20 April 2011

Isaiah 50:4-9

"I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting." (v. 6)


We are now in the middle of our journey through Holy Week and read the next Servant Song given by God to the prophet Isaiah. The Messiah is to bring forth justice and, despite being abhorred by the nations, will offer life and hope and a vision of God's splendour for all to see.

This is not going to be popular. Here in Isaiah 50, the servant is not exalted, but vilified. This song is an intensely personal reflection on the Servant. It emotively speaks of the depths of despair and brokenness alongside the heights of Godly hope. This is a song that speaks of the whole spectrum of human experience and emotion, and yet offers divine grace and determination in the midst of trial and suffering.

To the Sovereign Lord, the Servant inclines his ears. He tilts his head in order to be instructed. This image shows the intimacy of relationship between the Lord and the Servant: the Creator and the Son. To God, the Servant never turns away. We are reminded even in the Garden of Gethsemane of Jesus turning his head towards Jerusalem (inclining his ear towards the coming culmination of God's kingdom).

To those who despise and beat the Servant, however, the Servant offers his back. To those who would pull out his beard, he offers his cheek. To those who spit, he offers his face. We are thus reminded of Matthew 27:26-31, as Jesus is hurled in front of the people and the soldiers to be mocked, spat upon, taunted, beaten and condemned.

There is a stark contrast between the Servant's intimate relationship with God and his relationship with God's people.

The hope in this passage does not come from a sense of belligerence on behalf of the Servant. Rather, to those who themselves felt beaten, mutilated, trampled upon, mocked and betrayed, the Servant comes to show that it is the "Lord God who helps me" (verse 9).

To Ponder

"Morning by morning he [God] wakens/wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught." (verse 4) God has woken you this morning. What instructions is God offering to you today?

How might this passage help/hinder a Christian response to domestic violence?

Where have you found the help of the Sovereign Lord in your life?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Joanne Cox-Darling (1)

Joanne Cox-Darling is a Methodist presbyter currently serving in the Wolverhampton Circuit, where most recently she participated in a harvest festival in a farmyard, surrounded by a 'small' dairy herd of nearly 200 cattle. Joanne is the chair of the Christian Enquiries Agency ( - described by the Archbishop of York as the "possibly the easiest form of evangelism you will ever do".