Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 7th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 42

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verse 1




HAVING completed our survey of the fundamental truths of our prophecy, and studied the subject which forms its immediate and most urgent interest, the deliverance of Israel from Babylon, we are now at liberty to turn to consider the great duty and destiny which lie before the delivered people- the Service of Jehovah. The passages of our prophecy which describe this are scattered both among those chapters we have already studied and among those which lie before us. But, as was explained in the Introduction, they are all easily detached from their surroundings; and the continuity and progress, of which their series, though so much interrupted, gives evidence, demand that they should be treated by us together. They will, therefore, form the Third of the Books, into which this volume is divided.

The passages on the Servant of Jehovah, or, as the English reader is more accustomed to hear him called, the Servant of the Lord, are as follows: Isaiah 41:8 ff; Isaiah 42:1-7; Isaiah 42:18-25; Isaiah 43:1-28 passim, especially Isaiah 43:8-10: Isaiah 44:1; Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 49:1-9; Isaiah 1:4-11; Isaiah 52:13-15. The main passages are those in chapters 41, 42, 43, 49, 1, and 52.-53. The others are incidental allusions to Israel as the Servant of the Lord, and do not develop the character of the Servant or the Service.

Upon the questions relevant to the structure of these prophecies-why they have been so scattered, and whether they were originally from the main author of Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13, or from any other single writer, -questions on which critics have either preserved a discreet silence, or have spoken to convince nobody but themselves, -I have no final opinions to offer. It may be that these passages formed a poem by themselves before their incorporation with our prophecy; but the evidence which has been offered for this is very far from adequate. It may be that one or more of them are insertions from other authors, to which our prophet consciously works up with ideas of his own about the Servant; but neither for this is there any evidence worth serious consideration. I think that all we can do is to remember that they occur in a dramatic work, which may, partly at least, account for the interruptions which separate them; that the subject of which they treat is woven through and through other portions of Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12, and that even those of them which, like Isaiah 49:1-26, look as if they could stand by themselves, are led up to by the verses before them; and that, finally, the series of them exhibits a continuity and furnishes a distinct development of their subject.

It is this development which the following exposition seeks to trace. As the prophet starts from the idea of the Servant as being the whole historical nation Israel, it will be necessary to devote, first of all, a chapter to Israel’s peculiar relation to God. This will be chapter 15 "One God, One People." In chapter 16 we shall trace the development of the idea through the whole series of the passages; and in chapter 17 we shall give the New Testament interpretation and fulfilment of the Servant. Then will follow an exposition of the contents of the Service and of the ideal it presents to ourselves, first, as it is given in Isaiah 42:1-9, as the service of God and man, chapter 18, of this volume; then as it is realised and owned by the Servant himself, as prophet and martyr, Isaiah 49:1, chapter 19 of this Book; and finally as it culminates in Isaiah 52:13-15, chapter 20 of this volume.

Verses 1-7



WE now understand whom to regard as the Servant of the Lord. The Service of God was a commission to witness and prophesy for God upon earth, made out at first in the name of the entire nation Israel. When their unfitness as a whole became apparent, it was delegated to a portion of them. But as there were added to its duties of prophecy, those of martyrdom and atonement for the sins of the people, our prophet, it would seem, saw it focussed in the person of an individual.

In history Jesus Christ has fulfilled this commission both in its national and in its personal aspects. He realised the ideal of the prophet-people. He sacrificed Himself and made atonement for the sins of men. But having illustrated the service of God in the world, Christ did not exhaust it. He returned it to His people, a more clamant conscience than ever, and He also gave them grace to fulfil its demands. Through Christ the original destination of these prophecies becomes, as Paul saw, their ultimate destination as well. That Israel refused this Service or failed in it only leaves it more clearly to us as duty; that Jesus fulfilled it not only confirms that duty, but adds hope and courage to discharge it.

Although the terms of this Service were published nearly two thousand five hundred years ago, in a petty dialect that is now dead, to a helpless tribe of captives in a world whose civilisation has long sunk to ruin, yet these terms are so free of all that is provincial or antique, they are so adapted to the lasting needs of humanity, they are so universal in their scope, they are so instinct with that love which never faileth, though prophecies fail and tongues cease, that they come home to heart and conscience today with as much tenderness and authority as ever. The first programme of these terms is given in Isaiah 42:1-7. The authorised English version is one of unapproachable beauty, but its emphasis and rhythm are not the emphasis and rhythm of the original, and it has missed one at least of the striking points of the Hebrew. The following version, which makes no attempt at elegance, is almost literal, follows the same order as the original that it may reproduce the same emphasis, and, as far as English can, repeats the original rhythm. The point, which it rescues from the neglect of the Authorised Version, is this, that the verbs used of the Servant in Isaiah 42:4, "He shall not fade nor break," are the same as are used of the wick and the reed in Isaiah 42:3.

Lo, My Servant I hold by him; My Chosen!

Well-pleased is My soul!’

I have set My Spirit upon him;

Law to the Nations he brings forth.

He cries not, nor lifts up,

Nor lets his voice be heard in the street.

Reed that is broken he breaks not off,

Wick that is fading he does not quench;

Faithfully brings he forth Law.

He shall not fade neither break,

Till he have set in the Earth Law;

And for his teaching the Isles are waiting.

Thus saith the God, Jehovah,

Creator of the heavens that stretched them forth,

Spreader of Earth and her produce,

Giver of breath to the people upon her,

And of spirit to them that walk therein:

I, Jehovah, have called thee in righteousness,

To grasp thee fast by thy hand, and to keep thee,

And to set thee for a covenant of the People,

For a light of the Nations:

To open blind eyes,

To bring forth from durance the captive,

From prison the dwellers in darkness.


As several of these lines indicate, this is a Service to Man, but what we must first fasten upon is that before being a Service to Man it is a Service for God. "Behold, My Servant," says God’s commission very emphatically. And throughout the prophecy the Servant is presented as chosen of God, inspired of God, equipped of God, God’s creature, God’s instrument; useful only because he is used, influential because he is influenced, victorious because he is obedient; learning the methods of his work by daily wakefulness to God’s voice, a good speaker only because he is first a good listener; with no strength or courage but what God lends, and achieving all for God’s glory. Notice how strongly it is said that God "holds by him. grasps him by the hand." We shall see that his Service is as sympathetic and comprehensive a purpose for humanity as was ever dreamed in any thought or dared in any life. Whether we consider its tenderness for individuals, or the universalism of its hope for the world, or its gentle appreciation of all human effort and aspiration, or its conscience of mankind’s chief evil, or the utterness of its self-sacrifice in order to redeem men, -we shall own it to be a programme of human duty, and a prophecy of human destiny, to which the growing experience of our race has been able to add nothing that is essential. But the Service becomes all that to man, because it first takes all that from God. Not only is the Servant’s sense of duty to all humanity just the conscience of God’s universal sovereignty, -for it is a remarkable and never-to-be-forgotten fact, that Israel recognised their God’s right to the whole world, before they felt their own duty to mankind, -but the Servant’s character and methods are the reflection of the Divine. Feature by feature the Servant corresponds to His Lord. His patience is but sympathy with Jehovah’s righteousness, -"I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness." His gentleness with the unprofitable and the unlovely "He breaks not off the broken reed nor quenches the flickering wick"-is but the temper of "the everlasting God, who giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." His labour and passion and agony, even they have been anticipated in the Divine nature, for "the Lord stirreth up zeal like a man of war; He saith, I will cry out like a travailing woman." In no detail is the Servant above his Master. His character is not original, but is the impress of his God’s: "I have put My spirit upon him."

There are many in our day, who deny this indebtedness of the human character to the Divine, and in the Service of Man would have us turn our backs upon God. Positivists, while admitting that the earliest enthusiasm of the individual for his race did originate in the love of a Divine Being, assert nevertheless that we have grown away from this illusory motive; and that in the example of humanity itself we may find all the requisite impulse to serve it. The philosophy of history, which the extreme Socialists have put forward, is even more explicit. According to them, mankind was disturbed in a primitive, tribal socialism-or service of each other-by the rise of spiritual religion, which drew the individual away from his kind and absorbed him in selfish relations to God. Such a stage, represented by the Hebrew and Christian faiths, and by the individualist political economy which has run concurrent with the later developments of Christianity, was (so these Socialists admit) perhaps necessary for temporary discipline and culture, like the land of Egypt to starved Jacob’s children; but like Egypt, when it turned out to be the house of bondage, the individualist economy and religion are now to be abandoned for the original land of promise, -Socialism once more, but universal instead of tribal as of old. Out of this analogy, which is such Socialists’ own, Sinai and the Ten Commandments are, of course, omitted. We are to march back to freedom without a God, and settle down to love and serve each other by administration.

