Isaiah 49

The Word Made Fresh

1Listen to me, coastlands,
and pay attention, you who live far away.
The LORD called me before I was born,
and gave me my name when I was in my mother’s womb.
2God made my mouth like a sharpened sword
and hid me in God’s hand.
God made me to be like a newly polished arrow
and I was hidden in God’s quiver.
3And God told me, “You are my servant, Israel,
and I will be glorified in you.”
4I knew I had labored in vain
and had spent my strength for nothing but vanity,
but I am certain that my cause is with the LORD,
and my reward is to be with my God.

5And now the LORD, who formed me in the womb to be a servant,
says I am to bring Jacob back to God,
so that Israel would be gathered to God.
I am honored in the LORD’s sight,
and my God has become my strength.
6God says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
and raise up the tribes of Jacob
and restore Israel’s survivors.
I will give you as a light to the nations,
and my salvation will expand to the very ends of the earth.”

7This is what the LORD, Israel’s Redeemer and Holy One,
says to one who is hated and abhorred by the nations
and has been a slave to other rulers:
“Kings shall see and rise up. Princes shall bow down
because of the LORD, the faithful One,
the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you.”

8The LORD says, “In a time I chose I answered you,
and helped on a day of salvation.
I have kept you, and have given you
my agreement to establish the land
and redeem the promises that were desolated.”
9I say to those who are prisoners, “Come out.”
And to those in darkness I say, “Show yourselves.”
They shall find food along the way
and all the barren hills will provide their sustenance.
10They shall not be hungry or thirsty.
Neither the desert heat nor the sun shall strike them down
because the One who pities them shall lead them
and guide them to springs of water.
11And I will turn my mountains into road
and raise up my highways.
12Some will come from far away,
some from the north and from the west,
and some from Mt. Sinim.

13Sing for joy, heavens! Be in exaltation, earth!
Break forth into singing, mountains!
For the LORD has comforted the chosen people,
and will have compassion for the ones who have suffered.

14Zion said, “The LORD has forgotten and abandoned me.”
15But can a woman forget her nursing child,
or have no compassion for the babe born from her womb?
Even if they do forget, I will not forget you.
16Look and see; I have inscribed you in the palms of my hands.
I am always standing beside your walls.
17Your children will quickly return to you
while your enemies who demolish you will depart.
18Look all around and you will see they have gathered to return to you.
As surely as I live, says the LORD,
you will wear them like ornaments worn by a bride.

19Your wasted and desolate places and your devastated land
will now be too crowded for those who live there,
and those who chewed you up shall be far away.
20The children born in the time of your grief will say,
“This place is too crowded; make room for us.”
21Then you might say in your heart,
“Who gave birth to these?
For I was bereaved and barren,
exiled and forgotten, so who raised these children?
I was left alone – where did they come from?”

22This is what the LORD God says:
“Soon I will lift my hand to the nations
and raise my signal to them,
and they shall bring your sons in their arms
and carry your daughters on their shoulders.
23Kings shall be your foster fathers
and queens your nursing mothers.
They shall bow down to you with their faces to the ground.
They will lick the dust from your feet.
Then you will know that I am the LORD,
and that those who wait for me shall not be ashamed.

24Can captives be taken from the strong?
Can the prey be rescued from the righteous?
25This is what the LORD says:
“Even the captives of the strong shall be taken,
and even the prey of the righteous rescued.
For I will fight against those who fight against you,
and I will save your children.
26I will make those who oppress you eat their own flesh,
and drink their own blood as though it were wine.
Then the whole world will know
that I the LORD am your Savior
and the Mighty One of Jacob redeems you.”


1-7: God is the one who has been speaking about what the future holds for Jacob, but now it is the servant (Isaiah) whom God has called doing the speaking. God says that the servant is being called not just for the restoration of Israel but to be a “light to the nations” (see 42:6). The “one deeply despised” in verse 7 is Israel.

8-12: The servant repeats what God will do for his people. An idealistic scene is painted of an easy trek from exile, of the hills and valleys and even the roads bursting with rich grazing grounds.

13: We interrupt this message to bring you a spontaneous hymn of praise for the God who does such wonderful things.

14-18: While the people left in Jerusalem wait longingly for restoration, though, they are prone to doubt the servant’s message. God has forgotten them, they say. He responds beautifully by saying that God can no more forget them than a nursing mother can forget a child at her breast; no more than a pregnant woman can ignore the baby growing in her womb. These feminine images of God’s protective care are more common in the Bible than most people realize. The walls that were destroyed will be rebuilt. The exiles will be gathered to them and adorn the city like jewelry.

19-21: The population, devastated by the loss of most of the people, many exiled to Babylon and many others fled to Egypt and elsewhere, will suddenly be so large that room will need to be found for them.

22-23: The people who remained in Jerusalem will be revered not only by the returning exiles but also by the nations that have been the enemies of Zion.

24-26: The oppressors of God’s people will be punished. The mightiest nation is not powerful enough to resist the will of God.


God is always in the background of our suffering, and whatever we are going through at any moment in our lives can be an avenue to a renewed relationship with God. Never surrender. Always look ahead.