“Here is 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.” (v. 1)

Isaiah 42:1-9 Monday 21 March 2016

Psalm: Psalm 36


This passage has become very clearly associated, for Christians,with the person of Jesus. In fact, in Luke 4:18-21,Jesus uses it to frame his own ministry and mission. But, ofcourse, Isaiah was writing for people in a particular context, andhis words must also have meant something in that setting. Theearliest hearers of the prophecy must have heard something ofrelevance to them and their situation.

Isaiah speaks of the "servant", but doesn't spell out to whomthis refers. So who originally was this servant? In the prophecy'shistorical context, "my servant" might refer to Cyrus, Emperor ofPersia. After the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Persians,Cyrus allowed the Israelite, living in exile there, to return home.He was seen as an instrument of God's grace - in fact, as ananointed one, or Messiah (Isaiah 45:1).

Or perhaps the "servant" is Israel? In the previous chapter (Isaiah 41:8-9),God addressed "Israel, my servant", so it may well be that Isaiahis talking to them here. Then Israel becomes the means by whichGod's justice is delivered - "a light to the nations" (v. 6), sentto be good news. Jesus claimed for himself - and perhaps for hisfollowers too - a key place within this mission: to bring God'sjustice and be a beacon of God's love to the world.

Or perhaps the servant was the "one" referred to near the end ofchapter 41 (Isaiah41:25): the "one" who God has stirred up, who is summoned byname and who will trample on rulers. God's Spirit is on him. He isthe instrument of God's justice, given as a covenant to the people.It is easy to see how this understanding of the passage couldencourage messianic expectation. The Messiah (the 'anointed one')might be a great leader, promised by God to make Israel greatagain. Or he might be an angelic figure, brining in the age ofGod's judgement over the nations. Or he might be Jesus, bringingsalvation and proclaiming God's kingdom.

To Ponder

  • The word translated "justice" (vv. 1, 3, 4) in the NRSV is, insome translations, rendered 'judgement'. The Hebrew can meaneither. Which do you think fits better here? Which do you likebetter? What difference does it make to how you read and feel aboutthe passage?
  • How (and how well) do we, as the Church today, carry out thecall "to open the eyes that are blind," or "to bring out theprisoners from the dungeon" (v. 7)?
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