International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending January 23, 2011
Purpose: To hear and heed God's call to bear witness to God's salvation to all the world
Scripture Text: Isaiah 49:1-6 (NRSV)
(1)Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. (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 cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.” (5)And now the LORD says, who formed me in 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 sight 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 restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
My Thoughts by Burgess Walter
This passage presents a real dilemma for those commentators that think the Book of Isaiah was written at three different periods. Their inability to accept it as a real book of prophesy, and that it could not have foreseen the rise of Cyrus II, also precludes them from seeing this passage as a Messianic prophesy. I guess the reasoning is since Isaiah, with God's help, could not look 250 years into the future, then certainly they could not admit that Isaiah could look 700 years into the future to the Incarnation of God and the birth, life and death, of Jesus the true “Prince of God.”
Our text begins with, “listen to me,” so the question is; Who is the “me” ? When the commentators claim the “me” is Israel they are correct, but they fail to go all the way back to Gen. 32:28, where God renames Jacob, Israel, because “he had struggled with God and men and prevailed”. According to bible dictionaries “Israel” means “the Prince that prevails with God,” certainly the “el” refers to God. Any attempt to explain this passage another way would place the commentators in the same position as the “Ethiopian eunuch” as recorded in Acts 8:26-36. They possess great learning, but no understanding; thankfully Phillip knew how to interpret The Book of Isaiah. On another occasion Jesus himself uses a passage in Isaiah 42:1. (Found in Matthew 17-21). All of these clearly point our passage to the Messiah.
As I read this passage it clearly opens the gospel to not just the Jews but also to the Gentiles, “peoples from far away.” The statement “the Lord called me before I was born,” is further evidence this is about the Prince of Peace, the Prince that prevails.
Verse 2 adds to our thesis that this is about God coming to earth, “he made my mouth like a sharp sword.” Compare that to the verses in Hebrews 12:4 and Revelations1:16 that use similar language. Remember that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The latter part of this verse also refers to the judgment that the Messiah will deliver, but it is also a reference to the fact that Jesus has always been with God, from the beginning, hidden from the world but always in God's quiver, ready to be used. Another interpretation could be gleaned from Psalm 127:5 which seems to reference the quiver as where mans seed is stored, and in that case God's quiver contains one perfect arrow, and that “polished arrow” will be the one that judges all of the nations.
In verse 3 we see some of the things I have previously addressed, certainly God will be glorified by what Jesus accomplishes, even though His life appears, from first glance, to have been lived in vain. Certainly we know now that Jesus did not live in vain, but at the time it seemed as such. It is easy to use Christ prayer in the garden as evidence that Jesus may have thought of His life as a failure when He says, “never the less not my will but thine be done.” which aligns nicely with the latter part of verse 4.
I think verse 5 once again addresses the nation of Israel in the word “Jacob;” Jacob was unfit until he encountered God and wrestled with God, hence the reference to the unrepentant Jews as “Jacob.” The last part of this verse could read, “Until the Jews return to God through Jesus.” (My translation)
It is no small thing, (light) that the tribes of Jacob are restored to a place of honor and their influence will serve as a light, just as Jesus is “the light of the world” so to the nation of Israel (descendents of Jacob) were to be the light that illuminated God for the rest of the world, and through that, all of the world would have an opportunity for salvation. The coming of Christ fulfilled all of this by coming by way of the lineage of Jacob, and more precisely Jacob's son Judah and his descendent David. Jesus was always the arrow in God's quiver.