8 Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages,
9 saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will make all my mountains a road,
and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Behold, these shall come from afar,
and behold, these from the north and from the west,
and these from the land of Syene.”
13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted.
14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.
17 Your builders make haste;
your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.
18 Lift up your eyes around and see;
they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, declares the Lord,
you shall put them all on as an ornament;
you shall bind them on as a bride does.
19 “Surely your waste and your desolate places
and your devastated land—
surely now you will be too narrow for your inhabitants,
and those who swallowed you up will be far away.
20 The children of your bereavement
will yet say in your ears:
‘The place is too narrow for me;
make room for me to dwell in.’
21 Then you will say in your heart:
‘Who has borne me these?
I was bereaved and barren,
exiled and put away,
but who has brought up these?
Behold, I was left alone;
from where have these come?’”
22 Thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations,
and raise my signal to the peoples;
and they shall bring your sons in their arms,
and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
23 Kings shall be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
and lick the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”
24 Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?
25 For thus says the Lord:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
and I will save your children.
26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
that I am the Lord your Savior,
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” – Isaiah 49:8-26 ESV
In these verses, God acknowledges the feelings of His chosen people. His judgments against them will leave them feeling forsaken and alone. When the prophecies Isaiah has been sharing have taken place, the people will assume that God’s anger with them has caused Him to abandon them completely. Displaying His omniscience, God reveals the future thoughts of the people of Judah as they languish in captivity in Babylon. He does so by portraying Zion, the city of Jerusalem, speaking on their behalf.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.” – Isaiah 49:14 ESV
Yet, God responds to this false assumption in strong terms.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.” – Isaiah 49:15 ESV
God cannot and will not forget His own. They are His chosen people with whom He has made a binding covenant. The people of Judah are the direct result of God’s blessings upon Abraham and Sarah. They are the byproduct of God’s miraculous intervention into the affairs of this elderly couples, allowing the barren Sarah to conceive and bare a son, Isaac. But even before Isaac drew his first breath, God had told Abraham, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (Genesis 17:1-2 ESV). God was calling Abraham to a life of holiness or set-apartness. He was to be God’s possession and all his future offspring would belong to God, just as Isaac would. Then God went on to expand on the nature of the covenant He was making with Abraham and, by extension, with Abraham’s offspring.
“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:4-8 ESV
Now, centuries later, God was dealing with the descendants of Abraham who had failed to walk before Him and remain blameless. For generations, the people of Judah had refused to live their lives set apart to God. They were guilty of spiritual adultery, having given their adoration to a litany of false gods. And yet, in spite of all they had done to offend a holy God, He was reassuring them that He would not forsake them.
In fact, He describes for them a day when they will find the land of Judah too small to accommodate all the children they will bear. One day they will again experience God’s promise of fruitfulness.
“Even the most desolate parts of your abandoned land
will soon be crowded with your people.
Your enemies who enslaved you
will be far away.
The generations born in exile will return and say,
‘We need more room! It’s crowded here!’” – Isaiah 49:19-20 NLT
And this inexplicable outcome will leave the people of Judah wondering what is going on. They will question how their lot in life changed so dramatically.
“Who has given me all these descendants?
For most of my children were killed,
and the rest were carried away into exile.
I was left here all alone.
Where did all these people come from?
Who bore these children?
Who raised them for me?” – Isaiah 49:21 NLT
The elderly among them will find themselves back in the land of promise experiencing the joy of watching their lineage spread through the lives of their children and grandchildren. Their enemies will be long gone. But not before those very same enemies are finished transporting the people of Judah back to the land, even carrying their children in their arms.
What God is revealing here is a miraculous, future events that only He could bring about. While this prophecy would be fulfilled in part when King Cyrus decreed the return of the people to the land of Judah, there are aspects of this prophecy that remain as yet unfulfilled. God describes the kings and queens of the earth serving and caring for the people of God. He portrays them as bowing down before the people of Judah, licking the dust from their feet in a display of abject submission. He even promises, “I will feed your enemies with their own flesh. They will be drunk with rivers of their own blood” (Isaiah 49:26 NLT). One has to ask whether any of this taken place. Has this promise been fulfilled? And the answer would be, “No.” But it will be. And God reveals just how He will bring it about.
He will do it through His servant, the Messiah. He will raise up His chosen one to redeem the people of Israel and restore them to a right relationship with Him. And God speaks to His servant, assuring Him that the seeming delay in His redemptive plan for Israel is coming to an end.
“At just the right time, I will respond to you.
On the day of salvation I will help you.
I will protect you and give you to the people
as my covenant with them.
Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel
and assign it to its own people again.” – Isaiah 49:8 NLT
This statement seems to be in direct response to the words of the servant as expressed in verse 4:
“But my work seems so useless!
I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand;
I will trust God for my reward.” – Isaiah 49:4 NLT
The servant is portrayed as wrestling with feelings of frustration over what appears to be His incomplete and seemingly unsuccessful work. This imagery is not meant to display Jesus as somehow struggling with feelings of futility or anger over His earthly ministry. It is intended to reveal to the people of Judah that when the Messiah comes, He will not complete all His work at His first appearance. When Jesus stated on the cross, “It is finished,” He was referring to the commission God had given to Him at His first advent. He had been sent to die on behalf of sinful manking, as payment for the sin debt they had accrued with God. And He successful completed that mission. But He rose again and, just before He returned to His Father’s side in heaven, He assures His disciples He would be coming back. He had unfinished business.
And, in Isaiah 49, God is describing events associated with Christ’s second advent, His second coming. He will return to earth and He will enact the final judgment of God against the nations of the world. He will defeat all the enemies of God, including Antichrist, the false prophet, and Satan himself.
In the book of Revelation, John is given a vision of this coming day, when the kings of the earth, in league with Antichrist and Satan, will attempt to do battle with Jesus, the Lamb of God. And it will not go well for them.
“The ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but will receive ruling authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful.” – Revelation 17:12-14 NLT
They will be defeated. In fact, John is given further insight into the lopsided nature of this battle later on in his book.
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army. Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf—signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur. The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the one who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh. – Revelation 19:19-21 NLT
As a result of this resounding victory over the enemies of God by the Lamb of God, a remnant of the nation of Israel will experience God’s unmerited favor and the fulfillment of His covenant promise to Abraham. They will be restored to a right relationship with Him and will reign alongside Jesus in His heavenly Kingdom in Jerusalem. God has not and will not forsake them. He has a plan in place for them and when that plan finally comes to fruition, God says, “All the world will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel” (Isaiah 49:26 NLT).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.