Thursday 26 January 2012

Bible Book:

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." (v. 6)

Isaiah 49:1-23 Thursday 26 January 2012


This passage is both exciting and frustrating to read. Itsbackdrop is a shifting scene in world politics as Cyrus the Persianemperor is about to displace the old superpower of Babylon andcreate new possibilities. The exiles, who have lived away fromtheir homeland for 40 years, are addressed throughout Isaiah 40-55with visions and promises of a new Exodus and challenged to make anew beginning with God. 

This particular section is one of the 'servant passages' and theprophecy is on the lips of the servant. But who is this servant?Scholars are divided on this question: is it Israel, is it theprophet, or is it some leader in the community? Many people haveunderstandably seen aspects of the Jesus that seem to beexemplified in the servant (especially in Isaiah53 where the servant's suffering is linked to redemption).The frustration of not being sure who is envisaged here should not,however, stop us sensing the excitement in thisreading. 

The servant, who has been called from before birth, has beenprepared for God's purpose (verses 1-3) and, despite a sense offutile labour (verse 4), has his calling re-affirmed. The servantis sent "to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might begathered to him" (v. 5). This promise of restoration is, however,extended in an exciting and unexpected way. For in God's planIsrael is not only to be re-gathered and restored but to undertakea new covenantal role: "I will give you as a light to the nations,that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth". God's peopleare to be the vehicle for all to know God's love and savinggrace. 

The rest of the passage should be read in the light of this new andexciting purpose. It is for this outcome that a dispiritedcommunity is called to lift its eyes. God is (again) taking apeople crushed and low in esteem and offering them a rich andfruitful future in God's own purposes. The images speak to the deepsense of rejection and poor self-image that exiles might feel:prisoners in darkness will come into the light; king and princeswill bow down, honour and serve these former slaves; builders willwork so fast they will overtake those who demolish; the bereavedwill be overwhelmed with the joy of their multitude of children.This is powerful language that speaks to the dejected state of thehearers. 

Perhaps the prophet can communicate so effectively because of theidentification between the prophet, the servant and the people.Only those who empathise deeply with the marginalised can speak aword of hope. 

To Ponder

Why do you think this moment in Israel's story ischosen to present a larger vision of the purpose of thecovenant?

What aspects of Jesus do you see in thispassage?

What images in the passage speak to you at thismoment?

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