Who are these, like stars appearing, 

These before God’s Throne who stand? 

Each a golden crown is wearing, 

Who are all this glorious band?

(Hymn 310)

Following the call of the Gentiles and the universal response of all nations, there is a command to sing and be joyful (v13). But Zion cannot enter into these feelings because she thinks she has been forsaken. She is given the strongest assurances that she is still the subject of Yahweh’s love and then is called upon to lift up her eyes (v18). What she sees is a picture of “her” children converging upon her from all points of the compass. She is utterly perplexed and cannot understand how she could be the mother of so many, especially as she has lost her own children, has been cast off and been without an husband!

49:13 World-wide rejoicing

Verse 13 “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains:  for Yahweh hath comforted his people, and will have compassion upon his afflicted.”

Here is a call for universal rejoicing, “heavens” and “earth” expressing totality. No longer is the grace of God and His salvation confined to the seed of Jacob: the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel is also “a light to lighten the Gentiles” he is “my [God’s] salvation unto the end of the earth”. So the promise in verse 6 is pictured by the prophet as fulfilled. We have been partakers, along with all nations of this redemption in Christ, and we greatly rejoice. But here is a picture of the redeemed with one accord raising their voices in thankful appreciation of what Yahweh has done for them.

“O mountains” They are singled out as places from which the good news was heralded (40:9).

“For Yahweh hath comforted his people” Here the reason for rejoicing is given: Yahweh has comforted His people. This being the essence of the work of His servant as revealed at the outset of the prophecy (40:1–2). The use of the perfect tense, “hath comforted”, presents to us the picture of all creation looking back at what has already happened.

“his people” This term embraces more than Israel, to whom it had exclusively applied in times past (Exod 3:10). In the Servant, blessings and salvation have come to all peoples (v6,9–12), who as pilgrims are returning ‘home’ to Zion.

“and will have mercy [Heb racham] upon his afflicted” The beautiful picture is here continued. There is parental compassion bestowed upon those humbled and down trodden. The last two verbs in this verse in the Hebrew text come at the beginning and end: “for comforted has the Lord his people and on his down trodden ones he has had compassion.” Yahweh’s people are central to His concern, being ‘encircled’ by comfort and compassion. It is a glorious picture and prospect.

49:14–21 Zion complains that she has been forgotten. She is assured by Yahweh that she has not been forsaken and that her family will be more numerous than she could have imagined.

Verse 14 “But Zion said, Yahweh hath forsaken me [cp 62:4], and my Lord hath forgotton me.”

“But Zion said…” A new speaker is introduced, Zion, Yahweh’s wife. These feelings of rejection are elicited by the vision of men of all nations participating in the blessings and privileges that were once exclusively Zion’s! She feels forsaken because her Lord’s (husband’s) attention has been drawn to others! In reality it was not Yahweh that had forgotten Zion, but she had forgotten the circumstances of her redemption from Egypt when the significance of the name was made known: it guaranteed the existence, preservation, and deliverance of Israel (Exod 6:6–8; Mal 3:6).

Verse 15 “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion [racham] on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” (cp Psa 77:9)

This is a remarkable answer by Yahweh, particularly as the nation had been so lacking in response to His overtures (50:1; 65:2). An appeal is made by Him based on the strongest bonds known to man; mother and child are bound by intimate dependence (the baby at her breast), and shared life (the child she has born). Note Solomon’s understanding of the bonds (1 Kings 3:26).

“Yea, they may forget, yet will not I forget thee” Yahweh acknowledges that, rare as it may be, there can be failure and forgetfulness even in this relationship. This acts as a foil for Him to emphasize His constancy: His love transcends the greatest earth can offer (cp Songs 8:6).

Verse 16 “Behold [see niv], I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”

Here there is another remarkable assurance of the permanence of Yahweh’s love. He spreads out the palms of His hands for her to see. On them she can see incised the self-inflicted wounds spelling out Zion’s name! No reference is made in Isaiah to the wounds in the hands that Yahweh’s Servant would have to endure to restore Zion (cp 50:6; 53:4); that is reserved for Zechariah (13:6; John 20:19–20).

“thy walls are continually before me” Zion is destined to become the throne of the Lord where He will dwell forever (Zech 2:10; Ezek 43:7; Isa 60:13). There David ruled and from there his greater Son and Yahweh’s Servant will be established on his throne (Luke 1:30–33). Because Zion has such a glorious destiny and is central to God’s purpose, her “walls” are never forgotten by Him.

Verse 17 “Thy children [Heb banayik, sons] shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.”

Many versions have “builders” for “children”. For example the rsv reads, “Your builders outstrip your destroyers”. Whilst this makes a good contrast with the latter half of the verse, the true contrast is between the “destroyers” who banished “the sons”, and the return of “the sons” marking an end of the rule of the destroyers. So Zion is comforted also by the gathering of family, her sons, always a great antidote to parental depression (v14).

The following verse pictures “the sons” returning to her and she is told that she shall bind them on as an ornament. The theme of sons, not builders, runs through these verses (cp JA Motyer footnote).

Verse 18 “Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee. As I live, saith Yahweh, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on thee, as a bride doeth.”

