Isaiah 49:5 (ESV) … “And now the Lord says, he who formed me from 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 eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength”
A call goes out to the distant places to pay heed: Jesus, the Servant of the Lord (49:3), is giving his testimony. His origin is spoken of in terms of a normal birth: ‘Before I was born the Lord called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name’ (49:1). We have here an echo of an earlier revelation: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel’ (7:14). But the emphasis falls upon the calling and naming of the Servant. He is expected. Even before he arrives, his mission has been designated: he is to be a preacher. Sword and arrow speak of the opposition he can expect (49:2).
The Servant is also identified closely with Israel (49:3). It is not difficult to see why. Jesus, when he comes, will act as Israel’s representative. He will labour on behalf of his covenant people. His mission involves transforming sinful Israel into the ideal Israel. ‘The righteous one carries the sins of the many, and what he accomplishes belongs to them because of the bond between the Servant and the “many”.’ Jesus came from Israel, identified himself with Israel and acted as Israel’s substitute.
Just as Isaiah himself had been warned that his message would be rejected by many (6:9–10), so, too, Jesus’ message will be rejected. Speaking in the first person, the Servant says, ‘I have laboured to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing …’ (49:4). Yet he is assured that his God will reward him for his efforts. His task is neatly summarized in verse 5: ‘to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself’.
Jesus’ coming will be to convert sinners and bring them into a right relationship with God, and in that task—despite the opposition—God will not forsake him: he will be glorified. It is this glory which Isaiah glimpsed the day he went to the temple to worship and was overwhelmed (6:1–13; cf. John 12:41). Eventually the Servant’s accomplishments will include the submission of kings: former oppressors will bow down in a restored Jerusalem (49:7).