By Christina M Wilson. Previously published at JustOneSmallVoice.com.
Septuagint Isaiah 49: Introduction
How to Study a Passage of Scripture
When seeking to understand a biblical text, the best resource is the text itself. Earnest readers should read and reread each section multiple times. This takes time, perhaps a sequence of days, or even longer. Reading from multiple versions can help untangle linguistic knots. As seekers and believers prayerfully and slowly read, the Holy Spirit will guide their observations. Readers will see connections, distill out main points, and formulate questions. The Holy Spirit will guide the questioning reader to other verses of Scripture and, on occasion, to outside sources who can help them.
The New Testament Book of Acts gives a marvelous example of a seeker prayerfully reading Isaiah (Acts 8:26-40). This reader had got to the point of wondering whom specifically the words referred to. Just then, the Holy Spirit sent Philip to run alongside his carriage and give him the key that would unlock the passage the eunuch was reading. Philip gave the Ethiopian eunuch the same key that Jesus had given his disciples. It is the same key that the Lord in my studies has given me: the Lord Jesus Christ (1).
Luke 24:25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (ESV)
“Thus Saith the Lord”
Septuagint Isaiah 49 is one long conversation. The speech even spills over into chapter 50. Eight times in 26 verses, Septuagint Isaiah uses the formula, “saith the Lord.” These occurrences mark out for readers and listeners who is speaking. We can call them direct speech markers. In these instances, the Lord speaks.
But the Lord is not the only one who speaks in Septuagint Isaiah 49. Someone else speaks with first person (I, me, my) grammatical markers. Because the Lord directly addresses this other person by means of the grammatical marker “you (thou, thee),” readers know that there is a conversation occurring between two personas (characters). This dialogue progresses and moves back and forth between the two.
Who is this other person whom the Lord addresses? As with Septuagint Isaiah 48:16, the hyperbole (overstatement, idealization) regarding this other person indicates that someone far greater than the Persian Cyrus is on the scene. Septuagint Isaiah 49 provides one of the best views of the preincarnate Christ readers will find to this point. Confirmation from the New Testament will be supplied to support this view, as the article progresses.
Based upon content, Septuagint Isaiah 49 will be divided into the following sections. These sections are not noted within the text itself. Early biblical manuscripts contained neither chapter markers, nor verses, nor sections. Marking out sections is a somewhat arbitrary convenience that aids discussion, organization, and understanding. Other commentators might, of course, divide the chapter differently.
- Isaiah 49:1-6 LXE
- Isaiah 49:7 LXE
- Isaiah 49:8-12 LXE
- Isaiah 49:13 LXE
- Isaiah 49:14-26 LXE
Section 1–Septuagint Isaiah 49:1-6
Septuagint Isaiah 49:1 Listen to me, you islands; and attend, you Gentiles; after a long time it shall come to pass, says the Lord: from my mother’s womb he has called my name: 2 and he has made my mouth as a sharp sword, and he has hid me under the shadow of his hand; he has made me as a choice shaft, and he has hid me in his quiver; 3 and said to me, You are my servant, O Israel, and in you I will be glorified. 4 Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have given my strength for vanity and for nothing: therefore is my judgment with the Lord, and my labor before my God. 5 And now, thus says the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his own servant, to gather Jacob to him and Israel. I shall be gathered and glorified before the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. 6 And he said to me, It is a great thing for you to be called my servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob, and to recover the dispersion of Israel: behold, I have given you for the covenant of a race, for a light of the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:1-6 LXE)
How Many Speakers?
Standard English writing conventions teach that direct speech should be set off by quotations marks. A new paragraph indicates a change of speakers. Ancient peoples did not write according to these conventions. They wrote in long strings that contained neither periods nor capital letters. Readers of that day were trained to look for contextual clues to determine who was speaking.
In the biblical quotation above are several contextual clues that indicate a duality of speakers. First, the text indicates speech by the Lord with the marker, “says the Lord,” in verse 1. But second, verse 1 also states, “… he has called my name.” From this phrase, readers understand that a second persona, or character, also speaks. This speaker refers to something the Lord did and spoke in the past, “He has called my name.” Third, the grammatical markers, “he” and “me” continue through verse two. Clearly, this represents two people. In verse 3, the “he” from verse 2 speaks to “me.”
Who Are the Speakers?