But can we turn our backs on God without hurting man? The natural history of philanthropy would seem to say that we cannot. This prophecy is one of its witnesses. Earliest ideal as it is, of a universal service of mankind, it starts in its obligation from the universal Sovereignty of God; it starts in every one of its affections from some affection of the Divine character. And we have not grown away from the need of its everlasting sources. Cut off God from the Service of man, and the long habit and inherent beauty of that Service may perpetuate its customs for a few generations; but the inevitable call must come to subject conduct to the altered intellectual conditions, and in the absence of God every man’s ideal shall surely turn from, How can I serve my neighbour? to How can I make my neighbour serve me? As our prophet reminds us in his vivid contrast between Israel, the Servant of the Lord, and Babylon, "who saith in her heart: I am, and there is none beside me," there are ultimately but two alternative lords of the human will, God and Self. If we revolt from the Authority and Example of the One, we shall surely become subject, in the long run, to the ignorance, the short-sightedness, the pedantry, the cruelty of the other. These words are used advisedly.

With no sense of the sacredness of every human life as created in the image of God, and with no example of an Infinite Mercy before them, men would leave to perish all that was weak, or, from the limited point of view of a single community or generation, unprofitable. Some Positivists, and those Socialists who do not include God in the society they seek to establish, admit that they expect something like that to follow from their denial of God. In certain Positivist proposals for the reform of charity, we are told that the ideal scheme of social relief would be the one which limited itself to persons judged to be of use to the community as a whole; that is, that in their succour of the weak, their bounty to the poor, and their care of the young, society should be guided, not by the eternal laws of justice and of mercy, but by the opinions of the representatives of the public for the time being and by their standard of utility to the commonwealth. Your atheist-Socialist is still more frank. In the state, which he sees rising after he has got rid of Christianity, he would suppress, he tells us, all who preached such a thing as the fear of the future life, and he would not repeat the present exceptional legislation for the protection of women and children, for whom, he whines, far too much has been recently done in comparison with what has been enacted for the protection of men. These are, of course, but vain things which the heathen imagine (and some of us have an ideal of socialism very different from the godlessness which has usurped the noble name), but they serve to illustrate what clever men, who have thrown off all belief in God, will bring themselves to hope for: a society utterly Babylonian, without pity or patience, -if it were possible for these eternal graces to die out of any human community, -subject to the opinion of pedants, whose tender mercies would be far more fatal to the weak and poor than the present indifference of the rich; seriously fettering liberty of conscience and destitute of chivalry. It may be that our Positivist critics are right, and that the interests of humanity have suffered in Christian times from the prevalence of too selfish and introspective a religion; but whether our religion has looked too intensely inward or not, we cannot, it is certain, do without a religion that looks steadily up, owning the discipline of Divine Law and the example of an Infinite Mercy and Longsuffering.

But, though we had never heard of Positivism or of the Socialism that denies God, our age, with its popular and public habits, would still require this example of Service, which our prophecy enforces: it is an age so charged with the instincts of work, with the ambition to be useful, with the fashion of altruism; but so empty of the sense of God, of reverence, discipline, and prayer. We do not need to learn philanthropy, -the thing is in the air; but we do need to be taught that philanthropy demands a theology both for its purity and its effectiveness. When philanthropy has become, what it is so much today, the contest of rival politicians, the ambition of every demagogue who can get his head above the crowd, the fitful self-indulgence of weak hearts, the opportunity of vain theorists, and for all a temptation to work with lawless means for selfish ends, -it is time to remember that the Service of Man is first of all a great Service for God. This faith alone can keep us from the wilfulness, the crochets, and the insubordination, which spoil so many well-intentioned to their kind, and so woefully break up the ranks of progress. Humility is the first need of the philanthropist of today: humility, discipline, and the sense of proportion; and these are qualities which only faith in God and the conscience of law are known to bestow upon the human heart. It is the fear of God that will best preserve us from making our philanthropy the mere flattery of the popular appetite. To keep us utterly patient with men we need to think of God’s patience with ourselves; while to us all there come calls to sacrifice, which our fellow men may so little deserve from us, and against which our self-culture can plead so many reasons, that unless God’s will and example were before us, the calls would never be obeyed. In short, to be most useful in this life it is necessary to feel that we are used. Look at Christ. To Him philanthropy was no mere habit and spontaneous affection; even for that great heart the love of man had to be enforced by the compulsion of the will of God. The busy days of healing and teaching had between them long nights of lonely prayer: and the Son of God did not pass to His supreme self-sacrifice for men till after the struggle with, and the submission to, His Father’s will in Gethsemane.


The substance of the Servant’s work is stated in one word, uttered thrice in emphatic positions. "Judgment for the nations shall he bring forth. According to truth shall he bring forth judgment. He shall not flag nor break, till he set in the earth judgment."

The English word "judgment" is a natural but misleading translation of the original, and we must dismiss at once the idea of judicial sentence, which it suggests. The Hebrew is "mishpat," which means, among other things, either a single statute, or the complete body of law which God gave Israel by Moses, at once their creed and their code; or, perhaps, also the abstract quality of justice or right. We rendered it as the latter in Isaiah 1:1-31; Isaiah 2:1-22; Isaiah 3:1-26; Isaiah 4:1-6; Isaiah 5:1-30; Isaiah 6:1-13; Isaiah 7:1-25; Isaiah 8:1-22; Isaiah 9:1-21; Isaiah 10:1-34; Isaiah 11:1-16; Isaiah 12:1-6; Isaiah 13:1-22; Isaiah 14:1-32; Isaiah 15:1-9; Isaiah 16:1-14; Isaiah 17:1-14; Isaiah 18:1-7; Isaiah 19:1-25; Isaiah 20:1-6; Isaiah 21:1-17; Isaiah 22:1-25; Isaiah 23:1-18; Isaiah 24:1-23; Isaiah 25:1-12; Isaiah 26:1-21; Isaiah 27:1-13; Isaiah 28:1-29; Isaiah 29:1-24; Isaiah 30:1-33; Isaiah 31:1-9; Isaiah 32:1-20; Isaiah 33:1-24; Isaiah 34:1-17; Isaiah 35:1-10; Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38; Isaiah 38:1-22; Isaiah 39:1-8. But, as will be seen from the note below, when used in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24 without the article, as here, it is the "mishpat" of Jehovah, -not so much the actual body of statutes given to Israel, as the principles of right or justice which they enforce. In one passage it is given in parallel to the civic virtues "righteousness," "truth," "uprightness," but-as its etymology compared with theirs shows us-it is these viewed not in their character as virtues, but in their obligation as ordained by God. Hence, "duty" to Jehovah as inseparable from His religion (Ewald), "religion" as the law of life (Delitzsch), "the law" (Cheyne, who admirably compares the Arabic ed-Din) are all good renderings. Professor Davidson gives the fullest exposition. "It can scarcely," he says, "be rendered ‘religion’ in the modern sense; it is the equity and civil right which is the result of the true religion of Jehovah: and though comprehended under religion in the Old Testament sense, is rather, according to our conceptions, religion applied in civil life. Of old the religious unit was the state, and the life of the state was the expression of its religion. Morality was law or custom, and both reposed upon God. A condition of thought such as now prevails, where morality is based on independent grounds, whether natural law or the principles inherent in the mind apart from religion, did not then exist. What the prophet means by ‘bringing forth right’ is explained in another passage, where it is said that Jehovah’s ‘arms shall judge the peoples,’ and that the ‘isles shall wait for His arm’. {Isaiah 51:5} ‘Judgment’ is that pervading of life by the principles of equity and humanity which is the immediate effect of the true religion of Jehovah." In short, "mishpat" is not only the civic righteousness and justice, to which it is made parallel in our prophecy, but it is these with God behind them. On the one hand it is conterminous with national virtue, on the other it is the ordinance and will of God.

