Servant vs. Servant

Posted: September 12, 2013 in Isaiah

Isaiah 42, “Servant vs. Servant”

We don’t always enjoy being labeled as “servants.”  Outside of the church, typically a servant is thought of as a lowly position – something that a person would want to advance out of.  Of course IN the church, a servant is seen as something totally different: someone who acts in line with the foremost Servant, Jesus Christ.

For the Christian, that’s the key.  Jesus is a servant.  The Almighty Son of God, with the right to rule the entire universe (and Who will indeed rule the entire universe) still came as a humble Servant of God.  He humbled Himself to walk among us, to seek & to save the lost, and to reconcile us back to God through the brutal sacrifice of His own body & blood.  He served in unfathomable ways, and thus when we are called to serve, we look to Jesus as our example.  Jesus gave it all in His service to God, thus we should do the same.

The people of God have always been called to be servants of God, be it the Church or ancient Israel…and sadly, we’ve often failed at the task.  Ch. 42 of Isaiah shows these servants of God in contrast.  First is the glorious Servant, in whom God delights and calls all the world to behold.  Second is the failing servant – the nation that had imprisoned itself through its sin & needed the wok that only the first Servant could provide.  The glorious Son of God is the Servant of God, and He came to set the people free.

Isaiah 42

  • Presentation of God’s Servant (vss. 1-9)

1 “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.

  • The obvious question as we begin is: who is the “Servant”?  To take the broader context of Isaiah’s prophecies in mind, we might get the idea that God’s Servant is a reference to the future King Cyrus of Persia.  After all, Cyrus was the one referred to in Ch. 41:25 as being someone that God “raised up from the north,” being used by God to tread down princes.  However, Cyrus was only partly in view there, as the prophecy looked forward to Someone greater-than-Cyrus.  The thing to remember is that context goes 2 ways: backwards AND forwards.  The forward context is going to make it absolutely clear that the “Servant” spoken of here cannot refer to Cyrus, but of the Son of God.
  • Some have thought that the “Servant” refers to the nation of Israel – not without good reason.  Later in the chapter, it appears that the nation of Israel IS in mind as another servant of God.  However, the definite interpretation of the Servant comes from the Holy Spirit through the inspired text of Matthew.  Referring to Jesus’ withdrawal from the Pharisees, and how the multitudes continued to follow Him for healing: Matthew 12:17–21, "(17) that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: (18) “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles. (19) He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. (20) A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory; (21) And in His name Gentiles will trust.”" []  There’s no doubt Jesus is in view as the Servant of the Lord God! …
  • Jesus is a “Servant.”  This is plain not only through the testimony of the NT, but through the prophecies of the OT (many of which are found in the book of Isaiah).  The Messiah certainly does reign over all the world, but first He comes in a glorious act of service.  In His first coming, Jesus came to serve; not to be served (Mt 20:28).  He came to seek & to save the lost (Lk 19:10).  He temporarily lay aside the glories of His deity, humbling Himself to come in the form of a slave, even enduring the death of a cursed criminal.  There is no greater Servant in all history, than our Lord Jesus!
  • Jesus is “upheld” by God.  God sustains His Servant-Son, granting Him all that He needs.  Jesus came in the weakness of humanity, but He was blessed and sustained by His Almighty Father.
  • Jesus is chosen (elected) by God.  When Jesus came to earth to die on the cross, it wasn’t due to random happenstance.  It wasn’t because God was panicking & didn’t know what to do when Adam sinned.  No – this was the sovereign choice of God.  From before the foundation of the world, God chose that His Son would come to earth as the sinless sacrifice.  Jesus was picked precisely for this purpose, and no one else would do.
  • Jesus is “delighted” in by God.  The relationship between Father & Son is no mere formality – there is delight!  The Father declared at Jesus’ baptism & transfiguration that this was His beloved Son, in Whom He was well-pleased. (Mt 3:17, 17:5)  There is joy between the members of the Trinity…they love one another in ways we can barely conceive!
  • Jesus has the “Spirit” of God.  Later, Isaiah will declare how the Spirit of the Lord comes upon God’s Servant (Isa 61:1), and it is that Scripture that Jesus proclaimed fulfilled in the hearing of the Jews in Nazareth (Lk 4:21).  God the Son was filled with and anointed by God the Spirit in an incredible way…something in which we ourselves can experience (in part) when we ask to be filled with the Spirit.
  • Jesus administers the “justice” of God to the “Gentiles.”  Not only will Jesus judge the nations of the world for their sin, but He will rule over them in perfect righteousness.  The justice that they never experienced under their rulers & dictators, they will finally experience in the Millennial reign of the Perfect King.
  • Behold” Him!  He is the One to whom all the Scriptures & all the prophecies point!  To Israel, Isaiah was pointing out their future Deliverer – the promised Messiah.  To us, we gaze upon our glorious Savior, and our coming King!

2 He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.

  • The Servant is quiet.  On one hand, this doesn’t sound like Jesus at all.  After all, He was well-known for His open-air preaching.  Quite often, He would raise His voice in the street to proclaim the teaching of God to them.  The beginning of His ministry echoed that of John the Baptist as He preached repentance because the Kingdom of God was near.  How does all of that square with the prophecy that “He will not cry out,” etc?  This speaks of tone/attitude.  The Servant of God is gentle/meek.  Although Jesus did chastise the Pharisees in no uncertain terms, Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. (Jn 3:17)  The Messiah did not come to oppress people, or to place burdens upon them, but rather to set them free & to grant them forgiveness & life.
    • So many people have the wrong idea about God.  They think of God as the big bully in the sky with a giant magnifying glass & they are the ant.  That’s not what the Bible tells us at all!  We know who God is by looking to Jesus Christ, and Jesus is compassionate & loving!  He is meek & gentle, and calls all people to place their burdens upon Him as they believe upon Him as Lord.
  • The Servant never sacrifices justice or truth.  He is meek & lowly in heart, but that doesn’t mean He’s a wimp.  He will not condemn those who humbly cry out for mercy and grace in their repentance, but those who are proud will not find Jesus to be a push-over.  God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (1 Pet 5:5)

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 Servant will not stop…He will prevail!  Jesus had many reasons to get discouraged during His earthly ministry.  He was continually opposed by the religious leaders who ought to have been proclaiming His teaching.  He was betrayed by one of His disciples.  He was abandoned by the rest.  No doubt, Jesus suffered greatly as He went to the cross: physically, mentally, and spiritually.  But He persevered!  Not once did He abandon His mission – He was faithful until the very end. … Even today, Jesus does not fail.  He lives to continually make intercession for His saints (Rom 8:27).  He is with us always, even to the end of the age…of that we can be sure!
  • The Servant is the King who will reign over all the earth.  “Till He has established justice…”  The reason Jesus does not stop is because His total work is not yet complete.  To be sure, His salvific work over sin is absolutely finished.  He proclaimed “Tetelestai – It is finished” from the cross, and did so rightly.  Not a single thing needs to be done regarding the punishment for our sin.  Jesus paid it all, and it is done!  But the cross & resurrection is not the ONLY work of Jesus.  He has yet to reign over all the earth in fulfillment of the promises God made to David.  But He WILL – and He won’t stop until He does so.
  • This is what God proclaimed about His Servant-Son.  Now, He will speak to His Servant.  See vs. 5…

5 Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it:

  • It’s interesting that God identifies Himself when addressing Jesus.  Obviously the God the Son knows everything about God the Father – they’ve been in perfect fellowship from the eternal past.  The Father doesn’t do this for the sake of the Son, but for the sake of those “listening” in on the conversation.  Who is the One who has commissioned this Servant?  Who is the One who has granted the Servant authority?  It is the one and only God.
  • Yahweh is God.  He very specifically identifies Himself.  When speaking about “God,” there is only one God: and that is the LORD – Yahweh – the Everlasting I AM.  Not Baal – not Molech – nor any of the false gods of the imaginations of men.  The true God is the LORD Yahweh.
  • Yahweh is creator.  He spoke the universe into existence, “stretching” out the heavens.  (Indeed, if the calculations of physicists are correct, the universe is still expanding.  “Stretch” is an accurate description of it!)  How important it is to remember that our God is the Creator God.  We are bombarded today with ideas about the randomness of the universe, and how we are all the product of mere chance & a chemical reaction of stardust – but nothing is further from the truth.  We have a specific & personal Creator, and it is none other than the God of the Bible, fully revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
  • Yahweh gives life.  God “gives breath” to all people on the earth – both to those who believe in Him & trust Him, and to those who deny Him or follow false gods.  God is still gracious in giving life to all.
    • Life is precious because it comes from God!

6 “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, 7 To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.

  • THIS God (Yahweh) is the one who called the Servant.
  • God guides His Servant.  God promises to “hold [His] hand.”  Jesus didn’t do a single thing outside of the will of God the Father.  God guided Him perfectly.
  • God provides for His Servant.  He “will keep” Him – God will protect Him.
  • God commissions His Servant.  First, the Servant is the fulfillment of promise.  He fulfills the “covenant” to the Jews.
  • Second, the Servant is grace to the Gentiles.  He is given as “light” to those who had always been in darkness.
  • Third, the Servant is a deliverer for all.  He gives sight…those who were “blind” now can see…  He gives freedom…those who were “prisoners” are no longer bound…

8 I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images. 9 Behold, the former things have come to pass, And new things I declare; Before they spring forth I tell you of them.”

  • God again declares His name (Yahweh), establishing His right to call forth His Servant to do as He pleases.  This is a formal declaration by the Creator God regarding the coming Messiah.
    • All of it underscores how important it is to pay attention to Jesus!  He is not merely another prophet in a long line of prophets.  He’s not just any other “holy man.”  This is the anointed Servant of God!  This is the One specifically appointed by the Creator God to reach out to mankind in grace & rule over mankind in righteousness.  This is One who needs to be beheld, and never ignored!
  • Yahweh is the name of God, and His glory is His alone.  There is no other God – He alone is God.  He alone is deserving of praise.
  • Idols are not.  Idols are nothing!  Why worship that which is created when we could worship the Creator?  It makes no sense, yet people have done it throughout history. … People continue to do it today…
  • God is unique in His glory, and He is unique in His knowledge.  Only God can speak perfectly of the past…  Only God can speak perfectly of the future…
  • Praising God for His Servant (vss. 10-13)

10 Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise from the ends of the earth, You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, You coastlands and you inhabitants of them!

  • For all that God has declared about His Servant-Son – for all that the Messiah will do – a response is necessary.  We need to “sing to the LORD a new song!”  Give Him praise!  Worship Him!  Declare His worth… 
  • How are we to praise God?  With a “new song.” This was repeatedly declared to us in the Psalms, but only here in the book of Isaiah, and two other times in the book of Revelation.  It definitely stands out as being unique.  Obviously there is nothing wrong with old songs.  We need to look back and praise God for the things He has done in the past, and use the songs that we & our forefathers have often sung to the Lord.  But there are times in which we think about the uniqueness of what God has done through Jesus Christ – when we consider all of the ways God has showered us with grace through Jesus – and we cannot help but sing a new song to the Lord!  God has done something totally different through Jesus – He has come and dwelt among His creation in order that He could personally pay the penalty for our sins.  Among the religions of the world, that is simply unheard of…yet it is exactly what Jesus did.  He deserves a NEW song – one that erupts from the sincerity and praise of our hearts.
  • Who is to praise God?  Everyone!  All peoples everywhere: “from the ends of the earth.”  Isaiah is going to go through a list of various places & opposites detailing the ends, and interestingly it has a very Gentile character.  The Servant of God comes as the Jewish Messiah according to the covenant of David, and He will deliver the nation of Israel – but the people called to praise the God of Israel here are the Gentiles all over the earth.  Jews didn’t go down to the sea; Gentiles did.  The Gentiles were the ones generalized as the “coastlands.”  More of that is seen in vss. 11-12…

11 Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voice, The villages that Kedar inhabits. Let the inhabitants of Sela sing, Let them shout from the top of the mountains. 12 Let them give glory to the LORD, And declare His praise in the coastlands.

  • Contrasts are made here as the call to praise the Lord goes out far & wide.  The wilderness (countryside) is contrasted with the cities.  The region of Kedar was desert (most likely in Arabia), whereas Sela was in the mountains (likely in Edom).  And of course, there were the sea-faring people as well.  All peoples everywhere were to “lift up their voice” to “give glory to the LORD.
  • And that is exactly what will happen in the Millennial Kingdom.

13 The LORD shall go forth like a mighty man; He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war. He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud; He shall prevail against His enemies.

