for editing this article.