He Made My Mouth like a Sharpened Sword

49: 1-13

   DIG: How is the Servant’s mouth like a sharpened sword? How does that contrast with the Servant’s type of speech in 42:2? Why does God the Father say Israel here, when He is referring to the Messiah? How do we know that He is really talking about the Messiah here and not the nation of Israel (49:5)? How was the Servant received by the nation of Israel in 49:4 and 7? How does this reflect the experience of Isaiah (30:9-11)? In His discouragement, what promises does the Servant receive from God? How is this related to the prophecy of 11:10? What does this imply about the identity of the Servant? What will happen for the exiles in the day of salvation? How will the Gentile nations learn of the LORD’s covenant promises (45:1, 22-24)? How does Israel reflect the mission of the Servant (42:6)?

   REFLECT: Does it help you or stumble you to see the humanness of Christ? Was Yeshua fifty percent man and fifty percent God, or one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God? What difference does that make? What examples can you think of in Jesus’ life when His speech was gentle (42:2)? When was it cutting like a sword? Why the difference? When is it best to speak gently with people? To be strong and cutting? When was the last time the LORD displayed His splendor through you? Emotionally and spiritually, what does it mean to be a forsaken captive? What can cause you to feel that way? Right now, do you feel more like that or like a person coming home to a long-awaited reunion? Why?

    If the Servant of Isaiah is the God of history and can control human events, why are His desires frustrated by Jacob, His people? Put another way, could the LORD have forced Jacob to do His will? Yes, He could have. But the reason He did not force them and is frustrated by their, and the world’s, lack of faith in Him is that He gave us free will. Man would not be man if he did not have free will. If man is truly to be human, he must have the ability to desire to have, and do things, some of which will not be what God wants man to have and to do. Apparently ADONAI felt that, for reasons which were evident to Him, but which we can only partly understand, it was better to make human beings than androids. And evil was a necessary accompaniment of the LORD’s good plan to make man fully human.185

    Therefore, the fact that the Jews chose to reject Messiah does not mean that Yeshua failed in His ministry. It is specifically because He is the God of history and can control human events that all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:16). At the end of the Great Tribulation, all the believing remnant living at that time in Bozrah and in Jerusalem will be saved (Zechariah 12:10-14 to 13:1 and 8-9). But before that time, many will reject Him. That is not what He would want, but because He gave all of us free will, He will allow men and women to make that choice. Some would view that as failure. But in the end, ADONAI will have His way.

    This is the second of Isaiah’s four Servant Songs (also see 42:1-17, 50:4-9, and 52:13 to 53:12). The rabbis teach that this is Isaiah speaking (representing the ideal Isra'el). The Servant is speaking in these verses. First, He calls out to the Gentile nations to listen to Him, saying: Listen to Me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations. Before I was born the LORD called Me (49:1a). The words hear this should take us back to 48:16 where the transition from Cyrus to Messiah took place. Now that same Person speaking there is the One speaking in Chapter 49 as He calls attention to the world to listen to the Servant. He says that before He was born ADONAI called Him. He was elected for the task to which He was given. The expression before I was born means election for a specific purpose. We find the same language in Jeremiah 1:5. And just as God separated Jeremiah from the womb to be a prophet of Isra'el’s condemnation, and Isaiah to announce the Babylonian judgment, in the same way, the Servant was elected to bring redemption to them.

    Also from My birth He has made mention of My name (49:1b). We have already seen this to be true in 7:14 when we had the first prediction of the virgin birth of King Messiah. The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel. Chapter 49, verse 1 is a reiteration of the truth of 7:14. The fulfillment will come in Mathew 1:21 and Luke 1:31. Throughout Messianic prophecy we often have mention of the mother. Here it is implied when the Servant says: From My birth He has made mention of My name (49:1c).

    But there is not a single Messianic prophecy in the Old Covenant that mentions the father of the Messiah because of the virgin birth. He had no human father. We see this in the two genealogies in the Gospels. Matthew’s genealogy traces the birth of Christ from Joseph’s perspective. The purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is to show that if Jesus really was Joseph’s son, he could not be King. But Luke’s genealogy tells us about the birth of Christ from Mary’s perspective. Luke shows why Christ could be King. Jesus was from the House of David, but apart from Jeconiah (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Ai – The Genealogies of Joseph and Mary).