This, then, is the burden of the Servant’s work, to pervade and instruct every nation’s life on earth with the righteousness and piety that are ordained of God. "He shall not flag nor break, till he have set in the earth Law,"-till in every nation justice, humanity, and worship are established as the law of God. We have seen that the Servant is in this passage still some aspect or shape of the people, -the people who are not a people, but scattered among the brickfields of Babylonia, a horde of captives. When we keep that in mind, two or three things come home to us about this task of theirs. First, it is no mere effort at proselytism. It is not an ambition to Judaise the world. The national consciousness and provincial habits, which cling about so many of the prophecies of Israel’s relation to the world, have dropped from this one, and the nation’s mission is identified with the establishment of law, the diffusion of light, the relief of suffering. "I will give thee for a light to the nations: to open blind eyes, to bring out from durance the bound, from the prison the dwellers in darkness." Again, it is no mere office of preaching to which the Servant’s commission is limited, no mere inculcation of articles of belief. But we have here the same rich, broad idea of religion, identifying it with the whole national life, which we found so often illustrated by Isaiah, and which is one of the beneficial results to religion of God’s choice for Himself of a nation as a whole. What such a Service has to give the world, is not merely testimony to the truth, nor fresh views of it, nor artistic methods of teaching it; but social life under its obligation, the public conscience of it, the long tradition and habit of it, the breed-what the prophets call the "seed"-of it. To establish true religion as the constitution, national duty, and regular practice of every people under the sun, in all the details of order, cleanliness, justice, purity, and mercy, in which it had been applied to themselves, -such was the Service and the Destiny of Israel. And the marvel of so universal and political an ideal was that it came not to a people in the front ranks of civilisation or of empire, but to a people that at the time had not even a political shape for themselves, -a mere herd of captives, despised and rejected of men. When we realise this, we understand that they never would have dared to think of it, or to speak of it to one another, unless they had believed it to be the purpose and will of Almighty God for them; unless they had recognised it, not only as a service desirable and true in itself, and needed also by humanity, but withal as His "mishpat," His "judgment” or "law," who by His bare word can bring all things to pass. But before we see how strongly He impressed them with this, that His creative force was in their mission, let us turn to the methods by which He commanded them to achieve it, -methods corresponding to its purely spiritual and universal character.


1. He shall not cry, nor lift up,

Nor make his voice to be heard in the street.

There is nothing more characteristic of our prophecy than its belief in the power of speech, its exultation in the music and spell of the human voice. It opens with a chorus of high calls: none are so lovely to it as heralds, or so musical as watchmen when they lift up the voice; it sets the preaching of glad tidings before the people as their national ideal; eloquence it describes as a sharp sword leaping from God’s scabbard. The Servant of the Lord is trained in style of speech; his words are as pointed arrows; he has the mouth of the learned, a voice to command obedience. The prophet’s own tones are superb: nowhere else does the short sententiousness of Hebrew roll out into such long, sonorous periods. He uses speech in every style: for comfort, for bitter controversy, in clear proclamation, in deep-throated denunciation: "Call with the throat, spare not, lift up the voice like a trumpet." His constant key-notes are, "speak a word, lift up the voice with strength, sing, publish, declare." In fact, there is no use to which the human voice has ever been put in the Service of Man, for comfort’s sake, or for justice, or for liberty, for the diffusion of knowledge or for the scattering of music, which our prophet does not enlist and urge upon his people.

When, then, he says of the Servant that "he shall not cry, nor lift up, nor make his voice to be heard in the street," he cannot be referring to the means and art of the Service, but rather to the tone and character of the Servant. Each of the triplet of verbs he uses shows us this. The first one, translated "cry," is not the cry or call of the herald voice in chapter 40, the high, clear Kara; it is ssa’ak, a sharper word with a choke in the centre of it, meaning to scream, especially under excitement. Then "to lift up" is the exact equivalent of our "to be loud." And if we were seeking to translate into Hebrew our phrase "to advertise oneself," we could not find a closer expression for it than to "make his voice be heard in the street." To be "screamy," to be "loud," to "advertise oneself,"-these modern expressions for vices that were ancient as well as modern render the exact force of the verse. Such the Servant of God will not be nor do. He is at once too strong, too meek, and too practical. That God is with him, "holding him fast," keeps him calm and unhysterical; that he is but God’s instrument keeps him humble and quiet; and that his heart is in his work keeps him from advertising himself at its expense. It is perhaps especially for the last of these reasons that Matthew (in his twelfth chapter) quotes this passage of our Lord. Jesus had been disturbed in His labours of healing by the disputations Pharisees. He had answered them, and then withdrawn from their neighbourhood. Many sick were brought after Him to His privacy, and He healed them all. But "He charged them that they should not make Him known; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Behold, My Servant he shall not strive, nor cry aloud, neither shall any one hear his voice in the streets." Now this cannot be, what some carelessly take it for, an example against controversy or debate of all kinds, for Jesus had Himself just been debating; nor can it be meant as an absolute forbidding of all publishing of good works, for Christ has shown us, on other occasions, that such advertisement is good. The difficulty is explained, by what we have seen to explain other perplexing actions of our Lord, His intensely practical spirit. The work to be done determined everything. When it made argument necessary, as that same day it had done in the synagogue, then our Lord entered on argument: He did not only heal the man with the withered hand, but He made him the text of a sermon. But when talking about His work hindered it, provoked the Pharisees to come near with their questions, and took up His time and strength in disputes with them, then for the work’s sake He forbade to talk about it. We have no trace of evidence that Christ forbade this advertisement also for His own sake, -as a temptation to Himself and fraught with evil effects upon His feelings. We know that it is for this reason we have to shun it. Even though we are quite guiltless of contributing to such publication ourselves, and it is the work of generous and well-meaning friends, it still becomes a very great danger to us. For it is apt to fever us and exhaust our nervous force, even when it does not turn our heads with its praise, -to distract us and to draw us more and more into the enervating habit of paying attention to popular opinion. Therefore, as a man values his efficiency in the Service of Man, he will not "make himself to be heard in the street." There is an amount of "making to be heard" which is absolutely necessary for the work’s sake; but there is also an amount which can be indulged in only at the work’s expense. Present-day philanthropy, even with the best intentions, suffers from this over-publicity, and its besetting sins are "loudness" and hysteria.

What, then, shall tell us how far we can go? What shall teach us how to be eloquent without screaming, clear without being loud, impressive without wasting our strength in seeking to make an impression? These questions bring us back to what we started with, as the indispensable requisite for service-some guiding and religious principles behind even the kindliest and steadiest tempers. For many things in the Service of Man no exact rules will avail; neither logic nor by-laws of administration can teach us to observe the uncertain and constantly varying degree of duty, which they demand. Tact for that is bestowed only by the influence of lofty principles working from above. This is a case in point. What rules of logic or "directions of the superior authority" can, in the Service of Man, distinguish for us between excitement and earnestness, bluster and eloquence, energy and mere self-advertisement; on whose subtle differences the whole success of the service must turn. Only the discipline of faith, only the sense of God, can help us here. The practical temper, by itself will not help us. To be busy but gives us too great self-importance; and hard work often serves only to bring out the combative instincts. To know that we are His Servants shall keep us meek; that we are held fast by His hand shall keep us calm; that His great laws are not abrogated shall keep us sane. When for our lowliest and most commonplace kinds of service we think no religion is required, let us remember the solemn introduction of the evangelist to his story of the foot-washing. "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He came forth from God and goeth into God, riseth from supper, and layeth aside His garments; and He took a towel, and girded Himself; then He poureth water into the bason, and began to wash His disciples’ feet."

2. But to meekness and discipline the Servant adds gentleness.

Reed that is broken he breaks not off,

Wick that is fading he does not quench;

Faithfully brings he forth law.

The force of the last of these three lines is, of course, qualificative and conditional. It is set as a guard against the abuse of the first two, and means that though the Servant in dealing with men is to be solicitous about their weakness, yet the interests of religion shall in no way suffer. Mercy shall be practised, but so that truth is not compromised.

