Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66.St. Louis: Concordia, 1972. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 49” pp. 169-190.
Luther notes that “prophets deal with two things: First, they teach, terrify, console, and instruct their people and correct the rebels, and for that reason it was necessary to inculcate the issues of faith and good works. The second part was to give them direction concerning Christ” (LW 17, 169). This is where Isaiah goes in chapter 49. The recurring theme for the rest of Isaiah will be Christ’s work of calling all nations but rejecting the Jews, who have rejected God’s promises. Luther expects this concept to be difficult, even offensive.
From the start of Isaiah 49, the prophet calls to “coastlands.” This refers to the whole world. The message is that the savior is called regardless of anything he might do. He is called from his mother’s womb (LW 17, 170). The work of Christ takes place, in verse 2, through word, not through force of arms. Luther emphasizes the power and effectiveness of God’s Word, as opposed to all other forces he can identify (LW 17, 171). Even if it appears weak in the eyes of onlookers, the Bible asserts, and many Christians will testify, that God’s word is, in fact, an unstoppable force. This is the message that the Bible has for God’s servants - proclamation of the biblical message (LW 17, 172). Luther notes that in his time also people have objected, saying that God is not powerful. However, Luther spins a brief homily, illustrating that there have been people in every age who deny the power of God’s word. Yet God’s word has prevailed in all those situations (LW 17, 173).
In verses 6 and following, God says that speaking only to Israel is too little for him. For this reason, he is sending his savior to the nations - all the Gentiles. Luther sees this as a redemptive mission in all ages. Where there is error due to not using God’s Word, God raises up those who will be faithful to the Word and who will bring God’s power of reconciliation (LW 17, 175). There will always be those who try to distract from the true message of God’s Word. However, God fully intends to rescue people from every nation. Luther takes verse 8 to call people of every age to receive God’s grace whenever they can (LW 17, 177). This ushers God’s people into God’s pasture, where he feeds and cares for them (LW 17, 179). In all places, God will bring his people into protection and safety. This is the true consolation of the Gospel (LW 17, 182).
What of the people of Israel? In verse 14 God’s people complain about their afflictions. They get the feeling that they are not God’s own people. It seems they have been forsaken (LW 17, 183). Yet Luther reminds us that God, the parent of Israel, cannot ever forsake his people. Isaiah uses the figure of a mother for God (v. 15). As the mother does not forget her child, God does not forget his people. His promise of rescue is for Israel as well as for the other nations. They will join together, as Luther identifies, in the Christian faith (LW 17, 186).