Cyrus is Yahweh’s Shepherd to lead Israel from Babylon (Isaiah 44:28-45:1; 48:14-15, 20). But Israel needs more than deliverance from exile. They need deliverance from sin, and only a Servant greater than Cyrus can provide that.
“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. . . .” (Isaiah 49:1-26).
When Yahweh’s Spirit-filled Servant was first introduced, he represented Israel’s justice mission to the coastlands (Isaiah 42:1-4). In chapter 49, he has been prepared with a mouth-sword and as an arrow for a mission to the coastlands (vv. 1-4). In the intervening chapters, Israel’s plight has been laid out. Servant Israel needs a Servant. The reintroduced Servant of chapter 49 is not Israel but a minister to Israel, formed from the womb to gather Israel back to Yahweh (49:5). He will become a light to the nations who extends salvation to the whole world (49:6), but he is first sent to Israel, where he will be despised and abhorred (49:7; cf. Isaiah 53).
Yahweh’s Servant will lead Israel in a new exodus, but in this context the exodus is not simply a return from Babylon. It is a return from the more fundamental exile from God’s presence, which began with Adam’s expulsion from Eden. Yahweh promises to give the Servant as a sign of His covenant pledge to restore Israel (49:8). Through the Servant, Yahweh will bring the people from darkness, relieve their hunger and thirst, and make a path through the desert (49:9-11). All creation, longing for the revelation of the sons of God, will rejoice when the Lord redeems His people (49:13).
The people of Judah are not convinced. They are in such desperate circumstances that they believe Yahweh must have abandoned them (49:14). Yahweh responds with a series of speeches (49:18, 22). In the first, He assures Israel that He can no more forget His people than a mother can forget a nursing child (49:15). As the names of the tribes of Israel are inscribed on the jewels on the high priest’s breastplate, so the Lord has inscribed Israel’s name on His palms (49:16). His hands belong to Israel. He portrays the gathering of builders to the city, who will adorn Zion like a bride (49:16b-18). Zion has been bereft of children, but her future family will be bigger than ever (49:19-20). Barren Zion will wonder where all the children came from (49:21).
MIGHTY ONE OF JACOB
In His second response to Zion’s complaint, Yahweh promises to make nations assist Israel. The Gentiles will carry Zion’s sons and daughters (49:22), kings will be guardians and princesses (like Pharaoh’s daughter) will be nurses (49:23). Kings will pay homage to Zion (49:23). Even a mighty man can be robbed of his plunder (49:24-25), but Yahweh, the Redeemer and Mighty One of Jacob, cannot. The nations who oppose Him will not tear Zion away, but instead will be given over to a macabre cannibal Eucharist, eating their own flesh and drinking their own blood (49:26).
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, October 29, 2012 at 5:12 am
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