We continue our series in the Servant Songs of Isaiah, and in today's passage, we'll learn more about the heart of this Servant.
(A) The heart of the servant is for God's word and God's weary people (v.4)
Today's verses in Isa 50:4-9 is different from earlier verses in Isaiah 49. Verse 4 marks a shift in the language and the relationship involved. In Isa 49, God was addressing the people of Israel who were also His servants. In chapter 50, there is now a narrowing down in focus from Israel as a collective servant, to the personal servant of God. Remember that we are not supposed to know that this is Jesus yet. To the original readers of the Bible, they would have noticed this shift, to the introduction of a personal Servant.
This is important because the passage specifically tells us about the preparation of and the purpose of the Lord's servant (v.4). We learn that He has trained and prepared for His mission. The Servant has been taught and speaks out of this instruction ("the Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught"). He continues to receive instruction from God, and does so humbly as a student relates to a teacher ("to hear as those who are taught"). Notice also that this takes place "morning by morning", a daily affair. This speaks of a constant communion and communication between this ideal Servant and God, who share an intimate and close relationship. This also reminds us that God's revelation did not come in magical, supernatural bursts, but that this ideal Servant also learned and communed with God in the same way that we are to -- receiving His Word through the means He has revealed. What was his purpose? This instruction of God to this servant was so that He "may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary" (v.4).
(B) The heart of the servant is God-fearing in the face of suffering (v.5-6)
Verse 5 begins with an explicit description of how God has opened this ear of the servant, and this is connected to his obedience and lack of rebellion. This helps us understand the following passages, which speak extensively about his suffering, but also constant obedience. Verses 5 and 6 also give us a description of the response that this servant will have in the midst of suffering (remember that this is prophecy!). The servant will participate voluntarily ("I gave") and will also suffer many indignities (“pulled out the beard”, “disgrace”, “spitting"). This side of the cross, we know that Jesus did experience these eventually. He endured these signs of contempt and mockery in the Passion narratives -- Judas' kiss as a mark of betrayal, donned a purple robe, wore a crown of thorns, called "king of the jews" ironically.
Isaiah gives us a picture of a perfect submission and obedience to the will of God, even to death on the cross. How is He able to do that? His understanding of God’s word and will, because His ears were opened morning by morning allowed him to submit and suffer willingly. This is also why his sufferings are also the means by which He sustains the weary (i.e. his purpose) – we know that have God who understands. There is comfort in our suffering because there was a forerunner in our sufferings, because the one who did not deserve suffering suffered
(C) The heart of the servant is resolute in God in the face of trial (v.7-9)
In verse 7, the Servant speaks of a certainty of God's help in the midst of suffering and shame. In earlier verses, the tone was a lot more submissive and gentle, and he speaks with patient endurance. However, in verse 7, he is more determined, resolute and strong. What does this tell us about the character of the Servant? This resolve to take on suffering stems from His communion and communication with God. We typically tend to focus on his gentleness etc but scripture shows us that it’s more than just that. We are reminded also of Christ’s firmness and resolve for God’s work, and his confidence of divine help was based upon consciousness of God’s will and obedience to it. The passage ends with a series of challenges and an expectation of final victory. This Servant had absolute confidence in His vindication and acquittal. It is a reminder of the perfect sacrifice Christ is -- who displayed perfect obedience and submitted perfectly to God. Not only does this servant know the teachings of God, He is also clear about His mission, and stayed true to it despite the suffering and disgrace that accompanied it.
What does this Servant Song mean for us today? We know that this Servant is Jesus Christ, and this passage shows us again the heart behind the actions of His life and death. This is the Savior that we sing about and celebrate at Christmas. He is one that came and spoke not on his own authority, but was wholly obedient to the Father (c.f. John 12:49). This is one who came and called those who were weary and heavy laden, and promised them rest that only He can give (c.f. Matt 11:28). Jesus was the one who was obedient to God and stayed resolute in God in the face of trial. He was the innocent one, but was willing to suffer on behalf of Israel. Christmas is a joyful occasion for us, and we have a confidence in Christ, because we have been justified in Him. We can therefore say with Paul in Rom 8:34, "who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us", today, and everyday of our lives.