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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Be comforted, part 10, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

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ISAIAH 49:1–52:12

This Is God’s Servant
A plaque in a friend’s office reads: “The world is full of people who want to serve in an advisory capacity.”
But Jesus Christ did not come with good advice; He came with good news, the Good News that sinners can be forgiven and life can become excitingly new. The Gospel is good news to us, but it was “bad news” to the Son of God; for it meant that He would need to come to earth in human form and die on a cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.
These chapters present God’s Servant, Messiah, in three important relationships: to the Gentile nations (49:1–50:3), to His Father (50:4–11), and to His people Israel (51:1–52:12).
1. The Servant and the Gentiles (Isa. 49:1–50:3)

The Servant addresses the nations that did not know Israel’s God. The Gentiles were “far off,” and only God’s Servant could bring them near (Eph. 2:11–22). Christ confirmed God’s promises to the Jews and also extended God’s grace to the Gentiles (Rom. 15:8–12). In this message, God’s Servant explains His ministry as bringing light in the darkness (Isa. 49:1–7), liberty to the captives (vv. 8–13), and love and hope to the discouraged (49:14–50:3).
Light in the darkness (49:1–7). What right did God’s Servant have to address the Gentile nations with such authority? From before His birth, He was called by God to His ministry (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15); and God prepared Him like a sharp sword and a polished arrow (Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:16). Messiah came as both a Servant and a Warrior, serving those who trust Him and ultimately judging those who resist Him.
All of God’s servants should be like prepared weapons. “It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus,” wrote Robert Murray McCheyne. “A holy minister [servant] is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”
The Jewish nation was called to glorify God and be a light to the Gentiles, but they failed in their mission. This is why Messiah is called “Israel” in Isaiah 49:3: He did the work that Israel was supposed to do. Today, the church is God’s light in this dark world (Acts 13:46–49; Matt. 5:14–16), and like Israel, we seem to be failing in our mission to take the Good News to the ends of the earth. We cannot do the job very effectively when only 5 percent of the average local church budget is devoted to evangelism!
As Jesus Christ ministered on earth, especially to His own people Israel, there were times when His work seemed in vain (Isa. 49:4). The religious leaders opposed Him, the disciples did not always understand Him, and those He helped did not always thank Him. He lived and labored by faith, and God gave Him success.
Our Lord could not minister to the Gentiles until first He ministered to the Jews (vv. 5–6). Read carefully Matthew 10:5–6; 15:24; Luke 24:44–49; Acts 3:25–26; 13:46–47; and Romans 1:16. When our Lord returned to heaven, He left behind a believing remnant of Jews that carried on His work. We must never forget that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). The Bible is a Jewish book, the first believers and missionaries were Jews, and the Gentiles would not have heard the Gospel had it not been brought to them by Jews. Messiah was despised by both Jews and Gentiles (Isa. 49:7), but He did God’s work and was glorified (Phil. 2:1–11).
Liberty to the captives (Isa. 49:8–13). Not only is God’s Servant the “new Israel,” but He is also the “new Moses” in setting His people free. Jesus Christ is God’s covenant (42:6), so we can be sure that God will keep His promises. Moses led the nation out of bondage in Egypt, and God will lead His people out of Captivity in Babylon. Joshua led the people into their land so they could claim their inheritance, and God will bring them back to their land “to reassign its desolate inheritances” (49:8, NIV).
How does this apply to the Gentiles? If God had not restored the people, the city, and the temple, He could not have fulfilled His promises concerning the Messiah. Had there been no Bethlehem, where would He have been born? Had there been no Nazareth, where would He have grown up? Had there been no Jerusalem and no temple, where would He have taught, suffered, and died? And He did this for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews.
Verses 10–12 look beyond the deliverance from Babylon in 536 B.C. toward the future glorious kingdom. The Lord will call the Jewish people from the ends of the earth and gather them again in their land (Isa. 14:1–3; 35:6; 40:11; 43:19).
Love and hope to the discouraged (Isa. 49:14–50:3). “The Lord comforts His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones” (49:13, NIV). So sing the people of God as they contemplate their future deliverance, but the people of the Captivity and those left in “the desolate inheritances” are not so happy. Instead of singing, they are complaining: “The Lord has forsaken me. And my Lord has forgotten me” (v. 14, NKJV).
The Lord assures them of His love by comparing Himself to a compassionate mother (vv. 14–23), a courageous warrior (vv. 24–26), and a constant lover (50:1–3).
