Holman Bible Dictionary
Servant of the Lord, the
Title Jesus took up from the Old Testament, especially Isaiah 40-55 . The term the servant of the Lord (or “My servant” or “His servant” where the pronouns refer to God) is applied to many leaders of God's people: to Moses over 30 times, to David over 70 times, and to Israel as a nation a number of times. It assumes a special significance in Isaiah 40-55 .
The idea is introduced almost incidentally. Isaiah 41:1 pictures a great crisis, as a powerful army moves westward from Persia, conquering many nations and filling all with terror. In contrast, God told Israel not to fear. “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away” ( Isaiah 41:8 ,Isaiah 41:8,41:9 ). Israel had to be preserved, because it was God's instrument to perform a task of worldwide importance.
Isaiah 42:1 gives a remarkable picture of the ideal Servant of the Lord and the great work that God intends Him to accomplish. He is to “bring forth judgment to the Gentiles” ( Isaiah 42:1 ). He must “set judgment in the earth,” and the distant “isles shall wait for his law” (Isaiah 42:4 ). The tasks He is destined to accomplish are almost beyond belief. He is to bring God's justice to all the nations (Isaiah 42:1 ,Isaiah 42:1,42:4 ).
Almost more remarkable than the immensity of the task that the Servant must perform is the description of the way He is to do it. He will move forward with absolute confidence, but nothing indicates strenuous effort will be needed. He will have such an understanding of His overwhelming power that He can be absolutely gentle as He does His work (Isaiah 42:2-4 ) even toward those whose efforts have failed. This first part of Isaiah 42:1 pictures the ideal Servant—the goal for which Israel was to be preserved.
As an Israelite read this prediction, he would think: “How can Israel even think of performing this great task that God's Servant must do?” Soon the Lord Himself called attention to the inability of the natural Israelite to fulfill the picture of the ideal Servant. In Isaiah 42:19 He says, “Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent?” Israel had a responsibility to fulfill this ideal, but to do so was far beyond its power. Still, the Lord says: “Ye are my witnesses, and my servant whom I have chosen” ( Isaiah 43:10; compare Isaiah 44:1-2 ,Isaiah 44:1-2,44:21 ).
Israel had responsibility to do the work of the Servant. Yet not all Israel could be meant, for some were blasphemers and idolaters. Could part of Israel be the real Servant? Or might it really point to One who must come out of Israel—One who could represent Israel in accomplishing the task? Matthew 12:17-21 quotes Isaiah 42:1-4 as fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 49:1 presents the work of the Servant in more detail. The Servant tells the “isles” and the “people, from far;” that God called Him before His birth, even mentioning His name: Israel ( Isaiah 49:3 ). Isaiah 49:4 describes the godly in Israel who know what God wants but feel their own inadequacy and provides assurance that the work belongs to God, and He will bring it to pass. Isaiah 49:5 and Isaiah 49:6 distinguish between the One who will fulfill the work of the Servant and the nation of Israel, to which this One belongs and which He represents. Not only is He to bring judgment to all the world—He is “to bring Jacob again to him” ( Isaiah 49:5 ) and “to restore the preserved of Israel” (Isaiah 49:6 ). He is to be “a light to the Gentiles” and “my salvation unto the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 ). In Isaiah 50:4-10 , we hear of the sufferings to which He will voluntarily submit.
All this leads up to the triumphal picture in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 , showing the sufferings of the Servant (Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:2-5 ,Isaiah 53:2-5,53:7-8 ,Isaiah 53:7-8,53:10 ), their vicarious and redemptive nature (Isaiah 52:15; Isaiah 53:4-6 ,Isaiah 53:4-6,53:8 ,Isaiah 53:8,53:10-12; compare 1 Peter 1:1-2 ). Isaiah 54:1 shows the outreach of the Servant's work, and Isaiah 55:1 gives the glorious call to receive the salvation won by the Servant's redemptive work, “without money and without price” ( Isaiah 55:1 ).
After Isaiah 53:1 , Isaiah never again used “servant” in the singular; rather he spoke of the blessings that the followers of the Servant will receive, calling them “the servants of the Lord” (Isaiah 54:17 ); “his servants” (Isaiah 56:6; Isaiah 65:15; Isaiah 66:1;Isaiah 66:1;14:1 ); and “my servants” (Isaiah 65:8-9 ,Isaiah 65:8-9,65:13-14 ).
The New Testament pictures Jesus as the Suffering Servant fulfilling the glorious descriptions of Isaiah. In refusing to let disciples reveal His true identity, Jesus was the pleasing Servant who did not strive or cry out (Matthew 12:14-21 ). In the resurrection and ascension, God glorified Jesus the Servant (Acts 3:1;Acts 3:1;13:1; compare Acts 13:26 where the same Greek word for servant appears though KJV translates “Son.”). Gentile and Jewish leaders conspired to make Jesus, “your holy servant” suffer as God “had decided beforehand” ( Acts 4:27-28 NIV). This led the early church to pray that as God's servants they would speak with boldness and perform miracles through the name of “your holy servant Jesus” ( Acts 4:29-30 NIV). Jesus saw His mission as that of the Servant ( Luke 4:18-19; compare Luke 22:37 ) and symbolized it for His disciples, calling on them to serve one another and the world (John 13:4-17 ). See Christology; Isaiah; Jesus Christ; Slavery; Son of God
Allan A. MacRae
Sunday, September 25th, 2016
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26