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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Isaiah 49

 

 

Verse 14

The power of God, that, by the raising up of Cyrus, would accomplish His purpose to release those whom He calls, "My captives," would only be perceived by faith. Therefore the prophet exclaims "Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself." A servant of God has very truly and aptly remarked, "God's ways are behind the scenes, but He moves all the scenes which He is behind."

Men may act to achieve their own purposes without any thought of God and yet God may be behind their doings, overruling them to serve His own ends. Israel is to know God as Saviour and be delivered from their idols. This was in part accomplished when by the decree of Cyrus a remnant returned to their own land; for after that deliverance the demon of idolatry was cast put of them, and outwardly they served the God of their fathers. But the everlasting salvation mentioned in verse Isaiah 45:17 is not yet theirs. Each "salvation" as yet granted to them has only lasted for a time. When it does come by the advent of Christ, it will abide "world without end," or, "to the ages of ages."

This promised salvation is guaranteed most solemnly in verses Isaiah 45:18-19 by Jehovah Himself who is the Creator. As Creator He had formed the earth for mankind to inhabit it. He did not create it "in vain," or "as waste;" an allusion doubtless to Genesis 1:2 where the earth was found in a condition described as, "without form," or "as waste;" the same expression being used there as here. When the earth, subsequent to its original creation, had become waste, He reduced it to form and order for the use of man. He who had done this now guaranteed salvation for Israel. He promised openly and in righteousness. This made it certain that the salvation when it arrived would be accomplished in a righteous way; just as the righteousness in which every believer now stands before God is brought to pass on a righteous basis.

So the call of God to the seed of Jacob had not been in vain. But not only Israel is in view but Gentiles also, as verse Isaiah 45:20 shows. The call is to those that are, "escaped of the nations," which shows that judgment will fall on the nations, and only those that escape it will enter into the blessing that is promised, just as it is only the remnant of Israel that will be saved. The nations had been full of idolatry, praying to "a god that cannot save," so they are called, that they may know a God who can save.

Verses Isaiah 45:21-25 furnish a remarkable forecast of the Gospel, as it is unfolded in Romans 3:1-31. Against the dark background of idolatry the Lord presents Himself as "a just God and a Saviour." The law had revealed Him to Israel as a just God who judges all their ways. Only in the Gospel is He declared to be God, who saves in righteousness. Christ has been "set forth... a propitiation through faith in His blood... to declare... at this time His righteousness; that He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:25, Romans 3:26).

In our chapter, not only are justice and salvation brought together but faith is also indicated, though not mentioned, for the way in which the salvation is to become effective is stated as, "Look unto Me." No works of law are demanded but the look of faith, for beyond all contradiction in an emergency we look to someone in whom we believe, and hence in whom we trust. And again, the call goes out far beyond the bounds of Israel, for any to "the ends of the earth" may look and be saved. In Romans 3:21, this righteousness of God apart from the law is said to be "witnessed by the law and the prophets," and the verses we are considering are certainly one item of witness furnished by the prophets.

Verse Isaiah 45:22 then conveys an invitation to faith, but verse Isaiah 45:23 shows that God in His majesty must be acknowledged by all, though many may not have answered the invitation in faith. And how is this bowing of the knee and the swearing of the tongue to come to pass? Philippians 2:10, Philippians 2:11, answers the question conclusively. The Person of the Godhead, to whom the obeisance and confession will be universally made, is no other than the Lord Jesus, who accomplished the righteousness by His obedience unto death. Righteousness and strength are found only in Him, and as the last verse says, it is "the seed of Israel" who will glory in Him as a justified people. Many who are "seed of Jacob" according to the flesh, are not "seed of Israel" according to God.

Before leaving this chapter notice how in the latter part of it the exclusive claim of Jehovah is emphasised again and again. Beside Him there is "none else." The faith of Christ, and the Gospel which proclaims it, have today just this exclusive claim, as witnessed in such scriptures as John 6:68; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Galatians 1:8, Galatians 1:9. There are today men who would go to the Buddhist or Confucian acknowledging their religions as ways to God and only claiming that "Christianity" offers them a rather superior way. In so doing they bung themselves near to, if not actually under, the apostolic curse of Galatians 1:8, while they avoid the reproach that the Gospel brings. It is this exclusive claim, inherent in the Gospel, which provokes the opposition.