Speaker one is the Lord. Readers know this because the text tells them so (“says the Lord” verse 1). The text further identifies that the Lord speaks in verses 3, and 6. Actually, the Lord had already been speaking in chapter 48. If the reader goes back and rereads, she will discover that for the most part the Lord himself has been speaking since chapter 40. Isaiah the prophet is fairly well hidden throughout.
There is a difference in labels between the Lord’s speech in verses 3 and 6 and verse 1, however. As previously stated, verse 1 reads, “says the Lord.” In verse 3, however, the marker reads, “…and said to me, Thou art…” In other words, a second speaker reports what the Lord had previously spoken to him. The same occurs in verse 6, “And he said to me…” Who is this second speaker?
At this point in the prophecy, Cyrus would be a reasonable choice for speaker two. But the text almost immediately eliminates Cyrus, who eventually did deliver Israel from the Babylonians. The text eliminates Cyrus in verse 3, when it states, “You are my servant, O Israel.” Cyrus the Persian is not Israel.
A reader might therefore conclude that Israel, the nation with its people, is the servant of the Lord. But as the text continues on, readers discover that the Lord called this servant Israel to gather, establish, and recover Jacob and Israel (verses 5 and 6). These statements clearly indicate that someone other than the nation and people of Israel is in view. This conclusion follows because the Lord in Scripture does not call Israel to deliver itself.
A reader’s next step in the process of discovering the identity of the second speaker would be to go back and review past portions of Isaiah. The first such portion that sheds light on the identity of speaker two in chapter 49 is Isaiah 48:16, which is not very far away.
16 Draw near to me, and hear you these words; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning: when it took place, there was I, and now the Lord, even the Lord, and his Spirit, has sent me. (LXE)
Some people think that Isaiah 48:16 is “probably Cyrus.” While this is possible, in light of Isaiah 49, it would be wise to go back and revisit that conclusion. As just demonstrated, the “servant, O Israel” in Isaiah 49:3 is not Cyrus. The context of Isaiah 49 has not changed dramatically from the context of Isaiah 48. The Lord is still talking about Israel, the nation and people, and his planned deliverance of them. Since Cyrus is not the servant God sends in Isaiah 49, it seems most likely that he is not the servant in Isaiah 48:16. (Interested readers should see the prior post for additional reasons for eliminating Cyrus as a candidate in Isaiah 48:16: Isaiah Devotional 2.24.)
Continuing to work backwards, readers will find a passage very similar to the one in Isaiah 49. It begins in Isaiah 42:1 and extends through verse 17 (Isaiah 42:1-17). Topics covered in those verses resemble those in Isaiah 49:1-13. Consider these verses side by side.
Isaiah 49:3 and said to me, You are my servant, O Israel, and in you I will be glorified… 6… I have given you for the covenant of a race, for a light of the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the end of the earth.
Isaiah 42:1 Jacob is my servant, I will help him: Israel is my chosen, my soul has accepted him; I have put my Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles… 6… I have given you for the covenant of a race, for a light of the Gentiles.
Christian readers from all ages understand these two Servants to be one and the same, Jesus Christ Messiah.
Luke 2:25 … Simeon…30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Acts 13:46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'”
Acts 26:22 … saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
As an introduction to the passage that begins in Isaiah 49:1, I have taken time to trace out how readers can draw conclusions concerning the text simply by using the text at their disposal. Having a reference bible (one that shows related verses) and a concordance helps tremendously. My preferred text for Isaiah is the Septuagint. I prefer it because it points to Christ Messiah in places where our other English texts turn neutral.
Isaiah 49 is stunning. It stuns Christians because they hear two of the persons of the Trinity talking back and forth, in the Old Testament, hundreds of years before the incarnation. The first time I read this passage, I felt like one of the angels witnessing the baby Jesus in a manger. “He’s born! He’s born!” “There’s two of them! There’s two of them!” I even went running to my friends nearby and showed them the passage I was reading. “Look! There’s two! Here is the divine Son. Father and Son are speaking together.”
A passage such as Isaiah 49 shows how very much God loves his children. He is the great communicator. He wants us to know him, to know his motives, and to see for ourselves his love at work. It is no wonder that the narrator Isaiah breaks out in verse 13, “Rejoice, you heavens; and let the earth be glad: let the mountains break forth with joy; for the Lord has had mercy on his people, and has comforted the lowly ones of his people.“
1 I used to read these verses in Luke many times. They pierced me. I became so jealous of those disciples that I prayed and asked the Lord to show me himself in the words and passages of the Old Testament. At that time, I had no clue how to proceed. Many years later, this what you read in JustOneSmallVoice.com is the result of that prayer.