Isaiahs Songs of the Servant

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Isaiahs Songs of the Servant

     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 139 (553) (Jan. 1982): 12-31. [Copyright ? 1982 Dallas Theological Seminary; cited with permission;

     digitally prepared for use at Gordon College]

    Isaiah's Songs of the Servant

    Part 1:

    The Call of the Servant

    in Isaiah 42:1-9

    F. Duane Lindsey

     1Isaiah's servant songs (42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-

    53:12) have been among the most controversial passages de- bated by Old Testament scholars. The theological significance of the servant songs is reflected in the traditional conservative view of Christian scholars that the servant of whom they speak is none other than Jesus the Messiah (cf. Acts 8:26-39). For example, Pieper has asserted, For all Christian exegetes the

    Messianic interpretation is a priori the correct one because of 2the precedent set by the New Testament writers. Critical

    scholarship of varying theological persuasions has proposed other solutions to the identity of the servant of the songs. Trac- ing the history of these diverse views is outside the scope of 3this article. Suffice it to say that the views fall into two major categoriesthe individualist (those which identify the ser- vant with an individual, e.g., Isaiah, Cyrus, or the Messiah) and the collectivist (those which identify the servant with a group, e.g., national Israel, spiritual or ideal Israel, or the prophets).

    This series of articles assumes the basic messianic view and will focus on more specific issues such as the exact posi- tion and role of the servant, the relationship of the servant in the songs to the prophecies of the Davidic Messiah, and the time of the fulfillment of the servant's task. An attempt will be made to set forth an interpretation of the servant poems from the viewpoint of a premillennial interpretation of prophecy.


    The Call of the Servant in Isaiah 42:1-9 13

     The four servant songs appear in Isaiah 40-55. (Critical 4scholars call this portion of the book Deutero-Isaiah.) These

    chapters contain prophecies of comfort for Israel written by Isaiah from the perspective of the Exile and the return. Isaiah 40-66 emphasizes the deliverance (chaps. 4048), the Deliver-

    er (chaps. 49-55 [or 57]), and the delivered (chaps. 56 [or 58]

    66), dealing respectively with the purpose of peace (the com- fort), the Prince of Peace (the Cross), and the program of peace (the crown).

    The first servant song (42:1-9) is preceded by two major sections. In the first section Yahweh comforts His people by announcing His coming (40:1-11, a prologue), and the prophet encourages the people by demonstrating Yahweh's superiority over all possible rivals (40:12-31, a disputation). The song then concludes the second section in which Yahweh proves He con- trols history by demonstrating His ability to prophesy (41: 1- 42:9). This section consists of (a) a trial speech in which Yahweh proves His case by giving a near prophecy of His choice of Cyrus as a righteous liberator (41:1-7), (b) two salvation ora- cles and a proclamation of salvation in which Yahweh gives a distant prophecy of Israel's final triumph over her foes (41:8- 20), and (c) another trial speech in which Yahweh reaffirms His control of history and prophecy (41:2142:9). In this final

    unit (41:2142:9) Yahweh challenges the idols to present their case (41:21-24) and responds with two propheciesa near

    prophecy of the victories of Cyrus (41:25-29) and distant prophecy of His servant who will bring salvation and order to the earth (42: 1-9). 5In this first servant song Yahweh gives a distant or long- 6range prophecy of His servant who will bring salvation and

    establish a proper order on the whole earth. The emphasis of the passage is on the introduction of the servant and the out- come of His completed task. The servant is called to accom- plish His work. The poem thus predicts the servant's faithful- ness in fulfilling the mission for which He was designated. 7Yahweh is the Speaker throughout the poem. Verses 1-4

    are apparently addressed to all mankind (certainly to all who 8hear of this designation of Yahweh's servant) and constitute

    Yahweh's designatory call of and promised accomplishments by His servant. Verses 5-7 are spoken directly to the servant as a promise of the divine empowerment needed for the accom- plishment of His task. Verses 8-9 are a divine self-predication

14 Bibliotheca Sacra -January-March 1982

    based on fulfilled prophecy and addressed to His people Israel in exile. The first servant poem thus includes these points: (1) Yahweh predicts His servant's Success in causing a just order to prevail in the earth (vv. 1-4), (2) Yahweh promises to empow- er His servant in the accomplishment of His righteous rule (vv. 5-7), and (3) Yahweh directs glory to Himself by the use of prophecy (vv. 8-9).

