In Isaiah 49 we see the Messiah stepping forward and declaring His existence and purpose; in Isaiah 50 we see Him stating the behavior by which He will be characterized. As with the previous chapter the blunt clarity of the statements render any significant controversy between conservative commentators impossible. I shall therefore once again eschew my normal analytic and investigative method for a more synthetic and devotional look at Isaiah 50 4:9.
Isa 50:4 The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.
Our attention is first drawn to the manner in which the Messiah will speak. He will have the 'tongue of the learned' or as Barnes puts it somewhat more actively: 'those that are instructed'. One of the subtler but most telling indicators of someone's education is the extent of their vocabulary. Many preachers today substitute volume or rhythm for preciseness of speech. Not so with the Messiah; he will be able to use exactly the right word to express exactly the right concept. Whilst we are told the common people heard him gladly it is a mistake to assume that He therefore sounded like a 'common person'.
However for those that immediately reach for their thesaurus in an attempt to sound intelligent we need to note what this erudition was used for: 'that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary'. Whilst the Messiah could debate with the academics of his day His word choice was principally directed towards the comfort of those that were weak. I particularly like the use of the expression 'word in season'; it reminds us of both the timeliness and the fruitfulness of a well chosen word. There are many things we can say that are entirely true but it takes genuine understanding and compassion to select the correct one for a given circumstance.
Barnes and JFB agree that the expression 'wakeneth morning by morning' is drawn from the image of a teacher wakening his pupils early in the morning for instruction. A feature of the prophets is that they rose early to deliver their messages and we know it was a feature of the Messiah too. This is all too stark a contrast to those of us that try to 'fit in' our studies at the end of a long and tiring day.
The final clause of this verse introduces an often overlooked concept; hunger for instruction. It was not simply the case that the Messiah would dutifully arise for His daily lessons. He would be seated, focused and eager to absorb what was laid before Him. There is perhaps one comment to make regarding the manner in which this translation may convey the wrong impression today. It states that the Messiah will be attentive as an educated person would. This presupposes that people that have learned still have that hunger and attitude that causes them to wish to learn. Regrettably it is often the case today that the educated garner a degree of arrogance that actually prevents them from listening to those from whom they could learn. We should note that even the Son of God woke up early in the morning to see what God had to show Him!
Isa 50:5 The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.
At first glance it may appear that the opening clause of this verse repeats the one before. JFB however points out that the notion here is not just of attentiveness but of obedient attentiveness. It is one thing to be prepared to absorb facts it is another to be prepared to alter our behavior based upon what we hear. The latter to clauses of the verse underline this interpretation. Again some may be tempted to assume they mean the same thing; however there is a subtle distinction. In the first Christ was resisting the temptation to try to alter the will of God; in the latter He resisted ignoring or avoiding the will of God. I believe the detail and near repetition we see in these verses is used to emphasize the completeness and thoroughness of the obedience of the Messiah.
Isa 50:6 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.
This verse makes clear why the Messiah might have been tempted to tread an alternate path. Whilst He was and is the king of Israel His path was to be one of pain and suffering. Even in this most moving verse we see the willing submission of the Messiah. He gave His back and cheeks to receive abuse He did not attempt to hide.
Whilst the commentators do not differ as to the interpretation of this they differ in the degree to which they are prepared to tackle such an emotive subject. Wesley just notes the submission was voluntary. JFB simply notes that we have New Testament references to the literal fulfillment of this prediction. Barnes and Gill both spend time describing the humiliation as well as pain that was inflicted upon the Son of God.
Isa 50:7 For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.
For me this is the pivotal verse in this chapter. The previous has shown the utter failure from a human perspective of the Messiah's mission. This verse then entirely contradicts the preceding. God will help his Messiah. He will not be confounded and He will not be ashamed. The question is how can these two conflicting verses be resolved and the answer comes from this seventh verse. The Messiah would set his face like flint. JFB ties this direct to Luke 9:51 where He 'set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem' (and therefore to His death). Whilst man thought they were plotting and winning a great victory they were actually carrying out the Messiah's will.
Isa 50:8He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me.
I suspect that a modern translation could easily render this verse: "Bring it on!" The Messiah was more than prepared for what was to happen and this verse spells out why. Firstly our shame or lack thereof should not be relative to our peers or to our customs it should be to the God of Heaven. By God's standard the Messiah had nothing to be ashamed of. Secondly: who exactly where the combatants? A collection of imposters and invaders.
The second half of the verse begins to hint at the one to follow. It is really a more elegant version of the playground: "Who do you think you are? Come here and say that!" Of course at the trial prior to the crucifixion Christ did not take this approach; He remained silent and refused to defend Himself. However that is covered by the first half of the verse. I believe the second half is an invitation to a second meeting after the Messiah has arisen. There will come a time when those that scorned the Messiah will have to face him.
Isa 50:9 Behold, the Lord GOD will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up.
If you accept the suggestion from the previous verse that the second half is still future then this verse which would otherwise be repetitious is again future. This time a simple declaration: "Look! God is going to help me. Who wants to condemn me this time?" Of course we know from Revelation that even with the Risen Messiah visible there will be those that attempt to fight God. Nonetheless the progression of these verses makes sense. There were those that chose to buffet Him first time around when He was humanly weak; how many will chose to fight when He is strong?
Personally my favorite part of this section is the last half of this verse. It is comparable to the statement in Psalm 2:4 "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh..." Prior to this statement the Messiah has behaved and been considered relative to mortal man. Ultimately however this is a ludicrous comparison. The Messiah lives for ever; all of his adversaries are destined to become moth-eaten. It is healthy to remember that Christ stooped to meet us; we should not treat that condescension lightly.
In this brief narrative we have look at Isa 50:4-9. We saw that the Messiah was to speak and learn as an academic but with the motivation of providing for the needy. We saw that He was to be obedient and unswerving in His duty even when this led to intense personal emotional and physical suffering. However we also saw that beneath, or arguably above, the human exterior there was a spirit that knew that God would ultimately justify Him. I also suggested that the latter part of this section is still future and that it speaks to a time when those that took advantage of the mildness of the Messiah upon His first visit will receive the rewards of their behavior.