Isaiah 49:1-7

Isaiah 49:1-7
Ordinary A8


1 ListenA to me, O coastlands,
    pay attention,B you peoples from far away!
The LordC called me before I was born,D
    while I was in my mother’s wombE he namedF me.

Notes on verse 1

A “listen” = shama. This is to hear, call, consent, or consider. It implies listening intelligently, giving attention, and, because of these two factors, obedience and action are often implied.
B “pay attention” = qashab. This is to incline one’s ears or prick up one’s ears.
C “Lord” = YHVH. From havah (to be, become) or hayah (to come to pass, become, be). This is the name of the God of Israel, the self-existent and eternal one, the tetragrammaton. This pronunciation has been lost to time so “Lord” is generally used in its place.
D “before I was born” = beten. Literally “from the womb.” Root likely means to be hollow. This refers to a belly, the body of something, or the womb.
E “womb” = meeh. This is inward parts, belly, heart, or womb. Root likely means to be soft. Could refer to the intestines, the stomach, the uterus, of male generative regaion. This is used figuratively for heart or sympathy.
F “named” = zakar + shem. Literally “remembered my name” or “mentioned my name.” Zakar is to remember – to mark something so that you can recognize it. It can also mean to mention, be mindful of, or recount. Specially, it can mean to burn incense (as when one remembers God in an offering of worship. Shem may be from sum (to put, place, set). This is name, fame, renown. A name was thought to indicate something essential about a person – something about their individuality. So, this word can also mean honor, authority, or character.

2 He made my mouth like a sharpG sword,H
    in the shadowI of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polishedJ arrow,K
    in his quiver he hid me away.

Notes on verse 2

G “sharp” = chad. 4x in OT. From achad (to go, to unify; used figuratively to mean collect your thoughts); from the same as chadad (to be sharp or keen; used figuratively to mean severe or being fierce). This is sharp.
H “sword” = chereb. From charab (to attack, slay). This is a tool that cuts with reference to its destructive impact. It could be a sword, axe, dagger, or knife. This could also refer to a mattock or other tool.
I “shadow” = tsel. From tsalal (to be or become dark, to shade; a twilight shade or an opaque object). This is a shadow whether literal or figurative. Can mean protection, shelter, or defense.
J “polished” = barar. 18x in OT. To purify, cleanse, select, choose, sharpen, purge. This is to clarify or to brighten – hence, to polish or purify. It can also mean to examine or select.
K “arrow” = chets. From chatsats (to divide, chop into, pierce, sever, shoot an arrow, an archer). This is properly a piercer, which is to say an arrow. It can also mean shaft or staff. It implies a wound and is used figuratively of God’s thunder bolt.

And he said to me, “You are my servant,L
    Israel,M in whom I will be glorified.”N

4 But I said, “I have laboredO in vain,P
    I have spentQ my strengthR for nothingS and vanity;T
yet surely my causeU is with the Lord,
    and my rewardV with my God.”W

Notes on verses 3-4

L “servant” = ebed. From abad (to work, serve compel; this is any kind of work, but it implies serving or tilling; causatively it can mean enslaving or keeping someone in bondage). This is a servant, slave, or bondservant.
M “Israel” = yisrael. From sarah (to persist, persevere, contend, strive, wrestle) + el (God or a god). This means “God strives” or “one who wrestles with God.” It is another name for Jacob and for his offspring.
N “glorified” = paar. 14x in OT. This can mean beautify or adorn. It can also be to become boastful. Further, it can mean honor or glorify. Properly, it is to gleam so in a causative sense it would be embellish. In the sense of gleaming, it can also mean to explain or make things clear. Another definition is to shake a tree – to pick over the boughs for olives.
O “labored” = yaga. This is properly to gasp. So, it implies laboring or toiling to the point of exhaustion, weariness, or fainting.
P “in vain” = riq. 12x in OT. From ruq (to pour out literally or figuratively, which is to say to empty; so, to draw out, pour forth, or empty). This is to make empty, emptiness, vanity, or vain thing. Figuratively, it means something that is worthless.
Q “spent” = kalah. This is to complete, finish, or accomplish. It could mean prepare, cease, consume, or perish.
R “strength” = koach. Root may mean to be firm. This is vigor in a good or bad way. It can mean ability, strength, power, force. Figuratively, it can mean capacity, fruits, yield. This word is also used for some kind or reptile.
S “nothing” = tohu. Root may mean a waste, desolation, or desert. This word is formlessness, confusion, emptiness, chaos, desolation, or futility. Figuratively, it is something that is worthless. This word is used in Genesis 1:2 “the earth was formless and void.”
T “vanity” = hebel. This is emptiness or vanity, vapor, breath, delusion, fraud, fleeting, futile. Figuratively used for something worthless, transitory, or unsatisfactory. This is where Abel’s name comes from.
U “cause” = mishpat. From shaphat (to judge, defend, pronounce judgment, condemn, govern). This is a verdict or formal sentence whether from humans or from God. It includes the act of judging as well as the place that judging takes place, the suit itself, and the penalty. Abstractly, this is justice, which includes the rights of the participants.
V “reward” = peullah. 14x in OT. From paal (to do, make, accomplish, work, worker; this is something done in a systematic or habitual way; can also mean to practice). This is work, labor, deed, reward, or wages.
W “God” = Elohim.

