Isaiah 49:1–7 – 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.” 7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Summary – This important Servant song in Isaiah points beyond Israel collectively, since this Servant will “raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel” (v6). The first part of this passage addresses the origin of the Servant. Yahweh predestined the Servant to be one with a mouth like a sharp sword (Rev. 19), like a unique arrow to be drawn at the decisive moment of battle. But the Servant expresses frustration, laboring in vain (v4). This certainly fits with the earthly ministry of Jesus. He was humbled as One “deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers” (v7). Nevertheless true Israel will be gathered to this Israelite Servant (v5). He will be a light to the nations. This phrase, light to the nations, found here and in Is. 42:6, is cited in the New Testament in two places. In the first use of the passage, Simeon who sees the infant Jesus utters that He will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Lk. 2:32). This is to be expected. But in the ministry of Paul, he also cites this on the occasion of the rejection of the gospel by Jews and their decided turning to the Gentiles. He applies this to the apostolic calling, “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:47).
Insight – We have a cabinet over the washing machine and there are spare light bulbs in it. If I grabbed one, I should not expect it to be to be hot or glowing. It is a perfectly functional bulb, but it won’t make light without a connection. Isaiah 49, along with its application and fulfillment in the New Testament, make clear that the people of God are also light in the world. Because Jesus was the light of the world, now we who are his Body in the world are also instruments of His light. We are instruments or even bulbs of that light, but we don’t have that light of ourselves. In the same way that the light bulb cannot produce light without being connected to the power of electricity, so we cannot shine with the light of Christ without union with Him. As we live in faith in Jesus, His power shines through us.
Child’s Catechism – What was the Servant of Isaiah to do? The Servant of Isaiah was to suffer and die to be the light of the world.
Discussion – How can we practice being better lights in the world?
Prayer – Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP Epiphany 2)