The third section of Isaiah (chapters 40 – 66) has three parts: chapters 40 – 48; 49-57; and 58 – 66. Each section ends (as has chapter 48) with a warning to the wicked that there will be neither peace nor comfort for them. The warning is plain: they should change.
Chapter forty-nine brings us to the second section and also the second of four “servant songs” in this book. In the first servant song (42:1-9), in response to the oppression of the needy by power-hungry rulers, God says his servant, Israel, will be the means of rectifying the situation. In this song, after the fall of Babylon, God calls His people once more to make God and His justice known to the nations of the world.
God’s people are somewhat incredulous at this. Their own dire circumstances have led them to believe God has abandoned them. But God says: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” The Lord will rescue them from the discipline He has brought on them and bless them in such a glorious way (gentile monarchs will become their foster fathers and nursing mothers) that everyone will want to know the secret of their success. The task of His people is to give glory and honor and credit to God and thereby make him known to the other nations.
Be careful just here. Though the text is clearly a call to “missions” in the Old Testament, Israel’s task is not to make Jews out of gentiles. There was no way to do that in the Old Testament. Their job was to make God known in such a way that gentiles would want to become Jews, and thus look forward to the day God would make that possible through Jesus.
Our own task today is not to tell people they ought to become Christians, but to live and teach in such a way that non-Christians will want to become Christians, and then, we can tell them how. Think about that the next time your passion threatens to lead you into bad behavior. Live as God’s child in such a way that others will want to be like you. Then, they will be open to the message of how that can be possible.