Isaiah 49-52: God's Deliverance of Israel and the World



Exiled Israel has two problems: 

1) captivity in Babylon

2) the sin that brought God’s judgement on them to be brought into captivity in the first place.

Chapters 41-48 addressed the first problem by speaking of God’s plan of deliverance from Babylon using Cyrus. Chapters 49-55 talk about the second problem by removing the sin. This is spoken of with increasing intensity with a climax at Isaiah 52 with a call to leave the captivity that has held them. 

We can imagine Isaiah’s readers saying, as they come to the end of what is now chapter 48, “Alright, we’re listening and we can believe that God can and will restore us from Babylon by means of Cyrus. But who can restore us to God? That’s the real problem.”

Israel is sinful and needs to become a servant. The one who will do that is the “Servant” spoken of in Isaiah -- namely Jesus Christ. God is so holy that Isaiah realizes his uncleanliness and that his lips are unclean although he is chosen to be God’s prophet so the angel touches his lips with the coal. Like this atonement, Christ will be the atonement of Israel: Isa 49:6. This is a big surprise that Christ would atone for the sins of the world. He would take this atonement to many nations: Isa 52:14-15. This is the introduction of the Gospel 400 years before Christ’s advent.

The Lord’s Servant and the Restoration of Israel (49:1-26)

  • this is the second of the servant songs

  • the Lord’s servant is not “Israel” restoring itself and it is not exclusively Israel either. We can see this in Isaiah 49:5-7. You can see in verse 6 that this is not just being applied to Israel. It forces the reader to ask themselves: Who is this?

  • The first servant song in chapter 42 looks at Jesus’s ministry while this second servant song looks at the future effects of it.

Isa 49:1-4:  Jesus has no doubt of His call (49:1), His divine enablement (49:2-3) or His ultimate vindication (49:4). He is perfectly suited to whatever task God calls Him to do -- in contrast to sinful Israel. 

  1.  Isa 49:1 clarifies that the Messiah will be a human -- not a personified group such as the nation of Israel which has also been called the Lord’s servant (Isa 41:8).

  2. Isa 49:3 has the name Israel but actually refers to the Messiah. This is not a contradiction that undoes all the references to an individual that the other passages suggest. In light of all the other references, this term Israel is a parallel term for servant.  It's as if God said "You are my Israel in whom I will be glorified". This also rules out the idea that Isaiah is referring to himself as the Servant. No prophet ever thought of himself as the ideal Israel.

Isa 49:6: This makes it obvious that Israel is not going to restore itself and that it will not only be Israel but the whole world that will be restored.

Isa 49:8: Christ will be like a new Joshua: settling the people in a land of freedom and abundance.

Isa 49:13: The announcement of the work of Christ results in an outburst of praise. This fallen world, tainted by sin (Gen 3:17), will experience restoration (Isa 65:17).

Isa 49:14: this is the people's negative response to the proclamation of the savior's redemptive work followed by God's extended rejoinder (Isa 49:15-50:3)

Isa 49:15: God’s response is He could no more forget them than a mother could forget her newborn baby.

Isa 49:17-21: proof of God's love will be seen in the abundance of descendants that will be born to Zion when she thought herself forever barren. These are children of God.

Isa 49:24: another pessimistic answer from Israel. Who can break the grip from the captors?

Isa 49:25-26: God responds that he can do that very thing.

Israel’s Sin and the Servant’s Obedience (50:1-11)

The imperfect servant Israel is contrasted with the perfect Servant Jesus

  • Imperfect servant Israel: Isa 50:1-3, Isa 50:11

  • Perfect Servant: Isa 50:4-10

Isa 50:1-3: This is God's response to the implicit question "but you are the one who (arbitrarily) sold us to those captors in the first place". God says that he has not cast them off and has the power to restore them at will. The language of return is figurative -- not literal. The literal returns in 538 and 445bc were relatively small. The return is a spiritual return to God.

Isa 50:4: Jesus's tongue has been instructed on how to declare God's message

Listen! Awake! Depart! (51:1-52:12)

  • This section prepares for the climax of the servant theme in this book.

    • There is a call to listen (Isa 51:1, Isa 51:4, Isa 51:7, Isa 51:21, Isa 52:8

    • There is a call to awake (Isa 51:9, Isa 52:1, Isa 51:17)

    • There is a call to look (Isa 51:1-2, Isa 51:6)

    • There is a call to depart (Isa 52:11)

Isa 51:1-7

Isa 51:8: permanent vindication. The reproaches and insults are being spoken by those who are passing away like garments eaten by moths.

