“Here 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.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.” (NIV)
So who is Isaiah talking about? This is known as one of the four ‘servant songs’ in Isaiah. (The others are Isaiah 49:1-13, Isaiah 50:4-11, and Isaiah 52:13-53:12.) Lots of Christians in our day say they are prophesies of Jesus; that God was giving the people in Isaiah’s time an eternal vision for the far distant future. This was about 600 years before the birth of Christ. This part of Isaiah was written to a people in exile in Babylon. They have witnessed the trauma of seeing their homes destroyed; their culture wiped out. Their leaders have been killed or maimed and they are serving as slaves in a strange land. They have no rights, only responsibilities. Life is hard. They are suffering. They do not need hope that won’t be realized for 600 years. They need a word of hope they can grasp onto.
God doesn’t give us what we don’t need.
Some say the suffering servant is the prophet, the speaker in this portion of the scripture. Could be. I cannot say for sure it is not. Lord knows being a prophet isn’t a cushy job. No one wants to hear what you have to say. If you are a prophet giving a word of warning, especially to those in power, rejection and ridicule are likely to be the best of what comes your way. Nobody wants to hear that you are literally and figuratively killing your people, your culture, your future, your people’s future. So prophets are often called to suffer for the messages they have to give. Even when the prophet is giving a word of hope for restoration in the future, people will be skeptical. They are not likely to be believed. The people cannot see beyond their current situation. They know they are powerless to change their own circumstances so come to the conclusion their circumstances cannot change. They are hopeless. Either way, life is hard for prophets. But the people don’t need a prophet that talks about himself.
The people need a prophet that talks about them.
That’s why I am convinced that the identity of the ‘suffering servant’ is the people of Israel themselves. They are God’s servants, even though they are suffering. They still belong to God, even there. This is acknowledgement that they are bruised, but they will not be broken. Their light is dim, but it won’t go out. They have been the recipients of injustice. They will be, in the long run, bringers of justice. They will be bearers of hope. They will be the instruments of God for good… even after all they have had to endure.
This is also a word about how they will do this. They will not do as they have been done to. This is the double meaning of verses 3&4. Not only will they not be broken, but they will not turn around and break their oppressors. They will not put out the light on anyone else. They will bring justice, not revenge. They will be the light of hope that stretches to the furthest ends of the earth and beyond. (The islands in verse 4 are beyond the ends of the earth as they knew it.) They will be the light that shows the whole world the truth of who God is, Jews and Gentiles alike. Through them will be freedom and relief for everyone.
God does things God’s own way and when the world deals harshly with a people or a family or a person, God can turn that around. God can use it for good. It will be messy, no doubt about it. When life brings hard times, God will bring you through it, though, just as God brought the people of Israel through the exile. It might take awhile. It was the third generation that got to return home. The people that actually got taken into exile died there. God takes the long view. We have no guarantee that the relief will come in our own time or in ways that we expect, but it will come. There will be meaning in it. Our task and calling is to love God, put our trust in God’s long view and live faithfully as servants, always looking for the good of the other. In this way of life, we will not be broken though life bruises us up. In living by faith our light will shine, even if dimly sometimes, it will shine through.
So never give up, my friends. Never give up.
Blessings to you,
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.