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Updated: Sep 14, 2021

In the series Isaiah in messiah

Isaiah 49:1-7

Teaching from Dr. Deane J. Woods


There are four “Servant Songs” in the Book of Isaiah. Set in the immediate context of the second section of his prophecy of “comfort and restoration” for Israel (chs. 40-66), this influential, upper-class “son of Amoz”, who had access to royalty enough to give advice concerning the foreign affairs of the nation, was directed by the Holy Spirit to write concerning the “Servant of the LORD” in these terms: (1) The Humble Servant (Is. 42:1-4) (2) The Rejected Servant (Is. 49:1-7) (3) The Afflicted Servant (Is. 50:4-11) and, (4) The Suffering/Slain Servant (Is. 52:13-53:12).

These God-inspired revelations followed Isaiah’s message of “divine judgment” on

Jerusalem and Israel because of sinful, idolatrous ways (chs. 1-35; cf. 1-7) that would necessitate 70 years in exile in Babylon, expedited per favour of her enemies in neighbouring countries (cf. chs. 13-23; 35-39). This study draws attention to the second “Servant Song” revealed in Isaiah 49:17, and the LORD’s response in verses 8-13. The New King James Version (NKJV) text stated:

1“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. 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.” 3 “And He said to me, ‘You are My servant, O Israel, In whom I will be glorified.’ 4 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.’ ” 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 (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, And My God shall be My strength), 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.’ ” 7 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 term “servant” is used 40 times in Isaiah, 21 of these instances in chapters 40-55. The word in the original Hebrew text, “ebed” (vss. 3, 6 and 7), means a “(menial) servant”, a “worker (who is subservient to another)”, one whose role involves “the requirement of doing the bidding of another”. Isaiah used the term in four ways: First, of King David (Is. 37:35); Second, of the nation Israel (Is. 41:8-9; 44:1-2); a faithful remnant within the nation of Israel (Is. 65:8); and, of Messiah-Jesus (Is. 53:8, 11; cf. Acts 8:34 – certainly not Isaiah himself, though in a general sense, he was “God’s servant”, just as all His “redeemed” are). The New Testament writers confirmed the identification as to this messianic “Servant of the Lord (Lk. 22:37; cf. 24:44-45; 1 Pt. 1:10-11; Acts 13:47 – cf. Jn. 20:21; Rom. 10:16; 15:20-21; Acts 8:32-35). Given these messianic interpretations of the four “Servant Songs”, it may legitimately be asked: “Why, then, is Israel stated as ‘My Servant’ in Isaiah 49:3?” Answer: Here, the Messiah (cf. Is. 41:8; 42:1), is called “Israel” because in Him alone all of God’s salvific expectations were realised. In other words, Israel’s (and the world’s) messianic hope was/is realised in Messiah-Jesus. In the immediate context of this chapter and second section of Isiah’s prophecy, His mission involved the restoration of Israel to their covenant-keeping God and to bring “light to the gentiles (vs. 6). For this to take place, He would be “rejected” as God’s Servant – despised at His First Coming – but He will be “worshiped” at His Second Advent (vs. 7). The passage therefore foreshadowed Messiah’s work for Israel, and in the world, and His ultimate success.


It is prudent to now explain the passage, in context, and then deduce relevant spiritual

principles with a view to personal application. These will be presented after the following exegetical discussion.

A. The LORD’s Servant Called & Commissioned! (vss. 1-3)

With the argument against idolatry (cf. Is. 48:5) brought to its close with the solemn words: “’There is no peace’, says the LORD, “for the wicked’” (Is. 48:22; cf. 57:21; 66:24), a new section opened in chapter 49, and with it, a new speaker - the mysterious “Servant of the Lord” (cf. Is. 42:1). He was identified as Israel (vs. 3), but which designation spoke proleptically of Messiah-Jesus, the One who realized all God’s expectations of deliverance and salvation. He alone would be the “Restorer” and the “Redeemer”.

Thus, the Messiah/Servant will be a human being, born as others are of a woman, yet of a virgin (Is. 7:14; Lk. 1:30-35). He will also be an individual as distinct from a personified group such as the nation of Israel (cf. vs. 3). Significantly, the attention-drawing “invitation” was addressed to the nations, far and wide. All peoples must hear this message!

As the first verse continued, the Servant revealed a predestined vocation. The words reflected Jeremiah’s experience (Jer. 1:4-5) and pointed forward to similar expressions in Luke 1:15, 41 and the apostle Paul’s testimony in Galatians 1:15. All these verses admit to the thought of a divine order working in human history, the idea of such a vocation follows in inevitable sequence.

The reference in verse 2 to the mouth of the Servant of the LORD being “like a sharpened sword” is a prophetic image that surfaces several times in the New Testament (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:15; 2:12, 16; 19:15). This was followed by the words, “(in) the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, …”. This eternally-begotten Servant Son would remain unrevealed (apart from His divine Christophanies in the Old Testament) until the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) when He would “tabernacle among us” (Jn. 1:14). Then, He would Messiah-display God’s glory (vs. 3; cf. Jn. 1:14; 17:1-8; 2 Cor. 3:18-4:1-6).

B. The LORD’s Servant Cast Down, Yet Confident! (vss. 3-4)

In verse 4, God’s Servant is recorded as one expressing discouragement. “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain …” Significantly, Messiah-Jesus would feel a great loss. The apostle John would comment that “He came to His own, but His own received Him not (Jn. 1:10-11). That is, He came to the world of His own creation, and His own people (Israel) rejected Him, as indeed all others (cf. Is. 53:4-7; Rom. 3:23). Calvary’s Cross would see His triumphant exaltation and glorification, finally consummating in His Second Advent to Planet Earth to establish His Kingdom as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Jn, 19:30; Ps. 16:9-11; 68:18, cf. Eph. 4:8-11; Rev. 11:15; 19:11-16).

His “confidence” was implied in the latter words of verse 4: “Yet surely my just reward is with the Lord, (and) my work with my God.” As Isaiah would go on to reveal, this Servant of the Lord would effect a “life-changing” reward through His substitutionary, atoning death (Is. 53:10-12; cf. Jn. 17:6-19 (His disciples), 20-26 (His Church).

C. The LORD’s Servant Consecrated & Committed! (Vss. 5-6)

Moreover, He would be honoured in God’s eyes (vs. 5) because He would restore God’s people (vs. 6), thereby receiving worldwide acclaim in the end (vs. 7). Thus, the (Rejected) Servant’s mission will include the priority of bringing Israel to the Lord. He will complete this at His Second Advent (Zech. 12:10 – 13:1).

Originally, Israel had been entrusted with the God-given role of being a “Light to the Gentiles” (Is. 42:6; cf. 49:6; Lk. 2:32; Acts 13:47). By their reversion to “exclusivity” in the Post-Exilic years in Babylon as expressed in the synagogue movement and Rabbinic Judaism, God’s covenant people failed to “arise and shine” for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (cf. Is. 60:1). In grace, He will give them a second chance with the 144,000 Jewish evangelists sharing the “gospel of the kingdom” around the world in the Tribulation (Rev. 7:1-8;14:1-5).

In addition to being the One to restore Israel to the land of Israel (vs. 8), the Messiah is chosen to redeem the Gentiles. In this way, God’s salvation is brought to all the peoples of the world. Messiah Jesus is “the light of the world” (Lk. 2:30-32; Jn. 8:12; 9:5), and He is the fulfillment of all Isaiah’s (and other Old Testament prophets’) prophecies.

It will be recalled that Paul and Barnabas brought the gospel to the Gentiles in Antoich on their first missionary journey, and they quoted Isaih 49:6. The response of the Gentiles in That “key” city was pure joy: “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:48).

D. The LORD’s Servant Castigated Now, Crowned & Worshiped, Then! (Vs. 7)

In the light of what the text stated, commentary (apart from emphases added) on verse 7 is superfluous in this writer’s view:

7 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.”

Finally, in verses 8-13, the Servant of the LORD will oversee the return of His people to their land (cf. Gen. 15:18; Dt. 30:1-10; Jer. 29-33; Ezek. 36:16 -37:28), see to the restoration of the land and the establishing of a peaceful kingdom (Is. 49:8–13; cf. Mt. 6:10; Heb. 12:25-28; Rev. 20, 21-22). Messiah-Jesus will be the agent of the LORD’s comfort to His people (Is. 49:13; cf. 40:1-2; Ezek. 48:35; Zech. 14:16-21).


Impression without expression inevitably results in depression. It is one thing to be introduced to such a spiritually rich passage like this Servant of the LORD’s Second Song recorded in Isaiah 49:1-7. It is another thing to apply the spiritual principles contained therein to be appropriated in the lives of believers. So, what “Inspirational Faith Life Applications” can be suggested and applied as the writer draws this literary piece to a close? Consider the following:

  1. God desires my full attention! Am I listening to hear His voice in His Word daily, or am I being distracted from this priority by superfluous issues? (vs. 1a) = Illustration: Samuel (1 Sam. 3

  2. God’s sovereign superintendence of my life and ministry is always perfect! Am I peeved or fretting that I am “still hidden”, while others are “in the spotlight” - front and centre? (vs. 2b; cf. Gal. 4:4 (Jesus/Incarnation); Ps. 18:30, 32 (God/Believer) and remember: “A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men” (Prov. 18:16). Illustration: David – The Shepherd Boy who became a King (1 Sam. 16:13; 2 Sam. 2:4; 5:3).

  3. God is greater and more powerful to transform presently unjust and unrewarded toil and ministry into something that will become overtly “rewarding”, when I surrender those “soul-burdens” to Him! (vs. 4; cf. Ps. 55:22; 1 Pt. 5:7. Note - Jn. 12:24). Illustrations: (1) Joseph (Gen. 30-50, esp. Gen. 50:20; (2) Moses – 40 years learning to be a SOMEBODY (Ex. 1-2:1-10); 40 years learning to be a NOBODY (Ex. 2:11:25)) and 40 years learning that God can use a NOBODY (Ex. 3 – Num. 27:12-23)

  4. God’s call and commission carries with them the guarantee of His enablement! (Is. 49:5-6). He didn’t bring you this far to let you “down”, nor let you “drown”. He is faithful – in everything, trust Him! (Lam. 3:23-24; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:23). Illustration: Israel, even despite their rebellion and sin (Is. 1:2-3ff; Jer. 29:11 – 31:31-34)

  5. God’s salvific interests are global, including Israel and her people! Am I involved, by His grace, and prepared to be despised, ridiculed and abhorred because of the offence of Messiah-Jesus and His gospel? (vss. 5-6, 7). The “rewards” will be “out of this world”! (1 Thess. 1:19; 1 Cor. 9:27; James 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pt. 5:4 – also Hebrews 12:25-28f) Illustrations: (Negative: Demas, 2 Tim. 4:10; Positive: Paul, Rom. 1:14-17).

Dr Deane Woods

Dr Deane Woods served as Ministry Representatives with The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry in Sydney, NSW. If you would like to contact Deane, email him at

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