Notes on Isaiah 50

Isaiah 50
Our last chapter set forth the vast change which turns on the substitution of Christ, the true Servant of God, for Israel His servant publicly and responsibly but in truth the slave of His enemy. The new sin of the people ensued thereon, not idolatry, but rejection of the Messiah by the Jews, only consistent in their unbelief and opposition to God. They would none of Him or His law; they had followed heathen gods; they now refuse His anointed Servant. But this leads in the wisdom of God to the immediate blessing of the Gentiles in the day of grace, as it also becomes in result the basis of the ultimate restoration of Israel and the joy of all the earth in the day of glory. The chapter accordingly sketches the whole sweep of God's ways from the rejection of Christ to the triumphs of the last days.
In chapter 1 we are in presence of little more than a single point in that great circle of events; but is it not the center and pivot of all? The humiliation of Jesus, the servant of Jehovah but withal Jehovah Himself, their own Messiah, despised not of strangers merely, but of His own people! Deliverance and glory were sure in the end. But so was the shameful divorce of Israel meanwhile; so was the sale moreover of Israel. How was this? “Thus saith the Lord, Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.” (Ver. 1.) It was no churl who found his wretched pleasure in putting away the wife who displeased him; it was no selfish parent who relieved his own necessities at the expense of his children. And the proof of their rebellion appears in verses 2, 8: “Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh because there is no water, and dieth for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.” His coming, His call was unheeded, though He had already since the days of Pharaoh proved what He was in the behalf of His people.
Did the Jews question this? Did they say to Jehovah, as the Gentiles by and by will to the King coming in glory, “When saw we thee,” &c.? Here is His answer by anticipation: The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.” Nor this only: “The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.” Jehovah had deigned to become a man on earth, and here to walk in obedience, owning God; and this Christianity alone fully explains; for Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were most truly and equally Jehovah. And He who came thus to do the will of God as man here below, was, as we know, the Son, who, Himself God, and Jehovah, could look up and say, “The Lord God hath opened mine ear,” &c.
It is not the same truth here as in Ex. 21, where the Hebrew servant might have gone out free, but says, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free—and is brought to the doorpost before the judges and has his ear bored through in sign of perpetual service. So did Christ, the true servant and Lord of all He too has pledged Himself to serve eternally. Again, it is not the same as Psa. 40, where “mine ears hast thou digged” is cited from the 70 (so in Heb. 10), as “a body hast thou prepared me.” The boring of the ear found its answer in the Lord's willing subjection to death in which He identified Himself with the need and interests of master, wife, and children. The digging of the ear was not after He became a servant but rather in order to it. Thus was He formed as it were to be a servant, a body fitted in which, though He were a Son, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. For indeed He did become a man and a servant in this world. Isaiah looks at a time intermediate—neither incarnation, nor death, but His path in life, wherein the opened ear marks lowly intelligent attention to His Father's will, as the closed ear is significant of disobedience or indifference to the communications of God.
But obedience (especially public service) in such a world as this could only be, to such a One as He, continual, and to us hardly conceivable, suffering.
Hence the issue at once follows: “I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” How solemn the thought; and what a picture of God in the presence of man! His humiliation (which should have made Him infinitely more precious, as being the incomparable proof of His love) gave the desired occasion to man under Satan's leading to insult Him to the uttermost.
But still He goes on—yea, to death, the death of the cross. “For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up.” (Ver. 7-9.)
Thus the Lord challenges His foes and sees their ruin sealed in their momentary triumph over Him whom, if man slew, God raised again from the dead. Notice here what has been often pointed out, that the Apostle Paul cites this passage in the close of Rom. 8 and applies to the Christian what the Spirit here applies to Christ. It would be childish to deny its application to the Lord because of this; but it is hardly less childish to overlook the precious intimation that the same Spirit applies to us now what He uttered then of God's vindication of Christ rejected. Such is the Christian's blessed and present privilege—association with Christ risen after God undertakes to glorify Him whom the Jews (and Gentiles) cast out.
The closing verses make this yet plainer and prove its importance. “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.” (Ver. 10.) For thus we have distinguished most definitely the Christian from the future Jewish remnant. The mystery was yet bid in God. Christ magnified and delivered was revealed: our place, not then revealed, is now seen in Him risen and glorified. They, on the contrary, walking in darkness and wanting light, will be called to trust in the Lord and stay on their God, when there is nothing else to lean on. But they will find a glorious deliverance when He appears. We are children of light now, children of day before it dawns upon the earth; we follow Him in spirit where He is, yea are brought to God and free of the holiest while here.
As for the apostate mass of the Jews, their portion plainly follows. “Behold all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.” (Ver. 11.)