To Serve and to Save
Many feel that it would be a great privilege to visit the scenes of Christ’s life on earth, to walk where He trod, to look upon the lake beside which He loved to teach, and the hills and valleys on which His eyes so often rested. But we need not go to Nazareth, to Capernaum, or to Bethany, in order to walk in the steps of Jesus. We shall find His footprints beside the sickbed, in the hovels of poverty, in the crowded alleys of the great city, and in every place where there are human hearts in need of consolation. In doing as Jesus did when on earth, we shall walk in His steps.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 640.
Isaiah spoke of a Servant of the Lord with a similar mission of mercy: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; . . . to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isa. 42:3, 7, NRSV).
Let’s take a look at this Servant. Who is He, and what does He accomplish?
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, February 27.
Is it Israel/Jacob, the ancestor of the Israelites? The nation of Israel? The Messiah/Christ, identified in the New Testament as Jesus?
There are two kinds of references to servants of God woven through Isaiah 41–53. One servant is named “Israel” or “Jacob,” as in Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 44:1, 2, 21; Isaiah 45:4; and Isaiah 48:20. Because God addresses Israel/Jacob in the present, it is clear he, Jacob, represents the nation descended from him. This is confirmed by the fact that redemption for the Lord’s “servant Jacob” is accomplished at the time when he is to go out from Babylon (Isa. 48:20).
In other instances, such as Isaiah 42:1, Isaiah 50:10, Isaiah 52:13, and Isaiah 53:11, God’s Servant is not named. When He is first mentioned in Isaiah 42:1, His identity is not immediately apparent. However, as Isaiah develops His profile in later passages, it becomes clear that He is an individual who restores the tribes of Jacob (Israel) to God (Isa. 49:5, 6) and dies sacrificially on behalf of sinners (Isa. 52:13–53:12; see also Isa. 49:5, 6). Therefore He cannot be the same as the nation. So, it is clear that Isaiah speaks of two servants of God. One is corporate (the nation) and the other is individual.
God assures Israel that the nation is still the servant of the Lord: “ ‘I have chosen you and not cast you off ’ ” (Isa. 41:9, NRSV). Then God gives to Israel one of the most magnificent promises in the Bible: “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isa. 41:10, NRSV). Here and in the following verses one of the basic roles of Israel is to trust the true God to save them (as King Ahaz did not) rather than to trust in other gods and their images as other nations do (Isa. 41:7, 21–24, 28, 29).
Choose the best answer or combination of answers:
1. He provides justice for the nations.
2. He accomplishes His goals quietly and gently, but successfully.
3. He is a teacher.
4. He serves as a covenant between God and the people.
5. He gives light or hope by healing blindness and liberating prisoners.
6. All of the above.
As in Isaiah 42, the Davidic ruler of Isaiah 11 acts in harmony with God, providing justice and deliverance for the oppressed, as well as wisdom and knowledge of God. We found that this “shoot” and “root” of Jesse is the Messiah, the divine Child of Isaiah 9:6, 7, who also brings “peace for the throne of David and his kingdom” with “justice and with righteousness” (Isa. 9:7, NRSV). The Servant in Isaiah 42 is, obviously, the Messiah.
Matthew 12 quotes from Isaiah 42 and applies it to the quiet healing ministry of Jesus, God’s beloved Son, in whom He delights (Isa. 42:1; Matt. 3:16, 17; Matt. 17:5). It is He whose ministry reestablishes God’s covenant connection with His people (Isa. 42:6, Dan. 9:27).
Jesus and His disciples gained justice for people by delivering them from suffering, ignorance of God, and bondage to evil spirits, caused by Satan’s oppression (Luke 10:19). Then Jesus died to ratify the “new covenant” (Matt. 26:28, NKJV) and to gain justice for the world by casting out Satan, the foreigner who had usurped the position of “ ‘ruler of this world’ ” (John 12:31–33, NRSV).
Isaiah’s ministry lasted from about 745 b.c. to about 685 b.c. After mentioning a conqueror from the east and from the north (Isa. 41:2, 3, 25) and implying that this was to be good news for Jerusalem (Isa. 41:27), Isaiah accurately predicted Cyrus by name and described his activities. He did come from north and east of Babylon and conquer it in 539 b.c.; he did serve God by releasing the Jews from their Babylonian exile; and he did authorize the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (see Ezra 1).
Put this prediction into perspective. Since there are about one hundred forty-six years from the time of Isaiah’s death to the fall of Babylon, his prophecy was a century and a half ahead of its time. It would be like George Washington predicting that a man named General Dwight Eisenhower would help liberate Europe in 1945!
Because the actions of Cyrus are well attested from a variety of ancient sources, including Babylonian chronicles, his own report in the “Cyrus Cylinder,” and the Bible (2 Chron. 36:22, 23; Ezra 1; Daniel 5; Dan. 6:28; Dan. 10:1), the accuracy of Isaiah’s prophecy is beyond dispute. This confirms the faith of people who believe that true prophets receive accurate predictions from God, who knows the future far in advance.
