Lesson 5: Isaiah 49:1-13 (A Song of Anticipation)

Have you ever anticipated something? If so, how did you anticipate it? Did you think about a lot? Did you talk about it a lot? Did you dream about it often? Did you obsess over it?

I have a friend (Casey Chappell) who is a very gifted photographer. And sometimes she is lucky enough to capture images of anticipation. Mothers anticipating the arrival of their baby after nine grueling months. Wives anticipating the arrival of their husbands after months – and sometimes years – of dangerous service in the armed forces.

And I call my friend gifted, because, somehow, she captures the anticipation of these women in a very real and tangible way. In the split second it takes for her lens to focus and the shutter to open and close on her camera, she has already recorded tears, whispered prayers on lips, and tender embraces. And while all of Casey’s photos are unique, they share the very same sense of anticipation. Anticipation that is felt in every pore of the body; anticipation that colors every aspect of life.

In reflecting on my friend’s artwork, it made me wonder – how is our anticipation manifested? What do we do when we anticipate something or someone? Do we live our lives differently? I think we do.

If you are expecting a baby, your anticipation colors your entire life. The way you think, the way you eat, the way you sleep, the way you walk. You do certain things to take care of yourself in anticipation of this new life inside you that you didn’t do before. You make preparations in your house in anticipation of bringing that little one home – preparations that you would have never had to consider if you weren’t anticipating this new child.

If you are anticipating the arrival of a loved one from whom you’ve been separated, what do you do? You don’t just wait at home – you probably prepare. You get your house ready, you get yourself ready. You probably don’t slop up to the airport in your PJs; you make yourself presentable. You might even get a special meal ready. You do certain things on that special day in anticipation of that person’s arrival. Things you don’t do every day.

Some of you have felt that kind of anticipation. Whether you’ve anticipated a baby or a loved one separated from you by circumstances of life. And even if you can’t relate to these specific circumstances, there is probably something or some area of your life in which you’ve experienced anticipation.

Isaiah tells us there should be. There should be at least one area of anticipation that takes over our whole being – impacting not only what we think about and talk about, but how we act and the things we do each day. Isaiah tells us, in this Song of Anticipation, that we should anticipate the Ideal Servant. And the great prophet lays out some very specific ways we are to anticipate this coming Servant.

So today, we will look at Is. 49 – the second of Isaiah’s so-called Servant Songs. And we will discover that Isaiah will continue the theme of deliverance into this chapter. Last week we discovered God had plans to both physically and spiritually deliver His people (deliver them from bondage to Babylon and also deliver them from bondage to sin).

But particularly in Is. 49, we will see God’s intention is to save not just the nation of Israel, but his intention is to save all nations. And for those who think the call to the Gentiles occurred only with the Great Commission, you might be surprised to see that it was always God’s intention to draw the nations to himself.

So, in Is. 49, we see Isaiah calling the people to anticipation – to anticipate the coming Ideal Servant who had his sight set on the nations.

I.  ANTICIPATING THE CALL OF THE SERVANT (49:1-7)

So, let’s read the first seven verses of this Song of Anticipation. And I want you to read with eyes that anticipate the Servant, because in this passage Isaiah tells us to anticipate the Servant who is called as an agent of God in a three-fold task:

  • The Servant is called as God’s agent of  a new covenant to Israel
  • The Servant is called as God’s agent of justice to the nations
  • The Servant is called as God’s agent of God’s own faithfulness

Read Is. 49:1-7

A. God’s agent of a new covenant to Israel (49:1-5)

God’s heart has always been after the nations. Yet, in a great paradox, all of God’s work toward the nations begins with one nation – Israel. God set apart one nation to Himself to serve as His servants. They were to serve God as his priests ministering to the nations – reflecting what life in God’s kingdom looked like. So, God’s plan to reach the nations hinged on Israel’s relationship to Him.

