Isaiah 49: Behind the Scenes
Updated: Dec 5, 2021
In chapter 49 of Isaiah, we get to listen in on a beautiful behind-the-scenes conversation between the Father and the Son. Much of what they say was later revealed to New Testament writers who then shared it with us, so much of it may sound familiar.
(I’ve capitalized “Him” when speaking of the Father, and used lowercase when speaking of the Son. It just makes it easier.)
First, the Son speaks:
Listen to me, all you in distant lands! Pay attention, you who are far away! The Lord called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name. (v. 1, NLT)
I assume you’ve been to a Christmas program, so you know the story. Before Jesus was born, an angel appeared to his mother’s husband and said, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, becauIn chapter 49 of Isaiah, we get to listen in on a beautiful behind-the-scenes conversation between the Father and the Son. Much of what they say was later revealed to New se he will save his people from their sins.”
The name Jesus, or Yeshua in Hebrew, means savior or deliverer. Yeshua, also translated Joshua, was a common name in Israel because Israel was in constant need of a deliverer. They were always looking, always hoping, that their baby Joshua would be the one who would save them. This Yeshua became “Jesus” to us by way of the Greeks. Their translation of Yeshua was Iesous, and that, for us English speakers and spellers, became “Jesus.” So every time someone said/says his name, they were/are calling him “Deliverer” or “Savior.” And He was. And is.
Now, while the children of Israel were waiting for a deliverer to come and rain fire and brimstone on their enemies, the Father was preparing His Son in secret: “He made my words of judgment as sharp as a sword.“ (v. 2)
Paul told us they were:
“take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)
The writer of Hebrews told us why:
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) When you read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ interactions with the arrogant Pharisees, you see just how powerful and piercing His words were.
The Father also prepared the Son as an arrow, smooth and straight, sure to hit their intended mark—the hearts of those who heard. And then He held him close, tucking him away until the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4).
When that time came, He brought him out of His hiding place in a way that was most unexpected. Yet it was genius. In the “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory,” He sent him in the form of a servant and in the likeness of an ordinary man. And “none of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Corinthians 2:6-7). Most who walked the streets with him had no idea who he was, either. Just some ordinary son of a carpenter.
But the Father told him who he was. He said: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor” (v. 3). He called him Israel. We’re used to God calling His nation “Israel.” They were His servants, chosen to display His splendor. But remember, Israel was the name of a man before it was the name of a nation. That Israel got his name by struggling with God for His blessing, and God said he prevailed (Genesis 32:24-30)! God said because of his tenacity his name would no longer be Jacob (deceiver) but Israel (one who struggles). Years later, the descendants of that man were struggling alright. Stubborn rather than tenacious, they weren’t His servants and they weren’t displaying His splendor. So it was time for the Father to send a new Israel, His Son, to do what the nation of Israel wouldn’t and couldn’t do.
That settled, the prophet relayed another very intimate exchange, and it’s quite surprising. Could the Son of God really feel this way about His mission? Well, that’s what verse 4 says, right there in black and white:
I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.”
I don’t fully understand how this prophetic thing works, but it seems that Isaiah was prerecording words spoken in a garden 700 years later.
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray. And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:38-39)
Can you relate to Jesus’ struggles? His sadness? His loneliness? Sure you can. But could you trust your Father and leave it in His hands? I’m not so sure I could, and I’m certain I don’t want to find out. But Jesus, yielding to the Father, counted it an honor to do His will, and leaned into the Father’s strength. (v. 5)
“To say that God is his strength is not to say that his strength comes from God but that God is so present with him and in him that the divine strength becomes his.”-- Motyer, J. Alec, The Prophecy of Isaiah, pg. 387, InterVarsity Press.
I do seriously doubt that you or I will have to endure what Jesus did, but I think the key to enduring anything is recognizing that we aren’t crying out to a God who is high in the sky but leaning on a Father who is right beside us.
And then the LORD—the one who formed him in his mother’s womb to be his servant, who commissioned him to bring Israel back to him—spoke:
“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.”
It was too small a thing! God’s heart was bigger; His purpose was greater; the Son was stronger and His salvation could reach further. So He said, “Hey! Let’s just save the whole world!”
The Son didn’t go into this mission blind. The Father told him about the hard parts too. He would be despised, rejected, and subject to traitors and despots (v. 7). But with incredible patience and the promise of the Father (v. 8), the Son would wait for the fullness of time, when the end planned since the beginning would be revealed to the waiting world. He would become God’s everlasting covenant to restore the earth and free the people (verse 8).
It seems odd to identify a man not as a party to a covenant, but as the covenant itself. But when the nation of Israel couldn’t keep the terms of their covenant with God (and neither could any of us), the man God called Israel became the covenant himself. No longer did the covenant terms depend on the grudging obedience of man, but on the willing obedience of the Son.
It was that obedience that purchased an eternity of joy for God’s people.
“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
And when all is accomplished—even the part about kings standing at attention and princes bowing down (v. 7):
“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 down on them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water. (vv. 9-10)
(Sounds a lot like Psalm 23 to me.)
The Son will clear the way for all who are willing to come and rest in the place the Father has prepared for them.
At the end of verse 12, your Bible may say that some of the people are coming from Egypt, or Aswan, or Syene, but the Hebrew Bible says, “Sinim.” That name doesn’t appear anywhere else in scripture and commentators really don’t know where it is. Some think it means the south; that’s why they translate it “Egypt” or “Aswan.” Some suggest China, or Asia. I like that because that means those in the east will come, too. Some say it’s deliberately obscure so no one is excluded. I like that even better.
Sadly, those right in the middle of the muddle don’t see it.
Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.” (v. 14)
But the faithful Father says, “Never! No way! Impossible! I will not forget you. (vv. 15-16)
There are 17 million Jews alive today. If they all came back to Israel right now, there would be about 1969 people per square mile. (New Jersey, the US state with the highest density, has 1207.) When Isaiah gave this prophecy, there were about 6. No wonder they will say, ‘We need more room! It’s crowded here!’ (v. 20 NLT) This will come as a great surprise to them, since ‘most of my children were killed, and the rest were carried away into exile…’ (v. 21 NLT). Six million were killed in the Holocaust alone. If you run the equation to forecast how many descendants they would have today—I tried and it was way too complicated for me—let’s just say it would be a bunch. In astonishment they will ask, “Where did all these people come from?” (v. 21 NLT)
This is another of those prophecies that, in a measure, was fulfilled in the past, yet will fully be fulfilled the future. As in the days of Cyrus, rulers who don’t yet know the LORD will send His chosen back to their land. And not only will they send them back, as in the days of Cyrus they will send them back with their stuff. (v. 22)
And the result?
Then you will know that I am the Lord. Those who trust in me will never be put to shame.” (v. 23)
So ask yourself:
Who can snatch the plunder of war from the hands of a warrior? Who can demand that a tyrant let his captives go? (v. 24)
God can. “The captives of warriors will be released, and the plunder of tyrants will be retrieved. For I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children.” (v. 25)
And God will.
(Since verse 26 is gross, I’ll skip it, but basically, it’s not good news for Israel’s enemies.)
And so, at the right time, as the Father promised, the eternal, amazing, inclusive mission of the Son will be accomplished:
“All the world will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.”
All because Jesus said, “Yes.”