“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.” Isaiah 42:1
The theme of the servant recurs in Isaiah chapters 40-55, chapters which contain some of the most beautiful poetry in the whole Bible. This image points back to Abraham and forward to Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. In Acts 8, Philip meets an Ethiopian official reading Isaiah 53 “led like a lamb to the slaughter” and wondering who the prophet was talking about. Philip began with this Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. In Isaiah 41.8, the servant is identified with Israel, “you Israel, my servant, … the offspring of Abraham, my friend.”
This points back to Genesis 12.2-3, the beginning of God’s wonderful plan of salvation (Heilsgeschichte in German), “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The theme of the servant is the story of God’s great plan of salvation for the whole world. It starts with one man Abraham, then becomes a whole nation, Israel, then narrows down to one man, the perfect Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, then widens to the new Israel of God, the church worldwide, which has the duty and joy of taking this wonderful good news to every person on earth. That is the scope of God’s eternal plan and that is why the servant is sometimes Israel, sometimes the ideal individual (that we can identify as Jesus, with hindsight) and sometimes the servant is you and me!
The servant is chosen. What does it feel like to be chosen – surely you are special and loved. Abraham in Isaiah 41.8 is called God’s friend. The word in Hebrew is derived from the verb to love, and friend may be translated as “beloved.” Once more this points forward to Jesus and His baptism, when a voice from heaven announces, “You are My beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.” (Luke 3.22)
This verse also states that the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form. The Hebrew word ruah covers the meaning of three English words and means breath, wind and spirit (as does the Greek word pneuma). The phrase “put my Spirit upon Him” is almost unique in the Bible. One commentary states, “The precise phraseology of ‘I put My breath on Him’ appears elsewhere in the OT only in Num.11.25,29.” (Goldingay p. 214, ICC on Isaiah 40-55, vol.1, 2006). Numbers 11 is very interesting. When Eldad and Medad start prophesying, Moses’ desire that “all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit on them” (Numbers 11.29) is a cri de coeur (a cry from the heart) that the people would be sensitive and attentive to God’s voice, in contrast to the perpetual moaning and grumbling and rebellion that made Moses’ life so hard in the wilderness.
Justice is a great theme of the Bible. How does the servant bring justice to the nations? Surely this points to the cross, where justice and mercy meet. Another element of God’s plan for the servant is clear in Isaiah 49.6, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Once more this points forward to Jesus, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12) But this also points to you and me. If you are a disciple, a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, you are a servant of God. Every believer is a beloved child of God.
Thank You, Father, for choosing us to be Your servants. Please continue to show us what you would have each of us do in Your service. Amen.