The opening verses of Isaiah 46:1-13 pick up the theme that runs through these chapters — that of the persistent idolatry of the people. Bel and Nebo were two of the idols of Babylon, and the prophet sees the images representing them placed upon beasts ready for flight, just as at the beginning of the last chapter he had seen Cyrus taking the city. The word translated, "carriages," means "things lifted up to be carried," not the vehicle on which they are placed.

So verses Isaiah 45:1-2 are really ironical. The heavy images were placed on the backs of oxen, that staggered and finally collapsed, unable to deliver the gods into safety. Bel and Nebo could not even deliver themselves; much less anyone who trusted in them!

Hence the appeal of verses Isaiah 45:3-4. It is made, notice, to "the house of Jacob," in contrast to "the seed of Israel," mentioned previously, even if amongst them were to be found a remnant of the house of Israel. In contrast to the Babylonian gods that had to be borne on the backs of weary beasts so ineffectually, here is One who would support and carry, from their birth to the grey hairs of old age, those who trusted Him; One who would never let them down but deliver them. How great the contrast!

The contrast exists around us today. It is still a pertinent question — Do you go your way, carrying the things that you idolize, or does your God carry you? The idols of the modern English-speaking world are not images but more subtle things, such as money, pleasures, lusts; yet as life draws to its end they let you down. The God, whom we know, revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ, carries us through to the finish, for we are in the embrace of the love that will never let us go.

Hence, as verse Isaiah 45:5 declares, God stands out alone, beyond all comparison with any other. This fact is supported by a further reference to the follies that are inherent in idolatry. Here are men falling down and worshipping a god, fashioned by their own hands, which is a stationary object, unable to move or speak or save. And here is the true God, who acts and speaks, and foretells things that presently come to pass. The "ravenous bird [bird of prey] from the east," is doubtless another allusion to Cyrus, whom He would raise up to execute His purpose in the near future. Then from that which was comparatively near the prophecy passes to the ultimate purpose of God, which was remote. At last God will place salvation "in Zion," which speaks of His intervention in mercy, and the redeemed Israel who will enjoy it, will show forth the glory of the God who has accomplished it.

Isaiah 46:1-13 commenced with a forecast of the Babylonian gods falling into ruin and captivity. Isaiah 47:1-15 from start to finish pronounces judgment on Babylon itself. Just as the mystical Babylon of Revelation 17:1-18; Revelation 18:1-24 is viewed as a woman, so here, only the picture is not so dark. Babylon here, for instance, is addressed as "virgin daughter," and not as "the great whore," and as "the mother of harlots." It is a solemn thought that the mystical Babylon, to which an apostate Christendom is working up, is more filthy in the eyes of God than the literal Babylon of Old Testament times.

The ancient Babylon was indeed for a short period "the lady [mistress] of kingdoms," but her downfall is foretold. Verse Isaiah 45:6 strikes us as very remarkable, inasmuch as the things alleged against her had not actually taken place and did not come to pass till the days of Nebuchadnezzar. Then the wrath of God against the evils of His people condemned them to be carried away, and His inheritance polluted by the temple being destroyed. God permitted it; the Babylonian monarch did it with a heavy hand, and upon Babylon will come the heavy hand of God's judgment, in a day when there should be executed "the vengeance of the Lord our God, the vengeance of His temple" (Jeremiah 50:28).

So Isaiah was led to prophesy what Babylon would do to Jerusalem a century before it happened, and to foretell also how Babylon later should be overthrown, since Jehovah is "our Redeemer... the Holy One of Israel" (verse Isaiah 45:4). He spoke too of the unexpected way in which the destruction would come upon them, as we see in verse Isaiah 45:11, the fulfilment of which we find in Daniel 5:1-31.

Verse Isaiah 45:13 speaks of the men who practised the dark arts of spiritism, in which Babylon trusted, for that city was apparently the original home of idolatry, which means the worship of demon powers. All such evil powers collapse when God acts in judgment. But it is this feature, we believe, that accounts for Babylon, rather than any other ancient city, being carried into Revelation with a spiritual application; for of that Babylon we read it had "become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit," and again that by its "sorceries were all nations deceived."

