The Servant of God (Isaiah 42)

Isaiah 42:1-25; 1

"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" (Isa 42:1, NIV).

The "servant of God" theme is one of the richest strands of Isaiah's thought. It lies at the heart of his message as it moves to its climax in the 2nd part of the book (ch. 40-66). Isa 42:1-9 is the first of four "Servant Songs" (Isa 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12).

What does Isaiah say about the servant of the Lord (Isa 42:1-4, 5-9)?
  1. God upholds him as "my servant."
  2. God chose him.
  3. God delights in him.
  4. God puts his Spirit on him.
  5. He brings justice to the nations.
  6. He is not self-assertive (Isa 42:2). His demeanor is quiet, gentle and unaggressive, unlike human leaders and conquerors. He does not startle, raise his voice, dominate, shout others down or advertise himself.
  7. He is not dismissive of others, however useless or beyond repair (Isa 42:3a), however "past it" or near extinction (Isa 42:3b) they may seem. Positively speaking, he can mend the broken reed and fan into flame the smoldering wick.
  8. Though he is gentle (Isa 42:2-3) he is not weak or discouraged (Isa 42:4). His work of justice will extend to the whole world. The privilege of one nation will become the possession of all.
  9. God identifies himself as the Creator and Sustainer (Isa 42:5).
  10. The servant, as a covenant for the people (Isa 49:8) will become a light for the Gentiles, a blessing to the world, by bringing the knowledge of God to them (Isa 42:6-7; Jn 8:12).
  11. God declares his own unique glory as the only God (Isa 42:8).
  12. God announces the future (new things)--the work of the servant--before they happen (Isa 42:9).
  • What God does (1a, 9): Presents the servant to the world.
  • What the servant does (1b-4): Gentle, kind, unassuming and strong for the sake of justice for the weak.
  • What God does through his servant (6-7): Enlightenment, deliverance and liberation.
  • Who God is (5, 8): Creator, Sustainer, the only God.
In Isa 42:10-17 God calls all the nations to rejoice in his triumphant self-vindication as a result of the work of the servant (1-9).

Isa 42:18-25 shows how God's own people need deliverance as much as the nations do, for Israel too (and not just the nations) is "deaf" and "blind." So how can this people be God's representative servant, drawing others to Yahweh (18–20; Rom 10:14–21)? They are themselves "hidden in prisons" (Isa 42:22), so how can they set the captives free? How can Israel reveal God's glory and deliverance when God's people themselves have ignored what has been given them (20)?
Only the promised Messiah, ultimately revealed in Jesus, the true servant of God and King of Israel, is able to overcome the predicament (49:5–7). For God's people need a representative who will draw the nations in, yet who has not himself become, as Israel has, "plunder with none to rescue" (42:22). Jesus stands in for God's people, fully identified with them yet with one crucial difference: he is without any sin of his own (Heb 4:16).
  1. Through God's Chosen Servant, God Glorifies Himself and Heals the World (Isaiah 42,43). My daily bread Jan 2011. The servant is the ultimate non-showman.
  2. ESV Study Bible. Isa. 42:1–9 is the 1st of 4 Servant Songs, fulfilled in Christ (49:1–13; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12). Isaiah sprinkles references to "the servant of the Lord" throughout chs. 40–55. Often it is a title for the people as a whole (41:8–9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1–2, 21, 26; 45:4; 48:20), but at times the servant is a specific person within Israel who is distinct from the whole, with a calling to serve Israel and beyond (49:5–6; 50:10; 52:13; 53:11). The second Servant Song (49:1–13), which clarifies that the servant is distinct from Israel, also calls him Israel (49:3); this is best explained as identifying the servant as the representative and embodiment of the whole people. This last point shows why the traditional Christian reading, that the servant is a messianic figure, accurately captures Isaiah's intent. 1st, in the Davidic covenant, David's heirs represent and embody the people as a whole: Israel is God's "son" (Ex 4:22–23), and the king becomes God's "son" on his coronation (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 89:26–27). Therefore the servant follows the pattern of David's heirs. 2nd, the servant achieves the expansion of his rule throughout the Gentile world (Isa 42:1–4; 52:13–15), which is the work of the Davidic Messiah in chs. 7–12. 3rd, later prophets describe an heir of David, and especially the Messiah, as the servant (Eze 34:23–24; 37:25; Hag 2:23; Zech 3:8; cf. Jer 33:21–22, 26), which supports reading the servant in Isaiah as a messianic figure. In addition to his royal function, the servant also has a prophetic role (Isa 49:1; 50:4, 10) and a priestly one (53:11; Ps. 110:4, which folds a priestly role into Messiah's royal office). Isaiah's audience must know that God will restore the exiles and then fulfill the mission of Israel by means of the servant whom he will raise up at some unspecified time after the return from exile: this is where their story is headed.
  3. ESV Gospel Transformation Bible.
    • Isa. 42:1–17 This passage is commonly referred to as the first "Servant Song" in Isaiah (42:1–9), and other such "songs" follow in 49:1–13; 50:4–11; and 52:13–53:12 (cf. 51:12–13; 61:1–11). In these texts, one who represents and sacrificially serves others emerges. The suffering servant is most directly associated with Israel (cf. 41:8–10), but in a representative way (the entire nation represented in her king), the image can also point to an individual who is meant to represent the whole (11:1–5, with Jer 33:16). The king was expected to represent Israel, and Israel was intended to be a blessing to the nations. Though far too often this had not been the case, the expectation is of a time of renewal brought about by God's "servant" (i.e., the nation), whose hope and identity would ultimately be personified in the Messiah (Isa 42:1; cf. 49:5–6).
      Filled with the Spirit, able to heal, and deeply concerned about justice, Jesus is recognized as the fulfillment of Isaiah's expectation for God's "servant." Matthew picks up on Isa 42:1–4, making a direct link with Jesus (Mt 12:17–21). Gentle yet powerful, this servant is unflinching in his mission, and Matthew reminds us that he "brings justice to victory," not by destroying the nations but by becoming the very hope of the nations (Mt 12:20–21). The divine warrior has come, and he will bring light where there is darkness (Isa 42:13, 16). Jesus' mission is the mission of the Creator God who cares for the whole earth (4). Reconstituting Israel in himself, the Messiah comes in righteousness as a blessing to the nations (Gen 12:3; 17:4) and a light to the world (Lk 2:32). As that blessed light, his servant calling is opening the eyes of the blind and setting the prisoners free (Isa 42:6–9). We now go out in his name and, in that way, bring his salvation and light to the world (Acts 13:47).
  4. The Messiah in Isaiah Chapter 42: Behold my Servant.
  5. Isaiah 42 - The Servant's Song.
    1. The Lord speaks of his servant (1-9).
      • The character of the servant (1-4).
      • The Lord of glory and his promise to his servant (5-9).
    2. The work of the Lord's servant (10-25).
      • Praise for the victory of the servant (10-12).
      • The Lord brings judgement against all who serve false gods (13-17).
      • The deaf and blind come to the Servant (18-20).
      • The Lord defends his defrauded people (21-25).
  6. Outline of Isaiah 40, 41, 42, 43, 44 — Messages to Judah and the remnant of Israel.
    1. Messiah, the chosen Servant of God (Isa 42:1-4).
    2. The Creator speaks of his glory (Isa 42:5-9).
    3. The new song (Isa 42:10-13).
    4. God brings light into darkness (Isa 42:14-17).
    5. The blind and deaf servant —referring to Israel (Isa 42:18-25).