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Isaiah 50:1 Thus says Yahweh, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorce, for which I have put her away? Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities were you sold, and for your transgressions was your mother put away- This can be read as God's answer to the Jewish objection that God had as it were gotten rid of them as His wife for His own ends, such as getting cash benefit. And so He invites them to look again at the bill of divorce and remind themselves of the reasons for the divorce; LXX " Of what kind is your mother's bill of divorcement?". It was because of their gross unfaithfulness. Ezekiel had to reason with the exiles in a similar way, arguing against their idea that God had been unreasonable to them.

But further, here Isaiah urged the Jews to return to the land by saying that God had forgiven them, and on this basis He appealed for them to both ‘repent’ and ‘return’ to the land. The two terms are related. Thus He showed His grace; forgiveness preceded, not followed, repentance. Is. 44:22 is clear about this: “I have swept away your transgressions like clouds [therefore] return to me, for I have [already] redeemed you”. Perhaps the question as to where the bill of divorce was could imply that it didn't exist; God was angry with their sins, but kept no record of them- hence He could comfort Judah that there was actually no documentary evidence for their divorce and therefore she could return to Him. As Paul put it, the goodness of God leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4). And we are asked to show that same “goodness” of God to others, being “kind [s.w. ‘goodness’] one to another… forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). We too are to show this grace of forgiveness-before-repentance; but perhaps in no other area has formalized, institutionalized Christianity failed worse. If XYZ shows us she’s repented of her divorce, then we’ll forgive her and accept her in fellowship [as if, in any case, we are the ones who need to forgive her]. These are graceless and yet terribly common attitudes. The Greek word translated “goodness” is rendered “gracious” in 1 Pet. 2:3- newly converted babes in Christ taste of this gracious goodness, and it leads to repentance.


Isaiah 50:2 Why, when I came, was there no man?-
The Messiah figure was to appear at a time when the cities of Israel were desolate and needed rebuilding, and when the people had been told “Go forth” of Babylon, and Zion’s “builders” would hastily work, despite feeling themselves to be “exiles” (Isaiah 49:6,9,17 RVmg.,21 RV). There could have been a Messiah figure at the restoration. “But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me” (Is. 49:14). They didn’t have the faith to believe that God’s grace was enough to really forgive them for the sins that had led them into captivity, and for their apostasy in Babylon, where they had been spiritually “marred” (Jer. 13:7). And so the planned Messiah figure and Kingdom never fully happened. And God laments this: “Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? When I called, was there none to answer?” (Is. 50:2). Nobody responded to the Divine call for a Messiah. No Messiah figure appeared; or the reference may also be to the paucity of response when Cyrus announced the possibility of returning to the land.

There even seems at times a difficulty on God's part to understand why the people He had loved could hate Him so much: "Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of thick darkness? Why then do my people say, We will no more come to thee?" (Jer. 2:31); "Why then has this people turned away?" (Jer. 8:5); "Why have they provoked me to anger?" (Jer. 8:19; Jer. 2:14; Jer. 30:6; Is. 5:4; Is. 50:2). "What more could I have done for my vineyard... why did it yield wild grapes?" (Is. 5:1-7). This is so much the anguished cry of bewildered middle age parents as they reflect upon a wayward child. This Divine struggle to understand reflects the extraordinary depth of His love for them; and it warns us in chilling terms as to the pain we can cause God if we spurn His amazing love.

When I called, was there none to answer? Is My hand shortened at all, that it can’t redeem?- Here and in Is. 59:1 the idea of Yahweh's hand being shortened is used as an excuse not to repond to God's call to quit Babylon for Zion. The idea was that His ability to act, His hand, was somehow limited or 'reaped down'. They assumed the fact they had been reaped in the harvest of judgment meant that their God had been (Is. 17:5; Jer. 9:22; Hos. 8:7; 10:13). They simply refused to accept the repeated prophetic message that it was the God of Israel who brought judgment upon Israel. They treated Him as the surrounding peoples treated their gods- always saving them in trouble, and if they didn't, then the god had died with them.

Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stink, because there is no water, and die for thirst- God sent His prophets to appeal to Israel for repentance. They could have lead to repentance. But Israel would not. The word they heard was powerful, so powerful it could dry up the Red Sea in a moment (hence the dead fish; or a reference to Ex. 7:21); but despite that power, the Jews didn't respond to it, considering that God was unable to redeem from exile. So they didn't return / repent, both to their God and to His land. Their impenitence was related to their disbelief that the Kingdom was really possible, even though they accepted Yahweh's existence and were loyal to the culture of being His people. The marriage feast was totally ready and waiting for the Jewish people; they could have had it. But they didn’t want it, and so the course of human history was extended. Therefore finally God sent His Son. The Lord Jesus Himself was amazed that no other man had achieved the work which He had to; and therefore He clad Himself with zeal and performed it (Is. 41:28; 50:2; 59:16 cp. Rev. 5:3,4). God knew that salvation in the end would have to be through the death of His Son. But there were other possible scenarios for the repentance and salvation of mankind, which no man achieved. And so, as in the parable of the servants sent to get fruit from the vineyard, there was left no other way but the death of God’s only Son.

