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The Servant’s Mission


Listen to me, O coastlands,

pay attention, you peoples from far away!

The L ord called me before I was born,

while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.


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.


And he said to me, “You are my servant,

Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”


But I said, “I have labored in vain,

I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;

yet surely my cause is with the L ord,

and my reward with my God.”



And now the L ord 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 L ord,

and my God has become my strength—


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.”



Thus says the L ord,

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 L ord, who is faithful,

the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”


Zion’s Children to Be Brought Home


Thus says the L ord:

In a time of favor I have answered you,

on a day of salvation I have helped you;

I have kept you and given you

as a covenant to the people,

to establish the land,

to apportion the desolate heritages;


saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”

to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”

They shall feed along the ways,

on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;


they shall not hunger or thirst,

neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,

for he who has pity on them will lead them,

and by springs of water will guide them.


And I will turn all my mountains into a road,

and my highways shall be raised up.


Lo, these shall come from far away,

and lo, these from the north and from the west,

and these from the land of Syene.



Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;

break forth, O mountains, into singing!

For the L ord has comforted his people,

and will have compassion on his suffering ones.



But Zion said, “The L ord has forsaken me,

my Lord has forgotten me.”


Can a woman forget her nursing child,

or show no compassion for the child of her womb?

Even these 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.


Your builders outdo your destroyers,

and those who laid you waste go away from you.


Lift up your eyes all around and see;

they all gather, they come to you.

As I live, says the L ord,

you shall put all of them on like an ornament,

and like a bride you shall bind them on.



Surely your waste and your desolate places

and your devastated land—

surely now you will be too crowded for your inhabitants,

and those who swallowed you up will be far away.


The children born in the time of your bereavement

will yet say in your hearing:

“The place is too crowded for me;

make room for me to settle.”


Then you will say in your heart,

“Who has borne me these?

I was bereaved and barren,

exiled and put away—

so who has reared these?

I was left all alone—

where then have these come from?”



Thus says the Lord G od:

I will soon lift up my hand to the nations,

and raise my signal to the peoples;

and they shall bring your sons in their bosom,

and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.


Kings shall be your foster fathers,

and their queens your nursing mothers.

With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,

and lick the dust of your feet.

Then you will know that I am the L ord;

those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.



Can the prey be taken from the mighty,

or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?


But thus says the L ord:

Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,

and the prey of the tyrant be rescued;

for I will contend with those who contend with you,

and I will save your children.


I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,

and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.

Then all flesh shall know

that I am the L ord your Savior,

and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.


1. Hear me, O islands! After having treated of the future deliverance of the people, he comes down to Christ, under whose guidance the people were brought out of Babylon, as they had formerly been brought out of Egypt. The former prophecy must have been confirmed by this doctrine; because they would scarcely have hoped that the Lord would deliver them, if they had not placed Christ before their eyes, by whom alone desponding souls can be comforted and strengthened; for from him they ought not only to expect eternal salvation, but ought equally to expect temporal deliverance. Besides, it is customary with the prophets, when they discourse concerning the restoration of the Church, to bring Christ into view, not only because he would be the minister of the Church, but because on him was founded the adoption of the people. The Jews also, or, at least, such of them as have any soundness of understanding, admit that this passage cannot be understood as relating to any other person than Christ. But still the train of thought which we have pointed out has not been perceived by every interpreter; for the Prophet does not, by a sudden transition, mention Christ, but interweaves this with the former subject, because in no other manner could the people entertain the hope of deliverance, since on him depended their reconciliation with God. And in order that the style might be more energetic, he introduces Christ as speaking, and addresses not only the Jews but nations that were beyond the sea, and foreign nations who were at a great distance from Judea, to whom, as we have formerly remarked, 11     Commentary on Isaiah, Vol. 3, p. 244. he gives the name of “Islands.”

Jehovah hath called me from the womb. A question arises, What is the nature of this calling? For, seeing that we were

“chosen in Christ before the creation of the world,”
(Ephesians 1:4,)

it follows that election goes before this calling; for it is the commencement and foundation of our election. Accordingly, it might be thought that Isaiah says far less than the occasion demands, when he says that he was “called from the womb;” for he had been called long before. But the answer is easy; for the subject here treated of is not eternal election, by which we are adopted to be his sons, but only the appointment or consecration by which Christ is set apart to that office, that no man may think that he intruded into it without being duly authorized. “For no man,” as the Apostle says,

“taketh this honor upon himself, but he who is called by God, as Aaron was. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he who spake to him, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” (Hebrews 5:4, 5.)

Moreover, the Prophet does not describe the commencement of the period, as if it were only from the womb that God began to call him; but it is as if he had said, “Before I came out of the womb, God had determined that I should hold this office.” In like manner Paul also says that he was “set apart from the womb,” (Galatians 1:15,) though he had been “elected before the creation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4.) To Jeremiah also it is said, “Before thou camest out of the womb, I knew thee.” (Jeremiah 1:5.) In short, the meaning is, that Christ was clothed with our flesh by the appointment of the Father, in order that he might fulfill the office of Redeemer, to which he had been appointed.

From my mother’s belly he hath had my name in remembrance. This has the same import as the former clause; for by “the remembrance of the name” is meant familiar acquaintance. He therefore distinguishes himself from the ordinary rank of men, because he was elected to an uncommon and remarkable office.

2. And he hath placed my mouth as a sharp sword, he employs a twofold comparison, that of “a sword” and of “a quiver,” in order to denote the power and energy of the doctrine; and he shews why he was called, and why he was honored by a name so excellent and illustrious, namely, that he may teach; for this is what he means by the word “mouth.” Christ hath therefore been appointed by the Father, not to rule, after the manner of princes, by the force of arms, and by surrounding himself with other external defences, to make himself an object of terror to his people; but his whole authority consists in doctrine, in the preaching of which he wishes to be sought and acknowledged; for nowhere else will he be found. He asserts the power of his “mouth,” that is, of the doctrine which proceeds from his mouth, by comparing it to “a sword;” for

“the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of the soul and the spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12.)

And hath made me as a polished arrow. He now compares his mouth to “an arrow,” because it strikes not only close at hand, but likewise at a distance, and reaches even those who appear to be far off.

In his quiver hath he hid me. After having spoken of the efficacy of doctrine, Isaiah adds, that God, by his power, protects Christ and his doctrine, so that nothing can stop his course. And this was very necessary to be added; for, as soon as the mouth of Christ is opened, that is, as soon as his Gospel is preached, adversaries rise up on all sides, and innumerable enemies league together in order to crush it; so that the efficacy which he ascribes to doctrine would not be sufficient, if there were not added his protection, in order to drive away adversaries.

Besides, the present question is not about the person of Christ, but about the whole body of the Church. We must indeed begin with the Head, but we must next come down to the members; and to all the ministers of the Word must be applied what is here affirmed concerning Christ; for to them is given such efficacy of the Word, that they may not idly beat the air with their voices, but may reach the hearts and touch them to the quick. The Lord also causes the voice of the Gospel to resound not; only in one place, but far and wide throughout the whole world. In short, because he faithfully keeps them under his protection, though they are exposed to many attacks, and are assaulted on every side by Satan and the world, yet they do not swerve from their course. We ought to have abundant knowledge of this from experience; for they would all to a man have been long ago ruined by the conspiracies and snares of adversaries, if the Lord had not defended them by his protection. And indeed, amidst so many dangers, it is almost miraculous that a single preacher of the Gospel is permitted to remain. The reason of this is, that the Lord guards them by his shadow, and “hides them as arrows in his quiver,” that they may not be laid open to the assaults of enemies and be destroyed.

3. Thou art my servant, O Israel. It is of great importance to connect this verse with the preceding, because this shews that the Prophet now speaks not only of a single man, but of the whole nation; which has not been duly considered by commentators. This passage must not be limited to the person of Christ, and ought not to be referred to Israel alone; but on the present occasion we should attend to the customary language of Scripture. When the whole body of the Church is spoken of, Christ is brought forward conspicuously so as to include all the children of God. We hear what Paul says:

“The promises were given to Abraham and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16.)

He does not include the whole multitude of children who were descended from Abraham himself according to the flesh, seeing that all were not partakers of the blessing. Ishmael was rejected, Esau was a reprobate, and many others were cut off. When the people were rescued from Babylon, but a small renmant came out; for the greater part rejected God’s astonishing kindness. Where then was “the seed?” In Christ, who is the Head, and contains in himself the rest of the members; for in him is joined and bound by an indisoluble bond all the seed.

