The Lord’s Servants
W. E. Vine, Bath
The portion of the prophecies of isaiah which commences at chapter 40 contains a scries of promises of blessing to Israel. These promises centre in the Messiah; they arc based upon His atoning sacrifice, and their fulfilment will be consummated in His reign of righteousness upon the earth. In chapter 42, and onward to chapter 53, the Messiah is depicted as the Servant of Jehovah, and it is through Him in this capacity that His purposes are to be accomplished. The first declaration, 'Behold my servant', 42. 1, stands in significant contrast to what has preceded. In chapter 41 the Lord addresses Israel as His servant and speaks words of comfort to the nation, but rebukes the sin of idolatry, the sin which was accountable for their failure and punishment; if blessing is to come it must come through One who will adequately represent God's interests and perfectly fulfil His will. In this capacity, therefore, the Messiah is now revealed: 'Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles'. He it is also who by His redemptive work will restore Israel to its position as God's servant; this is brought out later on in chapters 43-49, in which the Lord again addresses the nation as His servant whom He has redeemed, so that eventually they can say that the Lord has said unto them, 'Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified', 49. 1-3; see also 43. 1, 10; 44. 1 21; 48. 20. Blindness in Service
But now in chapter 42, after a prediction of the work of grace which Jehovah's Servant will accomplish, and the manner in which He will effect it, His character is depicted by a remarkable paradox. This is introduced by a sharp rebuke to the people, who by reason of their trust in molten images had become deaf to the voice of God and blind to His revelations. The remonstrance makes the paradox the more striking. 'Hear ye deaf, He says, 'and look, ye blind, that ye may see. Who is blind but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I send? Who is blind as he that is at peace with me, and blind as the Lord's servant? Thou seest many things, but thou observest not; his ears are open, but he heareth not. It pleased the Lord, for His righteousness' sake, to magnify the law, and make it honourable', vv. 18-21, R.v.
To read this description of Jehovah's servant as if it referred to Israel is to misunderstand the passage. The Servant in verse 19 is none other than the One so described in the first four verses of the chapter. Israel had failed to receive the instruction of God's Law; their ears were closed to His admonitions; their sins had blinded them to the light of His truth. Let us never fail to remember that in these things they have become a warning to us, and that it is possible for us to drift into a Laodicean condition, a condition requiring that we obtain eyesalve from the Lord, with which to anoint our eyes, that we may see. Inasmuch as Israel, deaf and blind through their apostasy, had incurred God's displeasure and rendered themselves unlit to act as His servant, He shows them that there is a deafness and blindness which are pleasing to Him and which, indeed, should characterize those who render service to Him. When the nation has been purged from its sins and has turned in repentance to its Messiah, then will the decree be issued, 'Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears ... ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen', 43. 8, 10.
Application to the Service of Christ
We will now consider the character of Christ as thus predicted, 'Who is blind but my servant? or deaf as my messenger that I send? who is blind as he that is at peace with me, and blind as the Lord's servant?' The word rendered 'he that is at peace with me' ('he that is perfect', A.v.) gives the point of the whole description; it indicates that condition of peace which accompanies complete submission to God, and so the word has the meaning 'the devoted or submissive one'. As a proper name, Meshullam, it occurs in Nehemiah 3. 4, 6, 30, and elsewhere. The great object for which the Son of God came to earth and for which He spent His life here was to do the will of the Father. 'I came down from heaven'. He said, 'not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me', John 6. 38. In complete submission to His will He passed through the experience and the suffering which it involved, consequent upon the alienation of man and the hostility of the powers of darkness; 'He learned obedience by the things which he suffered'. To every voice that would allure Him from the path of devotion to the Father He was deaf. To every sight that would attract Him from the fulfilment of His will He was blind.
This is strikingly borne out in the temptations to which He became subject at the outset of His public ministry. The Devil's persuasions that He should satisfy hunger by turning stones into bread, and test the power at His disposal by casting Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, fell upon deaf ears. The vision of the power and glory of the kingdoms of the world, as possible for His immediate possession on one condition, was presented to eyes that were blind to everything but the honour of the Father. This attitude of the perfect Servant is again evidenced in His reply to Peter when his lips became Satan's instrument to tempt the Lord from His path to the cross, 'Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men'. Matt. 16. 23. A later chapter in Isaiah gives us the secret of this attitude of unswerving devotion, when of Messiah he writes, 'The Lord God hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I should know how to sustain with words him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that arc taught. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward', 50. 4, 5, R.v. The words which follow show whither the path was leading, the path He trod undeterred by all opposition: 'I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting'.
Application to the Service of the Lord's People
'Who is blind as he that is at peace with me?' How entirely true of the Lord! Peace is, as we have seen, that which characterizes - and it did so perfectly in His case - one who lives in devoted submission to God. That adds a special meaning to His words, 'Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you'. There was no peace like His peace, because it was the outcome of a heart entirely and unceasingly at rest in the Father's will. Only in the measure in which we are delighting in the will of God can we enjoy His peace. It is as the God of peace that He makes one 'perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight'. Thus and thus alone can we, as servants of God, walk in the footsteps of His perfect Servant. Oh, for grace to be blind continually to whatever would obscure our vision of the Lord and the things which are eternal, and would hinder us from 'enduring as seeing him who is invisible'! So shall we behold with open face the glory of the Lord and be changed 'into the same image from glory to glory'. Thus alone shall we who have received any ministry be able to say with the apostle, 'We faint not; . . . commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God', 2 Cor. 4. 1,2. Oh, to be deaf to every sound that mars communion with the Lord, to every voice that would woo our affections from Him and rob Him of the glory due to Him from our lives! There is no difficulty in seeing the connection of Isaiah 42. 21 with the preceding verses. When it says, 'It pleased the Lord, for his righteousness' sake, to magnify the law, and make it honourable', we discern at once the divine commentary on the life and service of the perfect Servant. Every requirement of the law was carried out by Him, and so, fulfilling all righteousness, He magnified the law and made it honourable. That the servant-character of Christ was constantly in the minds of His followers in the early days of the Church is evident from their prayer as recorded in Acts 4. The adversaries were gathered together, they said, 'against thy holy servant Jesus', R.v. They prayed that wonders might be done, 'through the name of thy holy servant Jesus', vv. 27, 30.
There is much more in Isaiah's prophecies about the servant-character of Christ, but we must now notice the closing mention. This is given at the beginning and the end of chapter 53, that is to say, taking, as we should do, the last three verses of chapter 52 as the opening words of chapter 53. There Jehovah says 'Behold my servant shall deal prudently' - that speaks of His service in the days of His flesh - 'He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high' -that speaks of His resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of the Father, of His High-Priestly service and His kingly power. Then follows the prophecy of His humiliation, sufferings, and atoning death. All is to be read in the light of the opening pronouncement, 'Behold, my servant'. At the close of the passage He is described as 'My righteous servant'. As such He will make many righteous, for 'He shall bear their iniquities'. And, finally, as to His reward! 'Therefore', says Jehovah, 'will I divide him a portion with the great'. Even here, too, this Blessed Servant delights to show His grace in sharing the fruits of His victory: 'He shall divide the spoil with the strong'. May it be ours to serve as He served, and so to share His reward hereafter.