The Restoration of Israel
8 Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages,
9 saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will make all my mountains a road,
and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Behold, these shall come from afar,
and behold, these from the north and from the west,
and these from the land of Syene.”
13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted. 
8–12 Although the opening words of v. 8 certainly appear to mark a new beginning, almost a fresh oracle, they present a contrast with v. 7. So often in the NT, especially in Acts, it is said that the Christ, rejected and crucified by men, was raised and thus vindicated by God (e.g., Ac 2:23–24). The favor of God to the unique Servant is, of course, merited, but the quotation of v. 8 in 2 Corinthians 6:2 shows that in Christ we share not only his service (see comment on v. 6) but also his acceptance (cf. Eph 1:6, KJV).
The background to the expression “the time of my favor” (v. 8) is probably the day of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8–55 (cf. 61:1–2 and comments; for the covenantal reference, see comment on 42:6). The context here suggests that part of the Servant’s work is to establish the aspects of the Abrahamic and possibly the Mosaic covenants that related to the land of Canaan. Children and a land were major blessings of the covenant with Abraham (Ge 12:2–3); the first is mentioned in Isaiah 48:19 and the second here. The Servant will be a kind of second Joshua (the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek “Jesus”). The land will be repeopled by freed captives (v. 9a).
The new conditions of the people are beautifully described in vv. 9b–12. They are first pictured like sheep finding abundant pasture in a formerly barren land (the “desolate inheritances” of v. 8). In this land they will find food, water, and shelter (v. 10). They will be guided by a compassionate shepherd (cf. Ps 23). These verses are echoed and applied to Christ in Revelation 7:16–17. The pastoral imagery is then replaced by assurances of suitable road conditions (v. 11) and of a return from every quarter (v. 12), already familiar to us from 35:8; 40:3–4; 42:16; 43:5–7. 
A time for favor (49:8–13)
The Lord will hear the Servant’s prayers, help him, keep him and give him as a covenant (49:8). How do you give somebody as a covenant? A covenant is basically a solemn agreement involving promises and conditions, so if you can find one person who will fulfil all the conditions and deliver all the promises, you have found a covenant personified. We are told about some of the promises that the Servant will deliver: freedom in place of imprisonment; light in place of darkness; food for the hungry; water for the thirsty; protection; guidance; and a way home for exiles. He is a bringer of comfort and a shower of compassion.
49:7–13 / Verses 7–13 continue the theme of servanthood, rejection, vindication, and the faithfulness of God, but take it in a new/old direction. Talk of transferring the vocation of servant from people to prophet could be dangerous. It could suggest megalomania on the part of prophet (I once heard the principal of a Jewish seminary say that he was inclined to call in the psychoanalyst when a student talked of feeling called by God to be a rabbi). More importantly, it could suggest that Yahweh has forgotten the undertaking to persist with Jacob-Israel as servant notwithstanding its unreliability. Verses 7–13 begin with the recollection that Yahweh is still Redeemer and Holy One of Israel, an important reminder for God, prophet, and people. These verses address one despised and abhorred, the servant of rulers. This is presumably the Judean community itself. For while we have had no indication that the prophet was treated thus, this description does correspond to the community’s self-perception (see, e.g., 41:8–20). It may well indicate the way it described itself when it prayed (so Westermann, Isaiah 40–66, p. 214). The last phrase is the most painful. Far from functioning as servant of Yahweh, the community is merely servant of heathen overlords. The initial promise of restoration here, then, corresponds to the promise to the community in 45:14–17.
Yahweh goes on to promise that the servant of rulers will become a covenant for the people (v. 8). The phrase recurs from 42:6, where it described the role of Yahweh’s servant and accompanied the phrase “a light for the Gentiles.” That last phrase has just reappeared in 49:6. In other words, we again find the double description of the servant from 42:6 here—divided between verses 6 and 8. The total effect is to reaffirm that Yahweh is indeed still committed to the community’s fulfilling the servant role, through the prophet’s ministry. It is destined not to be the servant of rulers forever, but to be the servant of Yahweh.
It is by restoring the land and freeing the captives that Yahweh will make the community a covenant for the people and a light for the nations (vv. 8b–9a). The logic is parallel to that in verses 5–6, though the content of the promise is also significantly different. There Yahweh will make the prophet a light for the nations by restoring Jacob-Israel to God. Here Yahweh will make the community a covenant for the people by restoring Jacob-Israel’s land and restoring the people itself to its freedom. All these tasks will play a part in the fulfillment of Yahweh’s purpose. Not surprisingly, all correspond to God’s promise to Abraham, which involved land, people, relationship, and being a blessing. And Yahweh promises that the released people will be well-provisioned on their journey back for the reallocation of their inheritance (vv. 9b–11).
We have presupposed throughout the study of chapters 40–49 that the prophet’s special focus is the Babylonian community, but periodically we are reminded not to make this too exclusive a focus. The prophet has a worldwide perspective and from time to time reaffirms that. Judeans had been transported to or had taken refuge in other parts of the world that surrounded their own land, especially Egypt, and the return of Judeans from Babylon is but one aspect of Yahweh’s restoring the community as a whole to their homeland (vv. 12–13)—in order to restore the land (v. 8), whether or not they felt homesick.
49:8–13 God answered Christ’s prayer by raising Him from the dead, then assigning Him to bring Israel back to the land. The Servant of Jehovah will summon the people to return to the land, and provide ideal travel conditions along the way. They will come from all over the world, from as far away as Sinim (possibly China). It will be a glad day for the world when Israel experiences His comfort and compassion in this way.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 49:8–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 Grogan, G. W. (2008). Isaiah. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, pp. 778–779). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Thomson, A. (2012). Opening Up Isaiah (p. 128). Leominster: Day One.
 Goldingay, J. (2012). Isaiah. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (pp. 283–285). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 975–976). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.