John Gill summarized succinctly, “This is a prophecy concerning Christ, and redemption by him; and of the enlargement of the church in the latter day, by the conversion of Jews and Gentiles.” Matthew Henry points out that the previous prophecies of the return of the people to Jerusalem were more glorious than that particular event for the true intent, as here in this prophecy, “was to have its full accomplishment in a redemption that should as far outdo these expressions as the other seemed to come short of them, even the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ.”
I. Isaiah personifies the Redeemer in his call and equipment for the task (1-3).
A. In anticipation of his future rule as the Redeemer King, through Isaiah the coming Messiah calls on all nations to give him regard.
- The phrases “O islands,” and “peoples from afar” refer to all peoples outside Israel. All to the west, out into the sea, is denominated by “Islands” and “afar” is outside the borders of Israel to the north, east, and south. All of these are called on to “Listen,” and to “pay attention.” It is a message for them, for their good, even for their salvation. This even anticipates Paul’s message in Athens at Mars Hill. Having said that “God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth” he drew the conclusion that God “now commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has appointed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom he has ordained” (Acts 17:26, 30, 31).
- He does this particularly in light of the incarnation—“The Lord called me from the womb”—and “from the body of my mother he named me.” This is indeed the “Man whom he has ordained.” His name given in Isaiah 7:14, Immanuel, and the name given by the angel, Jesus, in Matthew 1:21 would certainly answer to this statement. The concept of name in this place probably refers to the specific status that his incarnation will give him. It embodies the unique character that accrues to him in light of the manner of his conception and birth. The angel in Luke 2:11 spoke in those terms to the shepherds—“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The language stretches the borders of our normal patterns of conception. The one to be born speaks to us before his birth in this passage. Then the angels speak according to the same mystery. He is “born;” he is “savior;” he is “Christ,” the Messiah, anointed one; he is “Lord.” How can the “Lord” be born? This mystery is teased out even more in verses to come.
B. This called one speaks in terms of wisdom and power hidden or concealed (2).
- His mouth is like a sharp sword. In his appearance in power in Revelation 19:15 Jesus is seen as one out of whose mouth goes “a sharp sword, that with it he should strike the nations.” Hebrews describes the word of God as “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). John 1 clearly sets him forth as the “word of God” by whom all things were created and as the one who “has declared” the God whom no one has seen (John 1:1-3, 14, 18). Though so powerful and full of infinite wisdom and perfect knowledge, the Lord has concealed him in the shadow of his hand. Though his words were the words of God and he spoke as no man ever spoke and he spoke as one who had authority, he was accused of blasphemy. He spoke truth provoking the response, “What is truth?” He unfolded petal by petal the nature of the kingdom of God and even his disciples were perplexed. A sharp sword were his words, but concealed by the hand of God. He is indeed the “hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory which none of the rulers of this age knew” (1 Corinthians 2:7).
- Also, he is a “select arrow” but hidden in God’s quiver. He is the power of God veiled in weakness. Note the absolute irony of Peter’s juxtaposition of events in his sermon in Solomon’s portico. “You denied the holy one and the just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15). How much greater could the concealment be of men blinded by sin and left to their blindness by the just purpose of God than killing the author of life and preferring a murderer over the only just one.
C. “You are my servant, Israel.” This was said in eternity in the covenant of redemption and reiterated throughout the earthly ministry of Jesus as he walked in perfect obedience to the will of the Father and in unwavering dependence on him. This nominative of address, Israel, means that the entire history of Israel is bound up in the coming and life context of this person. He had come in fulfillment of Israel’s prophecies, types, and ceremonies and to save the remnant while including the Gentiles, even as Israel embraced Rahab and Ruth. “In whom I will show my glory”–Through him, though hidden in a shadow, God would reveal the true power and infinite wonder of his glory. He would show the full extent of his justice and the utterly radical reach of his mercy. He would unveil his power and manifest its extent under the guidance of infinite wisdom. Redemption through the blood of the Son of God exhausts all earthly attempts to fathom its brilliance and will provide sufficient display of God’s glory to occupy eternity.
II. From an insulting and humiliating and apparently unsuccessful beginning arises the glorious promise of absolute success (4-7). His success shall extend far beyond Israel as he becomes a “Light to the Gentiles (nations).”
A. The immediate response this ministry would discourage any confidence in ultimate success (4a). “I have toiled in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” Isaiah 53: 3 says, “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, he was despised, and we did not esteem him.” Matthew 26:56, between the betrayal by Judas and the denial by Peter, records, “Then all the disciples forsook him and fled.” If ever the purpose of a man’s life, expressed in the loyalty of his close followers, seemed to be a failure ending in a defenseless whimper it was epitomized in this moment of Jesus’ final hours. Left to the will and courage of man, the mission of Jesus would have been an unmitigated failure.