    Yahweh Predicts Success for His Servant (42:1-4)

     1Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

    my chosen one in whom I delight;

    I will put my Spirit on him

    and he will bring justice to the nations. 2He will not shout or cry out,

    or raise his voice in the streets. 3A bruised reed he Will not break,

    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

    In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4he will not falter or be discouraged

    till he establishes justice on earth. 9 In his law the islands will put their hope.

    Beuken has demonstrated that the literary genre of this unit 10is very similar to the royal designation oracle (cf. the divine

    designations of Saul [1 Sam. 9:17], David [1 Sam. 16:12-13], and even Zerubbabel [Zech. 3:8; 6:12]). In this paragraph (1) Yahweh designates His servant who will establish a just order through His Spirit (v. 1), (2) Yahweh describes negatively the character of His servant's service who will neither seek publicity nor promote violence (v. 3a), (3) Yahweh describes positively the Success of His servant's mission (v. 3b), and (4) Yahweh declares the unfailing endurance of His servant (v. 4).


    Yahweh identifies His servant to others and with Himself (42:1a). Before Yahweh affirms His servant's endowment with His Spirit and His servant's resultant success, Yahweh first iden- 11tifies His servant to others and with Himself —‖Here is my

    servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight (v. 1a).

    This introduction of the servant by Yahweh to all who will hear is prophetic of the servant's appointment and call to office 12as the Messiah. The need for a fresh introduction of the servant, after reference had already been made to Israel as servant in

    The Call of the Servant in Isaiah 42:1-9 15

     1341:8-9, suggests that this servant differs from Israel. Yahweh

    willingly acknowledges Him as my servant, thus indicating

    that the servant belongs to and has a close relationship with Yahweh Himself. In fact my servant is an expression parallel to

    my chosen one, suggesting that the divine choice or election is the foundation for the honorable position of and faithful per- 14formance by the servant. Election by Yahweh made a person His

    servant (cf. 1 Kings 11:13, 32-34; Ps. 105:26; Hag. 2:23). The servant's task cannot be performed by just anyoneit can be

    accomplished only by Yahweh's chosen one. Election and ser-

    vice go hand in hand (43:10-12, 21; cf. 41:8-9). The expression my servant is not only a title of honor, but also, since Yahweh is viewed as the King of Israel in the immediate context (41:21; cf. 43:15; 44:6), a description implying royal characteristics.

    A recognition of the servant as a royal figure is important for a proper understanding of the messianic significance of this passage. While it is true that terms such as my servant and my

    chosen one are not exclusively royal terms, there is much evi- dence that the passage views the servant primarily as a royal personage. Not only is the literary genre of the passage similar to a royal designation oracle (as already indicated), but the task of establishing FPAw;mi (a just order) is a characteristically royal

    responsibility. Odendaal has demonstrated that the servant is a 15royal personage, and that the identification of the Suffering

    servant and the Messiah did not take place for the first time in the self-consciousness of Jesus, but it was there from the 16beginning. However, even Odendaal recognizes that the termi- nology describing the servant is not completely royal, for in the servant the priestly and prophetic offices find their divinely 17ordained integration in and subordination to the royal office.

    As indicated by Payne, The language seems to link kingly

    and prophetic characteristics in a role reminiscent of that of Moses. It is as if to say that the Second Exodus, such a major theme in these chapters [Isa. 4055], will require a Second 18Moses. This is a helpful identification when one recognizes the royal function of Moses as the vice-regent under Yahweh at the 19establishment of the Sinaitic covenant. A recognition of the

    royal features of the servant forges a link between the concepts of 20the royal Davidic Messiah and the suffering servant. Thus it

    may be concluded with Odendaal that the servant is a royal,

    individual, eschatological figure, who is instrumental in bring- 21 ing about the royal eschatological dominion ofYahweh.

16 Bibliotheca Sacra -January-March 1982

    To resume the exposition, the identification of the servant with Yahweh is indicated not only in the titles designating the servant (my servant and my chosen one) but also in the 22phrases describing their relationship (whom I uphold [i.e.,

    grasp by the hand, e.g., Exod. 17:12; Prov. 31:19] and in whom I

    delight). Yahweh sustains His servant by upholding Him with strength as God the Creator (cf. v. 5). The entire expression (my

    servant whom I uphold) is tantamount to saying, He's mine 23no power can overcome Him! How can He not succeed in His

    task of causing a just order to prevail in the earth?

    Yahweh also speaks of His selected servant as one in whom I

    delight. Although in the perfect tense, the verb delight prob-

    ably refers to Yahwehs continual delight in the servant and is not to be limited to the moment of choice. In summary, then, Yahweh sustains His servant whom He has specified, and savors His servant whom He has selected.

