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Servant Songs help

Isaiah's servant songs are:

  1. Isaiah 42:1-7
  2. Isaiah 49:1-6
  3. Isaiah 50:4-9
  4. Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Now in the songs, the servant is clearly a figure who acts on behalf of the people.  He is a covenant for the people (42:6).  He will bring Jacob and Israel back to the LORD (49:5,6).  His word is the word the people should fear (50:10). He is rejected by the people yet suffers on their behalf (all of chapter 53).

Yet "servant" is also mentioned in and around these songs:

Isaiah 41:8,9 (You O Israel are my servant)

Isaiah 42:19 (Who is blind like my servant)

Isaiah 43:10  (You are my witnesses and my servant)

Isaiah 44:1,2  (Jacob my servant)

Isaiah 44:21  (My servant O Israel)

Isaiah 45:4  (Jacob my servant)

Isaiah 48:20  (His servant Jacob)

Here 'servant' refers to Israel/Jacob. 

Actually this is nothing new in Isaiah.  Jerusalem for instance can stand either for the corrupt, faithless generation under the LORD's judgement or the centre of a new heavens and new earth that lies beyond the judgement.  Jerusalem is both the problem and the hope!

In a similar way the servant of the LORD is Israel.  The people really should be the LORD's faithful witness, judge, light, salvation etc.  Yet earthly Israel is a crushing disappointment.  Nonetheless the hope is not apart from Israel.  The hope is the TRUE ISRAEL.  This Ideal Israel is what the songs set before us.  He takes a hold of old Israel and sweeps it up into His own triumphant work as Witness, Judge, Light, Salvation etc.  Servants do that - they stand for the people - see Moses or Job for instance. In fact this Ideal Servant is spoken of as the King of Isaiah 6 (cf 52:13) - High and lifted up.  The true King sums up in Himself His people and acts on their behalf.  His victory is their victory. 

And so the people may lament the servant Israel, yet at the same time they sing about THE TRUE ISRAEL, the Ideal Servant, the KING who stands in their place and acts as Israel.  He is their hope and the Light for we Gentiles.

Anyway that seems to be the sort of interpretation of 'the Servant' which takes seriously both sets of verses - the songs and the surrounding references. 

The one interpretation we should laugh off is the one that says "Foolish ancient people only understood half of these verses and so had no idea that there would be an individual Ideal Servant to stand for blind Israel.  It takes a later re-reading to understand that there is an individual Ideal Servant, Jesus".   No, no. No need for such chronological snobbery thank you very much.


By the way - has anyone read or heard anything good on the Servant Songs??  Please do let me know in the comments.


0 thoughts on “Servant Songs help

  1. Charles

    I have found Lindsey's book helpful. But I am not sure if it is still in print.

    Lindsey, F. Duane. The Servant Songs: A Study in Isaiah. Chicago: Moody Press, 1985.

  2. The Orange Mailman

    Good post, Glen. I mean that. To add, and not subtract, I would say that also within these verses is the eschatological people of God who will be supernaturally protected (43:1-3) regathered (43:5-13, 49:5) and stand as God's chosen witnesses just prior to the age to come.

    I maintain that one of the reasons that Isaiah saw Israel in this way is concomitance. From God's point of view, they are already one, as in, one flesh. So for Isaiah to see "Israel" and at some point in the vision to see the true Israel, Christ, and at other points to see the nation of Israel, whether in partial unbelief or restored, regathered, and raised up - is really no huge issue. It is Israel, as God sees Israel.

    Have fun and stay busy - Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

  3. glenscriv

    Hi Charles,
    Welcome to the comments and thanks for linking the blog - I very much enjoy yours. Thanks for the lead too. I'm following it up as we speak.

    Hi Orange,

    I agree that there are, in a sense, 3 Israels in Isaiah. There is Israel-as-it-is (ie blind, faithless, about to be judged), there is TRUE-ISRAEL (The Messiah-Servant) and there is future-Israel (the redeemed in Him).

    I think this future Israel is the one body of Jews and Gentiles together (ie the church). I think this is the point of the Servant's international work. Jews and Gentiles will together be the object of the Servant's redemption. After the LORD's second exodus 'many other people' will join the people of God - grafted in as it were.

    Therefore 'future-Israel' is not simply an ethnic Israel of the future but a global Israel of faith. In this sense the 'future Israel' does indeed stand as "God’s chosen witnesses just prior to the age to come" - but this Israel is the global Israel of faith (the church) and "just prior to the age to come" is our gospel age from ascension to return.

