The Servant Songs of Isaiah - Part 1
Adam Thropay, California [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
There are four passages in the book of Isaiah that are called songs of the Servant of Jehovah. The subject of these lyrics is a royal servant (ebed), meaning one who rules under another, as Joseph did. The Messiah rules under the authority of God, ‘The head of Christ is God’, 1 Cor. 11. 3. Each of these songs is in the section of Isaiah which was written to comfort God’s people, chapters 40-66. Each song is about the Messiah, and three of them end joyfully with the admonition to sing unto the Lord.
The Servant songs are as follows:
The Supreme Servant, Isa. 42. 1-9 – sung by God the Father throughout;
The Sovereign Servant, Isa. 49. 1-13 – sung by God the Son, vv. 1-7, and God the Father, vv. 8-13;
The Submissive Servant, Isa. 50. 1-11 – sung by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
The Suffering Servant, Isa. 52. 13 - 53. 12 – the first three verses sung by God, the last twelve verses by Israel.
The Supreme Servant
In Isaiah chapter 42 verse 1, the Servant’s task is to make right within history all aspects of human existence – moral, spiritual, political, social, and economic. ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’, Matt. 6. 10, will be globally and visibly fulfilled.
God the Father presents His royal Servant as ‘my chosen One, in whom my soul delighteth’ (Heb. rahtsah – to be well pleased). He repeated these words at the Lord Jesus’ baptism in Matthew chapter 3 verse 17. ‘I have put my Spirit upon Him’ may refer to the Holy Spirit resting upon Christ from His incarnation, Isa. 11. 2, or to the anointing seen in vision by John the Baptist at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, Isa. 61. 1.
In His mission He will be successful and will not be defeated, 42. 2.
He shall not cry (Heb. twahwak): ‘to cry out, especially for pain or sorrow, or for help’.1 The Servant would not complain nor cry for justice. He would have no self-pity, neither would He shout in strife or dispute, Matt. 12. 19.
Nor lift up: ‘to lift up and remove (anything)’. He will not raise His voice: (a) in a cry of protest;2 or (b) for attention, like the loud talking in public places customarily done in the East to gain a hearing.
Nor cause his voice to be heard in the street: The street is where people raised their voices, weeping, and mourning in defeat.3 It was also a place of religious hypocrisy, Matt. 7. 5. The supreme Servant is neither hypocritical nor defeated.
Having no selfish interests, He is motivated by the needs of others, Isa. 42. 3, cp. Phil. 2. 4. He is gentle, meek, gracious, and just. The Lord Jesus Christ’s work in this creation includes establishing His righteous form of government in truth and justice. This will be realized to its fullest degree during the millennium.
In bringing about this righteous world order the Servant is neither violent nor oppressive, but is gentle with the ‘bruised reeds’ of humanity, careful that He does not hurt nor injure them further, v. 3. The spiritual life that is dying out, or is feeble – the ‘smoking flax’ or the ‘flickering wick’ – He will also treat in grace.
Often a bruised reed and a flickering wick are seen together in life situations. A person who is in a low spiritual condition (suggested by the flickering wick) may injure another person (the bruised reed) emotionally or physically. But the Lord Jesus is just and impartial, and will help both individuals according to their needs. The bruised reed must not be broken or stepped upon – that is, injured further, and the flickering wick must not be extinguished, but be fanned back into a strong flame. What an example for His followers to emulate! We, as believers, can virtually ‘write off’ someone who is not walking in close fellowship with the Lord. We can even callously ‘kick’ someone who is already knocked down. Neither of these responses reflects the perfect Servant we represent.
He shall not fail: (Heb. kah-hah) ‘to be weak, feeble, grow dim’, answering to the dimly burning wick of verse 3. Never weakening, nor being discouraged (Heb. ratsats – as in verse 3), He will go through circumstances that would crush others – but He will triumph. He will not stop until He establishes with design, care, and exactness, a right order – with justice in the earth. Although the millennium is in view here, surely we in this era can trust such a One not to fail us, but to strengthen us in our own little difficulties.
God proves He is well-qualified to equip His Servant for the needs of mankind, v. 5. He created the universe by His word, showing His power. Just as we would unfold a sheet of fabric far smaller than ourselves, so the infinite God stretched out the heavens. He spread them out (Heb. rawkah) as a smith hammers out malleable metal with his tools, using wisdom and skill. He designed the earth with natural resources to meet every physical need. More than that, He gives breath (life) and spirit (Heb. ruach: ‘air in motion’, or ‘the entire immaterial consciousness in man’) to all.4 As our Creator, He fully understands all our needs.
I the Lord: The ‘I’ is emphatic, meaning that this great, powerful Creator, just described above, promises that He will hold His Servant’s hand, help, strengthen and protect Him – and how this was fulfilled is a delightful study in the four Gospels. The Lord Jesus was guaranteed success! He will be both a covenant for Israel, and a light to the Gentiles – a Messiah for all people, v. 6. He will open the eyes of the blind, and give deliverance to those in prison, v. 7. God, whose name is Jehovah, guarantees that this prophecy about the Servant will be fulfilled, and gives past fulfilled prophecies as evidence, v. 9. ‘Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them’.
