A. Why I’m preaching this sermon
1. The last day of the year: looking forward to the new year
2. I have been reading Isaiah 49, and my love for you drove me to decide to preach on it.
3. I barely made it through 2017. And now 2018 seems daunting.
B. The Babylonian exile and the restoration of the people to their homeland in Palestine is the backdrop of this whole section of Isaiah, even though it hadn’t occurred yet.
II. Explanation of Isaiah 49:8–16
A. 8-9a Thus says the LORD: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, 9 saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
1. In these verses, God is speaking to the promised Messiah, His Son, the Savior.
2. He’s talking about a coming “day of salvation.”
3. In v.8, the language He uses to refer to this coming day is not only “a day of salvation” but “a time of favor. This is the language of the Jubilee Year (Lev.25:8ff.), every 50th year when all captives were to be freed, and when land was restored to its original tenants (see also Isa.62:2).
4. So, we know who’s talking and who He’s talking to, and we know what day He’s talking about.
a. Paul’s use of this passage in 2Cor.6:2 and John’s use of it in Rev.7:16-17 show us clearly that this is to be understood as applying to Christ and the age of His salvation.
5. But what is He saying about that day? Three things:
a. “I have answered you; ...I have helped you” — In that hour of salvation God will empower His Son — by sending the Spirit upon Him.
b. “I will keep You.”
(1) protected from Herod’s murder as an infant
(2) walked away when they were about to stone Him
c. God will appoint the Messiah (the Servant in this section of Isaiah) to fulfill a series of 4 tasks:
(1) to be God’s covenant to the people (“This is the new covenant in My blood.”)
(2) to restore the land – to bring God’s people back to the promised land (Eden, paradise)
(3) to apportion desolate heritages, to redo the work of Joshua – return the land to the right people
(4) to call forth the prisoners (v. 9a) – the language of Jubilee and restoration from exile
(a) 9a saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
(b) Those who are in darkness are the prisoners, and “appear” means emerge from the darkness of the prison.
(c) This is us, emerging from the darkness of sin at the Lord’s command.
(d) Jesus calls us to come out of the prison of sin into His glorious light: ‘Come out.’
B. 9b-11 describes the journey of those redeemed from exile, from prison, from darkness, those who had been called by the Savior to come out of the dark prison, to travel to the promised land.
1. In these verses, Isaiah tells us a number of things about this journey.
2. Again, the calling of His people out of exile in Babylon and the journey back to the promised land is being used as a paradigm, a model of the salvation Christ brings. The salvation of Christ is being described in the language of the restoration from exile.
3. 9b-11 They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; 10 they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. 11 And I will make all my mountains a road, and my highways shall be raised up.
4. So, take these things personally. This is us. These are things about our journey to the promised land, about our journey from the dark prison of sin to the paradise of the promised land.
5. And this is about our journey. It is easy to talk about our heavenly paradise, but how do we get from where we are now to where we need to be? These verses tell us that the Messiah’s ministry is not merely to set us free from the prison of sin but also to lead us all the way home to God’s presence.
6. Three images are used:
a. flocks safely grazing
(1) 9b They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
(2) The Lord’s provision will be so abundant that no matter how apparently barren the circumstances, the flock will not have to turn off the road to find plenty of green grass to eat.
(3) This is us. We've been freed from the exile prison in the wilderness and are now heading back to Eden. And not only are we marching to beautiful, beautiful Zion, but the journey itself yields a thousand sacred sweets, before we reach the heavenly fields or walk the golden streets!
(4) Mark 10:29-30 Jesus said, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”
b. the provisions of the Exodus
(1) 10 they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.
(2) This verse echoes the language of the Exodus to describe how God helps His people make their way through the wilderness to get to the promised land.
(a) It talks about provision and protection — and about guidance.
(b) God, through His Servant, will supply every need.
(c) God will guide them as He did with the pillar of cloud and fire (Exod. 12:21).
(d) He will lead them to water, as in the wilderness (Exod. 17:6).
(e) He will not lead them where searing heat or sun can overwhelm them, but will find sheltered spots for them.
i) The book of Revelation tells us that this promise is still in the process of being kept as we wait for the final consummation.
ii) Revelation 7:16–17 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
c. a smooth highway
(1) 11 And I will make all my mountains a road, and my highways shall be raised up.
(2) God doesn’t promise that the flock’s way will be over nothing but soft meadows & gentle hills.
(3) He knows we will come up against steep mountains, but in spite of the obstacles, God will bring those people who will believe in His promises to their home, to Himself.
(4) But He reminds us that the mountains are His mountains. He calls them “my mountains.”
(5) God promises that through the mountainous hardships, He will make a way. He will make a road through the mountains by which even the weakest might travel.
