This is the second of the 4 ‘suffering servant poems’. In v 1 is a favorite quote of the ‘pro-life’ movement – “The Lord called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.” But in context it refers not to an individual baby but to the prophet Isaiah, or the nation of Israel (or to the Messiah, or to Jesus, depending on your interpretation of the ‘suffering servant’ metaphor). Either way, it has nothing whatsoever to do with abortion. And the words of v 6 “I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” are often quoted in reference either to Israel, or to Jesus (see Luke 2:32).
For the rest of the chapter it’s clear that god is addressing Jerusalem (i.e. personifying the city or speaking to its people collectively). He promises to restore it (blah blah blah), using pretty poetry to describe the utopia that is to come. Cherry-pickers like to quote v 10-16. Too bad they don’t read to the end of the chapter, where god says “I will feed your enemies with their own flesh. They will be drunk with rivers of their own blood.” (v 26).
The first verse of illustrates the common notion among believers that bad things happen because people sin. In v 2-3 Yahweh brags about using his almighty powers to create destruction. So disgusting. For the rest of the chapter, the speaker (? Isaiah) describes his role as god’s servant. But Christians see prophesy about Christ when they read this, esp. in v 8-9. And v 11 contains a metaphorical warning for anyone who relies on his own power and judgement (“you who live in your own light and warm yourselves by your own fires”) instead of god.
We are treated to more of Yahweh’s bragging about how he will restore Israel. Some interesting commentary – “For the skies will disappear like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a piece of clothing. The people of the earth will die like flies, but my salvation lasts forever. My righteous rule will never end!” (v 6). But otherwise, really nothing new here.
Now it gets a little more interesting. It’s the third of the 4 ‘suffering servant songs’. V 1 asserts that once Jerusalem is restored, riff-raff will no longer be allowed to enter. But define riff-raff? The uncircumcised and the unclean (KJV); the unclean and godless (NLT). I get the point that the NLT translators are making here – that circumcision identifies one as being a member of the ‘in-group’ (i.e. a worshiper of the same god); uncircumcised equates to ‘otherness’ (a different god or no god at all). In v 7, Jerusalem’s deliverance is announced with the words “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation…” This verse was quoted in Romans 10:15 and used in – you guessed it – Handel’s Messiah. And v 13-15 is more prophesy that Christians relate to Jesus.
Verses 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 are all used in the Messiah, so it’s a no-brainer that all are presumed by Christians to refer to Jesus. And it won’t come as a surprise to learn that this is the last of the 4 ‘suffering servant songs’. But as you read the chapter, evaluate this claim. Is there any reason to relate this specifically to Jesus, as opposed to any other Messiah-type figure?
In addition to the familiar words of the Messiah, this chapter is the source of the cliché “lamb to the slaughter” (v 7). And also note the language of v 11-12 – it seems to me that the idea of ‘redemptive suffering’ is introduced here, with ‘he shall bear their iniquities’ and ‘he bear the sin of many’. I will link the arias below, with only one remark – that the tenor recitative “He was cut off from the land of the living” leads directly into the aria “But thou didst not leave his soul in hell”, even although the words to the aria come from Psalm 24. Just another example of Handel plucking two entirely unrelated verses out of different books of the bible and linking them.