Having pronounced judgment against Babylon, the prophecy turns again in Isaiah 48:1-22, to the "house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel." The fact that they were thus addressed constituted a rebuke. Israel was the new name given to Jacob when God blessed him, as we learn in Genesis 32:28. The people claimed the new name, but were displaying all the ugly features of the old crafty, scheming Jacob. Outwardly they paid lip service to Jehovah and stayed themselves upon the holy city and the God of Israel, but without reality. They deceived themselves but not God, for He saw it was "not in truth, nor in righteousness."

This kind of thing has always been a great snare to the professed people of God. It came to a head, particularly in the Pharisees, when our Lord was on earth, and His most searching words of denunciation were directed against such. It is very prevalent today, for 2 Timothy 3:5 shows that "a form of godliness" may cover up hideous depravity. Let every reader of these lines, as well as the writer, beware of it. Spiritual pretension is a peculiar snare to those who are well instructed in the things of God, for they know the right and appropriate and even beautiful thing to say, and they may claim much without any heart and reality in it.

So the first eight verses of this chapter are filled with solemn words of exposure and warning. Here they were, trafficking with their idols, as verse Isaiah 45:5 indicates, and giving them credit for anything favourable that came to pass, while still professedly serving God. And all the time it was God who was able to speak in advance and show the former things, and then suddenly bring them to pass, as verse Isaiah 45:3 states. The fact was that their ears were closed to God's word so that they did not hear. They were marked by treachery and transgression as verse Isaiah 45:8 declares.

Once more the obstinate sins of the people are thus exposed — so what then? Just when we might have expected further announcements of coming judgment, God states what He proposes to do for the sake of His own Name and praise. He will defer His anger and not cut them off entirely, though He is going to pass them through the furnace of affliction. He will consider not only their ultimate good as a nation but also His own glory and the honour of His own Name.

In verse Isaiah 45:12 God Himself is still the Speaker. He presents Himself, saying, "I am He," or, "I am THE SAME," for it is really a name of God. He is not only "the FIRST" but also "the LAST." When we reach the book of Revelation, (Revelation 1:17 and Revelation 22:13), we find the Lord Jesus claiming these august designations for Himself; and indeed we may discern Him as the Speaker in the Old Testament passage before us, for it was His hand that, "laid the foundation of the earth," and "spanned the heavens," as Hebrews 1:2 assures us. He who had so wrought in creation would not fail to work out His purpose and pleasure on Babylon and the Chaldeans, and in favour of His people.

We may discern the same Speaker in verse Isaiah 45:16. There may have been a more immediate application of verses Isaiah 45:14-15 to Cyrus, who was destined to overthrow Babylon and grant a respite to the Jews, but the full and lasting fulfilment is only found in Christ, who is the Sent One of the Lord Jehovah; and that, whether we read the end of the verse as in our Authorised Version, or that the Lord God "hath sent Me and His Spirit," as in other Versions. In John's Gospel particularly is the Lord Jesus presented as "the Sent One." In the Acts we have the sending of the Spirit. We may call the closing words of verse Isaiah 45:16 a preliminary intimation of the Trinity, though the real revelation of it awaited New Testament days.

The coming of Christ having thus been forecast, the "Holy One of Israel" is presented as Redeemer and the One who will ultimately teach and lead the people in the way that will be for their profit and blessing, though for the moment they were not hearkening to His Word. The blessing they were missing by' their inattention and disobedience is strikingly pictured in verses Isaiah 45:18-19. There would have been peace based on righteousness. What they missed then, in a more material way, is now being proclaimed in a spiritual way in the Gospel.

Yet, as verses Isaiah 45:20-21 show, God will work in days to come for the redemption of Israel from their foes, and do for them again what once He did when under Moses He brought them through the wilderness and into the land.

But this does not mean that God is going to condone evil. Far from it. To reach the blessing Israel must be delivered from their sin, since there is no peace for the wicked, as verse Isaiah 45:22 asserts. This verse marks the end of a distinct section — the first 9 chapters of the closing 27 chapters — in which the main offence alleged against the people is their persistent idolatry. Against that dark background the only bright light shining is the predicted advent of Christ.

So as we commence Isaiah 49:1-26, and so pass into the central section, we immediately hear His voice in the spirit of prophecy, calling upon us to listen to Him. In the Gospel of John He is introduced to us as "the Word," the One in whom the whole mind of God is expressed; and at the transfiguration the voice out of the cloud said, "Hear ye Him." So we are not surprised that prophetically He should say, "Listen... unto Me." What might surprise us, and might well surprise an attentive Jewish reader is that He should address His call to the "isles," and to "peoples from afar," for the word, we understand, is in the plural, indicating the distant nations, and not the people of Israel. But so it was; and thus at the start of this new section it is intimated that what He has to say, and what He will accomplish, will be for the benefit of all men and not only for the people of Israel.

His words will cut like a sword and pierce like an arrow when He comes forth from the Divine quiver, for He shall appear as the true Servant of God and the true Israel; i.e., "Prince of God." As the earlier chapters have shown the national Israel had been called to serve God but had failed completely. This true Israel is declared to be called from the womb, made a "polished shaft" to fly unerringly as directed, and in Him, Jehovah says, "I will be glorified." We can now say, In whom He has been glorified, and in whom He will yet be glorified in a supreme and public way.

And then, in our chapter, comes verse Isaiah 45:4. How often it has been the case in this fallen world that the servants of God have had to taste the bitterness of defeat and apparent failure. Indeed it seems to have been the rule rather than the exception. The supreme example of this is found in our Lord Himself. He came, as the Apostle Paul states, "A Minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm The promises made unto the fathers" (Romans 15:8); but, rejected by "the circumcision," His mission from that standpoint was marked by failure. He did indeed labour, but it was "in vain." His strength was put forth, but "for naught." Thus it was to all appearance, and according to the judgment of man.

"Yet" says the Messiah, "surely My judgment is with the Lord and My work with My God." His labour, His work, the exertion of His strength was not in vain, for God had entrusted to His Servant a task far deeper and wider and more wonderful than being just "a Minister of the circumcision," as we shall find intimated in our chapter, though we must travel into the New Testament to get a full view of its greatness.

Into that full light we today have been brought, so that with full hearts we can take up the little hymn that begins,

His be "the Victor's name,"and go on to sing,

By weakness and defeat,

He won the meed and crown;

Trod all our foes beneath His feet,

By being trodden down.


Verses 5-16

In this remarkable chapter we have something in the nature of a dialogue. Jehovah's word to the Messiah, whom He addressed as the true "Prince of God," we found in verse Isaiah 49:3. The lament of the Messiah, having wooed Israel in vain, is found in verse Isaiah 49:4, and it was historically verified, as we are told in Luke 13:34. From verse Isaiah 49:5 onwards we get the response of Jehovah to this lament. The latter part of verse Isaiah 49:5 is really a parenthesis, giving us Messiah's confidence, based upon what Jehovah is about to say. Israel may refuse and be obdurate, but in the eyes of Jehovah He will be GLORIOUS — and that being so, nothing of God's purpose will fail.

The answer of Jehovah begins in verse Isaiah 49:6. We are prophetically advised that in the coming of the Lord Jesus wider and weightier purposes were involved than the gathering and blessing of Israel and Jacob. Light was to shine for all the nations, and salvation was to be made possible and available to the ends of the earth. Here is a prediction that — praise be to God! — is being verified today. He is the salvation. It cannot be disconnected from Him, as the Apostle Peter made so plain before the Jewish council — see Acts 4:12.

But if we can see the fulfilment of verse Isaiah 49:6 today, we wait to see verse Isaiah 49:7 fulfilled in a future day, which, we trust, is approaching. Jehovah is truly the Redeemer of Israel, though the One whom He sent is despised and abhorred in the servant's place. The hour draws near when, in the presence of this Servant, kings shall rise from their seats and princes shall do homage before Him. Men refused Him but God has chosen Him.

