Bible Commentary: Isaiah 49

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Isaiah 49

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Restoration and Future Expansion

The Lord's Servant here steps forward. "The 'law of double reference' may apply in interpreting this prophetic passage, which may point in part to Cyrus, but certainly [and more directly] describes the mission of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Christ was called to His mission and named long before His birth (Isaiah 49:1). His first efforts were unrewarded (v. 4), but He is destined to bring Israel back to God (v. 5) and bring salvation to all peoples (v. 6). Although despised, He will ultimately be honored by all (v. 7)" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on chap. 49).

The chapter thus begins as a prophetic quote from Jesus Christ, describing elements and allusions to His work (verses 1-7). In verse 3, He is referred to as "Israel." Jesus was an Israelite, of course. He purchased Israel with His blood. He is the King of Israel, and a king, in the Scriptures, is often equated with the nation he rules. Moreover, Israel means "Prevailer With God," and Jesus is the quintessential Prevailer with God. But also, God intends the nation of Israel to ultimately assist Christ in setting an example of righteousness for the whole world. They have failed at this in the past. But once the Israelites have themselves learned true righteousness through Christ, they too will collectively become God's servant—represented by Christ their King—and a light, a beacon, for other nations to follow.

The Church of God now serves as a forerunner in this, being the spiritual Israel of God (compare Galatians 6:16). When Paul and Barnabas first arrived in Antioch of Pisidia, they preached in the synagogue, but drew the attention of the gentiles as well. This caused the Jews to be filled with envy and they attempted to discredit Paul. The two apostles responded by saying that the Lord had commanded them to be a light to the gentiles, quoting Isaiah 49:6 (Acts 13:47) as the passage where they found this command (compare Acts 13:14-52).

In 2 Corinthians, Paul quotes Isaiah 49:8 and then goes on to state that, for them at least, the "acceptable time" and "day of salvation" was "now" (2 Corinthians 6:2). Some attempt to use these verses to argue that now is the only day of salvation. But they do not say that. Indeed, the New Revised Standard Version translates both verses as stating that now is "AN acceptable time" and "A day of salvation." Indeed, God is not drawing the whole world to salvation at this time. (To learn more on this subject, see the article "Twist of Fate" and "The Last Great Day: Eternal Life Offered to All," God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind, pp. 46-51).

Still, "the acceptable time" could perhaps be a reasonable translation—if it has the same sense as "the acceptable year of the Lord" in Isaiah 61:2, a reference to the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is the time of God's judgment on the nations and His redemption and salvation of Israel. Yet Peter related a prophecy of the end-time Day of the Lord as having an application to the beginning of the New Testament era in Acts 2:14-21—Christians being spiritual forerunners of Israel's future salvation. Perhaps Paul was indicating something similar in 2 Corinthians 6—that for Christians it is as if the time of God's intervention is already here, as indeed it is on a personal level. There is more on this in the highlights for Isaiah 63.

Isaiah 49:10 speaks of God's ultimate deliverance. Just before the seventh seal of the book of Revelation is opened, one of the 24 elders before God's throne in heaven describes a group of people as having come out of the Great Tribulation, finding deliverance at last. He uses the words of Isaiah 49:10 in doing so (Revelation 7:16-17).

The remainder of Isaiah 49 deals mainly with the return from captivity of Israel and Judah following the return of Jesus Christ. In verse 11, we see the image of the road and highway of chapter 40—here plural, as the return from exile is from more than one place and, considering highway in its figurative sense, relations will need to be developed between many nations.

In verse 12, we see where the exiles return from. First from the north and west—meaning northwest, as Hebrew has no specific word for this direction. And also from the land of Sinim. "Sinim was a district on the southern frontier of ancient Egypt" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 12). Also, the Latin Vulgate translates the word as Australi, meaning "south." There are perhaps two indications here. One is that Israel is returning from their captivity in Central Europe (modern Assyria), which is northwest of the Promised Land (not northeast as ancient Assyria was) and from Egypt and other African lands to the south (compare Isaiah 11:11).

Yet some will be returning from beyond Central Europe and Egypt. The word translated "coastlands" in Isaiah 49:1 is rendered "islands" in the earlier King James Version. Jeremiah 31:10 gives this as "isles afar off," clearly related to those coming "from afar" in Isaiah 49:12. The isles northwest of Jerusalem and even of Europe are the British Isles. Some will be returning from here. And there are important isles in the south of the world too, one being a continent actually called Australia. Some will be returning from there as well. (To learn more about the Israelite identity of these nations, download or request our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.) Indeed, besides the lands of their captivity, some Israelites will be returning from islands and coastlands all over the world—the places to which the descendants of Israel have spread abroad and colonized.

Verses 20-21 are rather interesting. God had prophesied that the Israelites would be great colonizers (see Genesis 28:14; 49:22). Notice Isaiah 49:20: "The children you will have, after you have lost the others…" This is referring to new children born during the coming reign of Jesus Christ—after Israel has lost many of its people in the Great Tribulation, which will befall it just before He returns. These new children "will say again in your ears…"—indicating that it is a repetition of an earlier occurrence. And they say, "The place is too small for me; give me a place where I may dwell." Indeed, Israel's burgeoning population in the Promised Land under the reign of Christ will necessitate they be given other lands to dwell in. And indeed, at that time, "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit" (Isaiah 27:6).

But again notice that this is a repetition of something that occurred sometime in the past. When? Not apparently while Israel dwelt in the Promised Land in ancient times—for they did not then expand abroad in significant numbers. It seems to refer to something that occurred much later, when the "isles" of the northwest in which many of the Israelites settled—the British Isles—became too cramped for their growing numbers, making it necessary to expand and colonize abroad. British historian Colin Cross states: "One of the unexplained mysteries of social history is the explosion in the size of the population of Great Britain between 1750 and 1850. For generations the British population had been static, or rising only slightly. Then in the space of a century it almost trebled—from 7.7 million in 1750 to 20.7 million in 1850. Why it happened is unknown…. It must just be recorded that human reproduction and vitality follows unpredictable patterns…. Britain was a dynamic country and one of the marks of its dynamism was the population explosion" (The Fall of the British Empire, 1918-1968, 1968, p. 155).

On a lesser scale, other nations of northwest Europe—also of Israelite descent—experienced a population increase and some spreading abroad as well. But by far the greatest growth in population and territorial expansion was experienced by the birthright tribes of Joseph—today the United States and British-descended peoples (again, see our booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy). From the small homeland of the British Isles, the people went forth and colonized the North American continent, Australia, New Zealand, parts of South Africa and numerous islands and territories besides. The timing of this was rather significant, fitting exactly in the period in which God decreed that the birthright blessings of national greatness would eventually be bestowed on His people (see the article "Birthright Blessings Delayed for 2,520 Years").

Given all this, we can see what God apparently means in Isaiah 49:20. Here it is quoted with further explanation in brackets. To Israel God says: "The children you will have [increasing population of the land of Israel during the millennial reign of Christ], after you have lost the others [great numbers of people in the terrible tribulation just before Christ's return], will say again in your ears [as the people of Britain and other Israelite lands did when their populations increased and they needed to expand in colonial times], 'The place [the land of Israel in the Middle East] is too small for me; give me a place [other areas to expand to] where I may dwell.'"

How wonderful that though the Israelites will be severely cut down in population just prior to Christ's return, they will again expand and grow during His peaceful reign—perhaps eventually even recolonizing and repopulating many of the lands they have inhabited in this age (rebuilding the old ruins and waste places that many of these areas will have become following the great wars and massive population deportations of the end time).