The original application of the verse is thus finely stated by Professor Davidson: "This is the singularly humane and compassionate view the Prophet takes of the Gentiles, -they are bruised reeds and expiring flames What the prophet may refer to is the human virtues, expiring among the nations, but not yet dead; the sense of God, debased by idolatries, but not extinct; the consciousness in the individual soul of its own worth and its capacities, and the glimmering ideal of a true life and a worthy activity almost crushed out by the grinding tyranny of rulers and the miseries entailed by their ambitions-this flickering light the Servant shall feed and blow into a flame. It is the future relation of the ‘people’ Israel to other peoples that he describes. The thought which has now taken possession of statesmen of the higher class, that the point of contact between nation and nation need not be the sword, that the advantage of one people is not the loss of another but the gain of mankind, that the land where freedom has grown to maturity and is worshipped in her virgin serenity and loveliness should nurse the new-born babe in other homes, and that the strange powers of the mind of man and the subtle activities of his hand should not be repressed but fostered in every people, in order that the product may be poured into the general lap of the race-this idea is supposed to be due to Christianity. And, immediately, it is; but it is older than Christianity. It is found in this Prophet. And it is not new in him, for a Prophet, presumably a century and a half his senior, had said: "The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples as a dew from the Lord, as showers upon the grass"." {Micah 5:7}

But while this national reference may be the one originally meant, the splendid vagueness of the metaphor forbids us to be content with it, or with any solitary application. For the two clauses are as the eyes of the All-Pitiful Father, that rest wherever on this broad earth there is any life, though it be so low as to be conscious only through pain or doubt; they are as the healing palms of Jesus stretched over the multitudes to bless and gather to Himself the weary and the poor in spirit. We contrast our miserable ruin of character, our feeble sparks of desire after holiness, with the life which Christ demands and has promised, and in despair we tell ourselves, this can never become that. But it is precisely this that Christ has come to lift to that. The first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount closes with the awful command, "Be ye perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect"; but we work our way back through the chapter, and we come to this, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled"; and to this, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Such is Christ’s treatment of the bruised reed and the smoking flax. Let us not despair. There is only one kind of men for whom it has no gospel, -the dead and they who are steeped in worldliness, who have forgotten what the pain of a sore conscience is, and are strangers to humility and aspiration. But for all who know their life, were it only through their pain or their doubt, were it only in the despair of what they feel to be a last struggle with temptation, were it only in contrition for their sin or in shame for their uselessness, this text has hope. "Reed that is broken he breaketh not off, wick that is fading he doth not quench."

This objective sense of the Servant’s temper must always be the first for us to understand. For more than he was, we are, mortal, ready ourselves to "break and to fade." But having experienced the grace, let us show the same in our service to others. Let us understand that we are sent forth like the great Servant of God, that man "may have life, and have it more abundantly." We need resolutely and with pious obstinacy to set this temper before us, for it is not natural to our hearts. Even the best of us, in the excitement of our work, forget to think of anything except of making our mark, or of getting the better of what we are at work upon. When work grows hard, the combative instincts waken within us, till we look upon the characters God has given us to mould as enemies to be fought. We are passionate to convince men, to overcome them with an argument, to wring the confession from them that we are right and they wrong. Now Christ our Master must have seen in every man He met a very great deal more to be fought and extirpated than we can possibly see in one another. Yet He largely left that alone, and addressed Himself rather to the sparks of nobility He found, and fostered these to a strong life, which from within overcame the badness of the man, -the badness which opposition from the outside would but have beaten into harder obduracy. We must ever remember that we are not warriors but artists, -artists after the fashion of Jesus Christ, who came not to condemn life because it was imperfect, but to build life up to the image of God. So He sends us to be artists; as it is written, "He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some pastors and teachers." For what end? For convincing men, for telling them what fools they mostly are, for crushing them in the inquisition of their own conscience, for getting the better of them in argument?-no, not for these combative purposes at all, but for fostering and artistic ones: "for the perfecting of the saints, for the building up of the body of Christ; till we all come unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."

He who, in his Service of Man, practises such a temper towards the breaking and the fading, shall never himself break or fade, as this prophecy implies when it uses the same verbs in verses three and four. For he who is loyal to life shall find life generous to him; he who is careful of weakness shall never want for strength.


There only remains now to emphasise the power that is behind Service. It is, say verses five and six (Isaiah 42:5-6), the Creative Power of God.

Thus saith The God, Jehovah,

Creator of the heavens, that stretched them forth,

Spreader of the earth and her produce,

Giver of breath to the people upon her,

And of spirit to them that walk thereon,

I, Jehovah, have called thee in righteousness,

That I may grasp thee by thy hand, and keep thee.

Majestic confirmation of the call to Service! based upon the fundamental granite of this whole prophecy, which here crops out into a noble peak, firm station for the Servant, and point for prospect of all the future. It is our easy fault to read these words of the Creator as the utterance of mere ceremonial commonplace, blast of trumpets at the going forth of a hero, scenery for his stage, the pomp of nature summoned to assist at the presentation of God’s elect before the world. Yet not for splendour were they spoken, but for bare faith’s sake. God’s Servant has been sent forth, weak and gentle, with quiet methods and to very slow effects. "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor make his voice to be heard in the streets." What chance has such, our service, in the ways of the world, where to be forceful and selfish, to bluster and battle, is to survive and overcome! So we speak, and the panic ambition rises to fight the world with its own weapons, and to employ the kinds of debate, advertisement, and competition by which the world goes forward. For this, the Creator calls to us, and marshals His powers before our eyes. We thought there were but two things, -our own silence and the world’s noise. There are three, and the world’s noise is only an interruption between the other two. Aeross it deep calleth unto deep; the immeasurable processes of creation cry to the feeble convictions of truth in our hearts, We are one. Creation is the certificate that no moral effort is a forlorn hope. When God, after repeating His results in creation, adds, I have called thee in "righteousness," He means that there is some consistency between His processes in creation, rational and immense as they are, and those poor efforts He calls on our weakness to make, which look so foolish in face of the world. Behind every moral effort there is, He says, Creative force. Right and Might are ultimately one. Paul sums up the force of the passage, when, after speaking of the success of his ministry, he gives as its reason that the God of Creation and of Grace are the same. "Therefore seeing we have received this ministry we faint not. For God, who hath commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

The spiritual Service of Man, then, has creative forces behind it; work for God upon the hearts and characters of others has creative force behind it. And nature is the seal and the sacrament of this. Let our souls, therefore, dilate with her prospects. Let our impatience study her reasonableness and her laws. Let our weak wills feel the rush of her tides. For the power that is in her, and the faithful pursuance of purposes to their ends, are the power and the character that work behind each witness of our conscience, each effort of our heart for others. Not less strong than she, not less calm, not less certain of success, shall prove the moral Service of Man.

Verses 1-25



WE have been listening to the proclamation of a monotheism so absolute, that, as we have seen, modern critical philosophy, in surveying the history of religion, can find for it no rival among the faiths of the world. God has been exalted before us, in character so perfect, in dominion so universal, that neither the conscience nor the imagination of man can add to the general scope of the vision. Jesus and His Cross shall lead the world’s heart farther into the secrets of God’s love; God’s Spirit in science shall more richly instruct us in the secrets of His laws. But these shall thereby only increase the contents and illustrate the details of this revelation of our prophet. They shall in no way enlarge its sweep and outline, for it is already as lofty an idea of the unity and sovereignty of God, as the thoughts of man can follow.

Across this pure light of God, however, a phenomenon thrusts itself, which seems for the moment to affect the absoluteness of the vision and to detract from its sublimity. This is the prominence given before God to a single people, Israel. In these chapters the uniqueness of Israel is as much urged upon us as the unity of God. Is He the One God in heaven? They are His only people on earth, "His elect, His own, His witnesses to the end of the earth." His guidance of them is matched with His guidance of the stars, as if, like the stars shining against the night, their tribes alone moved to His hand through an otherwise dark and empty space. His revelation to humanity is given through their little language; the restoration of their petty capital, that hill fort in the barren land of Judah, is exhibited as the end of His processes, which sweep down through history and affect the surface of the whole inhabited world. And His very righteousness turns out to be for the most part His faithfulness to His covenant with Israel.

Now to many in our day it has been a great offence to have "the curved nose of the Jew" thus thrust in between their eyes and the pure light of God. They ask, Can the Judge of all the earth have been thus partial to one people? Did God confine His revelation to men to the literature of a small, unpolished tribe? Even most uncritical souls have trouble to understand why "salvation is of the Jews."

The chief point to know is that the election of Israel was an election, not to salvation, but. to service. To understand this is to get rid of by far the greater part of the difficulty that attaches to the subject. Israel was a means, and not an end; God chose in him a minister, not a favourite. No prophet in Israel failed to say this; but our prophet makes it the burden of his message to the exiles. "Ye are My witnesses, My Servant whom I have chosen. Ye are My witnesses, and I am God. I will also give thee for a light to the nations, to be My salvation to the end of the earth." {Isaiah 43:10} Numbers of other verses might be quoted to the same effect, that "there is no God but God, and Israel is His prophet." But if the election of Israel is thus an election to service, it is surely in harmony with God’s usual method, whether in nature or history. So far from such a specialisation as Israel’s being derogatory to the Divine unity, it is but part of that order and division of labour which the Divine unity demands as its consequence throughout the whole range of Being. The universe is diverse. "To every man his own work" is the proper corollary of "God over all," and Israel’s prerogative was but the specialisation of Israel’s function for God in the world. In choosing Israel to be His mediator with mankind, God did but do for religion what in the exercise of the same practical discipline He did for philosophy, when He dowered Greece with her gifts of subtle thought and speech, or with Rome when He trained her people to become the legislators of mankind. And how else should work succeed but by specialisation, -the secret as it is of fidelity and expertness? Of fidelity-for the constraint of my duty surely lies in this, that it is due from me and no other; of expertness-for he drives best and deepest who drives along one line: In lighting a fire you begin with a kindled faggot; and in lighting, a world it was in harmony with all His law, physical and moral, for God to begin with a particular portion of mankind.

The next question is, Why should this particular portion of mankind be a nation, and not a single prophet, or a school of philosophers, or a church universal? The answer is found in the condition of the ancient world. Amid its diversities of language and of racial feeling, a missionary prophet travelling like Paul from people to people is inconceivable; and almost as inconceivable is the kind of Church which Paul founded among various nations, in no other bonds than the consciousness of a common faith. Of all possible combinations of men the nation was the only form which in the ancient world stood a chance of surviving in the struggle for existence. The nation furnished the necessary shelter and fellowship for personal religion; it gave to the spiritual a habitation upon earth, enlisted in its behalf the force of heredity, and secured the continuity of its traditions. But the service of the nation to religion was not only conservative, it was missionary as well. It was only through a people that a God became visible and accredited to the world. Their history supplied the drama in which He played the hero’s part. At a time when it was impossible to spread a religion, by means of literature, or by the example of personal holiness, the achievements of a considerable nation, their progress and prestige, furnished a universally understood language, through which the God could publish to mankind His power and will; and in choosing, therefore, a single nation to reveal Himself by, God was but employing the means best adapted for His purpose. The nation was the unit of religious progress in the ancient world. In the nation God chose as His witness, not only the most solid and permanent, but the most widely intelligible and impressive.

The next question is, Why Israel should have been this singular and indispensable nation. When God selected Israel to serve His purpose, He did so, we are told, of His sovereign grace. But this strong thought, which forms the foundation of our prophet’s assurance about his people, does not prevent him from dwelling also on Israel’s natural capacity for religious service. This, too, was of God. Over and over again Israel hears Jehovah say: "I have created thee, I have formed thee, I have prepared thee." One passage describes the nation’s equipment for the office of a prophet; another their discipline for the life of a saint; and every now and then our prophet shows how far back he feels this preparation to have begun, even when the nation, as he puts it, was "still in the womb." How easily these well-worn phrases slip over our lips! Yet they are not mere formulas. Modern research has put a new meaning into them, and taught us that Israel’s creation, forming, election, polishing, carriage, and defence were processes as real and measurable as any in natural or political history. For instance, when our prophet says that Israel’s preparation began "from the womb, -I am thy moulder, saith Jehovah, from the womb,"-history takes us back to the pre-natal circumstance of the nation, and there exhibits it to us as already being tempered to a religious disposition and propensity. The Hebrews were of the Semitic stock. The "womb" from which Israel sprang was a race of wandering shepherds, upon the hungry deserts of Arabia, where man’s home is the flitting tent, hunger is his discipline for many months of the year, his only arts are those of speech and war, and in the long irremediable starvation there is nothing to do but to be patient and dream. Born in these deserts, the youth of the Semitic race, like the probation of their greatest prophets, was spent in a long fast, which lent their spirit a wonderful ease of detachment from the world and of religious imagination, and tempered their will to long suffering-though it touched their blood, too, with a rancorous heat that breaks out through the prevailing calm of every Semitic literature. They were trained also in the desert’s august style of eloquence. "He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand hath He hid me." {Isaiah 49:2} A "natural prophecy," as it has been called, is found in all the branches of the Semitic stock. No wonder that from this race there came forth the three great universal religions of mankind-that Moses and the prophets, John, Jesus Himself and Paul, and Mohammed were all of the seed of Shem.

This racial disposition the Hebrew carried with him into his calling as a nation. The ancestor, who gave the people the double name by which they are addressed throughout our prophecy, "Jacob-Israel," inherited with all his defects the two great marks of the religious temper. Jacob could dream and he could wait. Remember him by the side of the brother, who could so little think of the future that he was willing to sell its promise for a mess of pottage; who, though God was as near to him as to Jacob, never saw visions or wrestled with angels; who seemed to have no power of growth about him, but carrying the same character, unchanged through the discipline of life, finally transmitted it in stereotype to his posterity; -remember Jacob by the side of such a brother, and you have a great part of the secret of the emergence of his descendants from the life of wandering cattle-breeders to be God’s chief ministers of religion in the world. Their habits, like their father’s, might be bad, but they had the tough and malleable constitution, which it was possible to mould to something better. Like their father, they were false, unchivalrous, selfish, "with the herdsman’s grossness in their blood," and much of the rancour and cruelty of their ancestors, the desert-warriors, but with it all they had the two most potential of habits-they could dream and they could wait. In his love and hope for promised Rachel, that were not quenched or soured by the substitution, after seven years’ service for her, of her ill-favoured sister, but began another seven years’ effort for herself, Jacob was a type of his strange, tenacious people, who, when they were brought face to face with some Leah of a fulfilment of their fondest ideals, as they frequently were in their history, took up again with undiminished ardour the pursuit of their first unforgetable love. It is the wonder of history, how this people passed through the countless disappointments of the prophecies to which they had given their hearts, yet with only a strengthening expectation of the arrival of the promised King and His kingdom. If other peoples have felt a gain in character from such miscarriages of belief, it has generally been at the expense of their faith. But Israel’s experience did not take faith away or even impair faith’s elasticity. We see their appreciation of God’s promises growing only more spiritual with each postponement, and patience performing her perfect work upon their character; yet this never happens at the cost of the original buoyancy and ardour. The glory of it we ascribe, as is most due, to the power of the Word of God; but the people who could stand the strain of the discipline of such a word, its alternate glow and frost, must have been a people of extraordinary fibre and frame. When we think of how they wore for those two thousand years of postponed promise, and how they wear still, after two thousand years more of disillusion and suffering, we cease to wonder why God chose this small tribe to be His instrument on earth. Where we see their bad habits their Creator knew their sound constitution, and the constitution of Israel is a thing unique among mankind.

From the racial temper of the elect nation we pass to their history, on the singularity of which our prophet dwells with emphasis. Israel’s political origin had no other reason than a call to God’s service. Other peoples grew, as it were, from the soil; they were the product of a fatherland, a climate, certain physical environments: root them out of these, and, as nations, they ceased to be. But Israel had not been so nursed into nationality on the lap of nature. The captive children of Jacob had sprung into unity and independence as a nation at the special call of God, and to serve His will in the world, -His will that so lay athwart the natural tendencies of the peoples. All down their history it is wonderful to see how it was the conscience of this service, which in periods of progress was the real national genius in Israel, and in times of decay or of political dissolution upheld the assurance of the nation’s survival. Whenever a ruler like Ahaz forgot that Israel’s imperishableness was bound up with their faithfulness to God’s service, and sought to preserve his throne by alliances with the world-powers, then it was that Israel were most in danger of absorption into the world. And, conversely, when disaster came down, and there was no hope in the sky, it was upon the inward sense of their election to the service of God that the prophets rallied the people’s faith and assured them of their survival as a nation. They brought to Israel that sovereign message which renders all who hear it immortal: "God has a service for you to serve upon earth." In the Exile especially, the wonderful survival of the nation, with the subservience of all history to that end, is made to turn on this, -that Israel has a unique purpose to serve. When Jeremiah and Ezekiel seek to assure the captives of their return to the land and of the restoration of the people, they commend so unlikely a promise by reminding them that the nation is the Servant of God. This name, applied by them for the first time to the nation as a whole, they bind up with the national existence. "Fear thou not, O My Servant Jacob, saith Jehovah; neither be dismayed. O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity." These words plainly say, that Israel as a nation cannot die, for God has a use for them to serve. The singularity of Israel’s redemption from Babylon is due to the singularity of the service that God has for the nation to perform. Our prophet speaks in the same strain: "Thou, Israel, My Servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham My lover, whom I took hold of from the ends of the earth and its corners. I have called thee and said unto thee, My Servant art thou, I have chosen thee and have not cast thee away". {Isaiah 41:8 ff} No one can miss the force of these words. They are the assurance of Israel’s miraculous survival, not because he is God’s favourite, but because he is God’s servant, with a unique work in the world. Many other verses repeat the same truth. They call "Israel the Servant," and "Jacob the chosen," of God, in order to persuade the people that they are not forgotten of Him, and that their seed shall live and be blessed. Israel survives because he serves "Servus servatur."

Now for this service, -which had been the purpose of the nation’s election at first, the mainstay of its unique preservation since, and the reason of all its singular pre-eminence before God, -Israel was equipped by two great experiences. These were Redemption and Revelation.

On the former redemptions of Israel from the power of other nations our prophet does not dwell much. You feel that they are present to his mind, for he sometimes describes the coming redemption from Babylon in terms of them. And once, in an appeal to the "Arm of Jehovah," he calls out: "Awake like the days of old, ancient generations! Art thou not it that hewed Rahab in pieces, that pierced the Dragon? Art thou not it which dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that made the depths of the sea a way of passage for the redeemed?" There is, too, that beautiful passage in chapter 63, which "makes mention of the loving-kindnesses of Jehovah, according to all that He hath bestowed upon us"; which describes the "carriage of the people all the days of old," how "He brought them out of the sea, caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, divided the water before them, led them through the deeps as a horse on the meadow, that they stumbled not." But, on the whole, our prophet is too much engrossed with the immediate prospect of release from Babylon, to remember that past, of which it has been truly said, "He hath not dealt so with any people." It is the new glory that is upon him. He counts the deliverance from Babylon as already come; to his rapt eye it is its marvellous power and costliness, which already clothe the people in their unique brilliance and honour. "Thus saith Jehovah, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake have I sent to Babylon, and I will bring down their nobles, all of them, and the Chaldeans, in the ships of their exulting.": But it is more than Babylon that is balanced against them. "I am Jehovah, thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour. I am giving as thy ransom, Egypt, Cush and Seba in exchange for thee, because thou art precious in mine eyes, and hast made thyself valuable" (lit., "of weight"); "and I have loved thee, therefore do I give mankind for thee, and peoples for thy life. Mankind for thee, and peoples for thy life,"-all the world for this little people? It is intelligible only because this little people are to be for all the world. "Ye are My witnesses that I am God. I will also give thee for a light to nations, to be My salvation to the end of the earth."

But more than on the Redemption, which Israel experienced, our prophet dwells on the Revelation, that has equipped them for their destiny. In a passage, in chapter 43, to which we shall return, the present stupid and unready character of the mass of the people is contrasted with the "instruction" which God has lavished upon them. "Thou hast seen many things, and wilt not observe: there is opening of the ears, but he heareth not. Jehovah was pleased for His righteousness’ sake to magnify the instruction and make it glorious, -but that"-the result and the precipitate of it all-"is a people robbed and spoiled." The word "Instruction" or "Revelation" is that same technical term, which we have met with before, for Jehovah’s special training and illumination of Israel. How special these were, how distinct from the highest doctrine and practice of any other nation in that world to which Israel belonged, is a historical fact that the results of recent research enable us to state in a few sentences.

Recent exploration in the East, and the progress of Semitic philology, have proved that the system of religion which prevailed among the Hebrews had a very great deal in common with the systems of the neighbouring and related heathen nations. This common element included not only such things as ritual and temple-furniture, or the details of priestly organisation, but even the titles and many of the attributes of God, and especially the forms of the covenant in which He drew near to men. But the discovery of this common element has only thrown into more striking relief the presence at work in the Hebrew religion of an independent and original principle. In the Hebrew religion historians observe a principle of selection operating upon the common Semitic materials for worship, -ignoring some of them, giving prominence to others, and with others again changing the reference and application. Grossly immoral practices are forbidden; forbidden, too, are those superstitions, which, like augury and divination, draw men away from single-minded attention to the moral issues of life; and even religious customs are omitted, such as the employment of women in the sanctuary, which, however innocent in themselves, might lead men into temptations not desirable in connection with the professional pursuit of religion. In short, a stern and inexorable conscience was at work in the Hebrew religion, which was not at work in any of the religions most akin to it. In our previous volume we saw the same conscience inspiring the prophets. Prophecy was not confined to the Hebrews; it was a general Semitic institution; but no one doubts the absolutely distinct character of the prophecy, which was conscious of having the Spirit of Jehovah. Its religious ideas were original, and in it we have, as all admit, a moral phenomenon unique in history. When we turn to ask the secret of this distinction, we find the answer in the character of God, whom Israel served. The God explains the people; Israel is the response to Jehovah. Each of the laws of the nation is enforced by the reason, "For I am holy." Each of the prophets brings his message from a God, "exalted in righteousness." In short, look where you will in the Old Testament, -come to it as a critic or as a worshipper, -you discover the revealed character of Jehovah to be the effective principle at work. It is this Divine character which draws Israel from among the nations to their destiny, which selects and builds the law to be a wall around them, and which by each revelation of itself discovers to the people both the measure of their delinquency and the new ideals of their services to humanity. Like the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, we see it in front of Israel at every stage of their marvellous progress down the ages.

So that when Jehovah says that "He has magnified the Revelation and made it glorious," He speaks of a magnitude of a real, historical kind, that can be tested by exact methods of observation. Israel’s election by Jehovah, their formation, their unique preparation for service, are not the mere boasts of an overweening patriotism, but sober names for historical processes as real and evident as any that history contains.

To sum up, then. If Jehovah’s sovereignty be absolute, so also is the uniqueness of Israel’s calling and equipment for His Service. For, to begin with, Israel had the essential religious temper; they enjoyed a unique moral instruction and discipline: and by the side of this they were conscious of a series of miraculous deliverances from servitude and from dissolution. So singular an experience and career were not, as we have seen, bestowed from any arbitrary motive, which exhausted itself upon Israel, but in accordance with God’s universal method of specialisation of function were granted to fit the nation as an instrument for a practical end. The sovereign unity of God does not mean equality in His creation. The universe is diverse. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; and even so in the moral kingdom of Him, who is Lord of the Hosts of both earth and heaven, each nation has its own destiny and function. Israel’s was religion; Israel was God’s specialist in religion.

For confirmation of this we turn to the supreme witness. Jesus was born a Jew, He confined His ministry to Judaea, and He has told us why. By various passing allusions, as well as by deliberate statements, He revealed His sense of a great religious difference between Jew and Gentile. "Use not vain repetitions as the Gentiles do. For after all these things do the nations of the world seek; but your Father knoweth that you have need of these things." He refused to work except upon Jewish hearts: "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And He charged His disciples, saying, Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans; but go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel." And again He said to the woman of Samaria: "Ye worship ye know not what; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews."

These sayings of our Lord have created as much question as the preeminence given in the Old Testament to a single people by a God who is described as the one God of Heaven and earth. Was He narrower of heart than Paul, His servant, who was debtor to Greek and Barbarian? Or was He ignorant of the universal character of His mission till it was forced upon His reluctant sympathies by the importunity of such heathen as the Syrophenician woman? A little common-sense dispels the perplexity, and leaves the problem, over which volumes have been written, no problem at all. Our Lord limited Himself to Israel, not because He was narrow, but because He was practical; not from ignorance, but from wisdom. He came from heaven to sow the seed of Divine truth; and where in all humanity should He find the soil so ready as within the long-chosen people? He knew of that discipline of the centuries. In the words of His own parable, the Son when He came to earth directed His attention not to a piece of desert, but to "the vineyard" which His Father’s servants had so long cultivated, and where the soil was open. Jesus came to Israel because He expected "faith in Israel." That this practical end was the deliberate intention of His will, is proved by the fact that when He found faith elsewhere, either in Syrian or Greek or Roman hearts, He did not hesitate to let His love and power go forth to them.

In short, we shall have no difficulty about these Divine methods with a single, elect people, if we only remember that to be Divine is to be practical. "Yet God also is wise," said Isaiah to the Jews when they preferred their own clever policies to Jehovah’s guidance. And we need to be told the same, who murmur that to confine Himself to a single nation was not the ideal thing for the One God to do; or who imagine that it was left to one of our Lord’s own creatures to suggest to Him the policy of His mission upon earth. We are shortsighted: and the Almighty is past finding out. But this at least it is possible for us to see, that in choosing one nation to be His agent among men, God chose the type of instrument best fitted at the time for the work for which He designed it, and that in choosing Israel to be that nation, He chose a people of temper singularly suitable to His end.

