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The Servant Songs of Isaiah

 
 
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(By Mark Fontecchio)

Most Christians are familiar with Isaiah 53 as a remarkable prophecy of our Savior. Believers should be encouraged to dig deeper to see the wonderful predictions of the Lord Jesus Christ found in the four Servant Songs of Isaiah. These captivating sections of Scripture offer hope, encouragement, and the opportunity for believers to strengthen their faith in Christ.

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Isaiah 42:1-7

There is considerable detail provided in the Servant Songs regarding both the person and work of Christ. Notably, we see that it was predicted that Jesus (God the Son) would be upheld by Yahweh. God boldly proclaimed that Jesus is, “My Elect One in whom My soul delights!”[1] This testifies to the eternal love of God the Father for God the Son. Great attention should be given to the very next statement in verse 1, “I have put My Spirit upon Him.” Within the short span of less than an entire verse in the Old Testament the doctrine of the Trinity is on display in the ministry of the Servant Jesus Christ. Just as the Church is failing today, the nation of Israel failed to obey the Lord and His Word. In every way that Israel failed, the Lord Jesus Christ would succeed. God the Son would be empowered by God the Spirit, and God the Father would take great pleasure in His Servant.

But what exactly would be the ministry of the coming Servant? Isaiah records, “He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles” (v. 1). Israel had a responsibility to share the Word of God with the Gentiles:

Israel as God’s servant was supposed to help bring the world to a knowledge of God, but she failed. So the Messiah, the Lord’s Servant, who epitomizes the nation of Israel, will fulfill God’s will.[2]

Even in the Old Testament, God sought to reach the Gentiles.

The Messiah would come in a manner that would not be expected. He would not, “cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth” (Isa. 42:2-3). The point of these verses is to indicate that the Servant would be gentle and that He would not seek to unnecessarily draw attention to Himself.

The ministry of the Servant is again highlighted in verse 4, “He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law.” The coming Servant would not quit until His mission of bringing justice to the entire earth is finished.

Starting in verse 5, Yahweh now begins to directly address His Servant. Here God describes Himself as the Creator and Author of life. The ministry of the Servant is yet again proclaimed. Yahweh would sustain His Servant as a, “light to the Gentiles” (v. 6). The Messiah would set the captives free (v. 7).

It is certain that parts of this incredible prophecy were fulfilled at the First Advent of Christ (Matt. 12:17-21). His Word has spread to the Gentile nations during the Church Age, but His justice will not be universal until the time of His coming Kingdom.

Isaiah 49:1-6

The second Servant Song of Isaiah is found in the opening verses of Isaiah 49. In this passage it is the Servant Himself that is speaking to the nations of the world. He had an announcement to make and this is a task that He had been called and commissioned to by Yahweh (v. 1).

Verse 2 contains an interesting description of the Servant, “And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, and made Me a polished shaft; in His quiver He has hidden Me.” The words of the servant would cut like a sword. The teaching here is that:

The Servant would be available for His Master’s use whenever needed. He would not be prominent at all times but would be protected and hidden until summoned into use. Both the sword and the arrow were offensive weapons, the former used at short range and the latter at longer range. Likewise, this Servant’s words would be instruments that would defeat enemies. Jesus Christ was the embodiment of this word from God (cf. John 1:1–4, 14–15).[3]

Jesus came with a unique mission from God the Father.

In verse 3, Yahweh refers to the Servant as Israel. This is because the Servant would accomplish all that Israel had failed to. It is in the Servant that God the Father would be glorified.

The ministry of Jesus at His First Advent could be labeled as less than successful. Instead of turning to God, the nation of Israel crucified their Messiah. This is why the Servant declares in Isaiah 49:4, “Then I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain; yet surely my just reward is with the Lord, and my work with my God.’” This same truth is taught in the New Testament, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).

Verses 5-6 close out this section of text by describing the mission of the Servant. It was to, “restore the preserved ones of Israel” and to be, “a light to the Gentiles.” Through the Messiah, Israel will be restored and salvation has freely been offered to the Gentiles. Ultimately, Jews and Gentiles will live in obedience to the Lord during the Kingdom of Christ.

Isaiah 50:4-10

Another inspiring prophecy is found in the third Servant Song, which is located in Isaiah 50. Once again the Servant is speaking, “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned” (Isa. 50:4). It was appointed that the Servant would speak words of comfort towards those who were weary. Further, verse 4 reveals that the Servant had daily interaction with the Father.

Jesus followed the appointed plan for His earthly ministry. This is the lesson of verses 5-6. The Servant obeyed faithfully the plan that Yahweh had for His ministry (v. 5). The most difficult time was surely the suffering He faced at His death. This is what verse 6 boldly predicted centuries before it happened, “I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.”

