The Servant of Chapter 49
“Listen to me, O islands, and hearken O distant regimes: the Lord summoned me from the belly; He mentioned my name from my mother’s womb. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He hid me; He made me like a smooth arrow, in His quiver He concealed me. He said to me: “You are My servant, Israel, in whom I take glory.” But I said, “I have toiled in vain and used up my strength for nothingness and naught; however, judgment is with the Lord and (the reward for) my accomplishments is with my God.” And now the Lord, who formed me from the belly to be a servant to Him, to restore Jacob unto Him, and Israel will be gathered unto Him and I was honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God was my strength. He said: “It is insufficient that you be a servant for Me to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the ruins of Israel; I will make you a light for the nations, so that My salvation may extend to the ends of the earth.”
Who is this servant?
At first glance, we would say that this is Isaiah. The prophet is described as one who is called from the womb (Jeremiah 1:4). The mouth of the prophet is the implement that God uses to accomplish His purpose (Jeremiah 1:9,10). Isaiah was first called to restore Israel to God (when he spoke to the Jews of his own generation), but ultimately, it is Isaiah who is the primary prophet called to bring the message of the Messianic era to all of mankind. It is Isaiah’s words that are written on the side of the U.N. building expressing man’s hope for a future of peace. And it is Isaiah’s metaphor of the lion lying with lamb that is most often used to describe the glorious plan that God has for all of humanity. Furthermore; the servant in this passage speaks for himself in the first person without being introduced in any way, which also leads us to believe that it is Isaiah who is talking.
However; the servant is identified as “Israel” (verse 3). Israel is also called from the time of their formation (43:21; 44:2, 21, 24; 46:3). The servant of this passage is described as a “sword” and an “arrow” just as Israel is called the “armor-bearers of the Lord” (52:11) and they are set by God to be a “threshing board of many blades” (41:15). Just as this servant is sheltered in the shade of God’s hand so is Israel likewise sheltered (51:16). Just as the servant fears that his toil has been in vain so does Israel fear that their toil has been in vain (40:27). Just as the servant will bring light to the nations so will Israel bring light to the nations (60:3). And this passage is placed in the midst of a series of prophecies which are spoken for the encouragement of Israel (48:20; 49:14).
The lines between the prophet and the nation are intentionally blurred. The encouragement to Israel is that in a certain sense they are the prophet of God. Just as the prophet carries God’s word so does Israel carry God’s word and just as the prophet is granted the strength of God’s word so is Israel granted the strength, the power and the eternal nature of God’s word (40:8).
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal