Isaiah 49:1-6 – A Light to the Nations


Isaiah 49:1-6


God calls the servant, Israel, to a new task: to be a light to the nations.


This is the second of the traditional servant songs in Second Isaiah. Here the servant is identified as Israel, and the text follows the pattern of a typical prophetic call: the call (vv. 1-2), the objection (v. 4), and the renewal of the call (vv. 5-6). This pattern, the similarity to the call of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), and the reference to the “mouth” as key to the servant’s task suggest that the text represents the call to someone in a prophetic role to proclaim God’s word of salvation to all.

Who is meant in this text? The servant? Israel? The prophet himself? As in many of the passages of Second Isaiah, the identity is not clear. All of these figures come together to announce the new thing God is doing.

The first call, to bring back Jacob and gather Israel, has apparently not worked well. “I have labored in vain,” says the servant. But now God gives an even more difficult task: to serve as a light to the nations. The word of God must now extend beyond Israel to all peoples. The servant will be the one chosen to proclaim that message.

It may be the voice of the servant that we hear somewhat earlier in 48:16b: “And now the Lord GOD has sent me and his spirit.” God had sent Cyrus to conquer Babylon and return the exiles (48:14-16a); but now God sends “me” (the servant) as a light to the nations. Cyrus does not appear again after this point in the book.