We see this thought reflected in verses 1-5 where the Servant becomes the agent of a new covenant to Israel. According to Isaiah, the Servant is the means of that relationship. [1]

Let’s unpack some of vs. 1-5. Some of these concepts we’ve already looked at, so we’ll just quickly mentioned them as way of review.

i. Servant is called for a task (49:1)

In verse 1, we see the Servant is called for a task that involves all the nations: “Listen, O coastlands, to Me, And take heed, you peoples from afar! The LORD has called Me from the womb; From the matrix of My mother He has made mention of My name.”

The Servant is speaking to the nations here and telling them about his call to them. The Servant has been called to a specific task. Note, that this is the call of an individual prophet – this language of being called from the womb – not the whole of Israel.[2]

ii. Servant is equipped for a task (49:2)

And then notice how the Servant is equipped for this task to call to the nations in vs. 2. “And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; In the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, And made Me a polished shaft; In His quiver He has hidden Me.” The Servant says that he utilizes one weapon to accomplish his task – his mouth. His power is not in physical strength or military prowess, but in the power of his spoken Word.[3]

So, the Servant is equipped for his task to bring deliverance in a very unique way. And so, we know this passage must refer to someone other than Israel as a nation (their lives were marked by unrighteous words). The individual being called here bears the power of God’s spoken Word.

iii. Servant is kept for task (49:3) (Servant functions as substitute Israel)

And then look at the result in vs. 3 of the equipping of this Servant: “And He said to me, ‘You are My servant, O Israel, In whom I will be glorified.’

Remember, the Ideal Servant is speaking here – and he is recounting what God has said to him. God tells the Ideal Servant – “You are my servant, Israel.” Huh? Doesn’t it sort of sound like God is talking to the nation of Israel and not a specific person? At this point you are probably thinking, ‘there is a reason why I avoid prophecy, why I avoid the Old Testament.’

But stick with me, because this is crucial to our understanding of the Ideal Servant’s task. God is still talking to the Ideal Servant. God is calling the Ideal Servant, his Israel. And this is the key: the Ideal Servant functions as a substitute Israel. The Ideal Servant fulfills the role that Israel is physically and spiritually incapable of fulfilling. He takes their place and then as a result of his service, enables Israel to become God’s servants once again.

How do I know that? Look at the last clause of verse 3. God declares it is through this individual, he “will beautify myself.” (NIV says “in whom I will show my glory”, NASB says ‘in whom I will display my splendor”). This was the role that the nation of Israel was supposed to fulfill, right? They were to beautify God. They were supposed to show his glory to the nations and display his splendor to the coastlands and be light of God’s glory to the nations. But they could not because of their worship disorder. And so, the Ideal Servant is going to step in, and God is going to be beautified through Him instead and the nations are going to be drawn to God through Him instead.

We see the culmination of the task of the Servant at the end of the book of Isaiah – in Is. 61 – the chapter we looked at first in our studies so we might perceive the big picture of this great book. Is. 61 shows us what God’s people looked like after the Servant has accomplished his task. They were a people transformed into beautiful oaks of righteousness, and their lives of righteousness beautify God. Isaiah tells us that this is the picture of God’s people we are to anticipate.

And here in Is. 49, the prophet tells us that the means by which this transformation will occur will be through the Ideal Servant – who is called for this task, equipped for this task, and kept to fulfill Israel’s task. He is the substitute Servant – fulfilling her role on her behalf, so that she might once again be renewed to service.

iv. Servant is humbled in task (49:4-5)

And lastly, as the agent of God’s covenant with the nation of Israel, the Ideal Servant – this substitute – accomplishes his task in great humility. Now we’re getting some new details concerning the Servant, because Isaiah has already shared bits of vs. 1-4 with us before. But listen to vs. 4-5: “Then I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain; Yet surely my just reward is with the LORD, And my work with my God.’”

