Isaiah 49:8 Septuagint–Thoughts
8 Thus says the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard you, and in a day of salvation have I succored you: and I have formed you (1), and given you for a covenant of the nations, to establish the earth, and to cause to inherit the desert heritages: (Isaiah 49:8 LXE, Brenton)
Who Is “You”?
In Isaiah 49:8, the Lord continues to speak to a person the text identifies as “you.” There is no reason to suppose that the “you” of verse 8 would be anyone different than the “you” of verse 7. As demonstrated in the last post, it seems clear that the text of verse 7 speaks of the Lord’s unique Servant: Messiah, Christ. (See prior post Isaiah Devotional 2.28.)
The first two clauses of verse 8 relate directly to the events of the life of Messiah, Jesus Christ. First, God heard Messiah. Second, he helped him.
1. When did God hear Messiah?
Luke 22:41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.1 (ESV)
Hebrews 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (ESV)
2. When did God “succor,” or help, Messiah?
Certainly, not on the cross (“Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 and Psalm 22:1). But afterwards, when God on the third day raised him from the dead, he most definitely came to his aid.
What Can We Learn About the “Covenant of the Nations”?
1. When did God give Messiah “for a covenant of the nations”?
The third clause of verse 8 states that God gave Messiah (“you”) “for a covenant of the nations.” The word “nations” in Greek is “ethnos.” In verse 8, ethnos is plural. Generally, the plural of ethnos in Scripture refers to Gentiles (Cf. Nehemiah 5:17; Psalm 2:1; 102:15; Isaiah 42:6; 61:11; Daniel 7:14).
So when did God give Israel’s Messiah “for a covenant of the nations”?
First, Jesus indicated that he himself would be the covenant.
Matthew 26:27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (ESV)
Paul rephrases the words slightly.
1 Corinthians 11:25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (ESV)
Jesus, the Christ, Messiah, is eternal. He is very God of very God. In Christ, the covenant which all believers have with God the Father derives its strength, security, and eternal nature from Christ himself. He came to earth and died. His blood was shed to seal the agreement. The Christian’s hope is completely in Christ. His blood is the covenant (2).
Second, the specifically “acceptable time” at which God announced his Servant as a “covenant of the nations” occurred after Christ’s resurrection, at the moment just before his ascension into heaven.
Christians know this moment in time as, “The Great Commission.”
Matthew 28: 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)
2. More Concerning “An Acceptable Time”
8 Thus says the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard you, and in a day of salvation have I succored you: and I have formed you, and given you for a covenant of the nations, to establish the earth, and to cause to inherit the desert heritages: (Isaiah 49:8 LXE)
What does Scripture teach about the “acceptable time”?
1. Jesus Messiah himself proclaimed at the outset of his ministry that he was embarking upon the “year of the Lord’s favor.” He read these words from Isaiah 61:2 (LXE) in the synagogue in Nazareth. The Greek phrase used resembles the phrase in Isaiah 49:8 LXX. However, rather than “acceptable time,” Jesus read “year of the Lord’s favor.” The Greek word for “acceptable” and “favor” are identical, except for grammatical form.
2. Paul teaches about the “acceptable time” in his letters. First, he quotes the first part of Isaiah 49:8 to the Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 6:2 For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (ESV)
Paul states the time frame clearly: “now.” Paul engaged himself, by God’s appointment, in ministering to the Gentiles. Corinth was a city among the “nations.” The missionary age to Israel and the Gentile nations is the “acceptable time.” We are still living in this time frame today. How should we respond? Listen to what the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes.
Hebrews 3:15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (ESV)
SUMMARY: In Isaiah 49:8, God gives the earth to his Servant and announces the missionary age to Gentiles.
What Does the Covenant Include?
Grammatically, the two concluding clauses of Isaiah 49:8 LXE make best sense as modifiers of the first clause, “for a covenant of the nations.”