    Next we have the Servant’s position. First, the Servant Himself says: He made My mouth like a sharpened sword (49:2a). This expression means that He will have the ability to pronounce judgment. He will be decisive and be able to get down to the very root of the problem and pronounce it. A good example of this is found in Matthew 23:1-39. There, Jesus denounces the scribes and the Pharisees, for specific sins, especially the sin of leading the nation astray.

    Paul would later take Isaiah’s sharpened sword motif and use it when describing the armor of God in Ephesians 6. When Paul said: the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), he was not describing a Roman soldier, but was either directly quoting or paraphrasing the Old Covenant. His point is that we should resist Satan as Christ did in the wilderness, with Scripture. Secondly, He states His position: In the shadow of His hand He hid Me (49:2b). This implies protection. Not only will the Messiah be given the ability to be incisive and pronounce judgment at the root of the problem, but He will also have the special protection of God the Father. Thirdly, the Servant will be like a polished arrow, concealed in His quiver (49:2c). This implies that He will always be available to be immediately used for anything that God the Father might call Him to do. So this is Christ’s relationship with the LORD.

    ADONAI says of the Messiah: You are My Servant, Isra'el, in whom I will display My splendor (49:3). Why does He say Israel here, when He is referring to the Messiah? We know this because context tells us that God is really talking about the Messiah here and not the nation of Israel. If a rabbi disputed that this is a Messianic prophecy, he would argue that it doesn’t say “the Messiah,” it says “Israel.” But the Servant is distinguished from Isra'el in the very same context. Look at 49:5a: And now the LORD says – He who formed Me in the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him and bring Isra'el to Him. And also look at 49:6a: It is too small a thing for You to be My Servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Isra'el I have kept.

    So obviously the Servant in this message is not the nation of Isra'el but the Messiah, because this Person fulfills what Isra'el should have done and He will be used to restore her. And since the Servant is distinguished from Isra'el in 49:5 and 6, then 49:3 is not dealing with the nation of Israel. So what does God the Father mean when He says: You are My Servant, Isra'el, in whom I will display My splendor (49:3)?

    There are two ways we can look at it. First, the Servant could be the ideal Israelite. He will accomplish, as an individual Jew, what all Isra'el failed to do. In that sense He would be the true Israel. In other words, He will accomplish the calling of Isra'el. Secondly, Isra'el means a prince with God and who could be more of a prince with God than the Messiah? So in 49:3 we are dealing with the ideal Israelite, and He is the true representative of the name because the Messiah will indeed be a Prince with God. And ADONAI will be glorified in this Servant. Now where do we have a reference to this very prophecy? In John 17:1-5, God the Father is glorified in His Son. Here, then, is the Old Covenant basis for that statement.

    Then we come to the point where the Servant actually voices His frustration. If the Servant described in this passage is more than human, He is not less than human. Frustration and a feeling of futility, all too familiar to everyone who inhabits flesh, are part of the burden He came to bear.186 The Servant is to be ADONAI’s special instrument, to accomplish what all Isra'el failed to do. Notice, however, how He voices His frustration. He says: But I have labored to no purpose; I have spent My strength in vain and for nothing (49:4a). The phrase no purpose means emptiness. The phrase in vain here means vapor. The word nothing is the same word used in Genesis 1:2 meaning formless. In essence what He is saying here is, “My work will be like a vapor that will vanish into thin air.” Now when do you suppose He felt this way? At what stage do you think He might have prayed this type of prayer? It was at the agony of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32; Luke 22:39; Hebrews 5:7).

    The Servant saw little evidence of change in the Jews. No fruit was visible because only a handful of men and women believed in Him. It seemed like the whole nation was rejecting Him and He would not accomplish what He set out to do (John 1:11). In fact, today Muslims use this verse to supposedly prove that Muhammad is the one true prophet because they say that Jesus admits here that He had failed in His mission. Is that true? No, this merely shows Yeshua's human nature. In His First Coming, He came as the Lamb of God to be slain for the sins of the world (John 1:29). But in His Second Coming, He will come like the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5) and rule the entire world from Jerusalem (see DB - The Nine Missing Articles in Messiah's Coming Temple).

    But we can see the Servant’s faith when He says: Yet. This is the participle that means nevertheless, or but surely. Yet, what is due to Me is in the LORD’s hand, and My reward is with My God (49:4b). Too often we miss the two-sidedness of what is being said here. On the one hand, we often believe that if we really trusted in God, we would never have feelings of futility. But trust ultimately has to do with the final outcome, and of this the Servant is fully confident.187 It is ADONAI (not the world or even the Servant), who will make the final judgment concerning His ministry. In other words, the LORD knows the situation and would reward Him in due time. So while 49:1-4 seems to be a prayer of frustration and discouragement, it actually displays great faith. We see God’s answer next.

