This passage is the second of the Servant songs in Isaiah. It describes the status and role of the suffering servant of the Lord, the messiah. It falls within what is often called Second (Deutero) Isaiah, chapter 40-55. In this passage, the Lord, through Isaiah, speaks to the church today. We are reminded of our place in God's sight, our task in the world and our share in eternity.
The passage opens with the Servant speaking to the Nations. He was set apart for service and empowered by the creator of the universe. The Servant is the mouthpiece of God. Like a sharpened sward, a polished arrow, he is to proclaim God's truth. God said of him that he is the one who will display his splendor to the nations, the glory of the Lord to all mankind. At the present moment he is suffering, he is oppressed; "I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing." Yet, now the Lord has this to say of the one who is to gather together lost Israel. Not only will the Servant seek out the lost of Israel and gather them as a people for the Lord, but the Gentiles will also be gathered. God's salvation involves the rescuing of mankind for fellowship with himself, and this salvation will extend to the ends of the earth. Not only this, but the Lord the redeemer says to his Servant, the despised and rejected one, that the nations will soon bow before him. The Servant will rule with powerful authority.
Isaiah's description of the Servant of the Lord finds its fulfillment in Jesus, and because we are one with Jesus, there is a sense where we, the church, must serve as the Servant to our broken world. We perform the Servant role when we proclaim the mystery of God's gracious kindness in Christ, a truth that sets people free.
In Isaiah, the Servant is a Spirit-endowed agent of divine revelation, a revelation which the world waits to hear. In the first song, chapter 42, the Servant's ministry is directly to the world. In this, the second song, the Servant ministers first to Israel, but does so with the ultimate intent of world-wide salvation.
The servant passages in Isaiah are hotly debated. The crucial issue lies in the identification of the Servant. Is he Israel, the remnant of Israel, the king, the prophet Isaiah himself, or the messiah? As far as the Old Testament is concerned, the Servant is certainly both Israel and the messiah. Israel, as it historically existed, fell far short of the high qualifications of the Servant. Not even the remnant of Israel could claim to be the Servant. Isaiah's Servant is an idealized Israel, the Israel that should have been, the Israel that would be. The Servant is also, without a doubt, the messiah, the faithful coming one, the saviour of lost Israel and the world. Thus, the Servant is the representative faithful son of God, the faithful people, Israel.
The Nation Israel, and its leaders, only ever partially fulfilled the image of the Servant. Yet, the qualifications of the Servant were certainly fulfilled in Christ. He was the one announced from heaven: "you are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased". Luke 3:22.. These words, announced by the Father at the baptism of Jesus, restate the words of Isaiah 42:1, the opening announcement of God from the first of the Servant passages: "here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight." So, Jesus represents corporate Israel. He is the faithful people of God.
In association with Jesus, we are that faithful people, we are the Servant of the Lord. As the body of Christ, the church, we take on the status, the responsibilities and the blessings accorded to the faithful Servant of the Lord. We the church, the body of Christ, the gathered ones with Jesus, are the Lord's Servant. We, the lowly and oppressed ones, should serve the Lord in this age by displaying his truth to the ends of the earth. Ultimately, this truth displays the very majesty of God's person. Although we might be oppressed and rejected by the powers of this age, the time will soon come when we will rule with Christ over all the powers of the universe.
As we take our seat in church Sunday by Sunday, let us not forget who we are.
1. Who is the Servant of the Lord?
2. The Servant is to "display" God's "splendor". This to "you islands" and "distant nations". What is this revelation and who is to display it today?
3. In what sense has the Servant "spent" his "strength"? Apply this to Jesus and to the church today.
4. How does the Servant "restore the tribes of Jacob" and "make you a light for the Gentiles"? Again, relate this to Jesus and the church today.