Isaiah 50 - The Messiah’s Steadfast Obedience
A. The Lord’s question to Zion.
1. (1-2a) God does care, and will lovingly confront those in Zion who doubted His care for them.
Thus says the Lord: “Where is the certificate of your mother’s divorce, whom I have put away? Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you? For your iniquities you have sold yourselves, and for your transgressions your mother has been put away. Why, when I came, was there no man? Why, when I called, was there none to answer?”
a. Where is the certificate of your mother’s divorce? Essentially, God speaks to a doubting Zion, “You say I don’t care about you anymore. You say I have divorced you. Very well then, produce the document. But there is none, because I have not divorced you. You will see that for your iniquities you have sold yourselves. It is your own fault, and no one else’s.”
i. “The people of Israel in exile are likening themselves to a divorced wife, forgotten and forsaken of God. The Lord interrupts this kind of thinking, and breaks into it with a challenge to His people, saying: ‘Where is the bill of divorcement? Produce it. Produce the bill and show me where I divorced you.’ But Israel cannot do it. Of course she cannot find it, because He has never given it to her. God cannot divorce those whom He has taken into covenant relationship with Himself.” (Redpath)
ii. “Divorce accuses unfailing love of failure; slavery accuses sovereign power of weakness and sovereign resources of inadequacy. The truth, however, is very different, for it was all a matter of due reward of sins.” (Motyer)
b. Why, when I came, was there no man? Seeing that Zion’s troubles come from their own disobedience, where is the man who will stand up for Israel? Who will contend their case before God?
i. Or, there may be another sense: “Here the Lord compares Himself to a man and father of a household who is treated shamefully by his own wife and children. When he came home, there was no one to welcome him and when he called, no one answered him. Hence, He who had the right to all their respect was treated as one without any rights.” (Bultema)
2. (2b-3) God does care, and reminds Zion of His power.
Is My hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Indeed with My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish stink because there is no water, and die of thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.
a. The Lord now answers His own question. Is My hand shortened at all that it can not redeem? The answer to this rhetorical question is a definite, “No.” Despite the doubts of Zion, the Lord’s power and authority is beyond question.
b. I clothe heavens with blackness: Heaven is in mourning, because of the sin and unbelief of God’s people. “Oh, the sorrow in the heart of God - the pang, the pain, the agony, the suffering - when His children sin! . . . Sin in the lives of God’s people clothes heaven with blackness and sackcloth.” (Redpath)
i. Spurgeon relates this to the crucifixion: “The last miracle recorded here, namely, that of covering the heavens with sackcloth, was performed by our Lord even when he was in his death agony. We read that, at high noon, the sun was veiled, and there was darkness over all the land for three black hours. Wonder of wonders, he who hung bleeding there had wrought that mighty marvel! The sun had looked upon him hanging on the cross, and, as if in horror, had covered its face, and traveled on in tenfold night. The tears of Jesus quenched the light of the sun. Had he been wrathful, he might have put out its light for ever; but his love not only restored that light, but it has given to us a light a thousand times more precious, even the light of everlasting life and joy.”
B. The steadfast obedience of the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah.
1. (4-5) The care of God is dramatically shown in the Messiah’s submission unto the Lord.
The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God has opened My ear; and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away.
a. The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned: The Messiah now prophetically speaks again, explaining that the Lord God has given Him the ability to speak wisely. But for what purpose? To speak a word in season to him who is weary. What a glorious use of the tongue of the learned!
b. He awakens Me morning by morning: The Messiah prophetically speaks of His daily, wonderful, deep fellowship with God the Father. It is in these times that Jesus heard from His Father, that He could say He awakens My ear to hear as the learned. The Messiah could speak with the tongue of the learned because in daily time with God He learned to hear as the learned.
c. The Lord God has opened My ear, and I was not rebellious: The Messiah, speaking prophetically, looks back to a custom described in Exodus 21:5-6, where a servant became a willing bondslave to his master. The sign of this willing servant was the ear opened by the piercing of an awl, done against the entry doorway of the master. This speaks of the total submission of the Messiah to the Lord God.
i. If, after the six years of servitude, a servant wished to make a life-long commitment to his master - in light of the master’s goodness and his blessings for the servant - he could, through this ceremony, make a life-long commitment to his master. This was a commitment not motivated by debt or obligation, only love for the master.
ii. In the ceremony, the servant’s ear would be pierced - opened - with an awl, in the presence of witnesses - then, he shall serve him for ever (Exodus 21:5-6). Psalm 40:6 also speaks of this ceremony taking place between the Father and the Son, where the Psalmist speaks prophetically for the Messiah: Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; my ears You have opened. Jesus was a perfect bond-slave to the Father (Philippians 2:7).
2. (6-9) The care of the Lord is shown in the courageous greatness of the Messiah’s submission unto the Lord.