    Then ADONAI answers the Servant’s prayer. He reiterates the Servant’s original commission. He who formed Me in the womb (once again a reference to the mother) to be His Servant (49:5a). There's a two-fold path to the Servant’s original calling. First, to bring Jacob back to Him (49:5b). Here is a sense of conversion or redemption. One aspect of the Servant’s ministry is to bring salvation to Isra'el. Second, gather Isra'el to Himself (49:5c). This speaks to the restoration of Israel. The Servant, then, had a two-fold commission, the redemption and the restoration of Isra'el. He states the reason: For I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and My God has been my strength (49:5d). Therefore, the Messiah’s commission is to restore the southern kingdom of Jacob and the northern kingdom of Isra'el to the LORD.

    But in addition to His original commission, God adds something else: It is too small a thing for you to be My Servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Isra'el I have kept (49:6a). It is as if the Father is saying to the Son, “I know it seems like no one is following You. And although it seems like Jacob and Israel will not be saved, nor restored, quite the contrary, the day is coming when both will be saved and restored, but it is too simple a thing for Me to use You to save only them; I am going to use You in a greater way. You will not only bring salvation to the Jews, You will also bring salvation to the Gentiles.” He states: I will also make You a light for the Gentiles (49:6b). This is the background to the statement by Jesus: I am the light of the world (John 8:12). Not merely the light of Israel, I am the light for Jews and Gentiles alike. So the Servant receives an additional commission to bring My salvation to the ends of the earth (49:6c). What is Jesus’ name in Hebrew? Yeshua. How do you say salvation in Hebrew? The same way, Yeshua.

    This statement in 49:6 is also the background to Romans 11, which is an expansion of this one verse, that God has a plan for Israel. She rejects the Messiah, but her rejection temporarily opens up the gate of salvation for the Gentiles. Look at Romans 11:1-10, Paul tells us how Israel rejected the Messiah, although Jews individually are accepting Him. But then in Romans 11:11-24, Paul describes the engrafted branches of the Gentiles. Again I ask: Did they (Israel) stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring (Romans 11:11)! What Romans 11 is doing is expanding the theology of Isaiah 49:6. In summary, the Messiah comes with the purpose of restoring Israel, she rejects Him, and the Servant is frustrated, but ADONAI says do not worry, the rejection is temporary. It is through the rejection of Israel that you will be the light to the Gentiles, and once the Gentiles are saved, then all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26).

    This is what the LORD says – the Redeemer and Holy One of Isra'el (49:7a). This is a summary of the entire ministry of Christ, including both His first and second comings. Then we are told about His rejection. He was despised by the Gentiles and abhorred by the nation of Israel (49:7b). The Creator of the world becomes the Servant of rulers of the world. He also had to give to Caesar what was Caesar's during His lifetime (Luke 20:20-25). There will be a time coming, however, when this despised and abhorred Messianic King will rise up and be exalted. Kings will see Him and rise up in due respect. Princes will see and bow down, because He is the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Isra'el. He will be the One who has been chosen by ADONAI (49:7c).

    So 49:7 is an answer to the Servant’s frustration in 49:4, where it seemed that He had been rejected. Here God the Father says that the temporary rejection by the nation will give way to exaltation. A similar statement is made twice in Chapter 53. First, ADONAI says: See, My Servant will act wisely; He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted (53:13). Then, God declares: So will He sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand (53:15).

    Walk Through the Bible teaches that there is a big idea for each book of the Bible. For the book of Isaiah, the big idea is groan to glory. The groan is the temporary near historical rejection of ADONAI and the Babylonian exile; but the glory is the permanent far eschatological acceptance of Yeshua as the Messiah and His reign in the Messianic Kingdom. Because they do not see Christ in any of these verses, the rabbis teach that Israel is in view here. From her lowest depths of degradation Israel will rise to the loftiest heights of respect and honor.

    This section ends with the restoration of the Servant (49:8-13). Remember that His original commission was to restore the combined kingdoms of Jacob and Israel (49:5-6). Yet they rejected Him and the restoration could not be completed at that time. But God said that this was part of His divine program to bring salvation to the Gentiles. However, once the LORD’s mission among the Gentiles is completed by the Servant, the restoration of the combined kingdoms will be accomplished at that time.