B. He recognized, however, that his work, because consistent with the absolute justice of God, must have its commensurate reward. “Yet surely the justice due me is with the Lord” (4b). Isaiah 53:11 prophesied, “As a result of the anguish of his soul, he will see it and be satisfied.” The efficacy of the death of Christ, because tied to the inviolable justice of God, must surely issue in the “reward” for which he died. “He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32.) Every item listed in Romans 8:28-31 flows to his elect unhindered by any obstacle for the unfrustrable justice of God flowing from his purpose of mercy to sinners cannot but be fulfilled.
C. Verses 5 and 6 extend the Messiah’s testimony to his confidence that “the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10).
- Returning to the assurances of verse one, this anointed Savior says that the Lord “formed me from the womb to be his servant.” Luke 1:35 precisely fulfills this statement as the Holy Spirit came upon Mary creating in her egg the human nature of Jesus, while, at the same moment, “the power of the Most High” overshadowed her. This refers to the Son’s relation to the Father of eternal generation now extended into the temporal generation of the human nature of Christ so that the “holy thing” conceived in Mary would be called “The Son of God.” Only in this way could the eternal Son also be the servant of Jehovah. For this purpose, he was formed from the womb.
- One of the clear emphases of the prophetic literature is the restoration of Israel by the Messiah. Much of that remains to be done. The only one who could do this in the ultimate sense, is one who was the equal of God– “I am honored in the sight of the Lord”—and one who was dependent upon God for his strength–“My God is my strength”–showing his absolute sense of dependence on the Creator, a vital aspect of fulfilling the moral law.
- Given that perfection that is required of all people everywhere, not just the descendants of Jacob but all the descendants of Adam, this Messiah is perfectly fit to save not only Jacob but the nations. It is, therefore, “too small a thing” that the servanthood of the Messiah is only to the advantage of Jacob for their restoration, but, even as sin and rebellion are common to all and extend to the ends of the earth, so will God’s salvation not leave untouched any of the inhabited globe. On this basis, that Christ became a “ransom for all” Paul defended his apostleship to the Gentiles (1 Timothy 2:5-7).
- Verse 7 reinforces this entire dynamic of rejection and perfect success.
- Note the contrast between the Speaker and the one addressed. The Speaker is “The Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One.” In this context we hear the words of Jehovah, God the Father. His will is for redemption and he will work it without any compromise to his holiness.
- His address is to one whose status by treatment is an absolute incongruity to the one speaking. He was despised by mankind in general; he was abhorred by the nation. His life was drawn to a close at the hands of character-less pagan rulers. This combination of general aggressive disrespect set forth in prophecy led to the phenomenon described by Peter at Jerusalem during Pentecost: ”Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23). As the servant of rulers, or subservient to rulers, he submitted to Pilate’s inquisition and sentence in fulfillment of God’s prophetic determination: “But we speak the wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew, for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7, 8).
- What is the promise made to this one of such low estate? Great glory and honor will come from the very ones who so brutally despised him. In his presence kings will not remained seated in detached unconcerned splendor but will rise in recognition of the presence of superior greatness and will fall before him in worship. The progress of the gospel has brought rulers of nations to worship this Messiah but when he appears in glory every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:11).
- This will happen according to the purpose of God whose faithfulness both to his covenant with the Son (Psalm 2:7-9; Daniel 7:13, 14)) and to the perfect work of the Son (Revelation 5:9-14) will bring this about. It comes to pass precisely because this Redeemer has been chosen for this very purpose.
III. The efficacy of the work of salvation is assured against all obstacles and difficulties (8-13). B. H. Carroll comments, “Our Lord is here, (8-13) presented in special relation to the covenant. But before he could occupy such relation, as the basis of the covenant with Jehovah’s people, he had to suffer.”
A. The completed work of Christ accomplished according to the blood of the eternal covenant (Hebrews 13:20, 21) becomes the “day of salvation” (8) and the way of restoration for those in the desolation of sin. There will be springs in the desert and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as a rose and the parched ground shall become a pool. A highway shall be there and it shall be called the way of holiness. . . . And the ransomed of the Lord shall return. (Isaiah 35:1,7, 8 10).
B. (Verse 9-12) – All former hindrances will give way to the reconciling work of the one chosen of the Lord to bring salvation. Neither darkness, not barrenness, nor scorching heat, nor thirst, nor impenetrable mountains, nor distance will hinder the journey of the redeemed to health. The one who has had compassion on them will lead them. He has accomplished salvation for them and will not allow any of those for whom he has given himself to be deterred in gaining that for which he has died. He will draw them; he will persuade and enable them to go forth from their darkness and find life in the one formed for this very purpose.
C. (Verse 13) At the accomplishment of this work of the salvation that reaches the end of the earth, all heaven and earth is called on to shout for joy. Nothing surpasses the joy that comes to the comforted of God. Those who have been under affliction of sin and consequent fear of judgment who grasp the consolation and compassion exhibited in the finished work of the incarnate Lord will find their joy made full (1 John 1:4). “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3, 4).