JUN 23, 2019: Servant Songs in Isaiah (42:1-9 & 49:1-13)*

Isaiah 42:1-9 is commonly referred to as the first “Servant Song” in Isaiah (42:1–9), and other such “songs” follow in 49:1–13; 50:4–11; and 52:13–53:12. In these texts, one who represents and sacrificially serves others emerges. Here, the suffering servant is most directly associated with Israel (cf. 41:8–10), but in a representative way (the entire nation represented in her king), the image can also point to an individual who is meant to represent the whole (cf. 11:1–5, with Jer. 33:16). The king was expected to represent Israel, and Israel was intended to be a blessing to the nations. Though far too often this had not been the case, the expectation is of a time of renewal brought about by God’s “servant” (i.e., the nation), whose hope and identity would ultimately be personified in the Messiah (Isa. 42:1; cf. 49:5–6).

Filled with the Spirit, able to heal, and deeply concerned about justice, Jesus is recognized as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s expectation for God’s “servant.” Matthew picks up on Isaiah 42:1–4, making a direct link with Jesus (Matt. 12:17–21). Gentle yet powerful, this servant is unflinching in his mission, and Matthew reminds us that he “brings justice to victory,” not by destroying the nations but by becoming the very hope of the nations (Matt. 12:20–21). The divine warrior has come, and he will bring light where there is darkness (Isa. 42:13, 16). Jesus’ mission is the mission of the Creator God who cares for the whole earth (v. 4). Reconstituting Israel in himself, the Messiah comes in righteousness as a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:3; 17:4) and a light to the world (cf. Luke 2:32). As that blessed light, his servant calling is opening the eyes of the blind and setting the prisoners free (Isa. 42:6–9). We now go out in his name and, in that way, bring his salvation and light to the world (Acts 13:47).

Emerging out of the second “Servant Song” in Isaiah 49:1-13 is One who is identified with Israel (v. 3). Yet he is also distinguished from them, for he is uniquely able to restore and gather Israel (v. 5). Filled with God’s strength, the servant is empowered to renew Israel and then extend divine salvation “to the end of the earth” (v. 6). Reflecting a biblical pattern, God works through the particular (e.g., Abraham/Israel/church) to reach the universal (the nations/world). Here, this unique chosen one embodies the remnant, faithfully representing the Holy One of Israel, but all the while his ministry is meant to extend well beyond the nation’s borders (v. 7).

In the New Testament, Paul draws on Isaiah’s reference to “a light for the Gentiles” to make sense of the gospel extending beyond merely the Jews (Acts 13:47). Right after quoting Isaiah 49:8, Paul boldly proclaims, “now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). God’s ancient promises have been realized in Christ. The new age has dawned (1 Cor. 10:11). Consequently, all believers are involved in the ministry of reconciliation: we serve as ambassadors of Christ, extending God’s reconciling love to all the world (2 Cor. 5:18–21). We are reminded that God’s redemptive concerns were always global, and his pattern of renewal was always from the particular to the universal (Gen. 12:1–3).


This week’s Bible reading schedule:

Monday: Isaiah 50 Thursday: Isaiah 53
Tuesday: Isaiah 51 Friday: Isaiah 54
Wednesday: Isaiah 52 Saturday: Isaiah 55