Again in verse Isaiah 49:8 we have the voice of Jehovah. The humbled Servant whom men would not hear has been heard by Him, helped and lifted up. And this has come to pass in "an acceptable time," and in "a day of salvation." The significance of this may have been lost on Old Testament readers, but the Apostle Paul seized upon it in 2 Corinthians 6:2. The rejection of the Messiah, foretold in verse Isaiah 49:7 would result in His death and He would be "heard" and "helped" by resurrection from the dead, and this was to inaugurate the "acceptable time" and the "day of salvation."

Almost exactly nineteen centuries ago Paul reminded the Corinthian saints that they were living in that wonderful epoch: it was NOW. The epoch of grace and salvation still persists. It is still NOW. May we all be stirred to evangelise, remembering that it may not last much longer.

But in the latter part of verse Isaiah 49:8, and onwards to the end of verse Isaiah 49:13 the prophecy carries us into the age to come. The once-rejected Messiah is to be "a covenant of the people," for they will not enter into blessing on the basis of the covenant of law. He, and He only, will bring to pass the blessing on earth so glowingly described in these verses, so that the very heavens as well as the earth will break forth into jubilant song.

Verse Isaiah 49:13 however, seems to indicate that an afflicted remnant of Israel is mainly, if not exclusively, in view here. Some will be prisoners, some hiding in dark places; coming over the mountains from distant spots in north and west, and even from "the land of Sinim," which some identify with China. At last the comfort, announced in the opening verse of Isaiah 40:1-31, will have reached "His people," and those who for so long had been "His afflicted," will find mercy. MERCY, notice; not merit, as is shown so conclusively at the end of Romans 11:1-36.

And it will be unexpected mercy, as the succeeding verses show. Zion, representing the godly seed who will receive the mercy, will be tempted to think in their extremity that they are forsaken and forgotten by their God: but they are not. Amongst mankind there is no stronger tie than maternal love. Yet under extreme pressure even that tie may break. The godly in Israel have a tie with Jehovah that will never break. While they are disowned nationally and set aside, God has wider purposes of blessing, reaching out to the remotest peoples. Yet He is marked by the utmost fidelity to all His promises, given to those who are the seed of Abraham in a spiritual as well as a material sense.

This will be the case in such abundant measure that in verse Isaiah 49:18 Zion is told to lift up her eyes and see her children flocking to her side. In the days of her sinful desolation all her children were Lost; now they appear in such numbers that the land cannot contain them, and the Gentiles — even their kings and queens — will do them honour, and that because of the glory and power of their God.

But when this great mercy reaches Israel their plight will be very great, as we may infer from verse Isaiah 49:24 and the opening verses of Zechariah 14:1-21 confirm the inference. Just when they appear to be the helpless captives of their foes there will be a tremendous intervention of Jehovah for their deliverance. The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that the Jehovah, who according to Zechariah 14:3, will "go forth, and fight against those nations," is no other than our blessed Lord Jesus Christ; and by His hands, "the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered."

This will be a work of redemption by power but, as we know, it will find its righteous basis in the redemption by blood accomplished at His first coming. At the present time the poor Jew still rejects the righteous basis while hoping for national deliverance. It will be otherwise when their Redeemer does appear in power. He will then be manifested as the "Mighty One" of poor crooked "Jacob;" and not merely as the Mighty One of Israel.

This prophetic strain now ceases for in Isaiah 50:1 we return to the existing state of the people, estranged from their God. This was not from God's side but from theirs. If He had issued a bill of divorcement against them, it would have been permanent and they would have been "cast away," (Romans 11:1), as to which Paul says, "God forbid." The fact was that they had sold themselves into disaster by their many transgressions.

And there was more than this, for the succeeding verses are a prophetic arraignment of the people as to their rejection of their Messiah at His first advent. When He came, there was, as verse Isaiah 49:2 predicts, none among the leaders of the people to answer to His call. As the Gospels record He came announcing the kingdom is at hand Had He no power to bring it in? Did the establishment of the kingdom fail because He had not the redeeming energy? Why, He moved in the seas and the heavens with the power of the Creator! Yet He was to take a lowly and subject place.

