My Servant, the Covenant

Isaiah 42:1-25

The Jews had two problems, summed up by one word: captivity. Two “flavors” of captivity – physical/political and spiritual. Because of two flavors, required individual mechanisms for complete deliverance: release and forgiveness. Both captivities intimately connected with their broken covenant; Israel repeatedly showed same disdain and disregard for God’s covenant with them as Esau toward birthright. For 37 chapters Isaiah has taken people to task for egregiously (outrageously bad) violating terms of the covenant.

The fix for their problem not easy or quick, nor would it come all at once. Even though difficult, release from physical captivity would come first after 70 years in Babylon. Forgiveness a problem of much greater magnitude; according to God’s timetable would require an additional 70 weeks of years to provide the solution. Some among Jewish people understood nature of problem – were called “the remnant” by Isaiah. They got it: the magnitude of their need, inability individually or as nation to meet own need. So what would be solution? who would deliver them?

Would actually be two distinct individuals God would send to serve as deliverers; God would use both in concert. Deliverance from both flavors of captivity were necessary to enable Israel to fulfill Gods’ purpose. Because release from Babylon would have limited value without an answer to larger problem, forgiveness of sin, second deliverer introduced first – the Lord’s Servant. This is the first of four Servant Songs given by Isaiah, each with different emphasis on individual and his work – in this song: who he is, what he will do, how his people should respond.

A. who his people are v.18-25

deaf & blind (18-19) should have known better: had God’s prophets to speak, direct hand of blessing and guidance throughout their history. Things they had seen and heard with only one reasonable explanation: God. Blindness/deafness willful and cumulative – persistent rejection of truth made it easier to play blind and deaf.

rebellious (20) knew enough of the truth to know were it leads and refused to go down that road. Example: Richard R, knows evolution can’t explain everything (or even much), can’t bring himself to publicly deny there’s a God, claims to be agnostic. Confronted with intricacies and majesty of creation, denies design ’cause that means a designer and he won’t go there.

unjust (21-22) in part for failure to follow God’s design for government, treat all in society justly, had to endure some of own medicine at hand of captors. They had looted and plundered and falsely imprisoned their own poor and weak, behaving contrary to God’s own treatment of them. Now: payback.

uncaring (23) Anyone listening?? Only a remnant. Majority content to complain or conform – complain about treatment by Babylonians or conform to pagan culture, showing no concern for God’s purpose or expectations.

sinfully disobedient (24) weren’t ignorant of expectations, knew but refused to obey. Knew the right way but freely chose to go own direction. Knew speeding and drugs and prostitution and idolatry were against the law AND displeasing to God – did ’em anyway.

stubborn (25) stern treatment, hard consequences caused hardening, not softening. More correcting pressure from God and his agents, more stubborn resistance from God’s people.

deserving of anything / everything God deemed appropriate to dish out as retribution for sinful behavior. We’d look at them, say leave ’em rot in captivity; don’t want to think we’re looking in a mirror. Yet when most unworthy of grace, what does God do? Introduces his Servant.

B. who he is v.1-7

chosen, object of delight, Spirit-filled, blessing to the Gentiles (1) the quintessential Servant: chosen by the Father for specific purpose, object of Father’s love and favor, recipient of Father’s full blessing (full of grace and truth, Holy Spirit without measure, John 1:14; 3:34), the Father’s minister of justice – globe-spanning ministry not limited to Israel.

not ostentatious, not aggressive, not threatening (2) Servant will not attempt to draw attention to himself either by show or by force. In fact, will withdraw from view at times. No billboards, flashing neon lights, PR people.

gentle and nurturing (3) Servant’s mission is redemptive, restorative, not destructive. Came to “heal[s] the brokenhearted And bind[s] up their wounds.” (Ps. 147:3) Bruised and broken in spirit, weak in faith and strength, the Servant gently, tenderly nurtures and nourishes. Physician skilled in healing all diseases, especially those of the soul.

strong and resilient (4) Servant has a huge task, one that would overwhelm anyone else; he has the constitution to not be bruised or grow dim. Will carry out his mission to completion despite obstacles; a mission to bless all families of the earth(Gen. 12:3).

sent by the Creator-God, commissioned, sustained, given:

Servant sent by, received commission from Creator and Sustainer (5-6) – God who made everything, on whom everyone depends for life and breath (whether they acknowledge it or not). It’s that God alone who can provide solution to man’s need, who will sustain and protect the Servant to ensure success of his mission. Servant was given (6-7)

as a covenant – Servant would be one who flawlessly and blamelessly keeps covenant, satisfies all its demands for obedience in place of people who could not, then on other side satisfies all demands for justice in place of those who broke covenant. Both obedience and satisfaction credited to those whom Servant represents.

as a light – Servant not only would bring light, he is Light of the Gentile and Jewish world, one who provides salvation from darkness of sin to all who believe.

as a deliverer – Servant would accomplish what neither Isaiah nor Cyrus could: make blind to see, release captives from prison house of darkness of sin.

C. how to respond v.8-17

this God: the Covenant God, exclusive object of worship (8) is not tolerant, will not accept any competition, announces new and great blessings (9) unprecedented displays of God’s love and grace expressed in and through his Servant. Things to come could never have been predicted by finite man; simply does not have capacity to think them up: a new covenant Mediator, including non-Jews in the covenant, renewal of both fallen man and cursed creation. It will basically be fundamentally new order of things, a radical change that in its fullness embraces entire universe. Will have effects in both physical and spiritual spheres.

expects praise

from all mankind (10) All those made in image of God owe him praise; those who have been made new creatures especially should sing his praise. A new kind of song, one that only redeemed can sing – they are only ones who recognize and appreciate blessings found in Christ. It’s song of rejoicing, of praise to God, of adoration in response to all he has done and promised to do.

from all places (11-12) what God intended to accomplish by means of Servant would have world-changing effects. Much as man might like to ignore the hinge of history, is unable to do so.

“…the state-funded British Broadcasting Corporation decided to replace the terms B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, or Year of the Lord) in historical date references with B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era), Religion News Service reports. In an official statement, BBC said since it was “committed to impartiality, it is appropriate that we use terms that do not offend or alienate non-Christians.” Attempt to re-label dates doesn’t change event that nailed down year 1 – birth of Christ.

Servant would overcome all opposition; would lead, guide and enlighten the blind; would bring to shame all those who trust in idols. This theme will come up again in Servant songs: his mission not just in and for Israel, will encompass all the world – ransoming a “people from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9) If we’re part of that ransomed people then our voices ought to be right out there with all our brothers and sisters.

Don’t forget why God does all this: v.6 – dirty rotten sinners, covenant-breakers could never keep the covenant and reap benefits for themselves. So,… God gave one who would not only serve as their representative to do what they couldn’t, he’s the one in whom all covenant blessings are found. His blood represents the new covenant, but he is mediator of the covenant, his righteousness applied to his people guarantees their place in covenant. God’s Servant, Lord Jesus, accomplishes as new covenant what Moses and old covenant never could – making a righteous and holy people from those who are absolutely helpless and incapable of doing anything to save themselves.

In previous chapter (Isa. 41:14) God referred to his people as “you worm Jacob”. David, describing suffering of Lord Jesus on Calvary portrayed our Substitute as “a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people” (Psa. 22:6). Look what happens: Servant comes alongside worms, reaches down and redeems us, makes us glow-worms, giving us his light, enabling us to shine brightly and light up everything around us. All because of grace, God’s amazing redeeming grace.


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