    Yahweh declares that He will endow His servant with the power of the Spirit (42:1 b). The prediction—‖I will put my Spirit

    on him (v. lb) clarifies Yahweh's means of sustaining His

    servant as indicated in the preceding lineit is by the power of

    His own Spirit that Yahweh assures the success of the Servant's mission. The results of the endowment with Yahweh's Spirit are described in Isaiah 11:2-4, a messianic passage containing con- cepts found in the servant songs. A further messianic passage (Isa. 61:1-3; cf. Luke 4:17- 21) describes the divine enablement of the Spirit on an anointed one entrusted with a task. Such an endowment with the Spirit of Yahweh as described in this verse is typical of the special gift of the Spirit to empower the leaders of Israel. Especially significant is the gift of Yahweh's Spirit to the 24Davidic kings.

    The divine endowment is conveyed in the term yTitanA (I will

    put, NIV). Is this term to be understood as a prophetic perfect with a specific fulfillment in the descent of the Spirit like a dove at Christ's baptism (Mark 1:11)? Or is it a characteristic perfect, referring to Christ's continual enduement with the Spirit for His difficult ministry (Matt. 12:28)? Perhaps both nuances are in- cluded since the servant Messiah obviously had a permanent (Isa. 11:2) and plenary endowment of the Spirit, although He was particularly marked out as Messiah by the anointing of the Spirit at His baptism which inaugurated His messianic ministry.

    Yahweh declares that His servant will succeed in His mission (42:1c). Yahweh's declaration that He will endow His

    The Call of the Servant in Isaiah 42:1-9 17

    servant with the power of the Spirit (v. Ib) is foundational to His declaration that His servant will succeed in His mission –‖and

    he will bring justice to the nations (v. lc). North rightly calls this 25statement the key to the understanding of the passage. This

    is supported by the threefold reference to the servant bringing forth or establishing justice: he will bring justice to the nations

    ( (v. lc), in faithfulness he will bring forth justice (v. 3c), till he

    establishes justice on earth (v. 4b). The meaning of the Hebrew

    word translated justice (FPAw;mi) is very significant [and is also much disputed) in this servant song. Whybray says that it should probably be assumed that the word has the same meaning all 26three times it occurs in these verses. The extent to which this

    assumption can be allowed demands evaluation, but it is neces- sary first to summarize the possible meanings of fPAw;mi (justice) 27which Whybray calls a word of many meanings.

    The primary meaning of the noun FPAw;mi (justice) is that of a

    judicial decision or sentence (e.g., Num. 27:21; Deut. 16:18; 1 Kings 3:28; 20:40). A variety of derived meanings also relate in some way to the judicial process, such as the act of deciding (Deut. 25:1; Josh. 20:6), the place of decision (Deut. 25:1; 1 Kings 7:7), the process of litigation (Isa. 3:14; Job 22:4; Ps. 143:2), the case presented for litigation (Ezek. 23:24; 1 Kings 3:11; Job 13:18), the time of judgment (Ps. 1:5), and the execu- 26tion of the sentence (Jer. 7:5; Ezek. 18:8). However, FPAw;mi can

    be used to designate almost any aspect of civil or religious 29government, such as sovereignty (Deut. 1:17; Jer. 8:7) or mag- isterial authority (Ps. 72: 1-2), the attribute of justice employed by civil leaders (Mic. 3:1), an ordinance of law (Exod. 15:25; Lev. 5:10; 9:16; Deut. 33:10, 21), or one's right under law (Deut. 18:3; Jer. 32:7). FPAw;mi also has the meaning of that which is fitting or proper (1 Kings 5:8; Isa. 28:26; 40:14). The related verb FpawA (to

    judge, govern) in its primary sense means to exercise the pro- 30cesses of government, whether legislative, executive, or judi-

    cial. God Himself is the Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25; cf.

    Isa. 33:22) and has delegated this function of judging or gov- erning to His theocratic representatives (but not to prophets) such as Moses (Exod. 18:13), the judges (e.g., Deborah [Judg. 4:5] and Samuel [1 Sam. 7:6, 15], and the kings (1 Sam. 8:19- 20; Ps. 72:1-3, 12-15).