The word "learned" in verse Isaiah 49:4, really means a disciple or one who is instructed, and our Lord took that humble and subject place when He came as the Servant of the will of God. He had indeed the opened ear, as was also predicted in Psalms 40:1-17, and He took that place that He might be man's true neighbour, and speak the word in season to him that is weary. Morning by morning He heard the words He was to speak to others; hence His own statement to His disciples, "the words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself (John 14:10).

And having taken this lowly place of Servant, He had to face the scornful rejection of men. Smiting, shame and spitting were to be His portion though He came in such grace with blessing for men. Nothing however moved Him from the path of devotion to the will of God. His face was set as a flint in that direction, and therefore the power of God was with Him.

Moreover, as verses Isaiah 49:8-9 intimated, the day will come when He shall be vindicated and His adversaries confounded and brought under judgment. So here again, as is so often in these prophecies, the two advents are brought together though many centuries come between them. Verses Isaiah 49:5-7 have been fulfilled, when He came in grace. Verses Isaiah 49:8-9 will be fulfilled when He comes in judgment.

Then in the two verses that close the chapter we pass from prophetic utterances to words of counsel and warning. There were those that feared the Lord and yet they walked in comparative darkness. This was acknowledged by the Apostle Peter, when in his first epistle he reminded the converts from Judaism, to whom he wrote, that they had been called "out of darkness into His marvellous light." (1 Peter 2:9). But while they still dwelt in darkness, waiting for the light, they were to trust in the name of Jehovah — for so He had revealed Himself to them, and stay themselves upon His faithfulness. This they did, as the opening chapters of Luke's Gospel show. Jesus was, "the Dayspring from on high... to give light to them that sit in darkness" (Luke 1:78, Luke 1:79); and in Luke 2:1-52, we are given a glimpse of the godly souls who were obeying the instruction given in verse Isaiah 49:10 of our chapter.

But there were many in those days that did not fear the Lord nor obey the voice of His Servant when He came in grace, and there are today a multitude who are of the same mind. They kindle a fire of their own to illuminate the darkness, and in the light of it and of its sparks they pursue their way. This is figurative language; but how graphic and striking it is!

In this twentieth century men have created a huge bonfire which is throwing sparks in all directions, and it appears that "science" is adding fuel to its flames at a rate that is becoming alarming. The sparks that are generated by human cleverness are flying everywhere. So let us not miss the application of these two verses to ourselves. If saints of old were to trust in their God, while they waited for the light, should not we, who walk in the marvellous light of the Gospel, be filled with faith in the God so perfectly revealed in the Lord Jesus? Yet all around us are the multitudes charmed and intoxicated with the myriad bright sparks that spring from the fire of human inventions and cleverness, though some among them — those who know most and think more clearly — have many a twinge of fear as to the end of it all. Verse Isaiah 49:11 indicates the end. Mankind will lie down in sorrow under God's heavy judgment hand.

Isaiah 51:1-23 opens with a call to the godly; for such are those that, "follow after righteousness." The figure of a quarry is used to direct their thoughts to their origin as descended from Abraham, who had originally been called out, and in whom the promises had been deposited. When Isaiah wrote, the people had for centuries been under the law of Moses and they might easily assume that they would ultimately attain to blessing on a legal basis. But they will not. The blessing will only be theirs on the basis of the covenant with Abraham. It will be theirs not on the ground of their merit but of God's MERCY, as the end of Romans 11:1-36, so clearly states.

Therefore, remembering His covenant with Abraham, God will yet "comfort Zion," and bring about rich earthly blessing. At the present time the diligent work of returned Jews is producing in the land fertility where barrenness has prevailed for many centuries, but there are forebodings and distress and a voice of anxiety rather than of melody. At present it is but a national and purely human movement.

Verses Isaiah 49:4-5 show what will come to pass when the movement proceeds from God and they are obedient to His law and ordering. Then His salvation based on righteousness will be manifested. There will be blessing, not only for those whom He acknowledges as "My people" and "My nation," but also for "the peoples;" — for the word at the end of verse Isaiah 49:4 and the middle of verse Isaiah 49:5 is in the plural. The distant isles will be brought under Divine rule in that day. The secret of it all is this: — "on Mine ARM shall they trust." That ARM was introduced to us in Isaiah 40:10, and is a designation of our Lord Jesus in the power and glory of His second advent.

