Isaiah 50:1-11

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50:1. Masoretic Text: Thus says YHWH, Where [is] your mother’s certificate of divorce by which I put her away? Or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Look! You were sold for your iniquities, and your mother was put away for your transgressions.

Septuagint: Thus says the Lord, Of what kind [was] the document of your mother’s certificate of divorce by which I sent her away? Or to which creditor have I sold you? Look! For your sins you were sold, and for your lawless deeds I sent your mother away.


The “mother” is Zion or Jerusalem. As the capital of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah, the city represented the people of the entire realm. In the Targum of Isaiah, the “mother” is identified as the “congregation.”

The questions serve to show that the calamities that befell the people should not be attributed to YHWH as if he were the initiator. He had not handed the “mother” any kind of written certificate of divorce, severing all ties with her and plunging her into a vulnerable state. YHWH had no obligation to any creditor, ruling out any need for him to sell his people into slavery so as to obtain funds for making payments. The people’s suffering had its source in their own wrongdoing. Their “mother’s” being in the condition of a divorced woman, without YHWH’s protection and care, was the result of their disregard of his commands.

50:2. Masoretic Text: I came and [there was] no man; I called and [there] was no one to answer — why? Is my hand shortened, shortened, for [effecting] redemption, and have I no power to deliver? Look! By my rebuke I dry up the sea. I make rivers a desert. Their fish stink for lack of water and die of thirst.

Septuagint: Why [was it] that I came and no man was [there]; I called, and [there] was not one who heeded? Is not my hand strong [enough] to rescue? Or am I not strong [enough] to rescue? Look! By my threat, I dried up the sea and made rivers arid places, and their fish will be dried up from [there] not being any water, and they will die from thirst.

After the word translated “redemption,” the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah omits the conjunction “and.”

In the Targum of Isaiah, YHWH’s coming appears to be represented as his sending the prophets, and the people did not repent. The calling is portrayed as being done through the prophesying of the prophets, and the people did heed their words.


YHWH is represented as coming to his people and calling to them. The coming may denote his turning his attention to them, extending to them an opportunity to respond to him and to avail themselves of the aid he would have been willing to provide. The overwhelming response was one of disregard, as though not a man among them was there to meet him.

As the Targum of Isaiah indicates, YHWH’s call to the people would have been directed to them through the prophets, but the people did not “answer” or respond in a positive way. They paid no attention to the word of YHWH. There was no valid reason for the unresponsiveness of the people, as there would have been if YHWH did not have the power to protect and rescue them from harm or distress.

The repetition of “shortened” serves to emphasize the great extent of the limitation. YHWH’s “hand” or his power to act was not “shortened” or in any way limited when it came to his ability to redeem, ransom, or rescue his people or to deliver them from threat, distress, or peril. Based on past history, the people knew that YHWH possessed great power. His rebuke could cause the sea to dry up, as proved to be the case when the Red Sea opened up, making it possible for the Israelites to cross after they had departed from Egypt. YHWH could also cause rivers to become arid like the desert. Without water, the fish would die, and decaying dead fish would begin to stink. Passing through water while opening their mouths, fish appear to be drinking. Therefore, they are referred to as dying of thirst when there is no water.

50:3. Masoretic Text: I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering.

Septuagint: And I will clothe the heaven with darkness and make its covering like sackcloth.


YHWH is represented as clothing the heavens, which aspect is here mentioned as another evidence of his power. He is perceived as making the blue sky turn dark as if clothing it with blackness. The dark cloud cover is likened to sackcloth, a coarse cloth made from the black hair of goats.

50:4. Masoretic Text: My Lord YHWH has given me the tongue of the instructed for me to know [how] to uplift [‘uth] with a word the one who is weary. He wakens morning by morning; he wakens my ear to hear as [do] taught ones.

Septuagint: The Lord gives me the tongue of instruction to know [when it is] necessary to speak a word at the appropriate time. He appointed [it] for me in the morning. He added to me an ear to hear.

There is considerable uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘uth. The Latin word sustento, which is the word in the Vulgate, provides a basis for such renderings as “to console,” “to uplift,” and “to sustain.”


The speaker, on the basis of chapter 49 and verse 10 of this chapter, appears to be the Messianic servant, and what he is represented as saying does fit Jesus, the Messiah whose coming was then still future. YHWH’s having given him the “tongue of the instructed” or “of instruction” (LXX) may be understood to apply to his having been granted the ability to teach or instruct others. (Compare John 7:14-16.) In the case of those who were weary from undergoing hardships or distress, he would know how to comfort or encourage them with just the right word. (Compare Matthew 11:28-30.) According to the Targum of Isaiah, YHWH would make him know “how to teach wisdom to the righteous who faint [or yearn] for the words of his law.”

YHWH is portrayed as wakening the servant each morning, probably meaning imparting his message for the servant to convey. The Septuagint rendering may be understood to mean that YHWH gave his word or message to the servant. For the ear of the servant to be wakened indicates that he would be responsive to what was imparted to him as are those who are willing and eager to be taught and then to act in harmony therewith. According to the Septuagint, God granted his servant an ear to hear or to be responsive.

The Targum of Isaiah says that YHWH sent his prophets early, morning by morning, “if perchance the ears of the transgressors may be opened and they may receive instruction.”

50:5. My Lord YHWH has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I did not turn backward.

Septuagint: And the instruction of the Lord opens my ears, but I do not disobey nor talk back.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah reads “my Lord God,” not “my Lord YHWH.”

The Targum of Isaiah interprets the opening of the servant’s ear to denote his being sent to prophesy.


