Comment (16th January 2011)
In Isaiah 48, the chapter preceding our Old Testament reading, Israel’s failings as a nation are made clear. In Isaiah 49, the Servant is named ‘Israel’ (v.3) but is shown to be not a nation but an individual (vs 5,6), a representative of the nation who will not only serve the nation but the whole world (v.6). This ‘servant song’ (as theologians call it) is a prophecy about the coming Messiah.
The Servant was not God’s afterthought, but had been planned before his birth. His task was going to be specific and effective – as effective as a sharpened sword or polished arrow, as specific as a weapon kept hidden until the right time. His task was first to work with the nation of Israel, and to show them the glory of God. Jesus often said that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
The nation, however, would not be very responsive. Jesus even had problems with his disciples; at his crucifixion most had run away. It seemed Jesus’ work had been in vain.
God knew what he was doing. His purposes were working out. The Messiah’s task to bring Israel back to himself will be fulfilled. But while that is in progress, an even greater result is unfolding: the bringing of God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. The one who is the ‘Redeemer and Holy One of Israel’ may indeed be despised (at the moment) by many of his own people; but we see kings and rulers of the nations acknowledging that Jesus the Messiah is Lord – this prophecy is being fulfilled. And if this is so, we can believe that it will be fulfilled completely: the time will come when all Israel too will be saved.
We too are called to be God’s servants as we follow Christ and serve him as Lord and King. As we look back on our lives we may feel tempted to say with the suffering servant that we too have laboured for no purpose and have spent our strength in vain and for nothing. Yet notice the faith of the servant in this prophecy – a faith very evident in Jesus: ‘my reward is with my God’ shows that he trusted that God would ensure his work was not in vain; ‘I am honoured in the eyes of the Lord’ shows that he had no doubt about his standing in God’s sight; and ‘my God has been my strength’ showed in what he trusted. Let us follow him!
1) What might the relevance of the prophecy be for a) the original hearers b) Jesus c) us today?
2) Can you think of times when God has done far more than you expected?