    This variety of usage raises the question of the meaning of FPAw;mi in Isaiah 42:1-4. Whybray is surely correct that vague 3132 renderings such as revelation or true religionare hardly

18 Bibliotheca Sacra -January-March 1982

     33justified. Equally unsatisfactory is Pieper's view that FPAw;mi re- 34fers to the gospel. Since FPAw;mi is the key concept employed three times in this first servant song to emphasize the totality of the servant's task, any translation less comprehensive than a right

    order or similar phrase, fails to take account of the far-reaching accomplishments purposed for Yahweh's servant. The servant's task is to make right within history all aspects and phases of human existence -whether moral, religious, spiritual, political, social, economic, and so forth -so that the prayer will be ful- filled, Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).

    The meaning of FPAw;mi in this poem rests in part on the significance of the verbs used in the three occurrences of the word. In verses 1 and 3, what is the significance of xyciOy. . . FPAw;mi (he will bring forth justice)? Does the verb mean to proclaim

    justice or to produce (i.e., establish) justice? xyciOy has the basic

    ring forth, cause to go out. North maintains that meaning of b

    when the object of the verb is not a material object, the verb always has the meaning of cause to go out from the mouth or 35bring forth words (i.e., speak, impart, reveal). This meaning, 36of proclaim is also supported by Whybray. The verb has this

    meaning in Isaiah 48:20 (cf. 2:3). In support of this view is the citation of this verse in Matthew 12:18 where the Greek word a]paggelei? clearly means proclaim.

    On the other hand the verb may mean bring forth in the

    sense of cause to appear, cause to exist, produce, establish (as

    in Isa. 40:26; 54:16; 61:11; Hab. 1:4). Beuken concludes that in verses 1 and 3 FPAw;mi is more a situation, a state of being, to be realized than a decision to be event to be realized, a process and its execution resulting in relations of righteousness, the background obviously being this: that the 37present situation is devoid of justice. Thus the conclusion of

    Kelley regarding the meaning of FPAw;mi in these verses seems to be justified. He understands FPAw;mi in this passage to refer to a just

    order, that is, the kind of life that will prevail on earth when all nations are brought under God's rule, to be accomplished 38through the instrumentality of God's servant. This seems to be

    the best solution when understood in the sense of the Davidic kingdom of righteousness and peace that Messiah will cause to prevail on the millennial earth following His second advent. Isaiah, of course, does not distinguish between the servant's

    The Call of the Servant in Isaiah 42:1-9 19

    accomplishments to be fulfilled in the first advent and those to be fulfilled in the second advent (cf. Isa. 61:1-3 with Luke 4:17-21).

    Yahweh only summarizes the task which His servant will accomplish the servant will cause a just order to prevail for the nations. The servant's success in this mission is assured by the empowering presence of the Spirit of Yahweh who continually rests on Him (cf. Isa. 11:2-4). Some clarification and expansion of the task of the servant will be presented in verse 6, but the main development of the servant's task will come only in the later songs, especially the fourth (52:13-53:12).


    SERVANT'S SERVICE (42:2-3a)

    The positive description of the servant's success (v. 3b) is preceded by a negative description of the servant's service (vv. 2-3a). This description includes five negative verbs (followed by two more in v. 4). The more probable interpretation of these verbs indicates that the servant will not seek publicity (v. 2) or promote violence toward the oppressed (v. 3a). An alternate view that the servant will not utter lamentation in His distress is a definite possibility and merits some attention.

    The servant will not seek publicity (v. 2). Yahweh indicates

    that His servant will not seek publicity, that He will not be clam- orous or ostentatious in the accomplishment of His mission

    He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets (v.

    2). The majority of commentators interpret this verse as referring to the nonclamorous or gentle character of the servant's methods in fulfilling His missionthat He will not shout in strife or

    dispute, that He will not quarrel or cry out (Matt. 12:19, citing

    this verse). Many of these scholars think that the negative clauses suggest a contrast between the servant's functions and those of someone else, such as earlier prophets of doom or even Yahweh's anointed one, Cyrus (Isa. 45:1-13). In the latter in- stance, the verbs are said to describe how a worldly conqueror performs his deeds, in contrast to the gentleness of Yahweh's servant. On the other hand the statements may simply be the figure of speech called litotes (a negative, minimizing statement used to emphasize its opposite), thus indicating the meek, humble, gentle character of the servant (cf. Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:5).