LXE I have… given you for a covenant of the nations, to establish the earth, and to cause to inherit the desert heritages:
Masoretic (ESV) I will… give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages,
In the Greek Septuagint what does the phrase “to establish the earth” mean?
IS IT “EARTH” OR “LAND”?
First, the Greek word translated as “earth” can also mean “land.” Two of the Septuagint translations I use translate the Greek word “γῆ” as “earth” (3). The Hebrew word can mean “land” or the sum totality of land–earth. I understand the word as “earth.” The covenant of the Gentiles would involve the earth–in other words, everywhere.
In support of this interpretation, first, Jesus Messiah says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (“γῆ”) (Matthew 5:5). Second, Paul states that Abraham “would be heir of the world (kosmos)” (Romans 4:13). These two biblical pronouncements derive their theology either from direct revelation or from Old Testament Scripture. As concerns Old Testament Scripture, Isaiah 49:8 could be a location that prophesies this change, since “earth” is a translation as possible as “land.”
A NECESSARY SIDE-TRIP INTO HERMENEUTIC (INTERPRETIVE) PRINCIPLES
Readers should understand that an original text is different than a translation. The words in the Greek or in the Hebrew exist in those languages. But what do the words mean? How should they be translated? When a given word can express more than one meaning, translation becomes a matter of interpretation. And, of course, interpretation is subordinate to one’s biblical presuppositions and theological worldview. For example, is Christ the center of Old Testament prophecy, or is Israel the center of Old Testament prophecy? How a reader answers this question is a facet of one’s theological worldview. Interpretive bias, or biblical presuppositions, are unavoidable. Everyone has them. Although commentators and scholars will attempt to argue their own point of view by quoting supportive Scripture, I believe that a presupposition is exactly that–it supposes. I believe it’s a matter of where one places one’s faith.
In Isaiah 49:8, nearly all major, literal translations approximate each other closely. This holds true no matter if the translator is working from Greek or Hebrew. However, there is in the actual text itself enough wiggle room that various interpretations of what the words mean become possible. For this verse, a reader’s presuppositions and interpretive framework will invariably influence the meaning (or translation, if working from an original language) the reader gives the text.
Whether a reader translates the original Greek word “γῆ” or Hebrew word “אֶרֶץ” as either “land” or “earth” is largely a subjective matter based upon one’s own theological worldview. My theological worldview is Christ at the center of all. Therefore, I prefer, as do two out of three Septuagint translations and the King James Bible, the reading that translates the word as “earth.” God in Isaiah 49:8 LXX says to his Servant that he (God) has given him “for a covenant of the nations, to establish the earth, and to cause to inherit the desert heritages:”
Given that everything I’ve written about this chapter in the last several posts demonstrates that Isaiah addresses the Servant’s ministry to both Israel and the Gentile nations, I don’t see any reason to apply these particular phrases near the end of verse 8 in an exclusive manner to Israel alone. Isaiah’s message in chapter 8 is inclusive. The Lord says in verse 6 that he has given the Servant “for a light of the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 LXE). Even the ESV and NET translate this word as “earth.” “Earth” in verse 6 is exactly the same word as in verse 8. Verse 8 nearly repeats verse 6. In verse 8, the Lord says that he has “given you [the Servant] for a covenant of the nations, to establish the earth, and to cause to inherit the desert heritages:” The context of both the passage and the chapter indicate that readers should continue reading the text inclusively.
WHAT DOES “ESTABLISH THE EARTH” MEAN?
Next, what does it mean to “establish” the earth? Reading through the concordance, the Greek word “establish” shows up in the context of someone having authority over someone or something.
BDAG defines the Greek word for “establish.”
καθίστημι [kathisteme]… 2. appoint, put in charge–a. someone over (of) something or someone.
Examples occur in Genesis 41:41; Psalm 8:6; Daniel 2:48; Matthew 24:47; Hebrews 1:2 (minus the prefix).