    That's my take anyway...

  4. The Orange Mailman

    Hey Glen-

    I agree in one sense. But only because interwoven in these prophecies is the inclusion of the Gentiles, 42:4 (the coastlands wait for His law), 42:6 (a light for the nations), 43:8-9 (the blind and deaf from all nations yet they are God's chosen witnesses), 49:6 with Acts 13:47, 49:8 with 2 Cor. 6:2, the remainder of Isaiah 49 explains how Gentiles will be like ornaments on the bride (Israel) on her wedding day, and 54:1 with Galatians 4:27.

    The gospel age from ascension to return is truly the last days. We stand as the heralds of the coming kingdom. But what I see is national Israel elect with believing Gentiles grafted in. This is why the Apostle Paul saw Gentiles rejoicing alongside the nation of Israel in Romans 15:8-12. Each scripture cited has that background, that God will save the nation of Israel which results in Gentile nations praising God.

    Here I would insert your comment that we don't need scriptures from a later chronology to reveal these truths to us. They are evident within these passages. They proclaim God's plan for Israel and the Gentile nations. It is too small of a thing for God to raise up, restore, and regather the nation of Israel, although He will do just that. He will also save Gentile nations in the process through His chosen Servant, His ultimate weapon, 49:2.

    So to be blunt, I see Israel as the eschatological people of God with Gentiles participating as Gentiles, not as Israelites.

    Have fun and stay busy - Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

  5. glenscriv

    Hey Orange,

    So I guess we agree that Gentiles are grafted into the Jewish tree. It's not that they have to join us - we join them. Perhaps two things I'd want to underscore:

    1) we really do *join* them. There is a deep unity - one body in fact.

    2) Not all Israel are Israel. (Rom 9:6) True Israel has always been believing Israel - unbelieving ethnic Israel has never really been Israel (this is the whole point of Romans 9). Isaiah *begins* by speaking about the faithlessness of national Israel and continues throughout the book. Unbelieving Israel will be cut off - it has no future. Even the whole house of national Israel is really uncircumcised. (Jer 9:26 - cf Rom 2:28-29). Israel must not depend on it's ethnic, national, historical identity - it must always be an Israel of faith. Faithless ethnic Israel is not true Israel and is cut out of the vine.

    So yes we join them. But we *really* join them - we are one (Eph 2:11-22). And faithless ethnic Israel will only be part of this one people of God if they are grafted back in by *faith*.

    This is not a new NT interpretation of things, it is entirely in line with how the LORD set up Israel in the first place. And entirely in line with how the prophets rebuked Israel for relying on their pedigree and not on the LORD.

  6. The Orange Mailman

    But Glen, in order to not commit chronological snobbery (your words) we must find that truth in Isaiah, not in the NT. If in Isaiah we see that Gentiles are brought into the fold by being God's witnesses without becoming Israelites, then wouldn't we take that truth and build upon it?

    I completely agree that Israel must be an Israel of faith. Unbelieving Israel is not a part of the true Israel (or The True Israel). In addition to what you point out about Isaiah seeing the faithlessness of Israel, he also saw the consummation of Israel, her marriage. He saw the new heavens and new earth wherein Israel would always remain a nation before Him, 66:22. Creation would be transformed, 65:25, 11:6-8. Israel would rise to a place of prominence over Gentile nations, 2:2-4, 49:21-24, 60:1-5, 61:9-11. So while chastising Israel for her current unfaithfulness, Isaiah preached repentance to Israel in light of His future plan which He would bring about regardless of their current faithlessness.

    Remember that Abraham is the example of faith for the uncircumcised, Romans 4:9-12. The reason why is that he is the father of many nations. The NT scriptures which cite the promises made to Abraham refer to the ones which speak of him being the father of many nations, Romans 4:16-18, that in him, all nations would be blessed, Galatians 3:6-9.

    The church is one body because mankind is one and our sinful heritage from Adam binds us all together. Christ as the Saviour redeems all of mankind. But this redemption does not make one a part of the nation of Israel. Gentiles participate in the New Covenant with Israel as Gentiles, because it is by faith, not by pedigree, as you state.

    God set up Israel in the first place that they might be a light to all Gentile nations, that they might believe on the God of Israel as well.

    This is probably all I will have to say on this. I will say that I laughed at your statement about chronological snobbery because it is what I feel so many do to the very passage, but in a slightly different way than you express disdain for. This has been a very nice conversation though. Thanks for taking the time to answer some of the views that I have.

    Have fun and stay busy - Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

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