24 “Can the prey be taken from the mighty man,
Or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?” – Isaiah 49:24
Picture a scene in the dungeon of a medieval castle. There are two captives in the cell of the dungeon dressed in filthy tattered clothes. Their ankles are adorned with shackles and a ball-and-chain. At the door of the cell is an armed guard, muscular and cruel, who is talking to the king of the land, dressed in ermine and silk robes. This is the type of scene that the prophet Isaiah has in mind as he asks his question about the mighty man and the tyrant. Can this prey be taken, or can these captives be rescued? The operation seems hopeless. The mighty man is too strong, and the tyrant is too well-fortified. The captives are doomed, because where would you ever find a rescuer who would be willing and able to deliver such miserable wretches?
WHO ARE THE CAPTIVES?
To understand what the prophet Isaiah is saying by this illustration of captives and tyrants, we must realize that, in Bible prophecy, something greater than the actual picture is being communicated. Isaiah tells us of prey and captives who are oppressed by overwhelming enemies and troubles. He asks the question he does in 49:24 to highlight the impossibility of the rescue. We also know that biblical prophecy has universal application, meaning that the story of the captives and the tyrants is not a mythical story of folklore, but is a story that involves you and me. From these pieces of information, it becomes clear that we are the captives. You and I are the ones who need to be rescued from the tyrant. We are the prey of the mighty man.
WHO IS THE MIGHTY MAN AND THE TYRANT?
If we are the captives and the prey, then to what or to whom are we captive? Who is this mighty man that holds us under his power?
In one sense, the “mighty men” who hold us captive are all the things that cause damage and destruction in our life and in the lives of others. We all have these types of “tyrants” who oppress us and who seem to show up just when we want them least. These are “tyrants” like shame about our past or fear and anxiety about the future. The “mighty man” might come in the guise of loneliness, or feelings of failure or of hopelessness. Maybe they are anger or guilt or insecurities or jealousy. All of these can oppress us and hold us captive and in chains.
But in the true sense, the “mighty man” who is holding us captive and who threatens to destroy our life is sin and all the manifestations and the effects of sin. Sin has been the great tyrant of mankind since Adam ate of the fruit in the Garden. Sin is the mighty man who oppresses us and abuses us and brings us under God’s wrath and condemnation. Jesus said that, “everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin (John 8:34).”
WHO CAN RESCUE THE CAPTIVES OF A TYRANT?
Now we come to the crux of the matter. We now know that we are the captives and that sin is the tyrant and the mighty man, but there is also talk of a rescue.
25 Surely, thus says the Lord,
“Even the captives of the mighty man will be taken away,
And the prey of the tyrant will be rescued.
For I will contend with the one who contends with you,
And I will save your sons.”
In the next verse, Isaiah 49:25, the prophet makes clear who will perform the rescue. It is none other than the LORD Himself! But we also need to keep in mind that, in this section of Isaiah, the prophet is telling about the LORD’s suffering servant who will come to rescue His people. Later, in the gospel of John, after declaring that “everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin,” Jesus goes on to say, “So if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:34, 36).”
Thus, the full picture is revealed. We were held captive, enslaved to sin, with no ability to escape ourselves. But the LORD, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, has the power to take away sin’s captives and to set them forever free. And the Son has set us free.
SDG rmb 8/10/2020