Isaiah 50:3 I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering-
This could refer to God's deep mourning for all the wasted potential; He had empowered the people to return (:2), but they didn't, and no Messiah figure arose as had been potentially possible. For the degree of unrealized or wasted potential is fundamentally connected to our depth of mourning.

Isaiah's constant references back to the Exodus deliverance are to make the point that what God had done then, He could just as easily do for the exiles as they left Babylon / Egypt. Is. 50:2,3 could be read as a statement of God's possibilities, bringing out the huge potential power which God could wield for the exiles: "If I were to rebuke the sea it would dry up! I could turn rivers into a wilderness... I could clothe the heavens with blackness". All this conditional language and grammar shows the great potential which Israel could have tapped into had they wished.

The reference may be to the plague of darkness coming upon Babylon or the Jews in judgment, just as it did upon Egypt. The final fulfilment of this will be in the last days, for it is alluded to in  Rev. 6:12, "The sun became black as sackcloth of hair".

Isaiah 50:4 The Lord Yahweh has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him who is weary-
The previous verses have lamented Judah's refusal to hear the call to repentance. But now the Saviour Servant speaks of how He was trained by Yahweh to teach people, Israel especially, the true way; and then to exemplify and embody that teaching in His own suffering and death (:6,7). Clearly these things refer to the Lord Jesus. The LXX speaks of His ability to teach and instruct us His people: "The Lord even God gives me the tongue of instruction, to know when it is fit to speak a word". But "those who are taught" is literally 'the disciples', the taught ones. He spoke to them in their own tongue, in their own terms and language; and He was taught to do this. This would explain why the Lord used the language of demon possession rather than correcting those wrong ideas.

He wakens me morning by morning, He wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught- "Those who are taught" are literally 'the disciples'. He was taught by God, morning by morning, to hear as the disciples heard. He was progressively led to appreciate the perspective of those far less spiritual than Himself. He was taught the ability to hear as we hear, although as God's Son He Himself heard with far quicker and deeper perception than we do.

The Lord Jesus “morning by morning” heard God’s word “as the learned” (Is. 50:4 AV); but the Hebrew words for “accustomed” in Jer. 13:23 and “learned” in Is. 50:4 are the same. God teaches by repetition- which may be out of vogue in the experience / problem based learning philosophy of current education, but it’s God’s way. Once habit solidifies, it becomes effectively part of our nature and almost impossible to change, at least in human strength- so Jer. 13:23 teaches us: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may you also do good, that are accustomed to do evil”. The Hebrew translated “accustomed” carries the idea of repeated habit. The Hebrew idea of ‘teaching’ is connected to the words for ‘habit’ or ‘custom’; because teaching was by repetition.

The Lord was noted for rising up early and praying (Mk. 1:35). Is. 50:4 prophesies of the Lord Jesus that morning by morning, God awoke His ear "to learn as a disciple". That last phrase is surely to signal the intended similarities between the Lord's path of growth, and that of all disciples. How we start our days is really so important. The next two verses go on to predict that because of this morning-by-morning teaching process, "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" (Is. 50:5,6). Thus we come to the cross, the life of cross carrying, as the end result of our morning reflections. It was from His own experience that the Lord could bid us take up our cross- His cross- each morning. The unbelieving world is repeatedly characterized as walking in a crooked path (Lk. 3:5; Acts 2:40; Phil. 2:15 and often in Proverbs). Quietly starting every day right is part of our walking in a straight path, following the way of the cherubim; and by walking in that straight daily path we will not have opportunity to stumble (Heb. 12:13).

Isaiah 50:5 The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward-
The early morning teaching sessions between Father and Son resulted in His ear being opened to perceive the death of the cross. And He was not rebellious. He as "Israel" was representative of sinful Israel (see on Is. 49:1-3); it was the exiles who were to have their ears opened. But they refused, preferring to remain deaf (see on Is. 42:20; 43:8; 48:8). But His ears were opened because He wanted to hear; unlike them He was not rebellious (s.w. Is. 1:20; 63:10); He did not "turn away backward" as the idolaters of Judah did (s.w. Is. 42:17; Jer. 38:22). He triumphed at every point where we as Israel fail. To be right with God, Israel had to identify with Him. We become in Him by baptism, and thus His righteousness is imputed to us (Gal. 3:27-29).