In like manner, under the name Israel, by which he means Christ, Isaiah includes the whole body of the people, as members under the Head. Nor ought this to be thought strange; for Paul also, when he speaks of the union, employs the metaphor of the human body, and then adds: “So also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12.) In that passage the name of Christ is given to Israel, that is, to the whole body of believers, who are joined to Christ, as members to the Head. In a word, the Lord honors by this name the Church, which is the spouse of Christ, just as the wife is honored by bearing the name and title of her husband. He calls “Israel his servant,” that is, he calls the Church his handmaid, because she is “the pillar and foundation of truth,” (1 Timothy 3:15;) for he hath committed his word to the care of the Church, that by her ministrations it may be published throughout the whole world.

In thee I will be glorified. At length, in the conclusion of the verse he shews what is the design of these ministrations, and for what purpose, they who preach the Gospel are called by God; namely, that they may zealously display his glory, and may likewise promote it among others, which Christ also teaches us in the Gospel,

“Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee.” (John 17:1.)

This is a very high honor conferred on poor, feeble men, when the Lord appoints them, though corrupt and depraved, to promote his glory; and therefore we ought to be the more encouraged to render to him our service and obedience. Yet God intends to express something more, that, notwithstanding the efforts of Satan and all wicked men, the power of God will be victorious, so that Christ shall triumph gloriously, and the majesty of God shall shine forth in his Gospel.

4. And I said, In vain have I toiled. The Prophet here brings forward a grievous complaint in the name of the Church, yet in such a manner that, as we have formerly remarked, we must begin with the Head. Christ therefore complains along with his members, that it appears as if his labor were thrown away; for, having formerly pronounced a high and striking commendation on the power and efficacy of the word which proceedeth out of his mouth, while yet it scarcely does any good, and the glory which God demands from the ministration of it does not shine forth, he therefore introduces the Church as complaining that she spends her labor fruitlessly, because men do not repent at the preaching of heavenly doctrine.

It was highly necessary that the Prophet should add this; first, that we may know that the fruit which he mentioned is not always visible to the eyes of men; for otherwise we might call in question the truth of the word, and might entertain doubts if that which is so obstinately rejected by many was the word of God. Secondly, it was necessary, that we may advance with unshaken firmness, and may commit our labor to the Lord, who will not permit it to be ultimately unproductive. The Prophet therefore intended to guard against a dangerous temptation, that we may not, on account of the obstinacy of men, lose courage in the middle of our course. And indeed Christ begins with the complaint, for the purpose of affirming that nothing shall hinder him from executing his office. The meaning of the words might be more clearly brought out in the following manner: “Though my labor be unprofitable, and though I have almost exhausted my strength without doing any good, yet it is enough that God approves of my obedience.” Such is also the import of what he adds, —

But my judgement is before Jehovah. Although we do not clearly see the fruit of our labors, yet we are enjoined to be content on this ground, that we serve God, to whom our obedience is acceptable. Christ exhorts and encourages godly teachers to strive earnestly till they rise victorious over this temptation, and, laying aside the malice of the world, to advance cheerfully in the discharge of duty, and not to allow their hearts to languish through weariness. If therefore the Lord be pleased to make trial of our faith and patience to such an extent that it shall seem as if we wearied ourselves to no purpose, yet we ought to rely on this testimony of our conscience And if we do not enjoy this consolation, at least we are not moved by pure affection, and do not serve God, but the world and our own ambition. In such temptations, therefore, we should have recourse to this sentiment.

Yet it ought to be observed, that here Christ and the Church accuse the whole world of ingratitude; for the Church complains to God in such a manner as to remonstrate with the world, because no good effect is produced on it by the doctrine of the Gospel, which in itself is efficacious and powerful. Yet the whole blame rests on the obstinacy and ingratitude of men, who reject the grace of God offered to them, and of their own accord choose to perish. Let those persons now go and accuse Christ, who say that the Gospel yields little fruit, and who defame the doctrine of the word by wicked slanders, and who throw ridicule on our labors as vain and unprofitable, and who allege that, on the contrary, they excite men to sedition, and lead them to sin with less control. Let them consider, I say, with whom they have to do, and what advantage they gain by their impudence, since men alone ought to bear the blame, who, as far as lies in their power, render the preaching of the Word unprofitable.