Look at the language – he speaks of emptiness, vanity. This servant is not a conquering figure; he is a figure who is humbled in his labor. This is a paradox to us and would have been to Isaiah’s original readers. I love how Oswalt puts it. He says: “God does not approach arrogance and oppression of the world with greater arrogance and greater oppression. Rather, he comes with the humility, the vulnerability, and the powerlessness of a child.”[4] The Ideal Servant will be humbled in his task. In a few weeks we’ll look at the extreme emotional, spiritual, and physical humbling that is to come for this figure in Is. 53.[5]

Yet, look at the result – he continues to trust in God despite these feelings of emptiness and vanity. He trusts in God’s plan for justice. He trusts in God’s strength: 5“And now the LORD says, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, So that Israel is gathered to Him[a](For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, And My God shall be My strength),”

And so what is the purpose for which the Ideal Servant is humbled and serves as Israel’s substitute? So that God’s people might be restored to God and enabled to become the servants that beautify God.

So, we’re gaining clarity of this figure of the Ideal Servant. And Isaiah is telling us he is the agent of God’s covenant with Israel. And this is a very important aspect of God’s timelines for human history – because in order to reach the nations, God’s plan requires that one nation stand as a shining example of restoration and service. We see that task fulfilled in one person – the Ideal Servant.

So, Isaiah is telling the people who to anticipate, and how they might expect this Servant to arrive – in great humility.

B. God’s agent of justice to the nations (49:6)

But next we see the Ideal Servant is an agent of God’s covenant to the Israelites, so that he may also serve as an agent of God’s justice to all the nations. Look at verse 6: Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

The significance of the agency (work) of the Ideal Servant is so great, that God says, it is too small a thing that the Ideal Servant serve only as a substitute for one nation. And so, vs. 6, tells us the Ideal Servant will serve as a “light to the gentiles” and as “God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.”

This is God’s intention – even in the OT – to draw all people into His Light to dwell there. These images of light and salvation are deeply interwoven throughout Isaiah. And in the book of Isaiah, ‘light” dispels the darkness and blindness of sin and injustice. We saw this in the first Servant Song in Is. 42. Isaiah tells us that the Servant is given “as a light to the Gentiles, 7 To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.”

The Light reveals God’s justice and salvation. God’s justice – not simply meaning his wrath against sin and wrongs we’ve committed – but meaning the redemption of God’s good creative design for the world. God’s justice eradicates sin so that he is able to re-establish his good, social order – his kingdom – once again.

And so for centuries, men and women of God have meditated on these themes of light and justice and salvation. They memorized these words and hoped in these words and anticipated the Servant as the one to fulfill these words, so that when it came time for the Light to appear, these themes explode off the pages of the New Testament (see John 1).

These images begin here – in the Old Testament with prophets such as Isaiah, who urged the people to anticipate God’s Servant – the Ideal Servant who would be God’s agent of a new covenant to Israel and God’s agent of justice to the nations.

C. God’s agent of His own faithfulness (49:7)

But the Ideal Servant was tasked with more than just agency to Israel and to the nations. You might ask – what else is there? Verse 7 gives us a clue: Thus says the LORD, The Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One, To Him whom man despises, To Him whom the nation abhors, To the Servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise, Princes also shall worship, Because of the LORD who is faithful, The Holy One of Israel; And He has chosen You.”

The Ideal Servant is the agent of God’s own faithfulness. God chose Israel – he is not going to abandon them! It is not just about God being loving and merciful to His people. But it is about God being faithful to uphold the glory of His name.

Remember, his name is written on the People (Is. 43). And so in restoring them, in redeeming them, he is being faithful to His own name. Do you follow me? If God were to abandon those to whom He promised/pledged his covenant love – what would that say to the surrounding nations about the holiness or justice of God’s name? And so, God redeems his people not merely out of love, but because he is the Holy One – and he does so through the Ideal Servant.

That really should give cause for comfort, especially considering modern-day definitions of love. Popular culture tells us love is an emotion, a feeling. And the difficulty with that type of definition is that feelings and emotions can change with circumstances, culture, degrees of morality. It is not uncommon to hear things like: “Well, I can’t help the way I feel. I just fell out of love with you.” Or love is portrayed as being extremely fickle – as if it’s possible to love two people at once.

We see this all the time in books and movies. And I know that love triangles make for an intriguing literary device, but love triangles are not based on true biblical love. That’s not the way God loves. In fact, Matthew tells us of the poor end of trying to balance two loves (Matt. 6:24). And if we apply that worldly, fleeting definition of love to the love of Christ – then what assurance do we have that God’s Love toward us will not change? We have none.

And with no assurances of God’s constant, unconditional love, we begin to approach God with our own efforts as a means of pleasing him. We don’t want him to change his mind about his covenant love, right? And so we begin to “do” certain things in order merit God’s favor in our lives. Thankfully, God’s definition of Love doesn’t match our perversion of it.

Isaiah tells us, here in Is. 49, that God doesn’t love that way.  His love is not doled out according to our actions or inactions. God’s love is granted because of God – His nature. Isaiah says God demonstrates love to his people because he is faithful to His promises that were based on His Name. Let’s review what we know about God’s names so far from Isaiah. Last week we learned that God is:

  • The ‘I AM’ – his very name bears proof of his covenant love toward us.
  • The Creator – all-powerful
  • The Holy One – meaning he is set apart in his holiness
  • The Savior – our help. Here in this passage, he is the Redeemer – the one who buys us back from the slavery of sin.

And in our passage today, we see God declaring himself faithful to his people based on His name as the ‘I AM’, as the Holy One, as their Redeemer/Savior.

And because of God’s faithfulness, the people knew they could trust in the promises of God to deliver them. And Isaiah is calling them to act on that trust by actively anticipating the means of their deliverance, the Servant.

II. ANTICIPATING THE WORK OF THE SERVANT (49:8-10)

A. Anticipating a new covenant – God’s people restored to Him (49:8-10)

The people were to anticipate God’s coming salvation through the agency of the Ideal Servant, right? They were to anticipate the work of the Servant.

Specifically, they were to anticipate a new covenant , where God’s people would be restored back to Him. Look at vs. 8: “8Thus says the LORD: In an acceptable time I have heard You, And in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You As a covenant to the people,”

I like how the NIV translates this “in a time of my favor,” because you get the sense of Isaiah’s intention. He is referencing the Year of Jubliee – a year of joy that occurred every 50 years during which Israel’s land and people were liberated. Land reverted back to its original owner to ensure the original distribution of land remained intact and enslaved Israelites were freed (Lev. 25:10-46). This was a special time – a time of restoration that God built into his Law (Lev. 25:8).[6]

Paul quotes this very verse in 2 Cor.  Paul writes in 2 Cor. 2:6: “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Paul is saying salvation comes in the form of help – and that help is here. The day of salvation is here in the Person of Jesus Christ who is the New Covenant.

And Isaiah tells us the Ideal Servant will come in a time of favor to serve as the “covenant of the people.”[7] This covenant is not just the covenant between God and the nation of Israel. Isaiah is speaking of a new covenant.

Through the Servant, we partake of the new covenant – an internal exchange. This is what Isaiah is telling the people to anticipate: a new covenant – widened to include all nations. That means you and me. We are to anticipate the Servant just as much as the people to which Isaiah is writing. Why?

Because Isaiah says the blessings of this new covenant – available to all the nations – are available now, but there is a sense in which these blessings will be revealed to a great degree in the future. These blessings are three-fold:

  • Restored land
  • Restored inheritance
  • Restored blessings of a full and abundant life

i. Fulfills God’s promise of restored land (49:8b)

Vs. 8 reveals the first of these promises enjoyed by all nations. The promises center on the notion of a restored land. God says part of the Servant’s task is to “restore the earth.”