Israel’s election as a nation, therefore, was to Service. To be a nation and to be God’s Servant was pretty much one and the same thing for Israel. Israel were to survive the Exile, because they were to serve the world. Let us carry this over to the study of our next chapter-The Servant of Jehovah.

Verses 13-17



AT the beginning of chapter 42 we reach one of those distinct stages, the frequent appearance of which in our prophecy assures us, that, for all its mingling and recurrent style, the prophecy is a unity with a distinct, if somewhat involved, progress of thought. For while chapters 40 and 41 establish the sovereignty and declare the character of the One True God before His people and the heathen, chapter 42 takes what is naturally the next step, of publishing to both these classes His Divine will. This purpose of God is set forth in the first seven verses of the chapter. It is identified with a human Figure, who is to be God’s agent upon earth, and who is styled "the Servant of Jehovah." Next to Jehovah Himself, the Servant of Jehovah is by far the most important personage within our prophet’s gaze. He is named, described, commissioned, and encouraged over and over again throughout the prophecy; his character and indispensable work are hung upon with a frequency and a fondness almost equal to the steadfast faith, which the prophet reposes in Jehovah Himself. Were we following our prophecy chapter by chapter, now would be the time to put the question, Who is this Servant, who is suddenly introduced to us? and to look ahead for the various and even conflicting answers, which rise from the subsequent chapters. But we agreed, for clearness’ sake, to take all the passages about the Servant, which are easily detached from the rest of the prophecy, and treat by themselves, and to continue in the meantime our prophet’s main theme of the power and Righteousness of God as shown forth in the deliverance of His people from Babylon. Accordingly, at present we pass over Isaiah 42:1-9, keeping this firmly in mind, however, that God has appointed for His work upon earth, including as it does, the ingathering of His people and the conversion of the Gentiles, a Servant, -a human figure of lofty character and unfailing perseverance, who makes God’s work of redemption his own, puts his heart into it, and is upheld by God’s hand. God, let us understand, has committed His cause upon earth to a human agent.

God’s commission of His Servant is hailed by a hymn. Earth answers the proclamation of the "new things" which the Almighty has declared (Isaiah 42:9) by "a new song" (Isaiah 42:10-13). But this song does not sing of the Servant; its subject is Jehovah Himself.

Sing to Jehovah a new song,

His praise from the end of the earth;

Ye that go down to the sea, and its fulness,

Isles, and their dwellers!

Let be loud, -the wilderness and its townships,

Villages that Kedar inhabits!

Let them ring out-the dwellers of Sela!

From the top of the hills let them shout!

Let them give to Jehovah the glory,

And publish His praise in the Isles!

Jehovah as hero goes forth,

As a man of war stirs up zeal,

Shouts the alarm and battle cry,

Against his foes proves Himself hero.

The terms of the last four lines are military. Most of them will be found in the historical books, in descriptions of the onset of Israel’s battles with the heathen. But it is no human warrior to whom they are here applied. They who sing have forgotten the Servant. Their hearts are warm only with this, that Jehovah Himself will come down to earth to give the alarm, and to bear the brunt of the battle. And to such a hope He now responds, speaking also of Himself and not of the Servant. His words are very intense, and glow and strain with inward travail.

I have long time kept my peace,

Am dumb and hold myself in:

Like a woman in travail I gasp,

Pant and palpitate together.

Remember it is God who speaks these words of Himself, and then think what they mean of unsharable thought and pain, of solitary yearning and effort. But from the pain comes forth at last the power.

I waste mountains and hills,

And all their herb I parch;

And I have set rivers for islands,

And marshes I parch.

Yet it is not the passion of a mere physical effort that is in God; not mere excitement of war that thrills Him. But the suffering of men is upon Him, and He has taken their redemption to heart. He had said to His Servant (Isaiah 42:6-7): "I give thee to open the blind eyes, to bring out from prison the bound, from the house of bondage the dwellers in darkness." But here He himself puts on the sympathy and strain of that work.

And I will make the blind to walk in a way they know not,

By paths they know not I will guide them;

Turn darkness before them to light,

And serrated land to level.

These are the things that I do, and do not remit them.

They fall backwards, with shame are they shamed,

That put trust in a Carving,

That do say to a Cast, Ye are our Gods.

Now this pair of passages, in one of which God lays the work of redemption upon His human agent, and in another Himself puts on its passion and travail, are only one instance of a duality that runs through the whole of the Old Testament. As we repeatedly saw in the prophecies of Isaiah himself, there is a double promise of the future through the Old Testament:-first, that God will achieve the salvation of Israel by an extraordinary human personality, who is figured now as a king, now as a Prophet, and now as a Priest; but, second also, that God Himself, in undeputed, unshared power, will come visibly to deliver His people and to reign over them. These two lines of prophecy run parallel, and even entangled through the Old Testament, but within its bounds no attempt is made to reconcile them. They pass from it still separate, to find their synthesis, as we all know, in One of whom each is the incomplete prophecy. While considering the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah, which run upon the first of these two lines, we pointed out, that, though standing in historical connection with Christ, they were not prophecies of His divinity. Lofty and expansive as were the titles they attributed to the Messiah, these titles did not imply more than an earthly ruler of extraordinary power and dignity. But we added that in the other and concurrent line of prophecy, and especially in those well-developed stages of it which appear in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24, we should find the true Old Testament promise of the Deity in human form and tabernacling among men. We urged that, if the divinity of Christ was to be seen in the Old Testament, we should more naturally find it in the line of promise, which speaks of God Himself descending to battle and to suffer by the side of men, than in the line that lifts a human ruler almost to the right hand of God. We have now come to a passage, which gives us the opportunity of testing this connection, which we have alleged between the so-called anthropomorphism of the Old Testament, and the Incarnation, which is the glory of the New.

When God presents Himself in the Old Testament as His people’s Saviour, it is not always as Isaiah mostly saw Him, in awful power and majesty-a "King high and lifted up," or as "coming from far, burning and thick-rising smoke, and overflowing streams; causing the peal of His voice to be heard, and the lighting down of His arm to be seen, in the fury of anger and devouring fire-bursting and torrent and hailstones." {Isaiah 31:1-9} But in a large number of passages, of which the one before us and the famous first six verses of chapter 63 (Isaiah 63:1-6), are perhaps the most forcible, the Almighty is clothed with human passion and agony. He is described as loving, hating, showing zeal or jealousy, fear, repentance, and scorn He bides His time, suddenly awakes to effort, and makes that effort in weakness, pain, and struggle, so extreme that He likens Himself not only to a solitary man, in the ardour of battle, but to a woman in her unsharable hour of travail. To use a technical word, the prophets in their descriptions of God do not hesitate to be anthropopathic-imparting to Deity the passions of men.

In order to appreciate the full effect of this habit of the Jewish religion, we must contrast it with some principles of that religion, with which at first it seems impossible to reconcile it.

No religion more necessarily implies the spirituality of God than does the Jewish. It is true that in the pages of the Old Testament, you will nowhere find this formally expressed. No Jewish prophet ever said in so many words what Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, "God is Spirit." In our own prophecy, spirit is frequently used, not to define the nature of God, but to express His power and the effectiveness of His will. But the Jewish Scriptures insist throughout upon the sublimity of God, or, to use their own term, . His holiness. He is the Most High, Creator, Lord, -the Force and Wisdom that are behind nature and history. It is a sin to make any image of Him; it is an error to liken Him to man. "I am God and not man, the Holy One." {Hosea 11:9} We have seen how absolutely the Divine omnipotence and sublimity are expressed by our own prophet, and we shall find Him again speaking thus: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." {Isaiah 55:8-9} But perhaps the doctrine of our prophet which most effectively sets forth God’s loftiness and spirituality is his doctrine of God’s word. God has but to speak and a thing is created or a deed done. He calls and the agent He needs is there; He sets His word upon him and the work is as good as finished. "My word that goeth forth out of My mouth, it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." {Isaiah 55:11} Omnipotence could not farther go. It would seem that all man needed from God was a word, -the giving of a command, that a thing must be.