Isaiah 50:6 I gave my back to the strikers, and my cheeks to those who plucked off the hair; I didn’t hide my face from shame and spitting-
Time and again in the restoration prophecies we encounter statements intended to answer the skepticism felt by the exiles about the promises of redemption from Babylon (Is. 40:27-31; Is. 42:22; Is. 43:22; Is. 46:12; Is. 48:4,8; Is. 49:14). See on Is. 49:24. The servant was called to sustain the “dispirited” by the prophetic word (Is. 50:4). And yet passages like Is. 50:4-11 and even Is. 53 speak of how the servant met even physical abuse as well as rejection in his ministry to his fellow Jews. Indeed the servant feels that his mission to them has been a failure (Is. 49:1-6), a complaint met by God’s promise that his mission would be in some way reapplied to the Gentiles in their captivity to sin. The way the servant is beaten and has his hair pulled out (Is. 50:4-11) reminds us of how the prophet Jeremiah was treated the same way by the Jews when his message was rejected (Jer. 20:2; Jer. 37:15). The servant was spat at by his fellow Jews- an expression of utter contempt (Job 30:10). Whilst the servant prophecies find their later fulfilment in the Lord Jesus, it seems to me that in their first context, they speak of how a prophet or prophets at the time of the exile were rejected and even beaten up by their fellow Jews. Indeed, Isaiah ends on a negative note, describing the judgments to come upon the Jews who had rejected the message of deliverance from Babylon (Is. 66:24).

As explained on :5, the cross was the end point of the Lord's early morning teaching sessions with His Father. And so He unlike every other victim of crucifixion and torture willingly gave His body parts to His torturers.

Jesus commanded us not to physically resist the forces of evil: “But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also” (Mt. 5:39,40). Christ is the example in this: “I gave My back to those who struck Me ...” (Is. 50:6). The Lord gave His life, it wasn't taken from Him. Likewise He gave His back to the smiters when they flogged Him; He gave His face to them when they spoke about pulling out His beard (Is. 50:6).

The Lord would have meditated upon the way righteous men had taken upon themselves the sins of their people. Thus Jeremiah speaks as if he has committed Israel's sins; Ezra rends his clothes and plucks off his hair, as if he has married out of the Faith (Ezra 9:4 cp. Neh. 13:25; the Lord received the same sinner's treatment, Is. 50:6). Moses' prayer for God to relent and let him enter the land was only rejected for the sake of his association with Israel's sins (Dt. 3:26).

Isaiah 50:7 For the Lord Yahweh will help me; therefore I have not been confounded-
It was to be the makers of idols who were "confounded" (s.w. Is. 41:11; 45:16) and only the true Israel would not be "confounded" (Is. 45:17; 54:4). The sinners in Israel had refused to be confounded or ashamed of their sins (Jer. 3:3 s.w.) and so they would be shamed in condemnation. Repentance involves an imagination of ourselves coming to judgment day and being condemned, and feeling shame for that; that is how we shall not be ashamed. And it is the servant alone who shall not be ashamed / confounded because of His righteousness (Is. 50:7). Our identity with Him removes that shame. If we condemn ourselves, we shall not be condemned (1 Cor. 11:31). The enemies of Israel would perish alongside the apostate within Israel, in the same judgment.

Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be disappointed- This again is understandable in the context of the cross. The Lord set His face to go to Jerusalem, and the final sacrifice which would be there (Lk. 9:51). He hardened His face like a rock; and yet the wicked similarly harden their faces like a rock to go in the way of the flesh (Jer. 5:3). We are hardened in our path, one way or the other. Jeremiah had his face hardened in response to his own hardening of face (Jer. 1:17; 5:3), and the wicked in Israel likewise were hardened (Jer. 3:3; 4:30).

His whole life and heart direction was "set" in the way of the cross, and that eternity which He knew was beyond it. Perhaps His lack of destructive anger was because He didn't let Himself be shamed by men, instead taking His self-worth and values from God's acceptance of Him. To avoid "anger" in the wrong sense, we need to avoid being wrongly shamed. And we can do this by ensuring we ourselves aren't led into shame, due to placing too great a value upon the opinions of men. Our shame should be before God for our sins against Him, and not before men. Hence the prophets often criticize Israel for not being ashamed of their sins before God (Jer. 6:15). Our shame before men leads to anger; our shame before God is resolved in repentance and belief in His gracious forgiveness.