Being restored to the land was a central hope of the Old Covenant, right? The Israelites believed that when God delivered his people, he would restore them to the land that was promised to them through Abraham (Gen. 12). This is significant because we know the promise of land wasn’t just prime real estate, it was a sign of the covenant (relationship) between God and man. It was a physical place in which man dwelt in the presence of God. That was the tragedy of the exile –outside of the Promised Land, the people were physically removed from God’s presence.

And so Isaiah says that part of the new covenant they are to anticipate (through the Servant) will include a restoration to the land. But notice how Isaiah phrases it. He says that we should anticipate the Servant who will “restore the earth.” There is a wider effect to the Servant’s activity. He doesn’t just simply restore the land of Israel. He is restoring the entire earth. (Is. 65). This is a vision of the end times – when all the earth will be freed from the effects of sin.

ii. Fulfills God’s promise of restored inheritance (49:8c)

Next, as “the covenant,” the Servant will restore inheritances. Vs. 8 says specifically, the Servant will “cause them to inherit the desolate heritages;”

Israel was declared the very sons of God; meaning they were set to inherit much (Ex. 4:22-23).[8] But their worship disorder disqualified them from their due inheritance. Because of their sin, their heritage as sons of God became “desolate.” And this is the compassion of our God – He sends a substitute Son of Israel to earth to fulfill the role of Israel. And this is the result: he makes those inheritances (sonship with God) possible once again (Hosea 1:10).[9] Sonship and inheritance will be restored to God’s people through God’s Son, His Servant. The Servant fulfills God’s promise of restored inheritance.

This is not just imagery for Israel – that as the physical descendents of Abraham sons of Israel are called sons of God. Isaiah is using figurative language to express a spiritual truth – the adoption of all people is made possible through the Servant (Gal. 4:1-4).[10]

So, who are the sons and daughters of God? Who possess an inheritance through the Servant? Turn to Rom. 8:14-17: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”

So, who are the sons and daughters of God? Those who are led by the Spirit of God. So, sonship with God is not based on physical descendent from the nation of Israel, but when we are indwelt with His Spirit – the Spirit of Christ.

The work of the Servant, then, is to fulfill God’s promise of a restored inheritance – to all nations – to all who are led by His Spirit.[11]

iii. Fulfills God’s promise of restored blessings (49:9-10)

And lastly, as “the covenant” the Servant will restore the blessings of the covenant.  Read vs. 9-10: 9That You may say to the prisoners, ‘Go forth,’ To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ “They shall feed along the roads, And their pastures shall be on all desolate heights. 10 They shall neither hunger nor thirst, Neither heat nor sun shall strike them; For He who has mercy on them will lead them, Even by the springs of water He will guide them.”

In these verses, Isaiah paints some beautiful images – images that would have stuck with the book’s original hearers – images that would make them yearn and long for the coming Servant. And all these images point to spiritual realities.

  1. Abundant forgiveness (49:9a)

The Servant liberates his people by taking them from darkness (blindness) to the Light. 9That You may say to the prisoners, ‘Go forth,’ To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ We’ve seen this type of spiritual/figurative language used throughout our studies –that God doesn’t simply intend to deliver his people from physical bondage, but he seeks to deliver them through the Servant from sin. Isaiah is saying that through the Servant, there will be abundant forgiveness.

2. Abundant provision (49:9b)

In vs. 9, Isaiah crafts the image of flocks safely grazing on mountain roads. “They shall feed along the roads, And their pastures shall be on all desolate heights. At great heights there is little grass, right? And so the picture here is that God will provide their needs in a way that “the flock will not even have to turn off the road to find plenty of green grass to eat.”[12] Isaiah is saying that through the Servant, there will be abundant provision.

