At last the particular issue of the Lord’s choice of Cyrus has faded into the background, but a deeper tension in the relationship between God and His people remains to be worked through. How could God abandon Zion and still be committed to its people? As long as Zion lay in ruins, the sense of being abandoned by God would prove exceedingly hard to shake off. Some, like Daniel, would be resilient enough to rise above it. Most would sink into deep depression and find the struggle to believe and hope again long and difficult. These verses are about that struggle and the pain at the heart of it.
Zion’s lament and the Lord’s response (49:14-21): Zion’s lament in verse 14 is in the end, irrational and groundless; it simply does not accord with the facts. God, being the God He is, can no more forget His people than a mother can forget the baby at her breast (v. 15). Like a master architect, He thinks about the plans for them day and night (v. 16). Like a father who is inordinately proud of His daughter God will not rest until His people are decked out like a bride (vv. 17-18) and settled like a happy mother with her family about her (vv. 19-21). Zion’s children will return to her, and more besides; she will overflow with them. She herself will not be able to comprehend the full extent of the blessing that will break over her. The images are mixed and do not always cohere logically, but they all affirm God’s love for His people and His tireless commitment to their welfare.
The choice facing the world (49:22-26): This of course, means that the rest of the world has a decision to make. They can co-operate with God by blessing His people (vv. 22-23), or they can defy Him by continuing to persecute them (vv. 24-26). They can share in the blessing God intends to bestow on His people, or they can entirely cut themselves off from it. But they cannot claim any relationship with God that bypasses identification with His people. The picture of kings and queens serving God’s people as foster fathers and nursing mothers in verse 23 is not one of abject submission but of love and affection; inclusion rather than exclusion. The horror of gruesome defeat is reserved for the warriors and the fierce of verses 24-26 who are too proud to change. But either way, all will know, in the end, the invincible strength of God’s commitment to His people (v. 26b).
The divorce that never was (50:1-3): After this powerful affirmation, the opening verses of chapter 50 look rather anti-climactic. In fact, however, they are more like a quiet appeal at the end of a stirring sermon. The sermon began with Zion’s sorrowful lament (49:14); it ends by addressing her children (50:1), especially those who would find themselves cruelly separated from her. Has the Lord divorced their mother? No, He has not, for no bill of divorce has been issued. Has He sold her to clear a debt? No; the very suggestion that He has creditors is preposterous. The explanation for Zion’s destruction is the sin and transgressions of its people, not any cooling of affection or straitened circumstances on God’s part. Since there has been no divorce, the Lord can take Zion back, and since He has not sold her she is still His to claim as by right. Furthermore, as the Creator He has the power to make good everything He has promised her (vv. 2b-3). The only hindrance is the one that has always been there, namely, the unresponsiveness of her children to His Words and deeds (v. 2a). But the need for change is urgent, for there is the possibility of a new beginning if only God’s people will grasp it by faith and move forward into it. That is the challenge with which this sermon ends. Hardly anti-climatic, but a tense and uncertain moment, for the response the Lord seeks is apparently lacking.
Isaiah 49:14-50:3 Reflection Questions:
Have you ever felt that God has forgotten you? How do verses 14-21 help you?
Is that something that you are going through, making it a struggle to believe and hope again long and difficult?
Does this study offer you any encouragement? How so?
Are you responsive to God’s Word? How can you improve on it?