Read the full lecture, “Exegesis and Hermeneutics of Isaiah 49:1-6,” here
Listen to the audio version here.
Isaiah 49:6 is just an incredible statement, an electrifying statement! “That you should be My servant to save yourselves is a secondary matter. Your national salvation is not all that important. You’ve got to have enough faith— to die. Then and only then the will of God might be accomplished.” Jesus said, “He who seeks to save himself shall lose his life; he who will lose his life for My sake and for the gospel’s will find it” (Mark 8:35).
They recognized that they had lost their life; they lost their national identity; they lost their land. They lost everything that they thought was important, except the most important thing that they had been promised, that they should be the conduits, the intermediary priests between God and the other nations.
And they were now, right now, stationed in their new assignment, so to speak, at the ends of the earth. (Persia, the mountains of Iran—this curtain of mountains across there was considered the ends of the earth. It was literally “the ends of the plains.” The point is this: they were literally where God wanted them to be. They were literally able to do what was most important in their commission. And in that moment of great opportunity, they felt failure and hopelessness.
Now, suppose some great force would smash our cities to bits. I live in California. Suppose an earthquake, the great earthquake, would come, and every building in California crumbled into ruins. I can imagine a lot of people saying, “Oh, now we really have a hopeless situation.” Humanly speaking, there would be no hope. But God uses all kinds of events for His purposes. In this case, the two aspects of hope and hopelessness are kept in juxtaposition.
In Genesis 12 and Matthew 28, the Great Commission is given as a single, positive statement. But I believe that the positive commission is given in Isaiah 49:6 alongside the contrasting idea of self-aggrandizement. This is an effort to highlight the true task of the people of God as opposed to what we so often mistake as our calling.