God’s Missionary Heart

Lesson Focus: Missions is an expression of God’s heart. God’s desire is to extend light to all nations, include the excluded, and be worshiped by all nations.

Light for all Nations: Isaiah 49:1-6.

[1]  Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. [2]  He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. [3]  And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified."

[4]  But I said, "I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God." [5]  And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him– for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength– [6]  he says: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."  [ESV]

[1]  The passage begins in the imperative with an address to the nations similar to 41:1, where Yahweh is the speaker. The servant speaks with absolute authority, commanding the world to listen. What they are to hear is not merely the following declaration, which is a vindication of the servant’s right to speak, but they are to listen to him generally. He who speaks with such compelling authority is the Messiah, as Head of His people [cf. Mt. 17:5]. As the nations are to listen to Him, so our attention is to be directed to Him throughout this section. The address includes the entire world as peoples from afar indicate. The second verb, give attention, is stronger than the first verb, listen to me. All peoples or nations are not merely to listen; they are attentively to give ear to what the servant proclaims. The servant emphasizes the word Lord. He has not abruptly come forth upon his own, but as one whom the Lord has prepared. The expression from the womb supports the fact that the servant is an individual and indicates personal election and specific appointment to office. In itself the phrase merely indicates a divine call to a particular work. The final words, he named my name, may be literally rendered, “he caused my name to be remembered”. The thought is not so much that of naming a person as of designating a person by name. Thus the name denotes the servant’s office and vocation.

[2-3]  Verse 2 sets forth the more detailed preparation of the servant for his public ministry. Mouth like a sharp sword indicates that the servant’s words will cut like a sword, either to deliver or to judge. The comparison with a polished arrow suggests that the servant is equipped to destroy even the enemies of God that are far away as well as those nearby. The thought of piercing, penetrating power is present. But the Lord causes His servant to be hidden until he appears upon earth ready to exercise his ministry. The words And he said continue the detailed description begun in verse 2. Emphasis falls upon my servant. God acknowledges that the servant is His, a declaration of consolation and strength which will sustain the servant in the task that lies ahead of him. The servant is directly identified as Israel. In what sense, however, is the word Israel to be understood? In light of the fact that the servant is the speaker himself and his address to God is so individualistic in nature, it is clear that the reference is not to the nation. This appears also from the close connection between servant and I will be glorified. It is the servant character of Israel that brings glory to God. To be God’s servant is the highest privilege, and it is in performing the work of servant that God is glorified. This could hardly apply to the recalcitrant, sinful nation, for this nation was unable to be the true Israel. All that the prophet writes concerning Israel makes clear that they could not be what the Servant of the Lord should be. When the servant accomplishes his task, God is glorified; the empirical Israel could not accomplish that task. Therefore Israel is the Messiah conceived as the Head of His body, the true Church.

[4]  In striking contrast to what God said in verse 3, the servant surveys his work and expresses disappointment. The words in vain means without result or for no purpose. The implication is that the servant has toiled, but his wearying toil has been to no purpose. The servant, as it were, has poured out his strength to accomplish the work God had given him, but the result is to no purpose; it is nothing and vanity. The expression of discouragement is no thought of unbelief, but simply of a genuine modesty borne from a consciousness of one’s own weakness. Passing from an expression of despondency to one of sure confidence, the servant sets forth his firm assurance that God is with him. My right is the decision God utters concerning the servant and that decision will declare that his work is successful. The parallel expression means my doing, my work, i.e. the fruit or result of his labor. The outcome of the servant’s toil lies in God’s hands. In the expression my God appears the servant’s confidence that God has not forsaken him.

