November 12, 2020
Isaiah sings four "Songs of the Servant of the Lord," whom God sends with a vocation and a mission to set right all that is wrong in our lives and in our world. But rather than just burn it all down or wipe the slate clean, hear how the Servant comes tenderly to redeem and restore us. The Servant works with a passion for God's glory and a compassion for God's people that is unlike anything the world has ever seen.
But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; You whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:8–10)
That’s where we left off last week, with the encouraging exhortation God makes to his people that he is with them and for them in the midst of all of life’s challenges. And this confidence can be rooted in God’s promise and purpose for his people—he’s chosen them, they are his “servant.” Because he has chosen them, they have a vocation, a calling. Because they are his servant, they have a mission, a task with which they have been entrusted. And God promises his presence and power to them in this vocation and this mission.
But they fall short. Disastrously short. God means for his people to be a conduit of blessing to all the peoples of the earth (cf. Gen 12:3; Ps 67), but instead they get entangled in the same idolatry, unfaithfulness, and sin that plagues all the nations. They are no different. They stumble around in the darkness and confusion of sin just like the rest. They need a light in order to be a light.
And so Israel is God’s people, his servant. But they aren’t true to their calling. They’ve failed at their mission. But God doesn’t give up. Just as he has chosen one people to be his means of blessing all the peoples, so he will now appoint one man to fulfill the vocation on behalf of the whole nation. He will provide a substitute Servant to stand in their place and righteously fulfill his will in all the world.
And so Isaiah sings out hopeful songs of the Servant who is to come. Bible scholars have identified four of these “Songs of the Servant of the Lord” in this section in Isaiah, and we are going to take a look at each one of them in turn this week and next in these “Encouragements” and in our Grow Groups. And so we turn today to the first Servant Song in Isaiah 42:1–9:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, To open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am Yahweh; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” (Isaiah 42:1–9)
As the Lord describes his Servant’s work, it is impossible to overstate its significance. God himself—the God who created all there is and sustains moment-by-moment the life of every creature (v. 5)—has appointed this Servant in his righteousness, and God himself pledges to make his presence and power inseparable from the Servant’s work, ensuring its success (v. 6).
And what is that work? First, he will be “a covenant for the people” (v. 6). I think this is a poetic way of saying both that the Servant will personify God’s commitment to his people expressed in making a covenant with them in the first place and also that the Servant will vicariously fulfill the requirements of the covenant for the people in response to the relationship God has initiated with them. In one person, both God’s and Israel’s covenant obligations will be met.
Second, the Servant will be “a light for the nations” (v. 6). Though from the beginning God had chosen a people to be his special possession, it was always with the intention that this particular people would be a kingdom of priests who would be the means to channel the blessing of the knowledge of God to all the peoples of the earth (Exodus 19:5–6). And while Israel often faltered at drawing the nations to the worship of God, the Servant will shine out as a brilliant light to illuminate all peoples.
And what will be the result of the Servant’s work? Nothing less than the redemption and restoration that we all groan for (v. 7). Those who are blind to the reality of the glory of God will be given sight. Those who are imprisoned by sin and unfree to live a life pleasing to God will be sprung from their dungeons. And he won’t just set people right. He’ll set the world right, reforming societies and nations so that they are characterized by just government and conformity to way of wisdom taught by God’s Law (vv. 1, 4). There will be justice in both process and result.
This sounds nothing less than revolutionary given how far this vision reaches beyond the reality of our present world. So what will drive the Servant in his work? First, he will share with God a supreme passion for God’s unrivaled glory (v. 8). The Servant knows that the world is broken because it gives praise to idols rather than giving glory to God. And so he is zealous to see the world find the satisfaction that is possible only in the worship of God alone (cf. Isaiah 11:3a).
But he will have not only a passion for this great cause, but also a compassion for those that he serves (vv. 2–3). When the revolution comes, there’s always the risk that the weak will be shattered or crushed on the road to utopia. But the Servant is tender in his task. It’s our brokenness that gives rise to his vocation in the first place. He doesn’t come to finish us off or dismiss us out of disdain or disgust. Our need draws him to us. He ties on support to help the bruised reed stand firm again. He shields the guttering embers until they grow again into a steady flame rather than snuffing them out and moving on. At whatever point you feel weakest and most fragile, it is precisely there that your Savior, the Servant, has fixed his loving, healing attention on your life.
And God delights in his Servant’s passion and compassion (v. 1).
This Sunday in our Grow Groups, we’ll pick up with the next Servant Song in Isaiah 49, focusing in further on the Servant’s mission to take the light of revelation and salvation to the very ends of the earth.
On Zoom or in the room, we’ll see you there.