The Hebrew word for “anointed” here is the word from which we get the word Messiah. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, this word could refer to an anointed high priest (Lev. 4:3, 5, 16; Lev. 6:22), an anointed Israelite king (1 Sam. 16:6; 1 Sam. 24:6, 10; 2 Sam. 22:51), or the Messiah, a future ideal Davidic king and deliverer (Ps. 2:2; Dan. 9:25, 26). From Isaiah’s perspective, Cyrus was a future king, sent by God to deliver His people. But he was an unusual messiah, because he was non-Israelite. He would do some things the Messiah would do, such as defeat God’s enemies and release His captive people, but he could not be the same as the Messiah, because he was not descended from David.
By predicting Cyrus, God proved His unique divinity by demonstrating that He alone knows the future (Isa. 41:4, 21–23, 26–28; Isa. 44:26). He also reached out to Cyrus: “I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name” (Isa. 45:3, NRSV).
The fact that Isaiah accurately predicted Cyrus by name disturbs people who do not believe that prophets receive predictions from God. To cope, they accept the theory that a “second Isaiah,” another prophet living in the time of Cyrus, wrote Isaiah 40–66. Thus, the book of Isaiah is “sawn in two,” the same fate traditionally understood to have befallen the prophet himself (see Heb. 11:37).
There is, however, no historical witness to the existence of a second “Isaiah.” If he did exist, it would be strange for the Bible not to mention him, because his message is profoundly important, and his literary artistry is phenomenal. Not even the oldest Bible manuscript, the Isaiah scroll from Qumran, has any break between Isaiah 39 and 40 that would indicate a transition to the work of a new author.
Isaiah’s basic message is consistent throughout his book: Trust the true God, including His Messianic Deliverer, rather than other powers. Scholars rightly emphasize the shift in focus from the Assyrian period in Isaiah 1–39 to the Babylonian period in chapters 40 and following.
But we have found that Isaiah 13, 14 and 39 already envisage a Babylonian captivity. It is true Isaiah 1–39 emphasizes judgment and Isaiah 40–66 emphasizes consolation. But in the earlier chapters, divine comfort and assurance are abundant also, and later passages, such as Isaiah 42:18–25, Isaiah 43:22–28, and Isaiah 48:1–11, speak of God’s judgments on Judah for forsaking Him. In fact, Isaiah’s predictions of future comfort imply suffering in the meantime.
God calls and names Him before He is born, makes His mouth like a sword, and will be glorified in Him. God uses the Servant to bring the nation of Israel back to Himself, to be a light of salvation to all the world, to be a covenant, and to release prisoners. There is plenty of overlap between this description and that of Isaiah 42, where we identified the Servant as the Messiah. The New Testament finds the Servant’s attributes in Jesus Christ, in both comings (Matt. 1:21, John 8:12, John 9:5, John 17:1–5, Rev. 1:16, Rev. 2:16, Rev. 19:15).
Earlier we found that in this section of Isaiah, God’s servant “Israel” or “Jacob” refers to the nation. But here the name Israel (without a parallel reference to Jacob) clearly applies to the individual Servant, who restores the nation to God (Isa. 49:5). The individual Servant has become the ideal embodiment or representative of the nation whose failure has compromised its use of the name “Israel” (Isa. 48:1).
Here is the first intimation of the difficulty involved in the Servant’s task. He laments, “ ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity’ ” (Isa. 49:4, NRSV), an idea echoed in Daniel 9:26: “ ‘an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing’ ” (NRSV). But He clings to faith: “ ‘Yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God’ ” (Isa. 49:4, NRSV). J. Alec Motyer observes: “Thus, Isaiah foresaw a Servant with a real human nature, tested like we are and proving himself to be the author and perfecter of the way of faith, a real, personal faith that can still say my God when nothing any longer seems worthwhile.”—The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 387.
Isaiah 49:7 is startling. The Servant is “deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers,” but the Lord says to Him: “ ‘Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you’ ” (NRSV).
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White’s description of Jesus’ healing and teaching ministry in “At Capernaum,” The Desire of Ages, pp. 252–261.
“In the work of soul winning, great tact and wisdom are needed. The Savior never suppressed the truth, but He uttered it always in love. In His [dealings] with others, He exercised the greatest tact, and He was always kind and thoughtful. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave unnecessary pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He fearlessly denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity, but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes. He never made truth cruel, but ever manifested a deep tenderness for humanity. Every soul was precious in His sight. He bore Himself with divine dignity; yet He bowed with the tenderest compassion and regard to every member of the family of God. He saw in all, souls whom it was His mission to save.”—Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 117.
Summary: Deliverance requires a Deliverer. God’s servant nation would be delivered by two deliverers: Cyrus, who would set the captives free from Babylonian exile, and an unnamed Servant, whose identity as the Messiah is progressively revealed. This Servant would restore justice and bring the community of survivors back to God.