8 January 2015

Isaiah 49:1-13

"I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." (v. 6)

Psalm: Psalm 23


Verses 1-7 are the second of the so-called 'servant songs' in Isaiah 40-55, four songs that describe a servant of God - appointed in the womb (verse 1) - who is sent to restore Israel (verse 5) and enlighten the nations (verse 6). This servant will suffer and experience rejection (verse 7), but ultimately will glorify God before all nations (verse 6).

While the passage itself identifies the "servant" with Israel (v. 3), it is not surprising that the early Christians saw this passage - and the other servant songs - as pointing to Jesus. Jesus fulfils the role given to Israel; he is appointed Son of God at his Baptism (Mark 1:11) - a title also given to Israel (Hosea 11:1) - and brings salvation through his suffering and sacrificial death. Jesus is the one who enlightens Israel and the nations (Luke 2:32).

In the second part of today's passage (verses 8-13), a series of statements describe the restoration of Israel. In the immediate context, this looks forward to the return from exile in Babylon (6th century BC). On this "day of salvation" (v. 8), prisoners are released, the hungry are fed, and the land is plentiful (verses 9-10). The language points to freedom and release, abundance and God's provision for the people and the land.

The New Testament uses such images, however, to depict the coming kingdom which Jesus announces and where ultimate fulfilment is found (eg Matthew 5:1-11, Luke 4:18-21). Christians live between the dawn of this kingdom and its final consummation, the time at which tears and grief will be no more and God will be all in all.

To Ponder

  • How does the 'servant song' within this passage shape your understanding of Jesus?
  • How can the Church proclaim today the freedom that the kingdom brings?

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the discipleship development officer for the Methodist Church, a role that involves developing and promoting a range of resources to help Christians grow as followers of Jesus. His previous experience includes working as evangelism, spirituality and discipleship officer at Methodist Church House, lecturing in New Testament Studies at Birmingham Christian College, and working as associate leader of B1, a 'fresh expression' of church in Birmingham.