3. Abundant protection (49:10)

And in vs. 10, the image here is of flocks kept safe by the hand of a compassionate Shepherd. 10 They shall neither hunger nor thirst, Neither heat nor sun shall strike them; For He who has mercy on them will lead them, Even by the springs of water He will guide them.”[13]

We can trust the Shepherd to lead us. Because of His mercy on us, he will never lead us where it is not good for us. That’s not to say that the path won’t be difficult. We’re speaking of mountain roadways here. Isaiah is saying that through the Servant, there will be abundant protection along that difficult road.

Listen to what Rev. 7:16-17 says: “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Doesn’t that sound exactly like Isaiah 49:10? The apostle John is saying at the end of the age, the Servant (as the Lamb) will lead his sheep. And where does he lead them to? To the living fountains of water – where there is:

  • Abundant forgiveness
  • Abundant provision
  • Abundant protection

All this is found in the covenant relationship with God through the Servant. This is the abundant life made possible through the work of the Servant. This is what the people were to anticipate. And I’d say that is definitely worth anticipating, right?

Through the Servant, we partake of not just salvation from sin, but the presence of the God (fullness of life and blessing). This includes the here and now – being adopted as a daughter of the King. We have a down payment of our inheritance in the Holy Spirit – remember in Rom. 8, Paul says the Holy Spirit testifies that we are indeed children of God and co-heirs with Christ.

But there is an even fuller measure of restoration still to come. God gives us the strength to live an abundant life on earth, but there is still pain and sorrow and fear, right? So, we are to live our lives in anticipation of that blessing the Servant will bring at the end of time – in that year of Jubilee, that hour of favor – in which we will be lead permanently and perfectly into God’s presence. As daughters of the King, we have the means for abundant life now. But, we are still called to anticipate the final work of the Servant described for us in Rev. 7:17 when “the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne” shepherds us and leads us to the living foundation.

The work of the Servant is much more than just simply deliverance from sin. The work of the Servant means we are drawn back into the presence of God and live an abundant life in the present. But there is still more to anticipate, Isaiah tells us.

III. ANTICIPATING COSMIC REDEMPTION(49:11-13)

Isaiah tells us we should anticipate an even great, future restoration of God’s people to their God.

Look at Is. 49:11-13 again: 11 I will make each of My mountains a road, And My highways shall be elevated. 12 Surely these shall come from afar; Look! Those from the north and the west, And these from the land of Sinim.” 13 Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted.”

Isaiah culminates his description of the work of the Servant with the idea of a return – the Servant will return all of God’s people to him. People from all directions – north, west, and the south. The idea is this: all the nations are guided back to God in a permanent, perfect state. They are guided back to God by the Servant. And they are guided:

  • from difficult paths,
  • from all directions and
  • to universal praise

A. Guided from difficult paths (49:11)

Verse 11 says: “I will make each of My mountains a road, And My highways shall be elevated. The promise is much like the previous verse. God doesn’t promise a life of ease. Our lives are difficult. Sin has yet to be completely eradicated. And so the road back to God will be as difficult as trekking a mountain. Yet, God says, on these difficult mountain terrain we will find a path. I like how Oswalt puts it – he says after all, God says “These are my mountains!”[14] These would have been poignant words to the Israelites as they journeyed home after so many years in exile in Babylon, right? But, still today, we know God is guiding back to Himself ALL creation. And this is accomplished through the Servant.

B. Guided from all directions (49:12)

And then we learn that this restoration occurs as God’s people are guided from all directions. Verse 12 says:Surely these shall come from afar; Look! Those from the north and the west, And these from the land of Sinim.”

That point is clear in verse 12 – in that all nations are seen as journeying on this highway. Remember, Isaiah is presenting a vision of the future – a vision that the people were to anticipate. This vision is not just a vision for Israel returning from the exile back to the promised land. But it was a vision of a future at the end of the age – when all nations would be gathered to God through the Servant’s work.[15]

And so, in the same way we began our song of anticipation – concerning the nations and coastlands (49:1) – we are ending it. The people are to anticipate the rule of God being restored and the people of God including not just a believing remnant of Israel, but also believers from all nations.

