"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, June 29, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: Isaiah 49

For my Old Testament read this year, I mentioned I would read the Book of Isaiah, and I actually just finished reading it in contemporary prose.  I have to say, I don’t really get it.  I will need help with some commentary, if I can find a good one and if I have time to read it.  In it there is the voice of God, the voice of the prophet, the voice of Jerusalem which is many times referred to as Zion, and occasional outside voices.  In many places the voice of God is severe and censuring of the people of Israel.  In other places He is loving and forgiving.  I kind of understand the history, Israel caught between overpowering nations, and apparently the people had not lived up to God’s commandments.  It’s very poetic, but there is certainly something I am missing from my understanding. 

Well last Sunday’s first reading at Mass was Isaiah 49:1-6, http://usccb.org/bible/readings/062418-day-mass.cfm and as it turned out, by total coincidence I had read that chapter the night before.  Let me post the entire chapter to get a feel for this if you haven’t closely read it before.  It opens with the voice of the Isaiah (1-3), the prophet with the mouth of a “sharp-edged sword.”  There is the voice of the Lord speaking to him (3-7), and then the Lord speaks to Zion (8-13); Zion speaks back (14), feeling forsakened.  But the Lord speaks back in reassurance (15-19).  And the children of Zion reply back (20), augmented I think by their parents (21).  The Lord God replies (22-26) again reassuring Israel’s survival. 

Chapter 49

The Servant of the Lord[a]

Hear me, coastlands,
    listen, distant peoples.
Before birth the Lord called me,
    from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.[b]
He made my mouth like a sharp-edged sword,
    concealed me, shielded by his hand.
He made me a sharpened arrow,
    in his quiver he hid me.
He said to me, You are my servant,
    in you, Israel,[c] I show my glory.
Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
    for nothing and for naught spent my strength,
Yet my right is with the Lord,
    my recompense is with my God.
For now the Lord has spoken
    who formed me as his servant from the womb,
That Jacob may be brought back to him
    and Israel gathered to him;
I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
    and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
    and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.[d]
Thus says the Lord,
    the redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,
To the one despised, abhorred by the nations,
    the slave of rulers:
When kings see you, they shall stand up,
    and princes shall bow down
Because of the Lord who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you.

The Liberation and Restoration of Zion

    Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I answer you,[e]

    on the day of salvation I help you;
I form you and set you
    as a covenant for the people,
To restore the land
    and allot the devastated heritages,
To say to the prisoners: Come out!
    To those in darkness: Show yourselves!
Along the roadways they shall find pasture,
    on every barren height shall their pastures be.
10 They shall not hunger or thirst;
    nor shall scorching wind or sun strike them;
For he who pities them leads them
    and guides them beside springs of water.
11 I will turn all my mountains into roadway,
    and make my highways level.
12 See, these shall come from afar:
    some from the north and the west,
    others from the land of Syene.[f]
13 Sing out, heavens, and rejoice, earth,
    break forth into song, you mountains,
For the Lord comforts his people
    and shows mercy to his afflicted.
14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a mother forget her infant,
    be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
    I will never forget you.
16 See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you;[g]
    your walls are ever before me.
17 Your children hasten—
    your levelers, your destroyers
    go forth from you;
18 Look about and see,
    they are all gathering and coming to you.
As I live—oracle of the Lord
    you shall don them as jewels,
    bedeck yourself like a bride.
19 Though you were waste and desolate,
    a land of ruins,
Now you shall be too narrow for your inhabitants,
    while those who swallowed you up will be far away.
20 The children of whom you were bereft
    shall yet say in your hearing,
“This place is too narrow for me,
    make room for me to live in.”
21 You shall ask yourself:
    “Who has borne me these,
    when I was bereft and barren?
Exiled and repudiated,
    who has reared them?
I was left all alone;
    where then do these come from?”
22     Thus says the Lord God:
See, I will lift up my hand to the nations,
    and to the peoples raise my signal;
They shall bring your sons in their arms,
    your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
23 Kings shall be your guardians,
    their princesses your nursemaids;
Face to the ground, they shall bow down before you
    and lick the dust at your feet.
Then you shall know that I am the Lord,
    none who hope in me shall be ashamed.
24 Can plunder be taken from a warrior,
    or captives rescued from a tyrant?
25     Thus says the Lord:
Yes, captives can be taken from a warrior,
    and plunder rescued from a tyrant;
Those who oppose you I will oppose,
    and your sons I will save.
26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
    and they shall be drunk with their own blood
    as though with new wine.
All flesh shall know
    that I, the Lord, am your savior,
    your redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.


  1. 49:1–7 The second of the four “servant of the Lord” oracles (cf. note on 42:1–4).
  2. 49:1 Gave me my name: designated me for a special task or mission (cf. Jer 1:5).
  3. 49:3 Israel: the servant is identified with the people of Israel as their ideal representative; however, vv. 5–6 seem to distinguish the servant from Israel.
  4. 49:6 The servant’s vocation extends beyond the restoration of Israel in order to bring the knowledge of Israel’s God to the rest of the earth; cf. Lk 2:32.
  5. 49:8 You: the individual is not named; perhaps Cyrus or the prophet.
  6. 49:12 Syene: now called Aswan, at the first cataract of the Nile in southern Egypt.
  7. 49:16 Upon the palms…you: for continual remembrance; cf. Ex 13:916Dt 6:6–9.

I’m not sure I got all those voices correct.  I get the censuring from God, I get His compassion, but why?  What is motivating the dialogue and the action?  I’m missing something.  Still it’s lovely to read.

Edit: I should have mentioned that I know that lines 1-7 is one of the "suffering servant" passages in Isaiah that prefigures Christ.  However, that brings up even more questions.  Who within this text is the suffering servant?  Isaiah?  But what suffering does he undergo?  


  1. My guess ... and it is only a guess ... in them olden days people used to speak in poetry type language. Especially in a foreign language which was originally used by Isaiah and the prophets.

    A bit like Shakespeare. He would not have written his plays in such poetic language unless the people of the time appreciated it. Chaucer too.

    So I guess ... over time, and in translation to modern English, (never mind original English bearing in mind the early Bibles), a lot of the meaning has been lost or miss-understood.

    A bit like me really. Many people don't understand me. But that's another story.

    God bless.

    1. Hi Victor. It's not the poetry that's throwing me off. It's how the poet jumps from one situation to another and seems to bring up things I can't connect. There's something I'm not getting about the whole book.

    2. My guess is that this is the way people used to talk in those days, Manny. When we read the Bible in English, bearing in mind it itself has been re-translated from old English of previous versions, we tend to forget the culture of the people who originally wrote it.

      The original writers of the Bible, Isaiah, the prophets, and even the Gospel writers of the New Testament, lived in different times and different lands - not in England or the USA. What they wrote was in their own language with their own idioms and way of saying things. Jumping from one situation to another and describing things we do not fully understand now may well have been their way of talking.

      Let me give you an example. Jesus often said He was the gate to go through. We understand Him when He says I am the way, I am the light, I am the good shepherd, but the gate? What does that mean?

      I have tried to explain this here. It needs a photo for us to understand it:


      So, my guess is that a lot of Isaiah, or the Old and New Testaments, may have been lost in the many translations.

      Sorry to have taken so long on this comment.

      God bless.