(1) A compassionate mother (vv. 14–23). The Bible emphasizes the fatherhood of God, but there is also a “motherhood” side to God’s nature that we must not forget. God is compassionate and comforts us as a mother comforts her children (66:13). Isaiah pictures Israel as a nursing child, totally dependent on the Lord who will never forget them or forsake them. The high priest bore the names of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders and over his heart (Ex. 28:6–9), engraved on jewels; but God has engraved His children’s names on His hands. The word “engraved” means “to cut into,” signifying its permanence. God can never forget Zion or Zion’s children.
Zion seems like a forsaken and barren mother, but she will be so blessed of God that there will be no room for her children! They will be like beautiful bridal ornaments, not decrepit refugees from Captivity. Once again, the prophet looked ahead to the end of the age when the Gentiles will honor Jehovah and Israel, and kings and queens will be baby-sitters for Israel’s children!
(2) A courageous warrior (vv. 24–26). The Babylonians were fierce warriors, but the Lord would snatch Israel from their grasp. In His compassion, He would set the captives free and see to it that Babylon would never afflict them again. The fact that God permitted Babylon to conquer His people did not mean that God was weak or unconcerned. When the right time comes, He will set His people free. “They shall not be ashamed who wait for Me” (v. 23).
(3) A constant lover (50:1–3). The image of Israel as the wife of Jehovah is found often in the prophets (54:4–5; 62:1–5; Jer. 2:1–3; 3:1–11; Hosea 2; Ezek. 16). Israel was “married” to Jehovah when they accepted the covenant at Sinai (Ex. 19–20), but they violated that covenant by “playing the harlot” and worshiping idols. But God did not forsake His people even though they had been unfaithful to Him.
The Mosaic permission for divorce is found in Deuteronomy 24:1–4 (see Matt. 19:1–12). The “certificate of divorce” declared that the former marriage was broken and that the woman was free to remarry. But it also prevented the woman from returning to her former husband. God had indeed “divorced” the Northern Kingdom and allowed it to be assimilated by the Assyrians (Jer. 3:8), so she could not return. But He had not “divorced” the Southern Kingdom; He had only permitted His unfaithful wife to suffer chastening at the hands of Babylon. He would forgive her and receive her back again.
The second picture in this paragraph is that of a poor family selling their children into servitude (2 Kings 4:1–7; Neh. 5:1–5). God had not sold His people; by their sins, they had sold themselves. God had called to them many times and tried to turn them back from their wicked ways, but they had refused to listen. Judah did not go into exile because of God’s weakness, but because of their own sinfulness.
How could the people say they were forgotten and forsaken, when the Lord is a compassionate mother, a courageous warrior, and a constant lover? He is faithful to His Word even when we are unfaithful (2 Tim. 2:11–13). He is faithful to chasten when we rebel (Heb. 12:1–11), but He is also faithful to forgive when we repent and confess (1 John 1:9).
The Servant’s message to the Gentiles was one of hope and blessing. He would deal with His people so that they, in turn, could bring God’s blessing to the Gentiles.
2. The Servant and the Lord God (Isa. 50:4–11)

In the first two “Servant Songs” (42:1–7; 49:1–7), you find hints of opposition to Messiah’s ministry; but in this third Song, His suffering is vividly described. When we get to the fourth Song (52:12–53:12), we will be told not only how He suffered, but why His suffering is necessary.
Note that four times in this passage the Servant uses the name “Lord God.” “Jehovah Adonai” can be translated “Sovereign Lord,” and you will find this title nowhere else in the “Servant Songs.” According to Robert B. Girdlestone, the name “Jehovah Adonai” means that “God is the owner of each member of the human family, and that He consequently claims the unrestricted obedience of all” (Synonyms of the Old Testament; Eerdmans, 1951; p. 34). So the emphasis here is on the Servant’s submission to the Lord God in every area of His life and service.
His mind was submitted to the Lord God so that He could learn His Word and His will (50:4). Everything Jesus said and did was taught to Him by His Father (John 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:28). He prayed to the Father for guidance (John 11:42; Mark 1:35) and meditated on the Word. What God taught the Servant, the Servant shared with those who needed encouragement and help. The Servant sets a good example here for all who know the importance of a daily “quiet time” with the Lord.