I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed. He is near who justifies Me; who will contend with Me? Let us stand together. Who is My adversary? Let him come near Me. Surely the Lord God will help Me; who is he who will condemn Me? Indeed they will all grow old like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
a. I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting: This prophecy speaks in chilling detail of the sufferings of the Messia. We know that Jesus was beaten on the back (Mark 15:15). We know Jesus was beaten on the face (Luke 22:63-65). We know that Jesus was mocked and spat upon (Mark 15:19-20).
i. There is no specific mention in the gospels of those who plucked out the beard of Jesus as part of His pre-crucifixion suffering, but from this passage in Isaiah we know it happened. What terrible agony Jesus endured! It is even more than what the gospel writers explain to us! “We have before us the language of prophecy, but it is as accurate as though it had been written at the moment of the event. Isaiah might have been one of the Evangelists, so exactly does he describe what our Savior endured.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “He suffered the deepest humiliation, for to pluck out the hair (of the beard) and to cover someone’s face with spit was, according to Near-Eastern concepts, the most humiliating suffering that could be inflicted upon a man.” (Bultema)
iii. “Many of us could give to Christ all our health and strength, and all the money we have, very heartily and cheerfully; but when it comes to a point of reputation we feel the pinch. To be slandered, to have some filthy thing said of you; this is too much for flesh and blood. You seem to say, ‘I cannot be made a fool of, I cannot bear to be regarded as a mere impostor;’ but a true servant of Christ must make himself of no reputation when he takes upon himself the work of his Lord. Our blessed Master was willing to be scoffed at by the lewdest and the lowest of men.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Notice it carefully: I gave My back means that Jesus did it voluntarily. Can we still think that God does not care for us?
b. For the Lord God will help Me: In the midst of all this suffering, humiliation, and pain, the Messiah has an unshakable confidence in the help of the Lord God.
i. Can we have the same confidence in God? “It is pitiful for the Christian to refuse to suffer, and to become a fighting man, crying, ‘We must stand up for our rights.’ Did you ever see Jesus in that posture?” Instead, trust in the Lord and proclaim, for the Lord God will help me.
c. Therefore, I have set My face like a flint: Despite knowing the agony awaiting Him, the Messiah will have a steadfast determination to obey the Lord God and follow His way. His face will be set as hard as a flint, and nothing will turn Him aside.
i. This was exactly fulfilled in the life of Jesus, who was determined to go to Jerusalem, even knowing what waited for Him there. Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)
ii. There are two kinds of courage - the courage of moment, which requires no previous thought, and a “planned” courage, which sees the difficulty ahead and steadfastly marches towards it. Jesus had this kind of courage; He could see the cross in the horizon, but still set His face like a flint.
iii. Spurgeon has a wonderful sermon on this text titled, The Redeemer’s Face Set like a Flint. These are his headings and points:
1. How the steadfast resolve of Jesus was tested.
- By offers from the world.
- By the persuasions of His friends.
- By the unworthiness of His clients.
- By the bitterness of the first few drops of suffering in Gethsemane.
- By the ease at which He could have backed out if He had wished to.
- By the taunts of those who mocked Him.
- By the full stress and agony of the cross.
2. How the steadfast resolve of Jesus was sustained.
- By His divine schooling.
- By His conscious innocence.
- By His unshakable confidence in the help of God.
- By the joy that was set before Him.
3. How to imitate the steadfast resolve of Jesus.
- When there is something right, stand for it.
- When you have a right purpose that glorifies God, carry it out.
d. And I know that I will not be ashamed: The courage of the Messiah isn’t a bland resignation to fate. It is a confident assurance in the Lord God. He can set His face like a flint because He can say, “I know that I will not be ashamed.”
e. He is near who justifies Me; who will contend with Me? This is the Messiah’s way of quoting Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us? If it isn’t clear enough, He says it again: Surely the Lord God will help Me; who is he who will condemn Me?
i. In fact, the reason why Romans 8:31 applies to us is that it first applies to Jesus, and we are in Christ. If Jesus stands in this place of victory, then all those who are in Christ stand there also.
3. (10-11) The Servant of the Lord challenges all to submit to the Lord as He does.
Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God. Look, all you who kindle a fire, who encircle yourselves with sparks: Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled; this you shall have from My hand: You shall lie down in torment.
a. Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Now the Messiah speaks to His people, and challenges them to fear the Lord and obey His Servant - the Messiah Himself.
i. “Only he who knows how to obey can call others to obedience.” (Motyer)
b. Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God: The Messiah guides His people into the path of light. Simply, trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon your God. It isn’t necessarily easy, but it certainly is simple!
c. Look, all you who kindle a fire: We might think that this fire is a positive thing, but in light of the entire verse, it isn’t positive. It is more like the profane fire of Nadab and Abihu described in Numbers 10:1. If we walk in the light of that fire and in the sparks you have kindled, then we shall have torment from the hand of the Lord. This follows along the line of the Messiah’s exhortation to trust in the name of the Lord, and not in our own efforts before God, which are like a profane fire.
i. “Those who ‘light fires’ refers to men who had their own schemes and their own gods. Because they had rejected the light of God’s Word, they would face terrible punishment.” (Wolf)
ii. “Torment . . . is only found here but its verb . . . guarantees its meaning of grief, pain and displeasure - even the ‘place of pain’ - specifically the pains of sin under the curse of God.” (Motyer)
©2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission.