In the last post we turned our attention to the third of the four servant songs, found in Isaiah 50:4-9. I reproduce the text here again.
4 The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. 5 The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. 6 I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. 7 Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. 8 He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! 9 It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.
In addition to what I said in the last post, there are three more things I would like to point out about this third servant song.
(1) As I mentioned in an earlier post in this series, I believe these servant songs have both an immediate and a distant referent. The more distant referent is Jesus Christ. The more immediate referent, that is, a person or persons from the prophet’s own context—there is much academic discussion as to who that might be. See the list I gave in the earlier post, for Day Five. The point I wish to make here is that, since there are two referents, we have to be careful about taking every detail in these servant songs and using them to “fill in” details in the passion narrative of Jesus. It would be wrong therefore to argue that because the servant in this song talks about people pulling out his beard hairs, that this necessarily means that the same happened to Jesus. That is certainly possible, but it is not demanded. In the same way, it would be wrong to take Isaiah 53:2 and argue that Jesus, all his life, must have been a very unattractive person. Not every detail should necessarily be taken forward, or be used to fill in details in the gospel narratives.
(2) The servant of the Lord states, not only that he has not shrunk back from the physical abuse he is encountering in his attempt to carry out his assigned task. But, even more strongly than this, he states that he has set his face like flint. We should see the resolve of the servant here mirrored in the resolve of Christ as he sets his face for Jerusalem. I believe that Luke does indeed pick up this theme in the ninth chapter of his gospel:
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
Commentators on the gospel of Luke have often referred to the section of the gospel that begins with this verse and continues through chapter 19 as Luke’s “Travel Narrative.” It is that section where Jesus is steadfastly, resolutely making his way toward Jerusalem. Even before this earlier in chapter nine in the account of the transfiguration, we see Jesus, Moses, and Elijah talking about Jesus’ “departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
And, then, as Luke continues to narrate Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, he tells of this very interesting encounter with some Pharisees, who, at least on the surface, appear to be concerned for Jesus’ safety:
31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day–for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! (Luke 13:31-33)
Jesus has set his face for Jerusalem. He is going there to accomplish his departure, his death, his crucifixion. He is going there to reach his goal, his own death in Jerusalem. He has set his face like flint.
(3) The servant of the Lord can do this because his has complete trust that the Lord will vindicate him. Despite the false charges that have been leveled against him, the servant knows that, ultimately, the Lord will clear his name.
Similarly, Christ surrenders himself to the will of his Father, and he knows that ultimately, the Father will testify on his behalf. This is why he can say, “not my will, but yours be done.” And this is why, on the cross with his last breath, he can cry out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
He is, indeed, the Lord’s true servant.
April 12, 2014