The Servant’s will was also yielded to the Lord God. An “opened ear” is one that hears and obeys the voice of the master. The people to whom Isaiah ministered were neither “willing” nor “obedient” (Isa. 1:19), but the Servant did gladly the will of the Lord God. This was not easy, for it meant yielding His body to wicked men who mocked Him, whipped Him, spat on Him, and then nailed Him to a cross (Matt. 26:67; 27:26, 30).
The Servant did all of this by faith in the Lord God (Isa. 50:7–11). He was determined to do God’s will even if it meant going to a cross (Luke 9:51; John 18:1–11), for He knew that the Lord God would help Him. The Servant was falsely accused, but He knew that God would vindicate Him and eventually put His enemies to shame. Keep in mind that when Jesus Christ was ministering here on earth, He had to live by faith even as we must today. He did not use His divine powers selfishly for Himself but trusted God and depended on the power of the Spirit.
Verses 10–11 are addressed especially to the Jewish remnant, but they have an application to God’s people today. His faithful ones were perplexed at what God was doing, but He assured them that their faith would not go unrewarded. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. often said, “Never doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light.” But the unbelieving ones who try to eliminate the darkness by lighting their own fires (i.e., following their own schemes) will end up in sorrow and suffering. In obedience to the Lord, you may find yourself in the darkness; but do not panic, for He will bring you the light you need just at the right time.
3. The Servant and Israel (Isa. 51:1–52:12)

This section contains several admonitions: “hearken to Me” (51:1, 4, 7); “awake, awake” (vv. 9, 17; 52:1–6); and “depart, depart” (vv. 7–12). Except for 51:9–16, which is a prayer addressed to the Lord, each of these admonitions is from God to His people in Babylon.
“Hearken to Me” (Isa. 51:1–8). These three admonitions are addressed to the faithful remnant in Israel, the people described in 50:10. In the first admonition (51:1–3), the Lord told them to look back and remember Abraham and Sarah, the progenitors of the Jewish nation (Gen. 12–25). God called them “alone,” but from these two elderly people came a nation as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars of the heaven (13:16; 15:5). The remnant leaving Babylon was small and weak, but God was able to increase them into a mighty nation and also turn their ravaged land into a paradise. “Be comforted!” God said to His people. “The best is yet to come!”
In the second command (Isa. 51:4–6), God told them to look ahead and realize that justice would come to the world and they would be vindicated by the Lord. Note the emphasis on the word “My”: My people, My nation, My justice, My righteousness, My arms, and My salvation. This is the grace of God, doing for His people what they did not deserve and what they could not do for themselves. The “arm of the Lord” is a key concept in Isaiah’s prophecy (30:30; 40:10; 51:5, 9; 52:10; 53:1; 59:16; 62:8; 63:5, 12). Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s righteousness and salvation will last forever. That righteousness will be displayed in a special way when Messiah returns and establishes His kingdom on earth.
The third admonition (51:7–8) focuses on looking within, where we find either fear or faith. Why should the nation fear men when God is on its side? “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid” (12:2). “Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself, and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread” (8:13). To have God’s law in your heart means to belong to Him and be saved (Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 10:16). The moth and the worm shall destroy the enemy, but God’s salvation will endure. Moths and worms do not do their work conspicuously, but they work efficiently just the same. The seeds of destruction were already in the Babylonian Empire, and the leaders did not know it.
“Awake, awake” (Isa. 51:9–52:6). “Hearken to Me” was spoken to admonish the people, but “awake, awake” is for the arousing of the Lord (51:9–16) and of Jerusalem (vv. 17–23; 52:1–6).
The remnant in Babylon prayed as though God were asleep and needed to be awakened (Pss. 7:6; 44:23; 78:65–72). They wanted God to bare His arm as He did when He defeated Pharaoh and redeemed His people from Egyptian bondage. The return from Babylon was looked upon as another “exodus” (Isa. 43:16–17; 49:9–12), with God wholly in charge and the enemy completely defeated.
God replied to their prayer with words of comfort (51:12–16; see vv. 3 and 19). He reminded them again of the frailty of man (see 40:6–8) and the power of God the Creator (51:13). Why should they be afraid of grass when the God of the universe was on their side? Because they are His people, with whom He has deposited His Word, He will release them, protect them, and provide for them. They had an important task to perform and He would enable them to do it.