We see this fully fleshed out in Rev. 5:9-10.

This was the reality Isaiah is asking the people to anticipate – a world-wide return to God. Not just their own return from exile. The Servant will guide all people back God where they belong.

You and I are to anticipate the day when God’s kingdom will be seen in full – people of all nations, all tongues, all tribes worshipping the Servant. So, how do we anticipate? Do we think about it a lot? Do we talk about it a lot? Do we dream about it a lot? When Isaiah urges us to anticipate the work of the Servant in the world, is he asking us to do something?

I think so. I believe Isaiah is calling you and calling me to partake in a purpose. Our lives are to be lights – lighting the path of others to return to God.

When I read verses 11-12, I cannot help but think of our church’s partnership with International Mission Board Missionaries to penetrate the lostness of five villages in Peru. We go into these villages not just to offer social help or improve living conditions (schools, English, medicine, etc). But we go with the vision of Is. 49. And if you’ve been one of the privileged few who have participated in this partnership, you know, we travel over difficult, high mountains roads. Why? To tell them about the highway that IS the Servant. We tell them, all those people living in Laraos, San Pedro de Casta, Huachupampa, San Juan de Iris, and Huanza – that God desires them to return to Him. When you go to Peru, you are partaking in a purpose. You are anticipating the Servant, like Isaiah says.

But there are many ways you can partake of this privilege.

  • By praying – Everyone can pray. You anticipate the coming Servant when you pray.
  • By giving. No amount is too small. In December, we will host our international missions offering called the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Named after one of our beloved missionaries to China, 100 percent of the offering supports our Southern Baptist international missionaries. You anticipate the coming Servant when you give.
  • And by going. If you haven’t had a chance to go to Peru – consider it. It is not just an act of obedience to the Great Commission, it is an opportunity to participate in redemptive history. If it is not feasible for you to go – then pray about allowing your spouse to go (and not grudgingly either!) That sacrifice of a week without your spouse has eternal rewards.

Participating in missions is just one real-life application of this command to anticipate the Servant. And that doesn’t mean you have to “go” anywhere – go to Africa and eat worms or Peru and eat guinea pig. But the point is this, anticipating the Servant means partaking in his purpose to reach the nations and bring them back to himself.

Through the Servant, we partake in a purpose. Our lives are to be lights to the nations, so that the nations may be guided from all directions back to the Savior.

C. Guided to universal praise (49:13)

But it is not just ‘people’ – the nations – that are to anticipate this return to God. Isaiah says that all creation will seemingly anticipate this return. Verse 13 says: 13 Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted.”

Isaiah says the Servant’s work will cause even the heavens and the mountains to break forth in shouts of joy. Why? Is Isaiah simply being poetic? I don’t think so. Let’s look at the facts. The people were called to anticipate a coming reality – they weren’t going to just experience a time of peace – they were going to be physically restored back to their God. And in the same way, Isaiah tells us that God will restore the creation back to him.

In our last lesson, we are going to look at the end vision of the future – a vision that is still even future to us today. But we will see that God’s ultimate end goal in redemption will be to recreate the heavens and the earth. Is. 65:17 says: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.”

This is cause for great joy, and so Isaiah says the Servant will guide all creation in universal praise. We get this sense in Romans 8:19-22: “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”

So, God’s plan of restoration involves the return of all of His creation back to his creative design. Not just the salvation of sinners. That means that our anticipation should take on the spirit of praise we see here.

So, another real-life application of anticipation is simply to praise God. Is. 49 gives us reason enough to praise Him.

  • Praise him because through the Servant we partake of a new covenant.
  • Praise him because through the Servant we partake of the presence of God.
  • Praise him because through the Servant we partake in a purpose.

But mostly, praise God for who he is. Look at the end of vs. 13. We are to praise God, why? “For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted.”