Isa 51:9: “awaken yourself, awaken yourself”. “clothe yourself with strength” is an image drawn from the practice of soldiers putting a sheath on their arms to prepare for battle. This is regarded as a prayer.

Isa 51:9-10: mentions when God acted miraculously in the past. The Proud One refers to Pharaoh’s Egyptian army attempting to cross the Red Sea (Isa 51:10 and Isa 30:7). The sea monster refers to Egypt.

Isa 51:11: The OT deliverance of God’s people is connected with God’s future Salvation through Christ.

Isa 51:12-13: points out the folly of forgetting the Lord and constantly living in fear despite His protection and provision.

Isa 51:14: die in prison = go down to the pit. starve to death => siege of the city. Christ frees us from the bondage of sin and gives us the bread of life: John 6:35.

Isa 51:16: it seems to indicate that the Servant was commissioned to create the universe! (Col 1:16) It could also be a reference to the children of God inheriting all things with Christ (Rom 8:17) in the new heavens and new earth (Isa 65:17).

Isa 51:17: “awaken yourself, awaken yourself”. Oswalt says:

But now God says it is not for him to awake but for them. Twice (51:17;

 52:1) he says it is they who must rise up and take by faith what is offered 

to them. It is not a question of needing to persuade God to do what he is 

reluctant to do. Rather, it is a question of the people’s developing and 

maintaining such a faith that when God acts, they will be ready to receive 

what he has done."

My question is: where does Oswalt get from the text that God is not involved in waking them? The text is God calling on Israel to awaken themselves but there is nothing in the text to indicate that God is not involved. We must hold this verse in tension with the rest of the Bible rather than reading the text through a lens. I admire Oswalt’s work in general but I think his commentary on this verse is misleading and goes past what the text says.

It would be like saying that Lazarus had to choose to come out of the cave in order to rejoin the living and that it’s a metaphor for us choosing to believe in Christ (John 11:43). Saying that about Lazarus completely overlooks the main point which is that Jesus, by the power vested in Him through God the Father, caused Lazarus to rise from the dead. 

Back to this verse, it is apparent from the verse that Jerusalem had drank from the cup of God’s wrath. It is referred to as intoxicating wine. Saying “Wake up Wake up” is like attempting to arouse a drunk person from their stupor.

Isa 51:17-23, Isa 52:1-12: Now Jerusalem is called as a redeemed people. The cup of wrath has been passed to her enemies.

The Man of Sorrows and His Vindication (52:13-52:15)

Isa 52:13-15 

Jesus would be lifted high both figuratively (honored) and literally (on the cross). Instead of a conqueror like Cyrus, Jesus would be abused and disfigured so much that He no would no longer look human. The literal rendering is “terrible” as the Scofield Reference Bible states: 

“So marred from the form of man was His aspect that His appearance was not that of a son of man”—i.e. not human

 He would startle many nations (once again, not just limited to physical Israel) and even Kings would be shocked by His exaltation. Some translations say “startle” and others say “sprinkle” as in a priest cleansing sin. Here are the NET translation notes:

Traditionally the verb יַזֶּה (yazzeh, a Hiphil stem) has been understood as

 a causative of נָזָה (nazah, “spurt, spatter”) and translated “sprinkle.” In this case the passage pictures the servant as a priest who “sprinkles” (or spiritually cleanses) the nations. Though the verb נָזָה does occur in the Hiphil with the meaning “sprinkle,” the usual interpretation is problematic. In all other instances where the object or person sprinkled is indicated, the verb is combined with a preposition. This is not the case in Isaiah 52:15, unless one takes the following עָלָיו (’alayv, “on him”) with the preceding line. But then one would have to emend the verb to a plural, make the nations the subject of the verb “sprinkle,” and take the servant as the object. Consequently some interpreters doubt the cultic idea of “sprinkling” is present here. Some emend the text; others propose a homonymic root meaning “spring, leap,” which in the Hiphil could mean “cause to leap, startle” and would fit the parallelism of the verse nicely.

It is thought that “startle” is contrasted better with “appalled” (v.14) and parallels “shut their mouths”


  1. NIVAC Commentary on Isaiah

  2. Macarthur Study Bible

  3. NICOT Commentary on Isaiah (second half)

  4. Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Isaiah