In the second “wake-up call,” the prophet speaks to the ruined city of Jerusalem (vv. 17–23) and pictures her as a mother in a drunken stupor with no children to help her. In the Bible, judgment is sometimes pictured as the drinking of a cup of wine (29:9; 63:6; Ps. 75:8; Jer. 25:15–16; Rev. 14:10). Jerusalem’s children had gone into Captivity, but now they would return and give their “mother” new hope and a new beginning. God will take the cup of judgment from the Jews and give it to their enemies. To put your foot on the neck of your enemies was a humiliating declaration of their defeat; but instead of Babylon “walking on” the Jews, the Jews would “walk on” the Babylonians!
The third “wake-up call” (Isa. 52:1–6) is also addressed to Jerusalem and is a command not only to wake up but to dress up! It is not enough for her to put off her stupor; (51:17–23) she must also put on her glorious garments. Babylon the “queen” would fall to the dust in shame (47:1), but Jerusalem would rise up from the dust and be enthroned as a queen! Egypt had enslaved God’s people, Assyria had oppressed them, and Babylon had taken them captive; but now that was ended. Of course, the ultimate fulfillment of this promise will occur when the Messiah returns, delivers Jerusalem from her enemies, and establishes Mt. Zion as the joy of all the earth (61:4–11).
The city of Jerusalem is called “the holy city” eight times in Scripture (Neh. 11:1, 18; Isa. 48:2; 52:1; Dan. 9:24; Matt. 4:5; 27:53; Rev. 11:2). It has been “set apart” by God for His exclusive purposes; but when His people refused to obey Him, He ordered it destroyed, first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans.
During the Captivity, God’s name was blasphemed because the enemy taunted the Jews and asked them why their great God did not deliver them (Pss. 115; 137). Paul quoted Isaiah 52:5 in Romans 2:24. But when the remnant is restored, they will know God’s name and seek to honor it.
“Depart, depart” (Isa. 52:7–12). The defeat of Babylon by Cyrus was certainly good news to the Jews because it meant freedom for the captives (40:9; 41:27). The Good News we share today is that Jesus Christ can set the prisoners free (Rom. 10:15). For decades, the remnant had suffered in a foreign country, without an altar or a priesthood; but now they would return to their land, rebuild their temple, and restore their God-given ministry.
It has well been said that “good news is for sharing,” and that is what happens in Jerusalem. The leaders (watchmen) take up the message and sing together to the glory of God (Isa. 44:23). But they not only hear what God has done; they also see it happening! The wilderness will join the song because the desolate cities and “waste places” will be transformed (51:3). The remnant prayed for God’s holy arm to work, and He answered their prayer (v. 9).
Isaiah likes to use repetition: “Comfort ye, comfort ye” (40:1); “awake, awake” (51:9, 17; 52:1); and now, “depart, depart” (52:11). It seems strange that God would have to urge His people to leave a place of captivity, but some of them had grown accustomed to Babylon and were reluctant to leave. The first group, about 50,000 people, left Babylon in 538 B.C. when Cyrus issued his decree. They were under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, and Jeshua the high priest (Ezra 1–2). They carried with them “the vessels of the Lord” (Isa. 52:11), the articles that were needed for the service in the temple. A second group of nearly 1,800 people led by Ezra, left in 458 B.C.
God commanded them to depart because Babylon was a condemned city (Jer. 50:8ff; 51:6, 45). He warned them not to linger but to get out quickly while they had the opportunity (Isa. 48:20). They did not have to flee like criminals, but there was no reason to tarry. He also cautioned them not to take any of Babylon’s uncleanness with them. “Touch no unclean thing” (52:11) would certainly include the whole Babylonian system of idolatry and occult practices that had helped to ruin the Jewish nation (47:11–15). Paul makes the application to believers today in 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1.
God had a special word for the priests and Levites who were carrying the vessels of the temple: “Come out from it [Babylon] and be pure” (Isa. 52:11, NIV). This is a good command for all of God’s servants to obey. If we defile ourselves, we will also defile the work of the Lord. How tragic for a holy ministry to be a source of defilement to God’s people!
The prophet added a final word of encouragement: “The Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard” (v. 12; see 58:8). This reminds us of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt when the Lord went before them (Ex. 13:21) and stood between them and the enemy (14:19–20). When God’s people obey God’s will, they can always count on God’s leading and protection.
Isaiah has prepared the way for the “heart” of God’s revelation of the Servant Messiah, the fourth Servant Song (52:13–53:12). We must prepare our hearts, for we are walking on holy ground.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (S. 120–131). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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