[5]  This verse forms the true contrast to 4a, in that it gives the Lord’s answer to the servant’s disappointment. The actual speech of the Lord, however, does not appear until verse 6. In verse 5, before reporting the Lord’s speech, the servant gives a long statement concerning the Lord and his own relationship to the Lord. The servant is conscious that God has prepared him for his mission, even knowing that God had formed him from the womb. The servant was born to accomplish a specific mission. The language emphasizes the fact that the servant is God’s and serves Him. A twofold task is ascribed to the servant. To bring Jacob back to him is not a reference to a return from Babylon, but a spiritual return to God. Then, the servant again utters his assurance that he will be vindicated: I am honored in the eyes of the Lord. The last clause, my God has become my strength, is a new expression of confidence. The strength or power that the servant possesses to accomplish his work is found in God.

[6]  This verse returns to the words of the Lord and serves the purpose of showing that the restoration of Israel is not a sufficiently great task for the servant, he is also to be a light to the Gentiles and God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. To raise up the tribes of Jacob should be understood in the same way as to bring Jacob back in verse 5. The coming salvation is one in which the dispersed and fallen people are again raised and united. Isaiah repeats the thought in to bring back the preserved of Israel. The word preserved refers to those who have been saved from calamity. The raising up and bringing back of the people is essentially the same work as becoming a light and salvation. It is in his being a light and salvation to Israel (apart from the fact that he is also that to the Gentiles) that the servant raises up and restores Israel. The first step in the work of restoration was the return from exile, to which the language of this verse may allude. But this restoration only served to make possible the spiritual restoration of Israel accomplished by Christ. That the reference is to the spiritual Israel or the elect is clear from the whole context. Nowhere does the Bible teach that the entire physical Israel will be saved. Yet the servant’s work is greater than the redemption of Israel. The greater task, however, does not exclude the lesser. God has appointed (I will make you) the servant to this work and determined that he should carry it out. Light is intimately connected with salvation. The Gentiles are conceived as being in spiritual darkness, and when light comes to them they are delivered from their darkness. This light is the servant, just as Jesus in the days of His flesh declared, I am the light of the world [John 8:12].

Inclusion for the Excluded: Isaiah 56:3-8.

[3]  Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely separate me from his people"; and let not the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree." [4]  For thus says the LORD: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, [5]  I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. [6]  "And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant– [7]  these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." [8]  The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, "I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered."  [ESV]

[3-5]  The foreigner comes fearing either rejection of his request for membership or that, having been accepted, he will still remain in a separated category as a second-class citizen. All such fears are groundless. Middle walls of partition have come tumbling down between people and between people and the Lord. Keep and choose are imperfects of habitual action, denoting persistence in conformity to the Sabbath-code and in personal commitment to the Lord’s will. Since the Lord’s covenant is first the pledge He makes (His covenant promises), hold fast my covenant means taking His promises seriously so as to hold to them by faith through thick and thin. To those, however, who are within His covenant, the Lord speaks His gracious covenant law, teaching them how to live so as to please Him. In this case, holding fast to His covenant expresses the practical life of obedience. The eunuch is welcome in God’s house and is there on an everlasting basis, enjoying a blessedness which cannot be forfeited (shall not be cut off). In 55:13, by gathering in a world-wide people the Lord makes for Himself a name that will not be cut off. Here He shares that reality with those who were formerly excluded but have now become members of His house.

[6-8]  Here Isaiah returns to the foreigners. For the second time they are described as those who join themselves to the Lord, because personal decision is involved. Foreigners had to make costly decisions to leave their own people and join God’s people. To love the name of the Lord shows that the decision was not to join a system or identify with a people but one of personal devotion to the Lord in all that He has revealed Himself to be; devotion to a person, resting on revealed truth. Note the progression in verse 7: they are welcome to the place where the Lord is to be found (my holy mountain), into His presence and family (my house of prayer), and to those ordinances which effect and guarantee acceptance and fellowship (my altar). The essential element in God’s house was always the enjoyment of the Lord’s presence and fellowship.

Worshiped by all Nations: Isaiah 66:18-20,23.