5 And now the Lord says,
    who formedX me in the wombY to be his servant,
to bring JacobZ backAA to him,
    and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honoredBB in the sightCC of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—DD

Notes on verse 5

X “formed” = yatsar. This is to form, fashion, shape, or make. It could be to create the way that a potter does – squeezing and molding into shape. Figuratively, this can mean to determine or to make a resolution.
Y “womb” = beten. Same as “before I was born” in v1.
Z “Jacob” = yaaqob. From the same as aqeb (heel, footprint, horse hoof, one who lies in wait). This is Jacob, son of Isaac, and his descendants. It means heel, supplanter, or usurper.
AA “bring…back” = shub. To turn back, return, turn away – literally or figuratively. Doesn’t necessarily imply going back to where you started from. This is also the root verb for the Hebrew word for repentance “teshubah.”
BB “honored” = kabad. This is being heavy or weighty. It can have a positive sense as abounding with, honored, rich, or numerous. It can also have a negative sense of burdensome, afflicting, or severe. This is the root word that kabod comes from, the Hebrew word for “glory.”
CC “sight” = ayin. Literally “eye.”
DD “strength” = oz. From azaz (to be strong, become fixed, be bold, prevail, be impudent; it means to be stout literally or figuratively. A Late Hebrew word). This is strength in the sense of force, majesty, praise, material and physical strength, the abstract notion of security. It can also speak of social or political power.

he says,
“It is too light a thingEE that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribesFF of Jacob
    and to restoreGG the survivorsHH of Israel;
I will give you as a lightII to the nations,
    that my salvationJJ may reach to the end of the earth.”KK

Notes on verse 6

EE “too light a thing” = qalal. To be slight or trifling, trivial, despised. This is to be or mike light in a literal sense – small or swift. Figuratively, it could mean easy, insubstantial, or vile.
FF “tribes” = shebet. This is a rod, staff, club, scepter, dart, or tribe. Literally a stick that can be used for punishing, writing, fighting, walking, ruling; thus, used figuratively for a clan.
GG “restore” = shub. Same as “bring…back” in v5. See note AA.
HH “survivors” = natsir. 1x in OT. From natsar (to watch, guard, or keep; this is to preserve, protect, or maintain; it can also mean conceal). Literally it means preserved, but it is used in a passive sense here to mean those who are delivered. Incidentally, the root of this word is a possible root of the name of the city of Nazareth.
II “light” = or. From or (to be or become light). This is light, sun, sunshine, dawn, or daylight. Figuratively, it can refer to light from instruction, light of a face (that is to say one that is cheerful or finds favor). It can refer to prosperity or salvation; a light that guides, a light eternal from Zion.
JJ “salvation” = yeshuah. From yasha (to deliver, defend, help, preserve, rescue, be safe. Properly, to be open, wide or free, which implies being safe. Used causatively, it means to free). This is salvation, deliverance, health, victory, prosperity.
KK “earth” = erets. Root may mean to be firm. This is field, ground, or land. It could be land in a national sense as well (as in the land of Israel). Sometimes used to mean the earth as a whole.

7 Thus says the Lord,
    the RedeemerLL of Israel and his Holy One,MM
to one deeply despised,NN abhorredOO by the nations,
    the slavePP of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,QQ
    princes,RR and they shall prostrateSS themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,TT
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Notes on verse 7

LL “Redeemer” = gaal. This is to redeem someone or something according to kinship laws. So, it could be acting on a relative’s behalf to buy back their property, to marry one’s brother’s widow, etc. This could be more briefly translated as to redeem, acts as kinsman, or purchase. As a noun, it could be deliverer or avenger.
MM “Holy One” = qadosh. From qodesh (set apart and so sacred. God is different from us and so God is holy/set apart. Things we dedicate to God’s service are set apart for God and so they, too, are holy, etc.). This is sacred, holy, a saint as a holy one, and a name for God as the Holy One. This is sacred in a ceremonial or moral sense. Can also refer to angels or the sanctuary.
NN “one deeply despised” = bazoh. 1x in OT. From bazah (to despise, disdain; contempt, despicable, vile person). This is one who is scorned or despised.
OO “abhorred” = taab. From toebah (abomination, abominable act, loathsome thing or person; this is something or someone who is disgusting in a moral sense; often used for idolatry or for idols). To abhor, act abominably, despise, detest, reject. This is to detest someone in a moral sense.
PP “slave” = ebed. Same as “servant” in v3. See note L.
QQ “stand up” = qum. Same as “raise up” in v6 .
RR “princes” = sar. This is could be a military leader like a captain or a political leader like a chief, ruler, or prince.
SS “prostrate” = shachah. This is to bow down, fall down, crouch, or beseech. It can be either bowing before royalty in homage or bowing in worship to God.
TT “faithful” = aman. To believe, endure, fulfill, confirm, support, establish, be faithful, put one’s trust in, be steadfast. Figuratively, this is to be firm, steadfast, or faithful, trusting, believing, being permanent, morally solid. Basically, this word means building up or supporting so it can also be used for parenting or being a nurse to someone. This is where the word “amen” comes from.

Image Credit: An antependium, or altar cloth, from Straßsbourg around 1410.

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