Monday 08 April 2019

Bible Book:

And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.' (v. 3)

Isaiah 49:1-7 Monday 8 April 2019

Psalm: Psalm 73


During Passion Week we focus on passages from the portions of Isaiah often referred to as ‘The Servant Songs’. These passages are poetic and should be treated as poetry, not as historical narrative; at times they are ambiguous and even contradictory, but that need not rob them of their power and their message for us. Life is often both ambiguous and contradictory – anyone reading the news reports from Britain, Ireland and the EU in almost three thousand years might experience both such reactions!

The Servant Songs seem to describe a figure who is to come and, through unjust suffering, somehow bring redemption. Put like that it is no surprise that the Christian church has always seen a foreshadowing of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ in these poems.  At times, however, the ‘servant’ seems not to be a single figure, but rather the entire nation of Israel (as here in verse 3) – or, if we want to interpret it for our times – the Christian church. So we take all these nuances of background into our readings this week.

The opening verses describe the calling of the Servant; there is the suggestion that this calling is of wider significance than just for Israel ("you peoples far away"). The language used in verse 2 builds a picture of a sharply focussed and polished mission waiting to be let loose, like an arrow or a sword. This culminates in a clear statement of God’s purposes for glory through Israel which is almost immediately deflated by the note of futility as verse 4 opens; everything appears to have been in vain. But the tone reverses again in the second half of verse 4, giving way to trust that whatever the apparent outcome may seem to be, God is on the case, and will give a just reward for the labours of Israel.

In verses 5 to 6 the roles of Israel and the Servant are again separated out; the Servant’s mission is to Israel. God repeats the call and mission of the Servant as a "light to the nations" – words reminiscent of the way in which Simeon addresses Jesus in Luke 2:32. Verse 7 too offers hope to Israel that despite their treatment by other nations, in time this will be reversed and they will be acknowledged by kings and princes.


To Ponder:

  • Where is the cost of redemption in a passage like this? Is the futility expressed in verse 4 part of that cost, and a feeling with which we may be familiar in the church today?
  • Is it helpful (or appropriate) to see the Church today as in some way fulfilling the role of the ‘Servant’ of Isaiah? How might that work out?
  • Sadly, Israel and Palestine continue to experience unrest, violence and hatred. How can these passages be interpreted in a way which might lead to peace and justice for all?
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