6.46 Isaiah -- the Servant of the Lord

One of Isaiah’s most enigmatic figures is the "servant" of the Lord.  Scholars typically single out four Servant songs, in Isa 42Isa 49Isa 50, and Isa 52:13-15Isa 53:1-12 (Oxford Study Bible 1076).  But who is this servant?  Again, as with other prophetic symbols, there are multiple identifications.

         a.  Sometimes, the servant referred to is the nation of Israel.

             "But you, O Israel, my servant,
              Jacob, whom I have chosen,
              you descendants of Abraham my friend,
              I took you from the ends of the earth,
              from its farthest corners I called you.
              I said, 'You are my servant';
              I have chosen you and have not rejected you (Isa 41:8-9).

          b. Cyrus king of Persia (Isa 44:28Isa 45:1-13).  Though not identified as the "servant," he is called the Lord’s anointed and His shepherd.  The Lord will strengthen him and take hold of his hand.  God will use him to deliver the exiles of Israel, rebuild Jerusalem, and make the Lord known to all nations.  It is remarkable that a pagan king should receive these titles and characteristics.

          c.  Messianic deliverer.  Isaiah is a major source of the Messianic hope in Israel.  The Messiah will be a future king who will set up a world government:

          For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
                 and the government will be on his shoulders.
          And he will be called
                 Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
                 Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
         Of the increase of his government and peace
                 there will be no end.
         He will reign on David’s throne
                 and over his kingdom,
                 establishing and upholding it
         with justice and righteousness
                 from that time on and forever (Isa 9:6-7).

         Surely he took up our infirmities
                 and carried our sorrows,
         yet we considered him stricken by God,
                 smitten by him, and afflicted.
        But he was pierced for our transgressions,
                 he was crushed for our iniquities;
        the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
                 and by his wounds we are healed.
        We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
                 each of us has turned to his own way;
         and the Lord has laid on him
                 the iniquity of us all (Isa 53:4-6).

From these and other passages, we learn more details about this future king:

        - born within Israel  Isa 9:6Isa 11:1
        - authority to rule is given him  Isa 9:6
        - divine attributes belong to him Isa 9:6Isa 11:2
        - he will occupy the throne of David Isa 9:7
        - his government will increase Isa 9:8
        - his rule will be one of peace, righteousness, justice Isa 9:8Isa 11:3-5Isa 42:1-4  
        - he will touch the nations Isa 11:11Isa 49:6Isa 52:15
        - he will suffer and die Isa 52:13Isa 53:3-9
        - he will be a sin offering Isa 53:5-12
        - he brings deliverance to the poor and oppressed Isa 60:1-3

It is clear that these passages point to a time and person beyond the return of the Exiles.  Isaiah is primarily responsible for the futuristic element of later Judaism.  Thus there was a two-fold impulse in Judaism: looking backwards to the Patriarchs, Moses and David, and looking ahead to the restoration of God's Rule over mankind through His divine king. 

         

This messianic element took some of the pressure off of Israel to perfectly obey the laws, perform the sacrifices and cleanse the land of foreign influence.  The Messiah would do what generations of Israelites had not been able to accomplish.

         The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this (Isa 9:7)

On the other hand, the Messiah would come only for the faithful remnant, and many people would be cut off.  This caused some people to become especially rigorous in their piety.  It also made Israel vulnerable to endless speculation about who this king was and when he would appear.  As Israel previously experienced numerous false prophets, so she later had to endure false messiahs, many of whom took up arms against the ruling powers.