  • The Lord is not just a King to be praised; He is a powerful & victorious warrior!
  • There is a future and a present aspect of this.  In the context of the Millennial Kingdom (which is plainly the viewpoint of the past verses that displayed the world-wide praise of God), it is Jesus Who goes forth as a victorious warrior.  Jesus has already conquered the enemies of sin and death, but in His 2nd coming, He will also conquer the armies of Antichrist and put down every nation that rebels against Him.  Satan will be imprisoned in the bottomless pit, and will be immediately defeated upon his brief release at the end of the 1000 years.  All of that is assured, but it is future.  Yet there is also a past aspect of this in that God was getting ready to move among His people in regards to the Babylonian captivity.  That’s what comes out in the next several verses.
  • BTW – the fact that this verse can refer both to the God of Israel & to Jesus, what does that tell us about Jesus?  He IS the God of Israel!  The LORD God will not give His glory to another (vs. 8), but Jesus is not “another.” He IS Yahweh God; He is the 2nd Person of the glorious unified Godhead – the image of the invisible God.
  • Promise of Deliverance (vss. 14-20)

14 “I have held My peace a long time, I have been still and restrained Myself. Now I will cry like a woman in labor, I will pant and gasp at once. 15 I will lay waste the mountains and hills, And dry up all their vegetation; I will make the rivers coastlands, And I will dry up the pools.

  • God had been patient as He saw the suffering of His people.  God had been immensely patient in the face of sin.  When the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt, God waited 400 years before sending a deliverer in Moses.  When the kingdom had descended into idolatry, He waited generation after generation before sending them into Babylonian captivity.  God is incredibly patient – but eventually there comes a time when the righteous justice of God demands that His patience come to an end.  He had “restrained” Himself in the past, but He would move in power and might and violence, to the point that the earth itself would feel the effect!
  • The same is true regarding the 2nd coming of Jesus.  God is incredibly patient with mankind – He has restrained Himself from pouring out the wrath that we so richly deserve.  Yet there will come a time when God cries out again, and lays waste to the earth.  2 Peter 3:9–10, "(9) The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (10) But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up." []

16 I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, And crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, And not forsake them.

  • For God’s people, He promised restoration.  Those who had suffered through the captivity would be brought back.  God would straighten the paths for them, remembering His covenant promises to His people, restoring them to the land and to the Messianic promise.  God did not cast His people away forever; He would be faithful to His covenant promises.
  • To all the world, these are the works God does for those who trust Jesus as Savior and Lord…

17 They shall be turned back, They shall be greatly ashamed, Who trust in carved images, Who say to the molded images, ‘You are our gods.’

  • In contrast with those who trust God, those who place their trust in idols “shall be greatly ashamed.”  They will one day understand the truth, but sadly for many, it will be too late!

18 “Hear, you deaf; And look, you blind, that you may see. 19 Who is blind but My servant, Or deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is blind as he who is perfect, And blind as the LORD’s servant? 20 Seeing many things, but you do not observe; Opening the ears, but he does not hear.”

  • This is where things can get somewhat confusing.  After all in vss. 1-4, it seems pretty clear that the Servant of the Lord is a reference to Jesus as the Messiah.  In fact, there are several Servant songs in the book of Isaiah, and most of them DO refer to Jesus as the Messiah.  Yet here, there’s an obvious problem with that interpretation.  Jesus is the Servant of God, but He is certainly not “blind…or deaf.”  Jesus is the One who gives sight to the blind; He isn’t the One who personally receives blindness.  So if this servant isn’t Jesus, who is it?  It must be a different servant of the Lord…and it is: Israel.  Much of what was said of Jesus in vss. 1-4 should have been able to be said of Israel.  They were chosen of God – God did delight in them – they were to have been a light to the Gentiles, teaching them of the righteousness of God.  But they failed in every area.  Only Jesus was able to fulfill the mission of God for Israel; the Messiah of Israel fulfills every promise of God.  Jesus is the perfect Servant. 
  • But that doesn’t change the fact that Israel is also a servant of the Lord.  In their service to God, they failed.  The ones who were supposed to give light gave themselves over to blindness.  The ones who were supposed to speak the word of God made themselves deaf to the Scriptures.  They belonged to the Lord God by covenant, but they behaved as though they didn’t know the Lord God at all.  So they saw & didn’t perceive; they heard & didn’t understand.  The same things that Jesus proclaimed to the Jews regarding His parables was true regarding the nation at the time of Isaiah, which God had foretold.  Isaiah 6:10, “Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.” []  Eventually they would understand – but it wouldn’t be until after they experienced severe punishment in the Babylonian captivity.
    • Even today, people will eventually understand, but many will have to go through horrific times to do so.  Some people have to reach the bottom of their lives through the consequences of their sin.  Like the prodigal son, it’s not until they are eating the pig pods that they look up to see what they have lost.  Others might have to endure some of the trials of the Great Tribulation before they finally turn to Jesus in repentance and faith.
    • It doesn’t have to be that way!  Anyone can experience the grace of God immediately!  The very moment someone believes upon Jesus as Lord, they receive the forgiveness of God, and are forever made a new creation in His sight.  They don’t have to wait until life forces them to look up…they can choose to look to Christ now.
  • Present-day Punishment (vss. 21-25)