The servant’s ear is not closed but open to listen, and he is represented as acknowledging that this is what YHWH has done for him. Besides listening, the servant acts on what he hears. He does not rebelliously reject what he is directed to do and does not turn away from it as would a person who turns his back.

According to the Septuagint rendering, he did not talk back or protest because of not being willing to follow through on God’s instruction. The instruction is referred to as opening his ear, suggesting that it was of such a nature as to make the servant want to listen.

50:6. Masoretic Text: I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those plucking out the beard. I did not hide my face from shame and spitting.

Septuagint: I have given my back for lashes, but my cheeks for blows. My face, however, I did not turn from the shame of spittings.

The wording of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah may be rendered “I did not turn aside my face,” not “I did not hide my face.”


In carrying out the commission entrusted to him, the servant would be faced with unfavorable response and abuse. He would be submitted to beatings and insult, having the hair of his beard yanked out and being spit upon. He is represented as willingly submitting to such mistreatment. (Compare Matthew 26:67, 68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63-65.)

50:7. Masoretic Text: For my Lord YHWH helps me. Therefore, I have not been disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I will not be put to shame.

Septuagint: And the Lord became my helper; therefore, I was not disgraced, but I set my face like a hard rock. And I knew that by no means would I be put to shame.

The rendering “by no means” serves to preserve the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not.”


Because the servant recognized YHWH as his helper, he willingly allowed himself to be treated abusively. Human observers would have regarded the treatment to which the servant was submitted as humiliating and shameful. In view of his having God’s favor and help, he would consider himself to be highly honored and not disgraced. The servant did not weaken in his resolve to carry out the commission that had been given to him and faced his enemies with unwavering courage, as if his face was as hard or as unyielding as flint. Because God was with him, he knew that he would not be put to shame like persons who are exposed as wrongdoers, frauds, or failures.

50:8. Masoretic Text: The one justifying me [is] near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who [is] master of my judgment? Let him approach me.

Septuagint: For the one justifying me draws near. Who [is] the one condemning me? Let him resist me at the same time. And who [is] the one condemning me? Let him approach me.


YHWH is the one who draws near for the purpose of justifying or granting justice to his servant, vindicating him as the one whom he approves and exposing those who mistreated him as deserving condemnation. To contend with the servant would mean to oppose him, accusing him of being wrong. The challenge directed to those choosing to contend with the servant or, according to the Septuagint, to condemn him, is for them to take a stand together with him before the judge, YHWH, as persons defiantly resisting his estimation of his servant. A “master” of the servant’s “judgment” would be one who imagined having the right to bring a judgment or a charge against him. All who would attempt to do so are challenged to make their approach to the servant, thereby placing themselves in direct opposition to YHWH who has drawn near to vindicate him.

50:9. Masoretic Text: Look! My Lord YHWH will help me. Who will condemn me? Look! All of them will wear out like a garment. A moth will consume them.

Septuagint: Look! The Lord helps me. Who will harm me? Look! All of you will grow old like a garment, and [something] like a moth will consume you.


It is foolhardy for anyone to oppose the servant, for he has YHWH as his helper. In view of this, who would dare to condemn the servant? The outcome for all who do so is utter ruin. They are portrayed as wearing out like a garment and as coming to be like cloth that a moth, in its caterpillar stage, consumes.

50:10. Masoretic Text: Who among you fears YHWH and listens to the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light for himself? Let him trust in the name of YHWH and let him rely on his God.​

Septuagint: Who among you [is] the one fearing the Lord? Let him listen to the voice of his servant. [As for] those walking in darkness, for them [there] is no light. Rely upon the name of the Lord and lean upon God.

The Targum of Isaiah interprets the reference to the “servant” to be to YHWH’s servants, the prophets. It reads, “Who is there among you of them who fear YHWH, who obey the voice of his servants the prophets, who have observed the law in affliction, as a man who walks in darkness and has no light, trusting in the name of YHWH and staying himself on the salvation of his God?” This interpretation of the Targum does not fit the context, for the experiences narrated focus on the response of one servant.


These words are addressed to those who do not oppose YHWH’s servant. They have a wholesome fear of or reverential regard for God and pay attention to the words of his servant. These fearers of YHWH appear to be portrayed as walking in darkness, experiencing distress and humiliation, having no light, bright prospect, or hope that has its source in themselves. They are encouraged to trust in the “name of YHWH,” that is, on YHWH himself, and to rely on him, waiting patiently on him to act as their vindicator and helper.

50:11. Masoretic Text: Look! All you, kindling a fire, girding yourselves with brands, walk by the light of your fire and by the brands you have kindled. You will have this from my hand: You will lie down in pain.

Septuagint: Look! All you, kindle a fire and strengthen a flame. Walk by the light of your fire and by the flame that you have set ablaze. Through me, these things have come to you: You will lie down in pain.

Instead of “all you,” the wording of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah may be rendered “all those.”

The words “girding yourselves with brands” reflect what the Hebrew text says, but this reading is obscure. Perhaps the thought is that the brands or torches are held comparatively close to the body, giving the appearance that those carrying them are girded with them. The renderings of translators vary, with many choosing to follow an emendation. “All of you kindle flames and carry about you fiery darts.” (NAB) “All of you are kindlers of fire, lighters of firebrands.” (NRSV) “All who kindle a fire and set firebrands alight.” (REB) “All you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches.” (NIV)


Those who kindle a fire and gird themselves with brands or strive to secure comfort with their own fire and the light of their own torches do not look to YHWH for his aid. They arrogantly rely on their own strength to secure what they deem desirable. These individuals are challenged to continue walking by their own light, remaining unresponsive to YHWH and his servant. YHWH’s judgment against them is that they will perish as persons having to lie down in pain or torment.