Isaiah 49:4
Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God.
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(4) Then I said.—The accents of disappointment sound strangely on coming from the lips of the true Servant; but the prophet had learnt by his own experience that this formed part of the discipline of every true servant of God, in proportion to the thoroughness of his service, and therefore it was not strange to him that the ideal Servant should also taste that bitterness. We find in the prophet of Anathoth a partial illustration of the law (Jeremiah 20:14). We find its highest fulfilment in the cries of Gethsemane and Golgotha, The sense of failure is surmounted only, as here, by looking to another judgment than man’s, and another reward (better than “work”). (Comp. 1Corinthians 4:3.)

Isaiah 49:4. Then I said — By way of objection; I have laboured in vain — Lord, thou sayest thou wilt be glorified by my ministry; but I find it otherwise. I have spent my strength for naught — Without any considerable fruit of my word and works. “The words,” says Vitringa, “contain the complaint of the Son of God, concerning the small fruit of his mission to the Jews, and the small hope of establishing and successfully propagating his kingdom among them; like that which is attributed to the same great Teacher and his apostles, Isaiah 53:1. But at the same time he supports himself with the hope, that he should obtain a glorious and abundant fruit of his divine mission in the world; for that his judgment, or right, was with God, and the reward of his work laid up with him; who would take good care, according to his wisdom and justice, that the proper and full recompense of his labour should be paid him.” According to this just exposition of the passage, the latter clause of the verse agrees with the former, and the sense of both is briefly this: Though I see little or no fruit of my labour among the Jews, and meet with nothing but contempt, and reproach, and ill usage from them; yet God sees my fidelity and diligence in my work, and he will give judgment for me, and amply reward me in due time.

49:1-6 The great Author of redemption shows the authority for his work. The sword of his word slays the lusts of his people, and all at enmity with them. His sharp arrows wound the conscience; but all these wounds will be healed, when the sinner prays to him for mercy. But even the Redeemer, who spake as never man spake in his personal ministry, often seemed to labour in vain. And if Jacob will not be brought back to God, and Israel will not be gathered, still Christ will be glorious. This promise is in part fulfilled in the calling of the Gentiles. Men perish in darkness. But Christ enlightens men, and so makes them holy and happy.Then I said - I the Messiah. In the previous verses he speaks of his appointment to the office of Messiah, and of his dignity. The design here is to prepare the way for the announcement of the fact that he would make known his gospel to the pagan, and would be for a light to the Gentiles. For this purpose he speaks of his labors among his own countrymen; he laments the little success which attended his work at the commencement, but consoles himself with the reflection that his cause was with God, and that his labors would not go unrewarded.

I have labored in vain - This is to be regarded as the language of the Messiah when his ministry would be attended with comparatively little success; and when in view of that fact, he would commit himself to God, and resolve to extend his gospel to other nations. The expression used here is not to be taken absolutely, as if he had no success in his work, but it means that he had comparatively no success; he was not received and welcomed by the united people; he was rejected and despised by them as a whole. It is true that the Saviour had success in his work, and far more success than is commonly supposed (see the notes at 1 Corinthians 15:6). But it is also true that by the nation at large he was despised and and rejected. The idea here is, that there were not results in his ministry, at all commensurate with the severity of his labors, and the strength of his claims.

I have spent my strength for nought - Comparatively for nought. This does not mean that he would not be ultimately as successful as he desired to be (compare the notes at Isaiah 53:11); but it means, that in his personal ministry he had exhausted his strength, and seen comparatively little fruit of his toils.

Yet surely my judgment is with the Lord - My cause is committed to him, and he will regard it. This expresses the confidence of the speaker, that God approved of his work, and that he would ultimately give such effect to his labors as he had desired. The sense is, 'I know that Jehovah approves my work, and that he will grant me the reward of my toils, and my sufferings.'

And my work with my God - Margin, 'Reward' (see the notes at Isaiah 40:10). The idea is, that he knew that God would own and accept his work though it was rejected by mankind. It indicates perfect confidence in God, and a calm and un wavering assurance of his favor, though his work was comparatively unsuccessful - a spirit which, it is needless to say, was evinced throughout the whole life of the Redeemer. Never did he doubt that God approved his work; never did he become disheartened and desponding, as if God would not ultimately give success to his plans and to the labors of his life. He calmly committed himself to God. He did not attempt to avenge himself for being rejected, or for any of the injuries done him. But he left his name, his character, his reputation, his plans, his labors, all with God, believing that his cause was the cause of God, and that he would yet be abundantly rewarded for all his toils. This verse teaches:

1. That the most faithful labors, the most self-denying toil, and the efforts of the most holy life, may be for a time unsuccessful. If the Redeemer of the world had occasion to say that he had labored in vain, assuredly his ministers should not be surprised that they have occasion to use the same language. It maybe no fault of the ministry that they are unsuccessful. The world may be so sinful, and opposition may be got up so mighty, as to frustrate their plans, and prevent their success.

2. Yet, though at present unsuccessful, faithful labor will ultimately do good, and be blessed. In some way, and at some period, all honest effort in the cause of God may be expected to be crowned with success.

3. They who labor faithfully may commit their cause to God, with the assurance that they and their work will be accepted. The ground of their acceptance is not the success of their labors. They will be acceptable in proportion to the amount of their fidelity and self-denying zeal (see the notes at 2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

4. The ministers of religion, when their message is rejected, and the world turns away from their ministry, should imitate the example of the Redeemer, and say, 'my judgment is with Jehovah. My cause is his cause; and the result of my labors I commit to him.' To do this as he did, they should labor as he did; they should honestly devote all their strength and talent and time to his service; and then they can confidently commit all to him, and then and then only they will find peace, as he did, in the assurance that their work will be ultimately blessed, and that they will find acceptance with him.