Isaiah 50:8 He is near who justifies me; who will bring charges against me? Let us stand up together: who is my adversary? Let him come near to me-
As explored on :7, those who feel the real justification of the Spirit, the real power of imputed righteousness, will not be unsettled by human criticism or "charges" brought. For the nearness of God's justification in Christ is more than sufficient. Is. 56:1 is a parallel passage, speaking of how Yahweh's righteousness (imputed to us by His justification of us in Christ) is "near to come", and His salvation soon to be revealed. As Paul develops in Rom. 1-8, we are saved by the imputation of righteousness, justification by faith. But that is yet to be revealed, although it could have been "near" even in time for the exiles. They refused these wonderful things, but they are true for us too, as we await the soon revelation of the Lord Jesus at judgment day. Keeping this hope in view means we shall ultimately have nobody and nothing charged against us, there will be no legal adversary in court with us at the last day. And this means that we handle accusation, both justified and false, in that perspective. And yet it is criticism and the shame which arises from it which can psychologically and spiritually destroy people in this life.

The songs of the suffering Servant are applied to us in Rom. 8:31, where Paul exalts that "if God be for us, who is against us?"- alluding to Is. 50:8 "The Lord God is helping me- who is he that would convict me?". If we are in Christ, we like Him cannot be condemned. In the legal context, if the judge of all is legally “for us”, then there effectively is no accuser, nothing and nobody standing against us. It’s as if Paul has rightly guessed his readers’ response: ‘OK Paul, I have nothing to say against your argument, but all the same you don’t know what a sinner I am, what a line of sins I have waiting there to condemn me’. And Paul’s exultant answer is that if God is “for us”- and he has demonstrated this time and again, that God quite simply wants to save us- then nothing and nobody, not even our own sins, can ultimately stand against us.

Isaiah 50:9 Behold, the Lord Yahweh will help me; who is he who shall condemn me?-
As explained on :8, with God on our side in the final judgment, as both judge and advocate, there are no charges against us nor legal adversaries left in the court room. Yahweh had repeatedly offered the "servant" His "help" in order to encourage the weak minded exiles to return to Zion, just as His hand had 'helped' Hezekiah against the Assyrians (s.w. 2 Chron. 32:8). At the restoration, Ezra believed this "help" would enable the restoration to the extent that they didn't need any human soldiers to help them (Ezra 8:22 s.w.).

Behold, all they shall wax old as a garment, the moth shall eat them up- The "they" are any possible adversaries who might bring charges against us. This had particular relevance to all the adversaries to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. With Yahweh justifying the returned exiles, the court room was effectively empty of adversaries, all charges were to be seen in the perspective of God's ultimate justification of His people (see on :8). These words are also found in Job 13:28, where it is God who consumes them, as it were manifesting Himself in a tiny moth. We find the same ideas in Is. 51:6, where the "they" is the 'heavens and earth' of any system, be it Persia / Babylon or an unbelieving Jewish system, which is adversarial to God's people and purpose. The contrast is with how the clothing of Israel in the wilderness did not "wax old" (s.w. Dt. 8:4; 29:5; Neh. 9:21). The exodus and journey to the promised land is repeatedly alluded to in Isaiah as a pattern for the exiles to follow in returning to Judah, and for us in our exodus from this world and journey towards the Kingdom.

Isaiah 50:10 Who is among you who fears Yahweh, who obeys the voice of His servant? He who walks in darkness, and has no light, let him trust in the name of Yahweh, and rely on his God-
See on :11. The "darkness" initially was that of exile in Babylon; see on Is. 49:9. A Messianic figure was to arise, whose voice they were to obey, and thereby trust in their God. This didn't happen at the time, and so it is all reapplied to the Lord Jesus as the servant. But the servant whose voice was to be obeyed was intended to be Cyrus. "Who is among you who fears Yahweh... his God?" is the language of Ezra 1:3. Yahweh had promised support for them if they returned to the land; He would preserve them on the way. "Voice" is s.w. Ezra 1:1 about the proclamation of Cyrus, the servant (Is. 45:1). Yet Ezra was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers to guard them on the journey only because he had earlier told the king that Yahweh would be with them (Ezra 8:22), as if he really did want the support but was ashamed to ask for it. He disallowed Isaiah’s prophesy that the restored Israel would never be ashamed [s.w. Ezra 8:22; 9:6] nor confounded (Is. 45:17; 49:23; 54:4). Nehemiah accepted such support when he came up from Babylon (Neh. 2:9).

The Yahweh Name is the most essential challenge to faith. "I will be" is a challenge to believe that what is not yet seen will be on the basis of what has been and what is. We must trust / believe in the Name of Yahweh (Is. 50:10).

Isaiah 50:11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who adorn yourselves with torches around yourselves; walk in the flame of your fire, and among the brands that you have kindled. You shall have this of My hand; you shall lie down in sorrow
- Why this reference to paganism and idolatry immediately after the call to obey the voice of God's servant Cyrus and leave Babylon (:10)? Isaiah frequently shows the folly of worshipping Babylonian idols. And yet it seems that it was Judah’s worship of these idols that kept them in Babylon. Those who feared Yahweh had none of the  light provided by the Babylonian idols; but the majority preferred Babylon’s light to Zion’s.