Earlier in the verse "Mine arms" are mentioned; these we believe to be glorified saints, enjoying a heavenly portion, such as those to whom the Lord spoke the words recorded in Matthew 19:28. In that day the trust of men, who are blessed, will be centred in Jehovah's mighty ARM, but saints will act as His "arms," deputed by Him to "judge the peoples."

What a wonderful day that will be; for nothing either in heaven or on earth, is stable, as verse Isaiah 49:6 declares. Things physical and men themselves pass away but the salvation which God will bring to pass in righteousness will abide. We are called upon to hearken to God's word in verses Isaiah 49:7-8; and we who "know righteousness" cannot but rejoice that only what is established in righteousness will remain and all else will be worm-eaten and destroyed. In the assurance of this no saint need fear the reproach and revilings of men.

These verses have unfolded before our minds a glorious and desirable prospect, only to be realized when the Lord Jesus comes again. Hence the call of verse Isaiah 49:9 : "Awake, awake, put on strength, O Arm of the Lord." In prophetic vision John saw Him so doing, in Revelation 19:11-16, when He will be displayed as King of kings and Lord of lords. The Lord Jesus has ever been the Executor of the purposes of God. He acted in the mighty scenes of creation. It was He who cut in pieces Rahab — a name meaning "Arrogance," given to Egypt in contempt — and dried up the sea, when God brought the people under Moses out of the land of their bondage. When He puts on strength and acts in the future day, there will be a far greater deliverance, and the ransomed of the Lord shall return to Zion with singing, and their joy will be everlasting and not transient and fleeting as all joyful deliverances have been hitherto in this sinful world. We today may call upon the Arm of the Lord to awake, only the language we use is, "Even so, Come, Lord Jesus."

In verse Isaiah 49:12 and onwards another call to the godly is before us. Their tendency was, as our tendency today is, to have their eyes on man, and fear, as all his evil tendencies and activities are observed. But men die and the One who comforts His people is the Maker of heavens and earth. When God acts, where will the fury of the oppressor be? These striking verses are intended to put heart into the saints of God in all ages. They have done so in the past and doubtless they are doing so today, especially where saints are confronted with "the fury of the oppressor," whether he be Communist or Romish.

God is far above the actions and agitations of men. The nations are like the sea with its roaring waves but He divides them at His pleasure. In verse Isaiah 49:16 the One who is the Arm of the Lord is addressed for He is the One who speaks on God's behalf, the Divine word being in His mouth; just as He is the One who acts beneath the Divine hand, and the result of the speaking and the acting is given.

The result is going to be threefold, as this remarkable verse states. The first is that the heavens are going to be planted. The reference here is not to creation, for that was mentioned in verse Isaiah 49:13, but, as we believe, to what God is doing today. The Lord Jesus Himself said, "Every plant, which My heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Matthew 15:13); thus showing that to plant is a figurative expression for establishing in a place of blessing. By the Gospel today men are being called out from the nations for His name, and theirs is a "heavenly calling" (Hebrews 3:1). The coming age will display that the heavens have been planted by the grace of God in this age.

Secondly, the foundations of the earth will be well and truly laid. Again, this not the material creation, but laying the moral foundations in righteousness, for at present, " all the foundations of the earth are out of course" (Psalms 82:5). Through the centuries men have striven in vain to establish a righteous order of things and the best of them have utterly failed. They could no more accomplish it than they could reach up to plant the heavens.

But there is a third thing that is to be brought to pass: Zion is to be formally acknowledged as God's special people. The prophet Hosea lived about the time of Isaiah, and it was through him that God said "Ye are not My people and I will not be your God" (Isaiah 1:9). So up to this present moment they are disowned, though not set aside for ever. The day will come when they will be owned and blessed.

And these wonderful results will come to pass through the One who is presented to us in Isaiah as not only the lowly Servant but also the mighty Arm of Jehovah — our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. No wonder that the next words of the prophecy are the call, "Awake, awake." Jerusalem will awake presently: let us, who are called that we may be planted in the heavens. see to it that we are very much awake today — awake to our God; awake to His service. We are exhorted to this in Ephesians 5:14.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Isaiah 49:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/isaiah-49.html. 1947.

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