Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The "Servants of the LORD" in the Scroll of Isaiah

Who is the "servant" of Isaiah 53? Is it Cyrus? Is it Israel? Or is it Messiah? Early Christians claimed this passage pointed to Jesus. The Gospels (Mark 15:28, *Luke 22:37, John 12:38) and the book of Acts (8:30-35) in the New Testament highlight this text as a prophecy of Jesus.

Isaiah 53 paints a portrait of "the Servant Who Will Be King." He is depicted as Servant, High Priest, Sacrifice, Sin-bearer, and King of Kings. The prophecies of Isaiah (~700 BC) presented several called "servants of the LORD." This provokes the question in Isaiah 53: "Of whom does the prophet speak?" Below is a survey of those referred to in this way by Isaiah.

Servant Cyrus

In the text of Isaiah this servant is spoken of (third person) by the LORD. There are not any first person speeches. The servant is always spoken of in the singular.

  • Called "the righteous man from the east" [41:2]; but also the "ravenous bird from the east ... the man that executes my counsel" [45:11].

  • The LORD makes him the ruler over // conqueror of many nations [41:2].

  • His conquest will be marked by peace and possibly rapidity [41:3].

  • Though hailing from the east he attacked Babylon from the north [41:25] and Likened to the potter treading clay [41:25].

  • Likened to a shepherd from the LORD [44:28].

  • He performs the desire of God to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple [44:28].

  • Name called before birth [45:1].

  • Name prophesied toward the end that he may come to know the LORD [45:3-5].

  • Called the "anointed" of the LORD [45:1].

  • His right hand the LORD holds [45:1].

  • The LORD will go before him making the "crooked places straight" so that the doors of Babylon will open to him [45:2-3].
Servant Israel

This servant is also spoken of by the LORD (third person) only without any first person speeches. The servant is addressed both as an individual and as a collective (group).

  • Called Israel, Jacob, and Jeshurun [44:1-2]; "worm Jacob" and "men of Israel" in a parallelism [41:14] and called the "seed of Abraham, My friend" [41:8].

  • The LORD has "taken them from the ends of the earth" [41:9]. Israel called "chosen" [41:8]. The LORD has chosen Israel as His servant not to be cast away or forgotten [41:9; 44:21].

  • Upheld by the LORD's righteous right hand [41:10]//the LORD holds Israel's right hand [41:13].

  • The nations which were Israel's enemies to be destroyed [41:11-16]; Israel will thresh them like wheat [41:15-16].

  • Called blind and deaf [42:18-20 and 43:8].

  • Called a people robbed, spoiled, and imprisoned; given over to robbers and spoilers by the LORD because of their sins [42:22-25].

  • Called by name due to creator/king ownership [43:1].

  • From Abraham their "first father" to the teachers of Israel, all have sinned against the LORD [43:27].

Servant Messiah

This servant is spoken of by the LORD and also speaks in first person. When the LORD speaks, this servant is always spoken of in the singular.

  • First and last poems both begin with "Behold" [42:1//52:13].

  • He is called "My Chosen" [42:1].

  • God will put His Spirit upon Him [42:1].

  • He "shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles" [42:1]; but His judgment will be "truth" and will extend over the whole earth. [42:4].

  • Called by God "in righteousness" [42:6].

  • The LORD will hold His hand // strengthen & protect [42:6].

  • Will be given as a covenant for the Jews and a light for the Gentiles [42:6; 49:8-12].

  • This servant will open blind eyes of Jews and Gentiles [42:7].

  • He will lead prisoners to freedom [42:7; 49:9].

  • His name called before birth [49:1].

  • Called "Israel" in one place [49:3]; yet, in this context as an individual formed in the womb He will be used of God to regather Jacob/Israel.

  • He will be "My S/salvation" for both Jew & Gentile to the ends of the earth [49:5-6].

  • This one will be despised by Gentiles and abhorred by Jews [49:7]; a "Man of Sorrows" from whom the Jews will turn away [53:3].

  • Though a "servant of rulers" [49:7]--Kings shall bow down and worship[49:7 & 52:15].

  • He will be given the "tongue of the learned;" and in turn will "give His back to the smiters ..." [50:4-6].

  • In spite of the knowledge of His impending suffering, He would "set His face like a flint" [50:7].

  • God will vindicate Him [50:7-8].

  • Though He will "be lifted up" [52:13], He will also "lift up" sicknesses and sins [53:4 & 12].

  • His face was to be severely marred beyond comparison [52:14].

  • By this He was to "sprinkle" many nations [52:15].

  • The report of Him would be believed by some and not by others [53:1].

  • He was to be wounded, bruised, beaten, and die for the sins, transgressions, and iniquities of those who believe [53:5, 6, 8, 12].

  • He would die with wicked men but be buried as though rich [53:9].

  • Though the LORD would "make His soul an offering for sin" in death, He was to live after death [53:10].

  • He was to intercede as a priest [53:12]