(6) He who made the mountains can level them at the right moment. The highways are also his, and he is able to lift them up in order to take His people to their destination.
C. 12 Behold, these shall come from afar, and behold, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene.”
1. Four directions (afar = east; Syene = south)
2. Here the focus shifts from the journey itself to the people on the journey, people from every corner of the earth, for, again, the return being described here is not merely one from Babylon by a handful of Judean exiles. This return involves people from every corner of the earth (see also 43:6; 49:6, 22).
3. In the words of Prof. Oswalt, “The return of the Jews from Babylon is only a foretaste of a return to God from every tribe, tongue, and nation of the earth.”
D. 13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.
1. So all this is very good news for God's people in exile — including us!
2. And this announcement of international redemption leads to a call to praise.
3. And it is His creation which God’s calls to praise Him: “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing!”
4. Why the creation? Because the creation is groaning as it waits for this promised salvation which is to come to the human race, for the redemption of the creation is inextricably tied to our redemption, as Paul talks about in Rom. 8:19–22 and as Isaiah himself talks about in Isa. 65:17 (where the conclusion of his book begins by talking about a new heaven and a new earth).
E. 14 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
1. BUT, instead of joining in the party of celebration, God's people respond, “The Lord has forsaken and forgotten us.”
2. Sitting in exile in a foreign country, having witnessed the destruction of their homeland and of God’s own city and God’s own temple, they were in no mood to be happy.
3. They feel hopeless. They feel abandoned. They feel like God has forgotten them.
4. That’s not a very good attitude, is it?
a. After all, the reason Judah was destroyed and its people taken into exile in Babylon was because of their rampant and resilient idolatry. God gave warning after warning after warning, but they wouldn’t let it go.
b. And now they’re accusing GOD of being unfaithful? That’s pretty brazen!
5. And yet, how do people feel when they’ve been shattered, and everything they built their lives on has been devastated?
6. The amazing thing to me is that God knows how we’re going to feel when our earthly hopes are dashed: “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
7. So, how does God respond to the self-pity of His people? How does He respond when they accuse Him of abandoning them?
a. This is important because it tells us how God responds when we have a bad attitude toward Him and toward the things He allows in our lives.
F. 15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. 16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
1. God chooses the most solid and dependable example of love in their experience: the love of a mother for her infant child.
a. Mothers love their babies. Mary Ann’s tenderness toward her babies and her unshakable dedication to their welfare has made an indelible impression on my mind.
b. Serena Williams, probably the best women’s tennis player in history, just played her first tennis match yesterday after taking a break to give birth to her first baby, Olympia. She lost in an exhibition match. And what was her comment afterwards: “Motherhood is phenomenal...I was a little worried out there. I looked at my camp and was like 'Is Olympia okay?'” She’s out there on the world stage, and she’s thinking about her baby. Mothers love their babies.
2. So after being accused of not caring about His people, God points to the love of a mother for her baby, and then we expect Him to say, “That’s how I am toward you.” or something like that.
3. But no! That comparison isn’t good enough. God acknowledges that in some very rare cases, a mother will actually forget her baby, so He’s not willing to settle for that analogy.
4. “Even mothers may forget their babies, but I will never forget you.”
5. The chances that a woman would forget her own baby or have no compassion on her baby are slim. The chances of God forgetting or becoming unconcerned about His beloved people are zero.
6. And then to reinforce the point, God adds verse 16: “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”
a. Tattooing is an ancient art, and was known in Bible times.
b. Tattooing your girlfriend's name on your arm. It means he’s really serious about this relationship.
c. Look, your names are engraved on My own hands. I am constantly watching over you.
d. Here is the opposite of the normal practice in the ancient world. You see, the master’s name would be written on the servant’s hand, to signify ownership. But here, the servant’s name is written on the master’s hand, to signify faithful love.
e. "Her walls before thee stand, dear as the apple of thine eye and graven on thy hand."
A. This is you. This is me.
1. It takes a lot less than an exile to get us to start thinking God isn’t doing a very good job running our life. It often doesn’t take much to get us feeling like He’s forgotten or abandoned us.
2. But has He?
3. Even when it seems to me like God is not being faithful, it is not at all true.
4. Even when it seems to me like God has forgotten about me, it is not at all true.
5. He will never abandon or forsake His precious ones.
6. But notice: He didn’t change their circumstances, He just speaks the truth to them — vividly.
B. This is also the people around us.
1. It’s easy to get fed up with other believers, isn’t it? Especially when they complain a lot or feel sorry for themselves.
2. But God doesn’t turn His heart away from them, does He? He assures them of His love. And that’s what we should do too. We should assure one another of the Lord’s faithful love.
C. I recommend John Oswalt on Isaiah (NIV Application Commentary or NICOT)