Thursday

10 January 2019

Isaiah 49:1-13

‘I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’ (v 6b)

Psalm: Psalm 23

Background

The Lord’s servant is a central image in this part of the prophecy of Isaiah. It’s a beautiful image of someone who chooses to devote their life completely to God’s will. And God responds with love and the gift of the Spirit – “my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (42:1). This servant faces suffering for the sake of the Lord’s people (53:1-12) but remains committed to God’s mission of bringing comfort and compassion to those who face darkness and imprisonment.

Scholars continue to argue about who Isaiah had in mind. Maybe he was speaking of himself, or maybe the whole people of Israel were God’s servant collectively. Christians have always adopted this image as a way of making sense of the life and death of Jesus. The Gospels borrow Isaiah’s language to describe the horror of the cross and the joy of the resurrection, and the idea of 'the Servant King' still resonates today.

Isaiah has a far-reaching vision of the mission of God’s servant. In a world where the shape of society is increasingly plural and inclusive, it is easy to overlook the radical focus of Isaiah’s words. But the idea that God might have a message of compassion for the Gentiles (“the nations”) as well as the Jews was, at that time, startlingly new and controversial. This part of the book of Isaiah was written against the background of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. When outsiders treated God’s people so harshly, it was hard to imagine that God might choose to share good news with them too. Isaiah faces this challenge head on. The servant will channel God’s love and salvation to the nations, not just the people of Israel. And in this way, the problems Israel faces will be solved, for if all nations see the light of God’s love, then there will be no room for hostility.

Here too, there is a clear overlap between the servant and Jesus, who was hailed as “a light to the Gentiles” by Simeon in the Temple (Luke 2:32) and whose followers spread the gospel of radical, life-changing love across the world.

 

To Ponder:

  • What do you think are the characteristics of a servant of the Lord?
  • The Methodist church has always believed that “all need to be saved … all can be saved”. How can we make sense of our inclusive heritage in today’s world?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Manchester Circuit. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two children.