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Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.
Category - Bible Commentaries
The calling of Israel and the Messiah are as closely linked as the body of Christ is to Christ Himself. This has caused some to conclude that the “Suffering Servant” in Isaiah’s prophecy is not the Messiah but only Israel. But prophecy usually (if not always) has many layers and multiple fulfillments. It requires genuine discernment to distinguish these layers.
Isaiah 49:1 begins,
1 Listen to Me, O islands [iy, “islands, coastlands”], and pay attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called Me from the womb; from the body of My mother He named Me.
As we will see, the Messiah was speaking to Israel in the “islands… you peoples from afar.” The Israelites had already established many colonies throughout the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Spain, Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia. This was why the prophetess, Deborah, complained about the tribe of Dan, “Why did Dan stay in ships?” (Judges 5:17).
The answer, of course, was that most of the territory allotted to the tribe of Dan was occupied by the Philistines. Many of the Danites soon looked for new places to settle, and an army was sent north to conquer Laish, which they named after their father, Dan (Judges 18:29). Centuries later, after Solomon died, the city of Dan was where one of the golden calves was set up (1 Kings 12:29).
This was not the only Danite city that this tribe established outside the borders of Israel. Wherever they went, they named rivers and even countries after their father, Dan. Though the tribe remained small within the borders of Israel, due to land restrictions, they were far more numerous in what is now Turkey and Greece, and in other places along the Mediterranean coast. In fact, the Trojan War was fought largely between the Danai and the Danaans. We also find Danaans dominating Ireland.
Hence, when Isaiah addressed Israel in the islands, he knew about the far-off colonies. When the Assyrians deported the ten tribes of Israel, a great many of their brethren had already departed centuries earlier. The prophet seems to imply that the Israelites that settled in Assyria would someday migrate north and west into Europe, where they would ultimately join their brethren.
This migration took place over many centuries, and by the time they came in contact with their fellow Israelites, they did not recognize each other, because they spoke different languages and had different cultures. So most of them fought one another, rather than living as brethren in unity.
Isaiah 49:1 tells these far-off Israelites, “The Lord called Me from the womb; from the body of My mother He named Me.” This is the case not only with the Messiah Himself, but also with every type of Christ.
This includes Cyrus (or Koresh), who was named by God in Isaiah 45:4 and called a messiah in Isaiah 45:1. His name literally means “a furnace, that is, the sun.” Koresh was the Persian word for “the sun” and was the title of the king, much like the Egyptian word Phrah, “the sun,” which was the root of Pharaoh.
In those days kings usually took on the names of their gods—in this case, the Sun god—to identify with those gods. Cyrus, being a pagan king, did the same, but the God of Israel was also pictured as “the Sun [shemesh] of righteousness” in Mal. 4:2. The word esh means “fire,” and this word is seen in both Kor-esh and shem-esh.
Just as Cyrus (Koresh) was named by God as a type of Christ, so also was Jesus, the true “Sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2), named prophetically from His mother’s womb.
Hence, when Joseph was disturbed over his fiancé’s unexpected pregnancy, an angel appeared to him in a dream in Matt. 1:20, 21,
20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Though His name is given to us in the Greek language (Iesus), the definition is from the Hebrew name Yeshua, “salvation.” Hence, “He will save His people.” So we see that the Messiah was indeed called and named from His mother’s womb, as Isaiah says.
Isaiah 49:2 says,
2 He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; and He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver.
We read a similar description of Christ in Rev. 1:16, where “out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.” Likewise, He is described in His second coming in Rev. 19:15, “From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations.” The sword is His word, subduing the nations by the power of the truth that He speaks.
Paul tells us in Eph. 6:17 that “the sword of the Spirit… is the word of God.” It is not like physical swords that are very dull in comparison and can only bring death. Heb. 4:12 says,
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any [physical] two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
This is the sword in the mouth of the Messiah. Whereas Cyrus, the prophetic type, subdued kings by the power of man-made swords that could only bring death, the true Messiah subdues kings and nations by a much greater power. His “living” sword was not designed to kill but to give life by the power of the word of God.
Isaiah also describes the Messiah as “a select arrow” in God’s quiver. The word “select” comes from the Hebrew word barar, “selected, chosen, separated, sanctified, purified.” When God chooses someone, He separates him for divine service. This is the meaning of sanctification.
Likewise, an “arrow” was a Hebrew metaphor for a son, as we see in Psalm 127:3-5,
3 Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. 5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…
We see, then, that God’s “quiver” has a “select arrow” which is the Son of God. Isaiah implies that in the background are other sons of God as well.
An archer (moreh) is also a Hebrew metaphor for a teacher. We see this in Joel 2:23, where the word is translated “the early rain,” but which can also be rendered “archer” or “teacher.” Isaiah undoubtedly knew this when he described the Messiah as “a select arrow.”
When God shoots His Arrow, He speaks truth that pierces the hearts of men with the revelation of God. This is just a different metaphor that describes “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Isaiah says that the sword is “concealed” (in its sheath) and the arrow is “hidden” (in its quiver). Both are spiritual, rather than physical objects. As metaphors for Christ Himself, this prophesies that Christ would be concealed and hidden from the general public. Jesus came in a physical body, but only a few actually “saw” Him with spiritual eyes.
The big question in the gospels is “Who is Jesus?” In Matt. 16:13-17 we read,
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi [the ancient city of Dan], He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
We see how Christ’s true identity was hidden until the Father revealed it to them. Though Christ was manifested plainly in a physical body, the people did not truly “see” Him unless God revealed this to them. Hence, Jesus said in Matt. 13:13,
13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
This blindness, in fact, had been revealed to Isaiah at the time of his own calling. We read this in Isaiah 6:9, 10,
9 He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.’ 10 Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.”
Jesus quoted this in Matt. 13:14, 15 to show why He spoke in parables. It was because God had concealed the Messiah from them, not endlessly, but “until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people, and the land is utterly desolate” (Isaiah 6:11). God intended to destroy the land under the Old Covenant, so that He could rebuild the Kingdom on better foundations under the New Covenant and its Mediator.
Israel had already been destroyed, and its population had been exiled to Assyria. The same was to happen to Judah a century later, long after the death of Isaiah at the hands of Manasseh, son of Hezekiah. (According to Jewish tradition, Isaiah was placed in a log which was then sawn in half.) The Old Covenant had to run its full course and ended in disaster to show that men’s Old Covenant vows and decisions were inadequate to secure their salvation.
In this prophecy, we must also include the earthly Jerusalem, the Old Covenant city which Paul says is “Hagar” (Gal. 4:25) and must ultimately be “cast out” (Gal. 4:30). The heavenly city cannot be established fully (except in the remnant of grace) until the earthly city is “devastated and without inhabitant.” (See also Jer. 19:10, 11.)
In the end, every remnant of the Old Covenant must be eradicated in order to establish the New Covenant and its only Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). When all men recognize the sovereignty of God and see that salvation comes only by the promises of God, then the New Covenant will be fully established in the earth, and His glory will cover the earth.