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Isaiah 49:1-7

Context
Ideal Israel Delivers the Exiles

49:1 Listen to me, you coastlands! 1 

Pay attention, you people who live far away!

The Lord summoned me from birth; 2 

he commissioned me when my mother brought me into the world. 3 

49:2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword,

he hid me in the hollow of his hand;

he made me like a sharpened 4  arrow,

he hid me in his quiver. 5 

49:3 He said to me, “You are my servant,

Israel, through whom I will reveal my splendor.” 6 

49:4 But I thought, 7  “I have worked in vain;

I have expended my energy for absolutely nothing.” 8 

But the Lord will vindicate me;

my God will reward me. 9 

49:5 So now the Lord says,

the one who formed me from birth 10  to be his servant –

he did this 11  to restore Jacob to himself,

so that Israel might be gathered to him;

and I will be honored 12  in the Lord’s sight,

for my God is my source of strength 13 

49:6 he says, “Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant,

to reestablish the tribes of Jacob,

and restore the remnant 14  of Israel? 15 

I will make you a light to the nations, 16 

so you can bring 17  my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.”

49:7 This is what the Lord,

the protector 18  of Israel, their Holy One, 19  says

to the one who is despised 20  and rejected 21  by nations, 22 

a servant of rulers:

“Kings will see and rise in respect, 23 

princes will bow down,

because of the faithful Lord,

the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you.”

1 tn Or “islands” (NASB, NIV); NLT “in far-off lands.”

sn The Lord’s special servant, introduced in chap. 42, speaks here of his commission.

2 tn Heb “called me from the womb.”

3 tn Heb “from the inner parts of my mother he mentioned my name.”

4 tn Or perhaps, “polished” (so KJV, ASV, NAB, NIV, NRSV); NASB “a select arrow.”

5 sn The figurative language emphasizes the servant’s importance as the Lord’s effective instrument. The servant’s mouth, which stands metonymically for his words, is compared to a sharp sword because he will be an effective spokesman on God’s behalf (see 50:4). The Lord holds his hand on the servant, ready to draw and use him at the appropriate time. The servant is like a sharpened arrow reserved in a quiver for just the right moment.

6 sn This verse identifies the servant as Israel. This seems to refer to the exiled nation (cf. 41:8-9; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20), but in vv. 5-6 this servant says he has been commissioned to reconcile Israel to God, so he must be distinct from the exiled nation. This servant is an ideal “Israel” who, like Moses of old, mediates a covenant for the nation (see v. 8), leads them out of bondage (v. 9a), and carries out God’s original plan for Israel by positively impacting the pagan nations (see v. 6b). By living according to God’s law, Israel was to be a model of God’s standards of justice to the surrounding nations (Deut 4:6-8). The sinful nation failed, but the servant, the ideal “Israel,” will succeed by establishing justice throughout the earth.

7 tn Or “said” (KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV); NLT “I replied.”

8 tn Heb “for nothing and emptiness.” Synonyms are combined to emphasize the common idea.

9 tn Heb “But my justice is with the Lord, and my reward [or “wage”] with my God.”

10 tn Heb “from the womb” (so KJV, NASB).

11 tn The words “he did this” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. In the Hebrew text the infinitive construct of purpose is subordinated to the previous statement.

12 tn The vav (ו) + imperfect is translated here as a result clause; one might interpret it as indicating purpose, “and so I might be honored.”

13 tn Heb “and my God is [perhaps, “having been”] my strength.” The disjunctive structure (vav [ו] + subject + verb) is interpreted here as indicating a causal circumstantial clause.

14 tn Heb “the protected [or “preserved”] ones.”

15 sn The question is purely rhetorical; it does not imply that the servant was dissatisfied with his commission or that he minimized the restoration of Israel.

16 tn See the note at 42:6.

17 tn Heb “be” (so KJV, ASV); CEV “you must take.”

18 tn Heb “redeemer.” See the note at 41:14.

19 sn See the note on the phrase “the Holy One of Israel” in 1:4.

20 tc The Hebrew text reads literally “to [one who] despises life.” It is preferable to read with the Qumran scroll 1QIsaa לבזוי, which should be vocalized as a passive participle, לִבְזוּי (livzuy, “to the one despised with respect to life” [נֶפֶשׁ is a genitive of specification]). The consonantal sequence וי was probably misread as ה in the MT tradition. The contextual argument favors the 1QIsaa reading. As J. N. Oswalt (Isaiah [NICOT], 2:294) points out, the three terse phrases “convey a picture of lowliness, worthlessness, and helplessness.”

21 tn MT’s Piel participle (“to the one who rejects”) does not fit contextually. The form should be revocalized as a Pual, “to the one rejected.”

22 tn Parallelism (see “rulers,” “kings,” “princes”) suggests that the singular גּוֹי (goy) be emended to a plural or understood in a collective sense (see 55:5).

23 tn For this sense of קוּם (qum), see Gen 19:1; 23:7; 33:10; Lev 19:32; 1 Sam 20:41; 25:41; 1 Kgs 2:19; Job 29:8.



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