February 27, 2016

Isaiah 42:1-17

The image of a servant is used often in the prophecies of Isaiah. In some, like chapter 41, Israel, God’s chosen people, is referred to as God’s servant. It was not unusual in Old Testament writings to personify a group or nation and use individualistic language to describe the whole group as a corporate personality. In other passages, like chapter 42, the image of the servant is more anonymous, leaving us wondering whether to interpret it as an individual or as the corporate body of God’s people. There is no individual from Israel’s previous or current age who fully fits the description of the personal servant, who would perfectly fulfill Israel’s mission. Ultimately, both are in keeping with Israel’s understanding of community. One of the things I love about Scripture is the language and cultural understanding that allows for “both/and” and does not force the choice of “either/or.”

The message of hope continues in chapter 42. The servant has been chosen by God and imbued with his spirit. He will bring justice to the nations. He will not grow faint or be crushed. It is nearly impossible for us not to see Jesus in these verses, but at the time of the prophecy, the people had no inkling of the Messiah to come. Read the passage again imagining Israel as the servant described. Israel had so far failed to fulfill its mission, but God was still in control. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the whole world, and his plan will be fulfilled. There was still hope. Israel will have another chance to shine the light of God’s love to those around it. Ultimately, God will send his own Son into the world through the tribe of Israel in order to fulfill his plan of salvation and restoration.