The Suffering Servant and Victorious Savior

1 Listen to me, O coastlands,
    and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
    in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”[
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
    and my recompense with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
    he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
    and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—
he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
    the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
    the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Isaiah 49:1-7 ESV

These opening verses of chapter 49 continue the theme of God’s redemption of Israel. The day was coming when He would use His servant, Cyrus, to release the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon and allow them to return to the land of Canaan. At that time, a remnant of God’s people would experience their physical restoration to the land, the pleasure of occupying the rebuilt city of Jerusalem, and the joy of taking part in the revitalized sacrificial system in the restored temple. But this chapter reveals an even greater restoration that has yet to take place. And it will be the result of the efforts on another one of God’s servants.

The opening verses are spoken from the lips this as-yet-to-revealed individual, and he proclaims himself to the hand-picked servant of God.

“The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.” – Isaiah 49:1 ESV

This should recall the encounter between Joseph and the angel Gabriel, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). – Matthew 1:23 ESV

Gabriel had also met with Mary, long before she was pregnant, and informed of what was about to take place.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:30-33 ESV

And earlier in this book, Isaiah recorded details concerning the birth of this servant.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6 ESV

And, in an interesting bit of self-disclosure, the servant refers to himself as Israel, claiming that God had referred to him in that way.

And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” – Isaiah 49:3 ESV

Why would God call this servant, Israel. If, as the two gospels indicate, this servant is Jesus and His name was to be Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, why does God now refer to Him as Israel? It would seem that God saw Jesus as the embodiment of all that Israel should have been. Like Israel, Jesus would be, in a sense, the offspring of God. His earthly birth would make Him a Son of the Most High. But, unlike Israel, Jesus would prove to be perfectly obedient to His Father. Paul refers to His obedience when he writes, “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). Jesus did what Israel had failed to do. Remain faithful to God and obedient to all His commands.

Jesus would bring glory to God through His earthly life and ministry. He would do the will of God, proclaiming the gospel message and manifesting the power of God through His miracles and messages. But from all appearances, the ministry of Jesus would appear unfruitful and highly unsuccessful.

“But my work seems so useless!
    I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand;
    I will trust God for my reward.” – Isaiah 49:4 NLT

And John confirms the seeming failure of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:10-11 ESV

But Jesus was God’s servant and, as such, He had a job to do. Just a few verses earlier, Isaiah recorded the agenda given by God to Jesus.

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
    a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.” – Isaiah 42:1-5 ESV

This portion of Jesus’ ministry agenda has an as-yet-fulfilled aspect to it. He has not yet established His righteous rule on earth or ushered in perfect, undiluted justice. But the day is coming when He will.

And the servant reveals that His job description has been given to Him by God Himself, the very one who formed Him in Mary’s womb. Jesus took on human flesh for one reason only, to become the substitutionary atonement for the sins of mankind. He had to become a man in order that He might die on behalf of men. You might say that Jesus was born to die. But His death had a purpose: “to bring Jacob back to him [the Lord]; and that Israel might be gathered to him [the Lord]” (Isaiah 49:5 ESV). Paul reminds us that, “Christ died for us so that … we can live with him forever”(1 Thessalonians 5:10 NLT). But the redemption of lost Gentiles was only part of plan. Jesus also died so that His own people, the people of Israel, might be one day restored to a right relationship with their God. The servant makes it clear that His God-ordained purpose was to bring Jacob or Israel back to God. And in his letter to the Romans, Paul makes it clear that God will one day restore His chosen people to a right relationship to Him.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:11:25-27 NLT

And all of this will be accomplished through the efforts of Jesus Christ on Israel’s behalf. He will “raise up the tribes of Jacob” and and “bring back the preserved of Israel” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV). And, not only that, Jesus will be “a light for the nations,” so that God’s plan of salvation “may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV).

But before any of this happens, Jesus would become “one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers” (Isaiah 49:7 ESV). He would be humiliated and rejected long before He experienced His glorification and restoration to His Father’s side. But the day is coming when Jesus returns and God paints a very different picture of that occasion.

“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” – Isaiah 49:7 ESV

The servant will one day receive the same worship Isaiah describes as being given to God, because He is the Son of God, the Messiah and Savior of the world. He is the suffering servant who will become the conquering King.

“Let all the world look to me for salvation!
    For I am God; there is no other.
I have sworn by my own name;
    I have spoken the truth,
    and I will never go back on my word:
Every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to me.”
The people will declare,
    “The Lord is the source of all my righteousness and strength.”
And all who were angry with him
    will come to him and be ashamed.
In the Lord all the generations of Israel will be justified,
    and in him they will boast. – Isaiah 45:22-25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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