21 The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will exalt the law and make it honorable.

  • Israel had failed in regards to the law – they had blinded themselves to God’s word, and it mattered.  To God, His word is precious – His perfect “righteousness” pleases Him and brings glory to Him.  It pleases God to “exalt” the law because it magnifies His own righteousness.
  • The word of God cannot be treated with casual indifference.
  • When it is, people are themselves affected.  After all, the law warns us away from sin – yet when we engage in sin, we are inevitably trapped by its consequences.  And that’s exactly what happened to Israel.  See vs. 22…

22 But this is a people robbed and plundered; All of them are snared in holes, And they are hidden in prison houses; They are for prey, and no one delivers; For plunder, and no one says, “Restore!” 23 Who among you will give ear to this? Who will listen and hear for the time to come?

  • People were ensnared by their lawlessness.  They were imprisoned by their sin.  The Perfect Servant-Son of God would free people from their prison houses (vs. 7), but these were same prisons into which God’s other servant (the nation of Israel) had placed themselves.  They had given themselves over to sin, and they were deep in the mire of their own consequences. 
    • That’s the way it always is…
  • For the nation of the Jews, they had become “prey & plunder.”  For whom?  For the nations that surrounded them – specifically that of Babylon.  No one had paid attention to the warnings of God through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others.  The prophets had spoken, but the people had refused to hear.  Thus God fulfilled His covenant promise to punish His people…

24 Who gave Jacob for plunder, and Israel to the robbers? Was it not the LORD, He against whom we have sinned? For they would not walk in His ways, Nor were they obedient to His law. 25 Therefore He has poured on him the fury of His anger And the strength of battle; It has set him on fire all around, Yet he did not know; And it burned him, Yet he did not take it to heart.

  • It was not Babylon that decided to plunder the Jews; ultimately it was God Who gave Judah over to be plundered.  The people had repeatedly sinned against Him, refusing to humble themselves in repentance, and finally the patience of God ran its course.  God would act in terrible “fury,” pouring out the “fire” of His wrath upon His own chosen people. They had not taken the warnings of God “to heart,” but God had meant every single word He said.
    • The last thing a person (or a nation) ought to want to do is to taunt God time and time again to act in His righteous wrath.  People can act in flagrant disobedience for a time, but there is no doubt that eventually they WILL see God in His wrath.  Sin WILL be answered by the Lord.
  • Of course this is the very reason why God sent Jesus as the perfect Servant!  His people could not bear the full extent of God’s fury – and neither can we.  So Jesus stepped in and took it in our place.  He paid the price of Israel’s sin (and ours), and became its Redeemer.  (Which is exactly what Ch. 43 will go on to proclaim.)

Conclusion:
Two servants of the Lord – two very different responses to God.  There is the Perfect Servant of God: Jesus Christ, the Lord.  The Promised Messiah would come to bring deliverance not only to the Jews, but to provide healing and freedom for all nations.  The whole world would break forth in praises for this Perfect Servant, Who is both meek & mighty.  He is gentle, not even breaking a bruised reed – but He is also a mighty warrior, conquering every enemy.  He is perfect in every regard, and He is the One God has called the whole world to behold.

The other servant failed in her work.  The nation of Israel had been meant as a light to the world, but she adopted the practices of the world, and ended up just as enslaved as everyone else.  Israel’s story is our own.  When we ignore the word of God and walk apart from Christ, we repeatedly do the same things as the sinners around us, engaging in the same practices, and ending up with the same results and consequences.

God has something far better for us than that!  God offers freedom through Jesus!  God offers life & healing & deliverance through the One He sent to deliver all the world.  Our failure is the very reason Jesus came.  God knew our weaknesses before we were ever born, and from eternity past He had a plan to deal with it in His grace.

Christian, look again to your Savior tonight in awe!  Behold Him in all of His glory.  Turn over to Him those dark areas of your life which you’ve tried to keep hidden from Him.  In those areas of enslavement, turn again to the One who offers freedom, and live in the freedom He promises.

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