Godly ministers, who bitterly lament that men perish so miserably by their own fault, and who sometimes devour and waste themselves through grief, when they experience so great perversity, ought to encourage their hearts by this consolation, and not to be alarmed so as to throw away the shield and spear, though sometimes they imagine that it would be better for them to do so. Let them consider that they share with Christ in this cause; for Christ does not speak of himself alone, as we formerly mentioned, but undertakes the cause of all who faithfully serve him, and, as their advocate, brings forward an accusation in the name of all. Let them therefore rely on his protection, and allow him to defend their cause. Let them appeal, as Paul does, to the day of the Lord, (1 Corinthians 4:4,) and let them not heed the calumnies, reproaches, or slanders of their enemies; for their judgment is with the Lord, and although they be a hundred times slandered by the world, yet a faithful God will approve and vindicate the service which they render to him.

On the other hand, let wicked men, and despisers of the word, and hypocrites, tremble; for when Christ accuses, there will be no room for defense; and when he condenms, there will be none that can acquit. We must therefore beware lest the fruit which ought to proceed from the Gospel should be lost through our fault; for the Lord manifests his glory in order that we may become disciples of Christ, and may bring forth much fruit.

5. And now saith Jehovah. By this verse he confirms the former statement, and yields more abundant consolation, by repeating that calling; and the testimony of conscience, which ought to be regarded by us as a fortress; for there is nothing that gives us greater distress and anxiety, than to entertain doubts by whose authority, or by whose direction everything is undertaken by us. For this reason Isaiah reminds us of the certainty of our calling.

Who formed me from the womb to be his servant. In the first place, godly teachers, along with Christ who is their Prince, say that they have been “formed” by a divine hand; because God always enriches and adorns with necessary gifts those whom he calls to the office of teaching, who derive from the one fountain of the Spirit all the gifts in which they excel. Thus “the Father hath sealed” (John 6:27) his Only-begotten Son, and next prepares others, according to their degree, to be fit for discharging their office. At the same time, he points out the end of the calling; for to this end have Apostles and teachers of the Church been appointed, to gather the Lord’s scattered flock, that under Christ we may all be united in the same body. (Ephesians 4:11, 13.) In the world there is miserable dispersion, but in Christ there is ἀνακεφαλαίωσις “a gathering together” of all, (Ephesians 1:10,) as the Apostle speaks; for there can be no other bond of union. As to the word “create,” or “form,” it is to no purpose that some men speculate about it as relating to Christ’s human existence, which was created; for it is clearer than noon-day, that the “forming” must be viewed as relating to office.

And though Israel be not gathered. The Jews read these words as a question: “Shall I not bring back Jacob? and shall Israel not be gathered?” and supply the particle ה (ha). But that reading is excessively unnatural, and the Jews do not consider what was the Prophet’s meaning, but, so far as lies in their power, corrupt the text, in order to conceal the disgrace of their nation. Some explain it, “Shall not be lost,” or, “Shall not perish;” for the verb אספ (asaph) sometimes denotes what we commonly call (trousser) to truss. Those things which are intended to be preserved are “gathered,” and likewise those things which are intended to be consumed; and accordingly, when we mean that any person has been removed out of the world, we frequently use the vulgar phrase, “he is trussed,” 22     The idiomatic use of “trousser,” bears a strong resemblance to the idioms of the Italian and English languages. Thus, “trousser baggage,” — “far fagotto,” — “to pack up one’s baggage.” Again, “trousser un homme,” — “spacciare per le poste all’ altro mondo,” — “to despatch him post haste into the other world.” — Ed. or, “he is despatched.”

Yet I shall be glorious. To suppose the meaning to be, “I have been sent, that Israel may not perish,” would not be unsuitable; but I choose rather to follow a different interpretation, namely, “Though Israel be not gathered, yet I shall be glorious;” for it is probable that opposite things are contrasted with each other in this passage. If ministers have been set apart, for the salvation of men, it is glorious to them when many are brought to salvation; and when the contrary happens, it tends to their shame and disgrace. Paul calls those whom he had gained to Christ “his glory and crown.” (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19.) On the other hand, when men perish, we receive from it nothing but shame and disgrace; for God appears to curse our labors, and not to deign to bestow on us the high honor of advancing his kingdom by our agency. But the Prophet declares that those who have served Christ shall nevertheless be glorious; for he speaks both of the head and of the members, as we have formerly remarked. Although therefore Israel refuse to be “gathered,” yet the ministry of Christ shall retain its glory unimpaired; for it will be ascribed to the baseness and wickedness of men, that they have not been “gathered.”

