A Commentary on Isaiah 49 – The Servant of the Lord and the Restoration of Israel


The 49th chapter of Isaiah contains some of the most beloved prophecies about the coming Messiah and the restoration of Israel. These verses have brought hope to many followers of God throughout the ages. Though Israel felt abandoned and forgotten, God powerfully declares His unfathomable love for His people and His commitment to redeem and restore them.

As we study this chapter, consider how you have experienced some of the same emotions as Israel. Perhaps you have felt forgotten by God or that your labor for Him has been in vain. Be encouraged that God sees you, knows you and has promised never to forsake you. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for you!

Here are some key themes and takeaways from Isaiah 49:

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  • God prepares His servants, including shaping them in the womb
  • Jesus embodied the mission of the servant to be a light to the Gentiles
  • God’s plans cannot be thwarted – Israel will be restored
  • Even when we feel forgotten, God always remembers us with love
  • God fights for His children and protects them from harm
  • There is no limit to God’s redeeming love – it extends to all nations

Now let’s explore this powerful chapter verse by verse!

A Commentary on Isaiah 49 - The Servant of the Lord and the Restoration of Israel


Isaiah 49:1-4 – The Mission of the Servant

“Listen, O coastlands, to Me, And take heed, you peoples from afar! The Lord has called Me from the womb; From the matrix of My mother He has made mention of My name. And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; In the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, And made Me a polished shaft; In His quiver He has hidden Me.” “And He said to me, ‘You are My servant, O Israel, In whom I will be glorified.’ Then I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain; Yet surely my just reward is with the Lord, And my work with my God.’”

In the first verses of this chapter, we are introduced to the servant of the Lord. From the beginning, it is clear his mission extends far beyond Israel. The “coastlands” represent distant lands and “peoples from afar” refers to the Gentiles. Though the servant is identified as Israel, he calls out to the nations.

We also see that God has prepared him for this mission from the womb. Like the prophet Jeremiah, the servant was set apart for his purpose before birth (Jeremiah 1:5). God shaped and readied him, like an arrow refined and kept in a quiver. What a beautiful picture of God’s sovereignty and purpose!

The servant feels his labor has been in vain, but God affirms his reward is with the Lord. How often do we feel the same way! But our work is never in vain when it is for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Isaiah 49:5-7 – A Light to the Gentiles

“And now the Lord says, who formed me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, So that Israel is gathered to Him (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, And My God shall be my strength), Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Here God clearly expands the mission of the servant beyond Israel to be a “light to the Gentiles”. Jesus applied this prophecy to Himself, that He came to be a light to the world (John 8:12). Though the servant’s primary purpose is to raise up Israel, God will use him to make salvation global. What amazing grace that God’s redemptive plan extends to the whole earth!

If we have experienced the saving light of Jesus, we are called to carry that light to others (Matthew 5:14-16). As followers of Christ, we share in the servant’s mission to reach the world!

Isaiah 49:8-12 – The Restoration of Israel

“Thus says the Lord: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard You, And in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You As a covenant to the people, To restore the earth, To cause them to inherit the desolate heritages; That You may say to the prisoners, ‘Go forth,’ To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ They shall feed along the roads, And their pastures shall be on all desolate heights. They shall neither hunger nor thirst, Neither heat nor sun shall strike them; For He who has mercy on them will lead them, Even by the springs of water He will guide them. I will make each of My mountains a road, And My highways shall be elevated.’”

In verses 8-12, there is a shift to the restoration of Israel after the period of exile and judgment. Using beautiful covenant language, God promises to regather, preserve, and restore His people. He will lead them back from captivity like during the Exodus. What glorious promises!

There are parallels to our spiritual wandering and exile from God. Jesus promised living water to satisfy the thirst of our souls (John 4:14) and to guide us on the path of righteousness (Psalm 23:3). As the Good Shepherd, He leads us to restoration in green pastures and by quiet waters.

Isaiah 49:13-17 – Zion’s Children Will Return

“Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, And my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.”

The heavens and earth are called to rejoice, for God will comfort and restore Zion! But Zion feels abandoned and forgotten. Have you ever felt like that? Be assured that God’s love far exceeds even a mother’s love for her child. What beautiful imagery of Zion being inscribed on God’s hands – ever before His eyes.

I love that God allows Zion’s honest lament before gently reassuring of His unfailing love. He understands our human weakness and answers gently. Take comfort that you are never forgotten or forsaken by our compassionate God.

Isaiah 49:18-23 – God Will Restore Zion

“Lift up your eyes, look around and see; All these gather together and come to you. As I live,” says the Lord, “You shall surely clothe yourselves with them all as an ornament, And bind them on you as a bride does.” “For your waste and desolate places, And the land of your destruction, Will even now be too small for the inhabitants; And those who swallowed you up will be far away. The children you will have, After you have lost the others, Will say again in your ears, ‘The place is too small for me; Give me a place where I may dwell.’ Then you will say in your heart, ‘Who has begotten these for me, Since I have lost my children and am desolate, A captive, and wandering to and fro? And who has brought these up? There I was, left alone; But these, where were they?’”

Here God paints a beautiful word picture of the future glory of Zion. The children return in such numbers that the land cannot contain them! What joy after the devastation of exile. God had promised descendants as numerous as the stars to Abraham (Genesis 15:5), now faithfully fulfilled.

As God’s children, we wait for the glorious day when believers from every tongue and tribe will gather in worship, a multitude too great to count (Revelation 7:9). Like Zion, the Lord will restore our fortunes and dwell with His people forever.

Isaiah 49:24-26 – Israel Will Be Restored and Protected

“Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, Or the captives of the righteous be delivered? But thus says the Lord: ‘Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, And the prey of the terrible be delivered; For I will contend with him who contends with you, And I will save your children. I will feed those who oppress you with their own flesh, And they shall be drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine. All flesh shall know That I, the Lord, am your Savior, And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.’”

In closing, God promises to deliver Israel from her enemies, vividly described as making the oppressors cannibalize themselves and get drunk on their own blood! This is symbolic of God’s complete victory and the foolishness of opposing the Lord.

As believers, we can rest assured God will defend and vindicate us against our spiritual enemies. The mighty one of Jacob, Jesus Christ, has conquered sin and death forever (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). His redemption will be made known to all nations, as promised here.


Isaiah 49 is filled with hope-filled prophecies and precious promises. We see God’s sovereignty, shaping His servant Israel for a mission to the nations. Though Israel feels forgotten, God tenderly reassures them of His never ending love. He will keep His covenant by restoring and regathering them. They will return home in joyful abundance. God will redeem them, defeat their enemies and make His salvation known to the whole earth.

May this deepen our trust in God’s faithful character and kindle hope in His redeeming work. The Servant Jesus calls us to carry the light of salvation to the ends of the earth. Though we often feel forgotten and labor in vain, our work for Him has eternal significance. Take heart that you are inscribed on the palms of His hands forever!

Key Takeaways:

  • God shapes and prepares His servants, even from the womb
  • Jesus embodied the servant’s mission to be a light to all nations
  • Despite Israel feeling abandoned, God tenderly reassures them
  • God keeps His promises – Israel’s restoration is guaranteed
  • God protects His children and defends them against enemies
  • God’s redeeming love extends beyond Israel to the whole world

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