    The alternate interpretation of this verse is that the Hebrew verb qfacA translated shout (NIV) is properly the term for crying

    out to God in lamentation, a cry for relief or justice, for deliver-

20 Bibliotheca Sacra -January-March 1982

ance in deep need or trouble (cf.Exod.14:10; 17:4; Judg.4:3; Ps. 39107:6; Lam. 2:18). The second verb (xWAnA cry out) literally

    means to lift up (the voice) as in a cry of protest (cf. Gen. 21: 16; Num. 14:1; Judg. 2:4), although it can also be used of a cry of joy (cf. Isa. 24:14; 52:8). This alternative view understands in the same way, the statement, ―He will not…raise his voice in the

    streets, since the streets maybe a place of weeping and mourn- ing (Isa. 15:3; 24: 11; 33:7). Thus the verse may be interpreted to mean that the servant neither laments from discouragement in oppressive conditions nor becomes defeated, but rather perse- 40veres in the task of administering justice.

    The servant will not promote violence toward the oppressed (42:3a). The servant's nonviolent and gentle approach toward the oppressed is expressed in the clauses, ―A bruised reed he will

    not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out‖ (v. 3a).

    The servant seeks to bless, not to destroy. He is a gracious Sovereign, not a tyrant. A reed is weak to start with, but this one is cracked or partially broken (cf. 36:6). He will handle such a bruised reed with great care. A smoldering wick (lit. flax, cf.

    43:17; 19:9) is one that is almost extinguished, but He will keep it burning (not to destroy it, but to enable it to perform its designated function). The bruised reed and the smoldering

    wick are figurative for weak and oppressed people, whether among Israel or the Gentiles, to whomever the servant might 41minister . Ultimately the reference is worldwide, corresponding to the extent of His messianic kingdom in which He will cause a just order to prevail.


    MISSION (42:3b)

    The task of the servant in causing a just order to prevail on the earth was already described in verse 1. This truth is reaf- firmed in verse 3b in the same words (―he will bring forth justice‖).

    The full prediction is in faithfulness he will bring forth justice.

    The word translated in faithfulness is tm,xaccording to 42truth, truly. Whybray translates it undoubtedly. Wester-

    mann renders it to be truth, that is, it becomes truth, is made 43 to prevail.



    The servant will endure and so He will ultimately succeed over any and all adversity or difficulty in establishing a right

    The Call of the Servant in Isaiah 42:1-9 21

order on the earth—―he will not falter or be discouraged till he

    establishes justice on the earth (v. 4a, b). The unusual word

    selection in the Hebrew grows out of Isaiah's play on words in verses 3 and 4. The word falter is literally grow dim, fade, and

    echoes the smoldering or dimly burning wick in verse 3. Be

    discouraged is literally be crushed, bruised and echoes the

    bruised reed of verse 3. The servant will persist through a difficult situation, He will not go to pieces in adversity. Thus

    the servant who in gentle grace does not promote violent destruc- tion will Himself persist with unfailing endurance, will not perish under oppression in carrying out His task to completion. De- litzsch says that His zeal will not be extinguished, nor will

    anything break His strength till He shall have secured for right a 44firm standing on the earth.‖ This verse contains the only im-

    plication in the first servant poem that the servant's road to success carries Him across difficult terrain. The vale of suffering through which the servant must pass is the subject of later poems (esp. 52.13-53.12).

    The endurance of the servant leads on to the establishment of a right order—―till he establishes justice on earth (v. 4b).

    Since the verb used here with FPAw;mi is different from the verb in verses 1 and 3, and because of the parallelism between FPAw;mi (justice, v. 4b) and hrAOT (law, v. 4c), Beuken says that

    FPAw;mi has a different nuance in verse 4, namely, an ordinance,

    a law to be proclaimed, the juridical statute of the new situation of 45justice. It is unlikely, however, that FPAw;mi can bear a mean- ing in verse 4 different from its meaning in verses 1 and 3. Verses 1 and 4 are stylistically an inclusio with repeated words, mean- ings, and concepts, thus marking off verses 1-4 as the first strophe of this servant song. FPAw;mi, which describes the totality of the just order which the servant will cause to prevail on the earth, is the theological center of these verses. The use of the verb MyWiyA (to put, set, place) also supports a continuity in

    meaning for FPAw;mi throughout the strophe. In view of the universal scope of the context (the distant coastlands, v. 4c) the phrase on earth indicates all the earth, not just Palestine.

    The expectancy of the peoples for this just order is indicated —―In his law the islands will put their hope (v. 4c). hrAOT (law,

    instruction) is often found parallel to FPAw;mi (justice) (cf. Hab.

    1:4; Ps. 89:31; Isa. 51:4). It connotes authoritative instruction 46for life. It was given by God first through Moses, but later through priests or prophets (cf. Jer. 26:4-5). That the islands

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