Believers, as His representatives on earth, have the privilege and the responsibility of demonstrating likeness to the Messiah, displaying God’s love and grace, gentleness and meekness, and absolutely righteous behaviour without arrogance. Only in total and consistent dependence upon the Holy Spirit can these characteristics be lived out through you and me.
The Sovereign Servant
The second song begins with the Servant’s prenatal call, and how He was prepared for service, Isaiah chapter 49 verses 1-3.
A. Words from the Son, vv. 1-6
The Servant says that Jehovah made His mouth as ‘a sharp sword’ (khereb - a straight, tapering, cutting instrument with two edges). The sword is figurative of the revelation of God.5 Piercing and dividing with His words, the Servant is God’s mouthpiece.6
To the adulterous woman, already convicted by His very presence, He spoke gracious words of forgiveness and direction. At the same time, His straightforward cutting to the issue – ‘He that is without sin among you’ – struck the consciences of the Pharisees, her accusers. They knew the law of Moses, and recognized that they were guilty of being ‘violent witnesses’. Deuteronomy chapter 19 verses 16-20, ‘If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him’. The word translated ‘false’ means ‘one who promotes violence and wrong’, ‘hatred characterized by violence’,7 ‘one who acquires treasure and provision through oppression and exploitation of the poor’.8 It refers to those who use God’s law arbitrarily for their own benefit.9 In this instance, the Pharisees used the woman as a ‘trick’ case in order to defame the Lord, hoping to have Him murdered – without, of course, their appearing responsible for His death.10
In a few words the Lord exposed the Pharisees as violating the very law of Moses they were claiming to uphold, and, as such, they were subject to the same punishment they were exacting on the woman. No wonder they dispersed quietly after His remark! His words were like a sword with two edges.
When ‘my servant’ is addressed by God as ‘Israel’ in verse 3, it is apparent from the context that the single Servant is in view, the One who epitomizes the true Israel of God, see verses 5 and 6 where the Servant will restore the nation to Himself. The Messiah is the quintessential Israel, ‘a prince with God,’ the One in whom God will be glorified.
What would be the people’s response to God’s words, v. 4? The Servant faithfully records that although He would have laboured to exhaustion (Heb. yawgah), there would be no apparent results (reek). Though He would expend (kalah) His strength and vigor (Heb. koakh), it would seem wasted – for nothing, for emptiness (tohoo). To all appearances, He would leave no lasting impression!
But the Servant refused to be discouraged by this seeming failure. ‘Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength’, v. 5. ‘Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him’, John 13. 31. Despite appearances, He was fully confident in God’s promises that He, the Servant, would restore Israel, be a light to the nations, and ‘be my salvation unto the end of the earth’, v. 6. Salvation is in a Person, available to all worldwide.
The Servant left the final vindication and the results of His labour with God. As He was content to commit His judgement to God’s handling, so also should we be. ‘For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps’, 1 Pet. 2. 21.
B. Words from the Father to His Servant, vv. 7-12
What would follow the Lord’s quiet, apparently fruitless earthly ministry? The One who would be despised (Heb. bazoh – treated with contempt and scorn) by mankind, abhorred (tevab – loathe, hate with indignation) by the nation, and made a servant of rulers, will, at length, be revealed as God’s chosen One, v. 7. ‘Kings shall see (who He really is!) and arise (in respect) and princes also shall worship (bow down and worship as deity), because of the Lord who is faithful’.
He will be helped in a day of salvation, preserved, and made the world ruler, v. 8. His government will free those who were imprisoned in darkness, v. 9. He will tend His people as only the ultimate Shepherd can, personally, and in His mercy, v. 10. Believers from everywhere will come to Him without hindrance, vv. 11-12.
In sharp contrast with the Messiah’s low-key first visit, God points to His glorious global government that is yet to come. What a prospect! No wonder the heavens and earth are exhorted to sing, give praise, and be joyful, v. 13!
- See Exod. 14. 10, 15; 17. 4; Judg. 4. 3, Ps. 107. 6, Lam. 2. 18.
- Compare Gen. 21. 16, Num. 14. 1; Judg. 2. 4.
- Compare Isa. 15. 3; 24. 11; 33. 7.
- Isa. 26. 9; Prov. 16. 32; Ps. 32. 2.
- See Eph. 6. 17; Heb. 4. 12; Rev. 1. 16.
- Matt. 10. 34; Luke 7. 44-48.
- Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, pg. 329.
- Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament.
- Zeph. 3. 4; Ezek. 22. 25-27.
- John 8. 6.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Fellowships with an assembly meeting in his office building where many mebers were reached with the gospel as patients in his busy chiropractic practice. An overseer and diligent Bible scholar, Adam is known for his expository teaching and writings.