In our look at the servant songs in Isaiah, we have noticed several statements that point to the difficulty of the servant’s task of bringing Israel back to God (42:4; 49:4, 5-6). But nothing so far has clearly indicated that the task will also involve inflicted suffering. That changes now as we come to Isaiah 49:7.
This is what the LORD says—the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
On the one hand, the verse speaks of the honor that will come to the servant: kings rising, princes bowing down, in ultimate recognition that this servant is indeed the chosen one of the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. But before that day comes, there will be the day of the servant’s humiliation: he will be despised and abhorred by the nation, he will be in servitude to those in positions of authority, perhaps those same kings who will ultimately pay him tribute.
There are several interpretive problems with this verse, which I will not try to sort out in this post. However, after having worked through these issues, I will tell you what my understanding is. The “nation” in this verse is the Israelite people. They despise and abhor the servant for what he is doing in his attempt to restore them back to God. Rulers, perhaps foreigner rulers, get in on the despising act. In fact, the verse is ironic: the “servant” of the Lord will be the “servant” of rulers. This servant will attempt to carry out a mission given to him by God. For all his efforts to accomplish this mission, his reward will be despisement and abhorrence. No wonder, then, that the servant complains in verse 4, ” I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. No wonder that, back in Isaiah 42:6, the Lord had to assure his servant by saying to him, ” I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you.” No wonder that the Lord, in Isaiah 49:8, has to say to his servant, ” In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you.” The servant needed this hand-holding. He needed these assurances. He needed to know that the Lord would hear his prayers and rescue him.
Looking ahead to the New Testament, I would argue that our Lord Jesus Christ needed those words that came to him from heaven when he was baptized. He needed the angels who came and ministered to him when he was tempted in the wilderness. He needed those solitary times of prayer in the mountains, that he might hear words of assurance from his Father. He needed the affirmation he received in his transfiguration experience. He needed the voice that came from heaven at the beginning of passion week. He needed the angel who came and strengthened him in Gethsemane. He needed to know that, ultimately, when he had completed the task assigned him by his Father, his prayers would be heard and that he would be rescued from death.
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7)
April 4, 2014