The book of Isaiah perfectly pairs God’s transcendence (the idea of God standing separate from his creation) with his compassion. His distance with his nearness. Only he is powerful enough to deliver his people, because he is transcendent. Yet, only he is compassionate enough to become the very means – the agent – of that deliverance. Isaiah says this is cause for universal praise.

Let’s anticipate Servant and praise God right now.


[1] That is hard to comprehend, because in the Old Testament we often attribute the means of the divine-human relationship as obedience to the Law right? But obedience to the Law was not the means of the relationship, rather, obedience to the Law determined the blessings Israel enjoyed in their relationship to God. So, then, the basis of Israel’s relationship with God must have been based on something else – someone else. And we see here, it is the Servant. The Servant is God’s agent of a new covenant to Israel (Is. 42:6).

[2] Per Oswalt, see Jer. 1:5; Ga. 1:15, 289.

[3] We see this thought picked up by the Apostle John in his gospel account of Jesus Christ as calling Jesus “the Word” in John 1. John writes: “1In the beginning was the Word, (the term “Word” used there is term logos – it is the spoken Word of God.)  and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” That is harkening back to Gen. 1 in which God literally “spoke” creation into existence. By the creative power of his mouth, God created life. And in John we see that Christ is the living Word – the powerful Spoken Word of God.

So what does that have to do with Isaiah 61 and the Servant? Well Paul says in Rom. 10:9-10: that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

The biblical authors knew there was power in the spoken Word – power to save. And Jesus Christ’s nature as the spoken Word brings salvation to us. And here in Is. 49 – very interestingly – we see that God’s Ideal Servant – the agent of his deliverance – is accomplishing that deliverance by means of the power of the Spoken Word.

[4] Oswalt, 292.

[5] See also Matt. 27:46

[6] Broadman and Holman Bible Dictionary, 1694.

[7] Oswalt says a new covenant is being proclaimed here because the people repeatedly neglected their covenant obligations making it “legally null and void.” However, God still intends to uphold his covenant obligations in a new form (Jer. 31:31), pg 298.

[8] Ex. 4:22-23: 22Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. 23 So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.”’”

[9] Hosea 1:10: “Yet the number of the children of Israel Shall be as the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass In the place where it was said to them, ‘ You are not My people,’[a] There it shall be said to them,  ‘ You are sons of the living God.’

[10] Gal. 4:1-4: 1 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born[a] of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of[b] God through Christ.

[11] This is not just a NT interpretation of an OT text. Where Isaiah really meant the nation of Israel, and then Christ came, and we read Christ back into the OT now and now the book of Isaiah means something totally different today than it did back then. No. That’s not it at all – The whole point of this chapter is that the people were to anticipate a coming Servant in a time of favor (the end times). This is clear from Is. 44:1-5 where Isaiah is envisioning a spiritual renewal of the people as evidenced by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on their lives. Paul is merely echoing the true sentiments of the great prophet Isaiah in Rom. 8 – the Spirit and restoration as sons of God have always gone together in Scripture.

[12] Owalt, 298.

[13] It is as if Isaiah combined the images of the Exodus – God leading the people through the searing heat of the wilderness to water (Ex 12:21; 17:6-10) – with Psalm 23.

[14] Oswalt, 299.

[15] Oswalt, 300. Oswalt says Isaiah is working around the points of a compass counter-clockwise: north, west (from the Sea means Mediterranean), south (Syene which means Egypt).

About the Author

Melissa Deming is a freelance writer transplanted from Texas to Pennsylvania with her husband of ten years, Jonathan, and two-year-old identical twins, Zacharias and Jonah. The family serves at a Southern Baptist church plant in Pittsburgh - Living Faith Community Church. Melissa is a regular correspondent for The Southern Baptist TEXAN newspaper and Crossroads magazine of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. She is also the creator and author of HiveResources.com - a site designed to sweeten a woman's walk with Christ through devotional articles, book reviews, and giveaways. Melissa holds a Masters of Divinity in Women’s Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC, and a B.A. in Journalism from Texas A&M University.