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FRAMEWORKS: Isaiah 49: The Second Servant Song & Israel's Restoration


PART ONE: v.1-13: Israel the servant, and the servant Messiah

PART TWO: v.14-26: The Restoration of Israel


[Preliminary notes: This chapter of prophecy is a challenge to the intellect as the prophetic theme of the servant weaves backwards and forwards between Israel the nation and the Messiah deliverer, more like two theme tunes fading in and fading out, perhaps overlapping each other. Although it is difficult to see where one begins and the other ends at times, the main points are clear.

Part One:

i) God has a servant who He calls [v.1-3]

ii) The servant places his reliance on the Lord [v.4]

iii) His call is to bring the people of God back to God [v.5]

iv) He will be a light for the whole world [v.6]

v) Although despised, in the long-term rulers will honour the servant [v.7]

vi) He will be the basis of a new covenant of deliverance [v.8,9]

vii) He will be the means of bringing great blessing: wonderful provision [v.10], a way back to God [v.11], people from all over the world [v.12], coming with great joy [v.13].

Part Two:

i) Although desolate Jerusalem feels forgotten [v.14], the Lord reassures her that can never be [v.15,16].

ii) The Lord is planning a great return from exile [v.17,18].

iii) Jerusalem will be completely restored [v.19], even needing to be enlarged [v.20] with so many people returning [v.21] from many nations [v.22,23].

iv) History may involve strong invaders, but they are not too strong for the Lord to deal with them [v.24-26].

Comment: Throughout, this is a chapter of incredible revelation of the plans of God that involve His servant – Israel and the Messiah. As the chapter develops it becomes clear that the work of God includes the restoration of His people in the Land and the restoration of Jerusalem. Perusing history, there may be more than one application or outworking of this prophecy: near history restoration after the Babylonian exile, more distant history, the Messiah coming to bring salvation to the world, and end-time history, Israel being restored to their land after a second exile.]



PART ONE: v.1-13: Israel the servant, and the servant Messiah


v.1 The servant calls to the world, God preplanned him

v.1   Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother's womb he has spoken my name.

v.2 God had hidden him while He prepared him to speak

v.2   He 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.

v.3 The servant is Israel who is to reveal God's glory

v.3   He said to me, ‘You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will display my splendour.'

v.4 Israel wonders what they have achieved, but leave it up to God

v.4   But I said, ‘I have laboured in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due to me is in the Lord 's hand,
    and my reward is with my God.'


v.5 The servant individual now speaks, affirming his calling

v.5   And 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 honoured in the eyes of the Lord
    and my God has been my strength –

v.6 This servant will become a light to the whole world

v.6   he says:
‘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.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.'


v.7 God speaks to the rejected servant; the world will yet bow before you

v.7   This 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 stand up,
    princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord , who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.'


v.8,9 The servant will be the basis of a new covenant of deliverance

v.8   This is what the Lord says:

‘In the time of my favour 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.9   to 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.

v.10 It will mean provision and blessing for this people

v.10   They will neither hunger nor thirst,
    nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.
He who has compassion on them will guide them
    and lead them beside springs of water.

v.11 It will mean a new means of access for return

v.11   I will turn all my mountains into roads,
    and my highways will be raised up.

v.12 It will mean people will return from wherever they've been dispersed

v.12   See, they will come from afar –
    some from the north, some from the west,
    some from the region of Aswan.'


v.13 It will bring great joy as the Lord comforts His people

v.13   Shout for joy, you heavens;
    rejoice, you earth;
    burst into song, you mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
    and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.



PART TWO: v.14-26: The Restoration of Israel


v.14 Suffering Jerusalem feels forgotten

v.14   But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me,
    the Lord has forgotten me.'


v.15 Is it possible that God could forget Jerusalem – no!

v.15   ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!

v.16 It is ever before the Lord

v.16   See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are ever before me.

v.17 Her people will return, her enemies will leave

v.17   Your children hasten back,
    and those who laid you waste depart from you.

v.18 You will celebrate with those returning

v.18   Lift up your eyes and look around;
    all your children gather and come to you.
As surely as I live,' declares the Lord,
    ‘you will wear them all as ornaments;
    you will put them on, like a bride.


v.19 You might have been devastated but rebuilt you will ‘bulge at the seams'

v.19   ‘Though you were ruined and made desolate
    and your land laid waste,
now you will be too small for your people,
    and those who devoured you will be far away.

v.20 The children of exile will come home and need more space

v.20   The children born during your bereavement
    will yet say in your hearing,
“This place is too small for us;
    give us more space to live in.”

v.21 You will wonder how there were so many returning

v.21   Then you will say in your heart,
    “Who bore me these?
I was bereaved and barren;
    I was exiled and rejected.
    Who brought these up?
I was left all alone,
    but these – where have they come from?”'


v.22 God will make other nations return your people

v.22   This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

‘See, I will beckon to the nations,
    I will lift up my banner to the peoples;
they will bring your sons in their arms
    and carry your daughters on their hips.

v.23 Rulers will bow to the will of God

v.23   Kings will be your foster fathers,
    and their queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground;
    they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who hope in me will not be disappointed.'


v.24 Can enemy might and power be overcome?

v.24   Can plunder be taken from warriors,
    or captives be rescued from the fierce?


v.25 God says yes they can!

v.25   But this is what the Lord says:

‘Yes, captives will be taken from warriors,
    and plunder retrieved from the fierce;
I will contend with those who contend with you,
    and your children I will save.

v.26 God will totally overthrow them as your Redeemer

v.26   I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh;
    they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine.
Then all mankind will know
    that I, the Lord, am your Saviour,
    your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.'


[Additional Note: We have suggested the four ‘servant songs' in Isaiah are as follows: 42:1-7; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12.

Scholars vary on how many verses some of them include. In this chapter some suggest only the first 6 verses but we include as far as verse 13 because the verses all include his activities or achievements. Others shorten what they consider to be the ‘servant song' preferring to include some of the later verses as part of the section speaking about the restoration of Israel. The variation in understanding is what we referred to in the ‘Preliminary Notes' at the beginning.]



Continue to Chapter 50