As further evidence of Zion’s change of fortune she is commanded to lift up her fallen head to see the new reality. And what does she behold? From all points of the world her sons are coming home to her (v12). They are not her natural seed but her spiritual, Gentiles who have become the “Israel of God”, who have adopted “the hope of Israel” and become the true sons of Zion! Though she is utterly puzzled by this vision and these words, she is emphatically told that she will clothe herself with these adopted children; they will enhance her beauty as ornaments do a bride! It is a glorious figure, and one found in the New Testament as well, for Paul says that the Philippians would be his “crown of rejoicing” in the presence of the Lord at his coming (1 Thess 2:19).

Fulfilment in cameo at Samaria (John 4)

There is a remarkable partial fulfilment of this prophecy in the ministry of the Lord. We have already seen how the responses of Gentiles to his words often transcended “his own” nation and how he saw this as an incipient fulfilment of Isaiah 49.

The incident recorded in John 4 tells us of the Samaritan woman who came to the well to draw water. There Jesus was waiting, exhausted, while his disciples had gone to the city to buy food. Carefully he led her in the ensuing conversation to the point where she mused in her heart whether he was the Messiah (John 4:15). Jesus put aside his reserve and added the top stone to his discourse with her, telling her, “I that speak unto thee am he.” She was transfixed, forgot the purpose of her coming to the well, left her waterpot there and coming to the men of the city declared, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”

In the meantime the disciples returned with food and prayed their Master to eat. But his appetite had vanished in the joy of service, so much so that they questioned whether anyone had brought him food to eat! He explained that his meat and drink was to do his Father’s will. And then he drew attention to the labours they must enter into. Denying that there were four months to harvest of the natural grain, which there probably was, he said, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” What did he mean by this enigmatical statement in which he alludes to the words of Isaiah 49:18? When they looked up they saw many Samaritans coming from the city to hear him as a result of the woman’s words. The Samaritans heard him and implored him to tarry with them, which he did for two days, and we are told that “many more believed”.

This is a wonderful incident. To Jesus it was a foretaste of what his work would ultimately bring forth, a ready response of Gentiles believing and converging upon him. As on other occasions it presaged the amazing vision of Isaiah 49. That is the Scripture to which his mind went when he saw the men of the city coming to him.

Verse 19 “For thy waste and thy desolate places [cp v8], and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away.”

Zion is given more details of the impending change in her fortunes. They are dramatic and exciting. The influx of her sons will be so great that the former desolate places will not be able to accommodate the vast numbers (54:1–3; Zech 2:4)! And her enemies who once consumed her will disappear in obscurity: Zion will dwell in total safety.

Verse 20 “The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the others shall say again in thine ears, The place is too strait [narrow] for me: give place to me that I may dwell.”

Here reference is made to two lots of children belonging to mother Zion: one generation has been lost, but in their place another generation has been begotten? What is meant, what is the interpretation? The generation lost are the natural seed of Abraham, who in general rejected the Servant. The generation that replaced them are Gentiles, who responded to the gospel message and became “Israelites indeed”. Jesus predicted that this would happen when he told the chief priests and Pharisees, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matt 21:43). The same message was taught in his warning to those who imagined that the privilege of birth would guarantee a place in the Kingdom: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham… in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south [cp Isa 49:12], and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last [the Gentiles sons] which shall be first, and there are first [the natural seed of Abraham] which shall be last” (Luke 13:28–30).

“… shall say again in thine ears, the place is too strait [narrow] for me: give place that I may dwell” Mother Zion hears the incessant appeal from her children to provide more space! As the prophecy continues, more light is thrown on how these children are begotten: these children of Zion are the seed of the Servant (53:10–12; 54:1–3), the “fruit of the travail of his soul” (53:11 rsv), and not the natural seed. Drawn from all nations they are “a great multitude, which no man could number” (Rev 7:9). In the final vision of Isaiah, Zion is pictured as a mother at peace and rejoicing with all her children: “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her: that ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory” (66:10–11).

Verse 21 “Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been?”

Mother Zion is reeling in amazement. She cannot understand or comprehend how this vast family has come into being. How could these acknowledge her as their mother, seeing her children, the natural seed, have been lost and she herself desolate, driven into captivity, persecuted and constantly forced to move from one place to another? Moreover, who has reared them? And then, acknowledging her widowhood, the mystery deepens, for you cannot have children without a husband!

What she has to learn is that her true children are not necessarily the fruit of natural propagation. They are the product of the Word of God implanted in their hearts! “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Rom 9:8). Her questions are essentially the same as Nicodemus asked. He was tinged with a mistaken view of privilege. Jesus stripped it from him saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:1–5). This explains Zion’s questions too: as a result of the Spirit’s activity in the mind of a responsive hearer a man can attain sonship regardless of race.

We have come full circle. The title of this article is, “Who hath Begotten Me These?” The words below the title are taken from one of our beautiful hymns where the same question is posed. As explained in the preceding article, the same question was asked of the 144,000: “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they?” The answer is given that they have come out of great tribulation and have had their robes washed in the Lamb’s blood. They are pictured before the throne of God and serving Him. They are the redeemed who come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads (Isa 35:10). And then, taking up the glorious words of Isaiah 49:10, that great chapter dealing with Gentile inclusion in the hope of Israel, we read that “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed [shepherd] them, and shall lead them unto fountains of waters” (Rev 7:13–17).