The Servant was fiercely determined to obey the will of God. For, “no temptation will deflect him from his God-appointed course. Obedience to God’s will looms paramount in his determination. He has set his face like a hard rock so that it cannot be turned to one side or the other.”[4] But where does the Servant gain confidence in His time of trouble? His trust was in Yahweh (vv. 7-10). The Servant would be vindicated by the Lord God. Certainly the vindication of Christ began at His resurrection. Therefore, the exhortation came in verse 10 to, “trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God.”

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

There can be little doubt that of the four Servant Songs contained in Isaiah, chapters 52-53 are the most well-known.  This section of text is also quoted often in the New Testament:

This is perhaps the best-known section in the Book of Isaiah. Several parts of this passage are quoted in the New Testament: Isaiah 52:15 in Romans 15:21; Isaiah 53:1 in John 12:38 and Romans 10:16; Isaiah 53:4 in Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:7–8 in Acts 8:32–33; Isaiah 53:9 in 1 Peter 2:22; and Isaiah 53:12 in Luke 22:37.[5]

The bulk of the material in this section of Scripture deals with the suffering Servant being rejected. This, however, is not the central point. Instead, it is that the Servant will be exalted. Indeed, this is revealed in the very first verse, “He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high” (Isa. 52:13).  The idea is that, “the terms high, lifted up, and greatly exalted describe God elsewhere (cf. v. 17; 6:1; 33:10; 57:15). Thus the Servant would take a place of equality with God (cf. Acts. 2:33; 3:13, 26; Phil. 2:9; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22). This could in no way refer to Israel, the remnant in Israel, or any merely human person.”[6] The Servant would suffer greatly at the hands of men (Isa. 52:14).

It is notable that chapter 53 starts with the teaching that so few people in the nation of Israel would receive the report about the suffering Servant (v. 1). Even though the Servant would come from the line of David, there was nothing in the appearance of Jesus that would cause the people to follow Him (v. 2). The Servant of Israel was not esteemed by the men of His day. He was, “rejected by men” (v. 3). But the day will come when the nation of Israel realizes that Jesus, “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (v. 4). Certainly there is a remnant of Jews in the Church Age who have received the Savior of Israel, Jesus the Christ. However, at the end of the Tribulation Israel will finally be prepared to receive her Messiah. The Jewish people will come to understand that Jesus took the penalty for their sins (v. 5). The guilt of the men and women of Israel will one day become apparent to them. Fortunately, the Lord, “laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6). Jesus Christ took the punishment for our sin.

Verse 7 provides vital information about the death of the Savior. Even though He was afflicted and oppressed, “Yet He opened not His mouth.” The suffering Servant was not a victim. He went as a willing sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins. Jesus could have defended Himself with a simple spoken word, or with legions of angels. He chose not to, demonstrating His love for us. The soldiers, “who crucified Jesus apparently intended to bury Him with the wicked like the two criminals (John 19:31). However, He was buried with the rich, in the grave of a rich man named Joseph (Matt. 27:57–60).”[7]

The final verses of this Servant Song contain a number of interesting additional truths concerning the Servant. It was the will of the Lord for the Servant to die on our behalf. Isaiah 53:10 records, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him.” His death appeared to be the end (v. 8). But the Servant shall live on to see His seed because He is the eternal Son of God and His spiritual seed shall be united with Him for all eternity. It is for this reason that He, “shall see the labor of His soul and be satisfied” (v. 11). Through His death many shall live. His death took the penalty of all those who believe in Him. The Savior is able to justify (declare righteous) all who come to faith in His death and resurrection for their salvation.

The Servant truly is exalted. His willingness to be, “numbered with the transgressors” led to victory over sin and death (v. 12).

Conclusion

The Servant Songs undoubtedly contain important lessons concerning both the work and person of Jesus. The Servant accomplished what Israel could not. Even though mankind has repeatedly failed to serve Him throughout history, God provided the suffering Servant. His death, “satisfied God’s righteous demands for judgment against sin, thus opening the way for everyone to come to God in faith for salvation from sin.”[8] Those who trust in Jesus can now share in eternal life with Him. The divine plan of God for Israel, the Church, the Gentiles, and the world should build the faith of those who trust in Him.

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Endnotes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible: The New King James Version. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982).

[2] John A. Martin, “Isaiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1095.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Isa. 49:2.

[4] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), 301.

[5] John A. Martin, “Isaiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1106.

[6] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Isa. 52:13.

[7] John A. Martin, “Isaiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1108.

[8] Ibid., 1109.

 

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