4. I—Messiah.

in vain—comparatively in the case of the greater number of His own countrymen. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (Isa 53:1-3; Lu 19:14; Joh 1:11; 7:5). Only a hundred twenty disciples met after His personal ministry was ended (Ac 1:15).

yet … my judgment … with the Lord—Ultimately, God will do justice to My cause, and reward (Margin for "work," compare Isa 40:10; 62:11) My labors and sufferings. He was never "discouraged" (Isa 42:4; 50:7, 10). He calmly, in spite of seeming ill success for the time, left the result with God, confident of final triumph (Isa 53:10-12; 1Pe 2:23). So the ministers of Christ (1Co 4:1-5; 1Pe 4:19).

Then I said, by way of objection. Lord, thou sayest thou wilt be glorified by my ministry; but I find it otherwise. I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, without any considerable fruit of my word and works among the Israelites.

My judgment; my right, the reward which by his promise and my purchase is my right. Judgment is oft put for that which is just or right, as Exodus 23:6 Job 8:3, and in many other places. And so this clause agrees with the next; and the sense of both is this; Though I see no fruit of my labour among the Jews, and meet with nothing but contempt, and reproach, and ill usage from them; yet God sees my fidelity and diligence in my work, and he will give judgment for me, and my reward is laid up with and by him, which he will give me in due time.

Then I said,.... The Messiah said, by way of objection, in a view of what treatment he should meet with, or when entered on his work, and which he found by experience, what follows:

I have laboured in vain; this is not to be understood of the travail of his soul, or of his sufferings and death, which were not in vain, but issued in the redemption and salvation of his people; but of his ministry and miracles, and fatiguing journeys among the Jews; which, with respect to them, were in vain, as to their conversion and reformation; they rejecting the Messiah, slighting his doctrines and miracles, refusing to be gathered by him, being a faithless and perverse generation:

I have spent my strength for naught, and in vain; by frequent preaching and working of miracles, and travelling from place to place: the same thing is designed as before, repeated in other words, to express the certainty of it, to chew the ingratitude and wickedness of the people, and to utter the complaints of his mind:

yet surely my judgment is with the Lord; or is manifest before the Lord, as the Targum; the Lord knew that he had called him to his office; how prudently, diligently, and faithfully he had executed it; and what was his right and due, and which would be given him; and with this he corrects his former complaint, and makes himself easy, and quiets and satisfies his mind:

and my work with my God; or the reward of my works is before my God, as the Targum; and before himself also, Isaiah 40:10 as his work was assigned him by the Lord, so his reward was promised him, and which he knew he should have; and having done his work, be asked for his reward, and had it, John 17:4.

Then I said, I have {f} laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God.

(f) Thus Christ in his members complains that his labour and preaching take no effect, yet he is contented that his doings are approved by God.

4. Although cast down for a moment by his want of success, he does not yield to despondency (cf. Isaiah 42:4), but leaves his cause in the hands of God.

Then I said] R.V. But I said (with a certain emphasis on the “I”).

my judgment] i.e. “my right,” as in ch. Isaiah 40:27. my work should be my recompence (R.V.); see ch. Isaiah 40:10.

Verse 4. - Then I said, I have laboured in vain; rather, and I, for my part, had said. The Servant had momentarily desponded, seeing the small results of all his efforts to reclaim Israel, and had felt a natural human regret at so much labour apparently expended in vain; but his despondency had been soon checked by the thought that God would not suffer any "labour of love" to be wholly in vain, but would give it the recompense which it merited. The verse brings strongly out the true humanity of the "Servant," who feels as men naturally feel, but restrains himself, and does not allow his feelings to carry him away. Compare with this despondency the grief exhibited by our Lord on two occasions (Matthew 23:37; John 11:35), and the depression which extorted from him the memorable words, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" (Matthew 27:46). My work; rather, my reward, or my recompense. Isaiah 49:4In the next v. the speaker meets the words of divine calling and promise with a complaint, which immediately silences itself, however. "And I, I said, I have wearied myself in vain, and thrown away my strength for nothing and to no purpose; yet my right is with Jehovah, and my reward with my God." The Vav with which the v. opens introduces the apparent discrepancy between the calling he had received, and the apparent failure of his work. אכן, however, denotes the conclusion which might be drawn from this, that there was neither reality nor truth in his call. The relation between the clauses is exactly the same as that in Psalm 31:23 and Jonah 2:5 (where we find אך, which is more rarely used in this adversative sense); compare also Psalm 30:7 (but I said), and the psalm of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38:10 with the antithesis in Psalm 38:15. In the midst of his activity no fruit was to be seen, and the thought came upon him, that it was a failure; but this disturbance of his rejoicing in his calling was soon quieted in the confident assurance that his mishpât (i.e., his good right in opposition to all contradiction and resistance) and his "work" (i.e., the result and fruit of the work, which is apparently in vain) are with Jehovah, and laid up with Him until the time when He will vindicate His servant's right, and crown his labour with success. We must not allow ourselves to be led astray by such parallels as Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 62:11. The words are not spoken in a collective capacity any more than in the former part of the verse; the lamentation of Israel as a people, in Isaiah 40:27, is expressed very differently.
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