In like manner, although the preachers of the Gospel be “the savor of death unto death” to the reprobate, yet Paul declares that they have a sweet and delightful odor before God, who determines that wicked men shall thus be rendered the more inexcusable. God is indeed doubly glorified if success corresponds to their wishes; but when the ministers of the word have left nothing undone, though they have good reason to lament that their labor is unprofitable, still they must not repent of having pleased God, whose approbation is here contrasted with the perverse judgments of the whole world. As if the Prophet had said, “Though men vehemently slander and load them with many reproaches, yet this ought to be calmly and patiently endured by them; because God judges differently, and bestows a crown of honor on their patience, which wicked men insolently slander.

And my God shall be my strength. When he says that it is enough that “God is their strength,” the meaning corresponds to what goes before, that they ought not to be terrified by the multitude or power of their enemies, seeing that they are persuaded that their “strength” lies in God.

6. And he said, It is a small matter. Isaiah proceeds still farther, and shews that the labor of Christ, and of the whole Church, will be glorious not only before God, but likewise before men. Although at first it appears to be vain and useless, yet the Lord will cause some fruit to spring from it contrary to the expectations of men. Already it was enough that our labor should be approved by God; but when he adds that it will not be unprofitable even in the eyes of men, this ought still more abundantly to comfort, and more vehemently to excite us. Hence it follows, that we ought to have good hopes of success, but that we ought to leave it to the disposal of God himself, that the blessing which he promises may be made manifest at the proper time, to whatever extent, and in whatever manner he shall think proper.

Therefore I have appointed thee to be a light of the Gentiles. He now adds, that this labor will be efficacious, not only among the people of Israel, but likewise among the Gentiles; and so it actually happened. Moreover, when the preaching of the Gospel produced hardly any good effect on the Jews, and when Christ was obstinately rejected by them, the Gentiles were substituted in their room. And thus Christ was

“appointed to be a light of the Gentiles, and his salvation was manifested to the very ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:47.)

Now this consolation was highly necessary, both for prophets and for apostles, who experienced more and more the obstinacy of the Jews. They might doubt the truth of these promises, since they did not perceive them to yield any fruit; but when they understood that Christ was sent to the Gentiles also, it was not so difficult to animate their hearts to persevere. This was incredible, and even monstrous; but this is the manner in which the Lord commonly works, contrary to the expectation of all. Paul says that this was “a mystery bidden from ages,” and that the angels themselves did not understand it until it was actually revealed in the Church of God. (Ephesians 3:5.) Although therefore the Jews alone appeared to have discernment, they are now placed on a level with the Gentiles, and with God “there is no distinction between the Jews and the Greeks.” (Romans 10:12.)

The Jews read this verse as a question, “Is it a small thing?” As if he had said, that it is enough, and that nothing more or greater ought to be desired. But they maliciously corrupt the natural meaning of the Prophet, and imagine that they will one day be lords of the Gentiles, and will have wide and extensive dominion. The true meaning of the Prophet is, “This work in itself indeed is magnificent and glorious, to raise up and restore the tribes of Israel, which had fallen very low; for he will add the Gentiles to the Jews, that they may be united as one people, and may be acknowledged to belong to Christ.” Nor does this passage relate to the rejection of the ancient people, but to the increase of the Church, that the Gentiles may be associated with the Jews. It is true, indeed, that when the Jews revolted from the covenant, the Gentiles entered, as it were, into that place which they had left vacant; and thus their revolt was the reason why those who had formerly been aliens were admitted to be sons. But in this, as well as in other passages, Isaiah foretells that the Church will be greatly extended, when the Gentiles shall be received and united to the Jews in the unity of faith.

A light of the Gentiles. Although by the word “light” is meant happiness, or joy, yet the Prophet, I have no doubt, directly refers to the doctrine of the Gospel, which enlightens souls, and draws them out of darkness, He shews that this “light,” which Christ shall bring, will give salvation. In the same manner as Christ is called “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6) because through the knowledge of the truth we obtain life, so in this passage he is called the “light” and salvation of the Gentiles, because he enlightens our minds by the doctrine of the Gospel, in order that he may lead us to salvation. Two things, therefore, ought to be remarked; first, that our eyes are opened by the doctrine of Christ; and secondly, that we who had perished are restored to life, or rather life is restored to us.

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