In Isaiah 49, we have shown that the Servant is none other than God the Son. Since that is so, what authority does the New Testament report God giving to his Son?
Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (ESV)
God the Father has given his crucified and risen Son authority over the earth (6). As Hebrews 1:2 states, God appointed Christ to be heir of all things. In Christ, Christians are co-heirs with him. Christ has authority to divide his inheritance with his brothers and sisters this way.
Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs– heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (ESV)
LXE I have… given you for a covenant of the nations, to establish the earth, and to cause to inherit the desert heritages:
God gave Christ authority over the earth. He can do with it as he pleases.
LAST CLAUSE OF VERSE 8: κληρονομῆσαι κληρονομίαν ἐρήμου (Isa 49:8 LXX)
In the last clause of verse 8, “to inherit the inheritance” is a linguistic formula throughout Scripture. Originally, it meant to inherit an inheritance by the casting of lots. Later in Israel’s history, it came to mean inherit salvation, as in Psalm 25:13; Isaiah 60:21, 61:7; Matthew 5:5; and Hebrews 1:14 (7). Since God addresses his Servant in verse 6, and verse 8 is so similar to verse 6, God addresses his Servant in verse 8. Both of these verses speak of Gentiles (nations). God’s vision of his Servant’s mission includes the whole world.
Christ inherits the world. God set him in charge over it to order it and do with it as he pleases. God gave Christ this authority (Isaiah 49:8 LXE). Christ’s authority over the earth includes physical authority, as well as spiritual. To inherit the inheritance of the desert, or wilderness places, is as much spiritual as physical (John 4:21-26). This clause leads directly into the next four verses, 9-12, which describes the spiritual blessings the Servant will bring, more so than the physical. Ultimately, after the resurrection, the two shall be one.
It is fitting to have reached these joyous verses in Isaiah during the season in which Christians around the world celebrate the incarnation, the birth of the Christ child. Hallelujah! Speaking as a Gentile, I am ever so glad that God extended his holy Servant’s mission of renewal to include me and countless others around the world like me. God is good. My prayers for blessings upon all who may read these words of mine. May God bless you as you go on his way.
1 Although this translation contains the phrase, “I have formed you,” not all existing Septuagint texts contain it. The text that Brenton used includes the phrase.
2 To say, as one set of Bible notes does, that a person cannot be a covenant–therefore, Christ mediates a covenant, completely misses the truth. To mediate a covenant implies that there must be a covenant other than Christ. Where is that document? There is none. As Jeremiah states so clearly, God’s new covenant is written on our hearts and in our minds (Jeremiah 31:31-33). Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is he who lives in our hearts and mind. He is the covenant. Yes, it is most definitely true that Christ is our mediator. Christ mediates between people and God the Father (1 Timothy 2:5). He mediates through himself. There is nothing and no one beside him. He is our mediator, and he is our covenant.
3 These two translations of the Greek Septuagint are 1) Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California. The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008, and 2) Brenton, Sir Lancelot C. L. The Septuagint Version: Greek and English. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970. These translate “γῆν” as “earth.” A third Septuagint translation I use is Silva, Moisés. A New English Translation of the Septuagint: Isaias. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, by the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, Inc. Available online at A New English Translation of the Septuagint. 33. Esaias (upenn.edu). Accessed December 20, 2021. Silva translates “γῆν” as “land.”
4 The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition. Berlin, Adele and Brettler, Marc Zvi, Editors. Published by the Jewish Publication Society, Tanakh Translation, Oxford University Press USA: New York, 2014, page 865.
5 Arndt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich, Editors. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Edition. Revised and Augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker from Walter Bauer’s Fifth Edition, 1958. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979.
6 Notice that Satan had also offered Christ this authority in Luke 4:5-8. Christ, of course, refused. He preferred to receive that authority from his Father.
7 Thayer, Joseph. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Abridged and Revised Thayer Lexicon). Ontario, Canada: Online Bible Foundation, 1997. BibleWorks, v.9.