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Who Called Who From The Womb?
Understanding Isaiah 49

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © April 15, 2016

In an attempt to support their biblically failed candidate as HaMashiach (Messiah), many Christians cite various passages from the Jewish Scriptures. When doing this, they ignore the context and the Psahat (or literal) meaning of the texts hoping to find something "hidden" that Jews, after 3000 years of intense study, have missed. They fail to understand that while there are legitimate "levels" of interpretation, these must always be consistent with the literal text. Isaiah 49 is another example of this misinterpretation on their part.

As we read this chapter we are seeking someone who is clearly fully human and yet who has been chosen by HaShem to bring a warning message to His people, the Jews.

Yeshayahu. Isaiah 49:1 Hearken, you islands, to me, and listen closely, you nations, from afar; the Lord called me from the womb, from the innards of my mother He mentioned my name.

The reference here is to the prophet himself. HaShem called the prophet and gave his His message. Rashi,1 our greatest commentator on the literal meaning of the Tanach, confirms this:

He called me from the womb: When I was still in the womb, the thought came before Him [God] that my name should be Isaiah (יְשַׁעְיָה) to prophesy salvations (יְשׁוּעוֹת) and consolations.
In verse two it is made more clear that the prophet is speaking of himself:
And He made my mouth like a sharp sword, He concealed me in the shadow of His hand; and He made me into a polished arrow, He hid me in His quiver.
HaShem gave Yeshayahu "a mouth" through which to speak His words to the Jewish people. The words of the prophet were like sharp arrows in God's quiver capible of penetrating the human hearts of the Jewish people (verse 3). In verse 4 we see the humility of Yeshayahu. Rashi notes:
Yet surely my right is with the Lord: He knows that it is not from me but from them [i.e., He knows that their failure to obey is not due to my laziness, but to their obstinacy].
In verse five we see the omnipotence of the Holy One.
And now, the Lord, Who formed me from the womb as a servant to Him, said to bring Jacob back to Him, and Israel shall be gathered to Him, and I will be honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God was my strength.
HaShem is intimately involved in human affairs. Do not say, "God created" as though He completed His tasks. Rather say "God is creating the heavens and the earth" because creation is an unending process. So too seeing the needs of His people HaShem created Yeshayahu as an expert blacksmith might make a sword or a quiver of arrows. The prophet acknowledges himself to be in this relationship with HaShem. Rashi: shall be gathered to Him: To [HaShem] they shall return in repentance

. To this end HaShem reveals to His prophet in verse six:
And He said, "It is too light for you to be, etc.: [i.e.] In My eyes, it is too small a gift that you should have this alone, that you be My servant to establish Jacob and to bring back to Me the besieged of Israel, and behold I add more to you, "And I will make you a light for the nations," to prophesy concerning the downfall of Babylon, which will be a joy for the whole world.
The text continues to reveal how HaShem will bring His people into teshuvah (repentance) and out of Babylon through the revelations of His prophet. In the end HaShem will redeem His people from Babylon and:
those who taunt you-I will feed their flesh, and as with sweet wine they shall become drunk [from] their blood; and all flesh shall know that I am the Lord Who saves you, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.
Of which Rashi clarifies, lest someone think the Jews will seek revenge:
And those who taunt you I will feed: their flesh to the beasts of the field. The word מוֹנַיִ is an expression akin to (Lev. 25:14) “You shall not taunt (אַל תּוֹנוּ).” This denotes taunting with words, those who anger you with their revilings.

and as with sweet wine: Heb. וְכֶעָסִיס. The sweetness of wine.

they shall become drunk [from] their blood: So shall those accustomed to drink blood become drunk from their blood. Now who are they? These are the fowl of the heavens. So did Jonathan render this
. Properly understanding the Tanach, whether the Torah, the Prophets, or the Writings, requires more that seeking "proof texts." Such methods can easily lead one astray.

HaShem has never left His people without guidance. Through the deep studies of the Jewish sages, rabbis, and Hakhamim one can avoid error and draw ever closer to HaShem.


  1. Shlomo Yitzchaki, in Latin: Salomon Isaacides, and today generally known by the acronym Rashi, was a medieval French rabbi and author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud and commentary on the Tanach.
    Born: February 22, 1040, Troyes, France
    Died: July 13, 1105, Troyes, France
    Full name: Shlomo Yitzhaki
    Parent: Yitzhak
    Grandchildren: Rashbam, Rabbeinu Tam, Rivam

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