    Isaiah, speaking with the voice of ADONAI, declares that the Servant’s task is to make it possible for the believing remnant around the world to return to Him (see De - God Is My Salvation, I Will Trust and Not Be Afraid). The servant said: In the time of My favor I will answer You, and in the day of salvation I will help You (49:8a). The phrase, in the time of favor, reflects the idea of the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-54), when the captives were set free, and inheritance were restored to the rightful tenants under the LORD's ownership (61:9). The word answer here has the sense of responding with support, as the parallel word help demonstrates. 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 (49:8). When the time for Israel’s restoration comes, the Messiah’s prayer for her restoration will be answered. Then God the Father says that He will make the Servant to be a covenant for the people. It is by means of the New Covenant that Israel’s salvation comes, because the New Covenant, found in Jeremiah 32:32-34, is dealing with the national salvation of Israel.

    There will be a removal of all obstacles for the return of the believing remnant to the Land. He lists four things here. First, He proclaims that the captives will be free. To say to the captives, “Come out,” and to those in darkness, “Be free” (49:9). That this will be done through the Servant is clear from 61:1-4, where the agent of ADONAI, not ADONAI Himself, takes action. That passage reminds us while physical imagery is being used in both 49:9 and 61:1-4, it is imagery of being held captive to spiritual blindness, ruin, loss and bondage. Satan has blinded the spiritual eyes of unbelievers (Second Corinthians 4:4). But the Servant’s ministry will not be to merely set them free from bondage and sin, but to lead them all the way back to God’s presence.

    Secondly, as the exodus from Egypt led to a journey under God’s care (see my commentary on Exodus Cr – I Will Rain Down Manna from Heaven for You), so in this journey of the heart back to ADONAI there will be ample provision. They will neither hunger nor thirst because food and water will be provided to them (49:10a).

    Thirdly, they will be protected from the elements because neither the desert heat, nor the sun will beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water (49:10b). The journey will be under divine protection. The LORD will take the Israelites to His heart and under His care. The language is a combination of Psalm 23 and the exodus. God will guide and protect them, as the pillar of cloud and fire did (see my commentary on Exodus Cg – After Leaving Succoth they Camped at Etham). Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil (Psalm 23:1-6). He will also lead them to springs of water, as in the wilderness (see my commentary on Exodus Cu – Strike the Rock and Water Will Come Out).

    Fourthly, highways will be provided by God to return to the Land. Nothing will be allowed to stand in the way of the worldwide assembly. I will turn all My mountains into roads, and My highways will be raised up (49:11). The main thoroughfare back will be the Highway of Holiness (see Gm – The Highway of Holiness Will Be There), but there will be other raised highways as well. Evidently the purpose of these supporting raised highways will be to transport people to the main Highway of Holiness on their way to Zion. Nothing will be able to stop them.

    See, they will come from afar – some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan (49:12). God will bring the holy ones (Deuteronomy 33:2-3; Job 5:1; Psalms 16:3 and 34:9; Zechariah 14:5) to Himself. This return and restoration is not merely one from Babylon by a handful of Judean exiles; this gathering will be worldwide. Some will come from Aswan, which is a town in southern Egypt. Ezekiel 29:10 uses the phrase from Migdol to Aswan, which probably indicated all Egypt, just as from Dan to Beersheba meant all of Israel.

    From here to the end of the book, the rabbis substitute the nation of Israel for Jesus Christ. They picture this section of the book as returning from the Babylonian captivity, not the final restoration of Israel. Therefore, the rabbis teach that God’s acceptance of the prayers of the exiles, their redemption from the captivity, and their safe and pleasant return to the homeland is in view here.

    God’s purposes in the earth center around the nation of Isra'el. When she is back in the Land, both the heavens and the earth can rejoice. ADONAI will do it all, the only thing they will have to do is sing! Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones (49:13). It is not surprising that the possibility of universal redemption should issue in a call to praise here. This is a pattern that we see in Isaiah. In each case we see the work of God in salvation from sin, which is the motivating factor for universal praise. And every time, nature, the nature that was initially called to hear God’s case against His people (1:2), is for the salvation that will come to the human race (Romans 8:19-22). For its own redemption is completely connected with ours. This idea of cosmic redemption occurs in 65:17, where the conclusion of the book describes new heavens and a new earth.188


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