In this series, we're making our way through the prophecies of Isaiah, written around 742 BC – more than 700 years before Christ. Today, we'll look at the second Servant Song
(A) The Servant’s Character: A weapon of truth whose strength and justification come from the Lord
It begins with an address to the coastlands (v.1). We learned last week that the "coastlands" is a reference to the Gentiles. The Servant of the Lord is the speaker here. This is strange, because Isaiah was writing this to the Jewish people, yet they are addressing the Gentiles. Isaiah was a prophet of Judah and therefore, the Jews would assume that his prophecies are for the nation of Israel. Does it therefore seem odd that he is addressing a non-Israelite audience in this messianic prophecy?
In verses 1-2, we learn 3 attributes of the Servant. What can we learn about the Servant from these attributes?
|Verse||Attribute and meaning||Meaning|
|1b||"Called me from the womb"||The LORD called the Servant in human form before he was born; he was chosen by the LORD. In Matt 1:21, we read of the angel Gabriel telling Joseph the following, which fulfills this prophecy -- "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins". |
|2a||"Mouth like a sharp sword"||The words of truth this servant proclaims("mouth") will divide. The sword is a metaphor for conflict; in this case, the truth of his words will stir up the world and pit truth against falsehood. It is also effective for those who are near, and points to the effectiveness of the word as truth. This Servant is likened to a weapon of truth. (c.f. Matt 10:33-39)|
|2b||"Like a polished arrow"||An extension of the sword metaphor, implying that the Words of Truth of the Lord’s Servant will also be effective for those who are far away. Hence, this servant will be effective both near and far. |
The Lord addresses the Servant in verse 3. Note that Israel in verse 3 refers to the Servant. The Servant will be what the nation of Israel failed to be. The LORD proclaims to his Servant that he (the LORD) will be glorified in him (the Servant), here named Israel. The Servant answers that he thinks he has failed, but is also confident that His reward will come from God (v.4). This is what keeps him going, and enables Him to persevere.
We know, as people who have read the New Testament, that this is a reference to the response of the Israelites to the messiah. From John 1:9-11, we know that the people he came to rejected Him and came to kill him. Stephen also says something similar when he addresses the Jews in Acts 7:51-53. If we read on to verse 5a, we know of the purpose of the Servant as given by God. He will come to save Israel, though the people will reject Him.
The Servant makes 2 statements about himself in verse 5b. The servant describes himself as "Honoured in the eyes of the Lord" and "God has become my strength". Whereas the Servant expressed a sense of failure, at the end of verse 4 and also here in verse 5, he does not turn from God in cynicism and unbelief. In verse 4 he says that he has laboured in vain, but here he says he is honoured in the eyes of the Lord. In verse 4 he says that he spent is strength for nothing and vanity, but here he reminds himself that God has become his strength. Finally, he reminds himself that God will give him his recompense, or reward.
These verses give as a picture of the Servant.
- He is a weapon of truth
- He perseveres in the face of failure
- He is justified by the Lord, and not by the success or failure of his works
- Although he is emptied of strength, he looks to God to be his strength
We know something that the original readers did not know -- that this Servant is Jesus. Looking at the characteristics and attributes, isn’t this the Jesus we know? More importantly, because of Him, have you realized that these things apply to you as a Christian as well? Have you ever felt like you were working in vain? Have you ever felt unworthy in the eyes of the Lord? If you are indeed a Christian, then you are honoured in the eyes of the Lord, not by anything you have done to earn His favour, but because of Jesus. Similarly, have you ever felt like you have no more strength left? These verses remind us that God doesn’t need you to have strength in order for you to be useful to him. He will put his own strength into you so that you don’t have to. The more you allow him to do that, the more he can accomplish through you.
(B) The Servant’s Mission: Prophecy fulfilled. Salvation for the entire world, not just Israel
In verse 6, the LORD makes another proclamation to the Servant. Whereas at first the Servant was sent to Israel, here the Lord expands the mission of the Servant to include not just Israel, but the entire world. This is significant. Don't forget that the words were originally meant to comfort the Israelites who had spiritual and physical suffering. These words indicated that salvation was not only for them, but God was also going to expand the work of this Servant. This is something that we are prone to forgetting. It is easy for us to go to church on Sunday's, come here on Wednesdays and hang out with Christian best friends. We forget that when we go to work and switch gears and two sides of our lives don't mix. This passage reminds us that the Servant was sent as a light to a dark world. This is applicable to us now. Do we see it? Do we remember that there is a dark world that needs the message?
The LORD continues talking to the Servant in verse 7. First the LORD gives the Servant a warning, and then gives him assurance. He warns that He will be "deeply despised, and abhorred by the nation" (c.f. Acts 2:22-23). But, He will be worshipped by the rulers of the world too -- "kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves" (c.f. Matt 2:1-2). We know that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy at his birth (where the wise men from the east came to visit from afar), and in his death (despised and rejected by those He came to save).
How did Jesus fulfil the elements of this prophecy that predicted his ministry to the Gentiles, that "salvation may reach to the end of the earth"? This is seen most clearly when Jesus proclaims the Great Commission after His death and resurrection and immediately before his ascension into the heavenly kingdom. The prophecy of this Servant Song gets fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus and His commands to His disciples to spread the good news to all the earth. Even 740 years before Christ’s ministry, it was very clear from the prophecies of Isaiah that the messiah was meant for the salvation of the whole world, and not just the Jews. This is where we are now, and this is our command too!
As Christians, we often think of Christmas as a Christian festive season – and it is. But in this study we've also learnt that before the birth of Jesus, Christ, and therefore Christmas, was never meant for just the chosen people of God. Whether you are chosen as an ancient Israelite, or chosen as a Christian Saint in this day and age, Christmas is not just for you. The good news about the Christ of Christmas is for the whole world. Have you ever realized this? Have you ever thought of Christmas as a season for evangelism, for telling people about the good news of the gospel, of bringing the light of Jesus Christ to the darkest prisons and setting people free? Just as Isaiah says the Servant will be a light to the nations, so we too have been called to be a light to the nations. Let us do so this Christmas.