[18]  "For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, [19]  and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. [20]  And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. [23]  From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.  [ESV]

[18-19]  By the conjunction, for, this sentence is connected to the preceding verses. The pronoun I is emphatic and calls attention to God in distinction from those who sanctify and purify themselves for idolatry. Works and thoughts are the evil intentions of the unfaithful Israelites and express the entirety of their personalities. Tongues is used as a designation of nations since they differ from one another by the languages they speak. The reason that God will gather all the nations is so that they will see His glory. Sign in biblical thought normally refers to some miraculous event. Here the sign appears to be God’s judgment upon the nation of Israel indicating God’s rejection of them and their apostasy. The line of nations mentioned runs from west to east along the southern boundary and from east to west along the northern. Thus, these examples serve the purpose of indicating the universality of the proclamation. In the concluding clause the nature of biblical and missionary preaching is set forth with remarkable clarity; it is the making known among the nations of God’s glory. This is accomplished by the faithful preaching of the Gospel, the whole counsel of God. Thus, the primary aim in missionary and in all preaching is not the betterment of the hearer but the glory of God. When this aim is lost from sight, the work of the Church fails. When the glory of God is made known, all these other things are added to us; mankind receives their highest blessing and well-being when God is glorified. The priority of our preaching and our teaching must always start with the glory of God and not human need because only as God is glorified will true human need be met.

[20]  They refers to the survivors in verse 19. It is their task to make known the glory of God and to bring an offering. Isaiah employs a beautiful expression in speaking of the Gentile converts as your brothers. The use of all indicates that none of the elect will be left behind, whether from the nation of Israel or from the Gentile nations. These brothers are characterized as an offering, from the Hebrew word that means a nonbloody offering. They were an offering in the sense that they were the firstfruits of the wondrous harvest to be brought in through the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentile nations. In picturesque language Isaiah describes how this offering is to be brought to God’s holy mountain Jerusalem. The thought is the same as in 2:2-4. It is not merely to Jerusalem that the nations will come, but in particular to the holy mount, for here the God of glory is to be found. The reference is not to the physical Jerusalem but to the spiritual Jerusalem, the Church of the glorious God. In the second half of the verse Isaiah compares the future offering that the survivors will bring with the present pure offering in the Temple. As the Israelites were accustomed to bring to the Temple a grain offering in ceremonially pure vessels, and hence an offering legitimate and acceptable, so in the future the survivors will, through the making known of God’s glory, bring a legitimate offering, namely the Gentiles. Note here that what makes the offering of the Gentiles pure and acceptable is the correct message delivered, namely the declaration of God’s glory.

[23]  Those described as your offspring, sharing in common your name [22], are now called all flesh, i.e. the redeemed humanity who enjoy the new creation. They are specifically the people of the new moon and the Sabbath. Isaiah ends with the perfect keeping of the two feasts whose corruption distressed him in 1:13. They are feasts, not fasts: the days of mourning are over [65:17-19]. Also, the emphasis throughout chapters 56-66 on the Sabbath arose from the fact that this is the commandment which more than any other necessitates the submission of the practical planning of life to the Lord’s timetable, a searching test of practical holiness [58:13-14]. The addition of the new moon, the celebration and hallowing of each month as it comes, increases the pressure to give first place to the Lord in the ordering of life. Only a true commitment of heart and no mere conformist motive can accomplish this.

Questions for Discussion:

1.          God had called Israel to be His servant, but Israel had rebelled against its calling. So God called another Servant to fulfill His desires for the world. In 49:1-6, describe this new Servant. What particular purpose does the Servant have? What does this tell you about God’s plan for His Church?

2.          Who do the foreigners and eunuchs represent in 56:3-8? Why does the Servant’s work make birth, heritage, past history, and physical flaws no longer barriers to approaching the Holy God?

3.          What does the progression in 56:7 tell you about the nature of salvation? What requirements are listed in verse 6 in order to enjoy the blessings of verse 7? Hold fast my covenant is emphasized by being repeated in verses 4 and 6. What does this mean and why is it important?

4.          What is the nature of biblical and missionary preaching set forth in 66:18-20? How is this accomplished?


The Prophecy of Isaiah, Alec Motyer, InterVarsity Press.

The Book of Isaiah, Vol. III, Edward Young, Eerdmans.

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