Yet it is precisely in our prophecy that we find the most extreme ascriptions to the Deity of personal effort, weakness, and pain. The same chapters which celebrate God’s sublimity and holiness, which reveal the eternal counsels of God working to their inevitable ends in time, which also insist, as this very chapter does, that for the performance of works of mercy and morality God brings to bear the slow creative forces that are in nature, or which again (as in other chapters) attribute all to the power of His simple word, -these same Scriptures suddenly change their style and, after the most human manner, clothe the Deity in the travail and passion of flesh. Why is it, that instead of aspiring still higher from those sublime conceptions of God to some consummate expression of His unity, as for instance in Islam, or of His spirituality, as in certain modern philosophies, prophecy dashes thus thunderously down upon our hearts with the message, scattered in countless, broken words, that all this omnipotence and all this sublimity are expended and realised for men only in passion and in pain?

It is no answer, which is given by many in our day, that after all the prophets were but frail men, unable to stay upon the high flight to which they sometimes soared, and obliged to sacrifice their logic to the fondness of their hearts and the general habit of man to make his god after his own image. No easy sneer like that can solve so profound a moral paradox. We must seek the solution otherwise, and earnest minds will probably find it along one or other of the two following paths.

1. The highest moral ideal is not, and never can be, the righteousness that is regnant, but that which is militant and agonising. It is the deficiency of many religions, that while representing God as the Judge and almighty executor of righteousness, they have not revealed Him as its advocate and champion as well. Christ gave us a very plain lesson upon this. As He clearly showed, when He refused the offer of all the kingdoms of the world, the highest perfection is not to be omnipotence upon the side of virtue, but to be there as patience, sympathy, and love. To will righteousness, and to rule life from above in favour of righteousness, is indeed Divine; but if these were the highest attributes of divinity, and if they exhausted the Divine interest in our race, then man himself, with his conscience to sacrifice himself on behalf of justice or of truth, -man himself, with his instinct to make the sins of others his burden, and their purity his agonising endeavour, would indeed be higher than his God. Had Jehovah been nothing but the righteous Judge of all the earth, then His witnesses and martyrs, and His prophets who took to themselves the conscience and reproach of their people’s sins, would have been as much more admirable than Himself, as the soldier who serves his country on the battle-field or lays down his life for his people is more deserving of their gratitude and more certain of their devotion, than the king who equips him, sends him forth and himself stays at home.

The God of the Old Testament is not such a God. In the moral warfare to which He has predestined His creatures, He Himself descends to participate. He is not abstract-that is, withdrawn-Holiness, nor mere sovereign Justice enthroned in heaven. He is One who "arises and comes down" for the salvation of men, who makes virtue His Cause and righteousness His Passion. He is no whit behind the chiefest of His servants. No seraph burns as God burns with ardour for justice; no angel of the presence flies more swiftly than Himself to the front rank of the failing battle. The human Servant, who is pictured in our prophecy, is more absolutely identified with suffering and agonising men than any angel could be; but even he does not stand more closely by their side, nor suffer more on their behalf, than the God who sends him forth. "For the Lord stirreth up jealousy like a man of war; in all His people’s affliction He is afflicted; against His enemies He beareth Himself as a hero." So much from the side of righteousness.

2. But take the equally Divine attribute of love. When a religion affirms that God is love, it gives immense hostages. What is love without pity and compassion and sympathy? and what are these but self-imposed weakness and pain? Christ has told of the greatest love. "Greater love than this hath no man, that a man lay down his life for his friends"; and the cost and sacrifice in which He thus outmatched man is one that the prophets before He came did not hesitate to impute to God. As far as human language is adequate for such a task, they picture God’s love for men as costing Him so much. He painfully pleads for His people’s loyalty; He travails in pain for their new birth and growth in holiness; in all their afflictions He is afflicted, and He meets their stubbornness, not with the swift sentence of outraged holiness, but with longsuffering and patience, if so in the end He may win them. But the pain, that is thus essentially inseparable from love, reaches its acme when the beloved are not only in danger but in sin, when not only the future of their holiness is uncertain, but their guilty past bars the way to any future at all. We saw how Jeremiah’s love thus took upon itself the conscience and reproach of Israel’s sin; how much distress and anguish, how much sympathy and self-sacrificing labour, and at last how much hopeless endurance of the common calamity, that sin cost the noble prophet, though he might so easily have escaped it all. Now even thus does God deal with His people’s sins; not only setting them in the light of His awful countenance, but taking them upon His heart; making them not only the object of His hate, but the anguish and the effort of His love. Jeremiah was a weak mortal, and God is the Omnipotent. Therefore, the issue of His agony shall be what His servant’s never could effect, the redemption of Israel from sin; but in sympathy and in travail the Deity, though omnipotent, is no whit behind the man.

We have said enough to prove our case, that the true Old Testament prophecy of the nature and work of Jesus Christ is found not so much in the long promise of the exalted human ruler, for whom Israel’s eyes looked, as in the assurance of God’s own descent to battle with His people’s foes and to bear their sins. In this God, omnipotent, yet in His zeal and love capable of passion, who before the Incarnation was afflicted in all His people’s affliction, and before the Cross made their sin His burden and their salvation His agony, we see the love that was in Jesus Christ. For Jesus, too, is absolute holiness, yet not far off. He, too, is righteousness militant at our side, militant and victorious. He, too, has made our greatest suffering and shame His own problem and endeavour. He is anxious for us just where conscience bids us be most anxious about ourselves. He helps us because He feels when we feel our helplessness the most. Never before or since in humanity has righteousness been perfectly victorious as in Him. Never before or since, in the whole range of being, has any one felt as He did all the sin of man with all the conscience of God. He claims to forgive, as God forgives; to be able to save, as we know only God can save. And the proof of these claims, apart from the experience of their fulfilment in our own lives, is that the same infinite love was in Him, the same agony and willingness to sacrifice Himself for men, which we have seen made evident in the Passion of God.

Verse 18




With chapter 42, we reach a distinct stage in our prophecy. The preceding chapters have been occupied with the declaration of the great, basal truth, that Jehovah is the One Sovereign God. This has been declared to two classes of hearers in succession-to God’s own people, Israel, in chapter 40, and to the heathen in chapter 41. Having established His sovereignty, God now publishes His will, again addressing these two classes according to the purpose which He has for each. Has He vindicated Himself to Israel, the Almighty and Righteous God, Who will give His people freedom and strength: He will now define to them the mission for which that strength and freedom are required. Has He proved to the Gentiles that He is the one true God: He will declare to them now what truth He has for them to learn. In short, to use modern terms, the apologetic of chapters 40-41 is succeeded by the missionary programme of chapter 42. And although, from the necessities of the case, we are frequently brought back, in the course of the prophecy, to its fundamental claims for the Godhead of Jehovah, we are nevertheless sensible that with ver. 1 of chapter 42 (Isaiah 42:1) we make a distinct advance. It is one of those logical steps which, along with a certain chronological progress that we have already felt, assures us that Isaiah, whether originally by one or more authors, is in its present form a unity, with a distinct order and principle of development.

The Purpose of God is identified with a Minister or Servant, whom He commissions to carry it out in the world. This Servant is brought before us with all the urgency with which Jehovah has presented Himself, and next to Jehovah he turns out to be the most important figure of the prophecy. Does the prophet insist that God is the only source and sufficiency of His people’s salvation: it is with equal emphasis that He introduces the Servant as God’s indispensable agent in the work. Cyrus is also acknowledged as an elect instrument. But neither in closeness to God, nor in effect upon the world, is Cyrus to be compared for an instant to the Servant. Cyrus is subservient and incidental: with the overthrow of Babylon, for which he was raised up, he will disappear from the stage of our prophecy. But God’s purpose, which uses the gates opened by Cyrus, only to pass through them with the redeemed people to the regeneration of the whole world, is to be carried to this Divine consummation by the Servant: its universal and glorious progress is identified with his career. Cyrus flashes through these pages a well-polished sword: it is only his swift and brilliant usefulness that is allowed to catch our eye. But the Servant is a Character, to delineate whose immortal beauty and example the prophet devotes as much space as he does to Jehovah Himself. As he turns again and again to speak of God’s omnipotence and faithfulness and agonising love for His own, so with equal frequency and fondness does he linger on every feature of the Servant’s conduct and aspect: His gentleness, His patience, His courage, His purity, His meekness; His daily wakefulness to God’s voice, the swiftness and brilliance of His speech for others, His silence under His own torments; His resorts-among the bruised, the prisoners, the forwandered of Israel, the weary, and them that sit in darkness, the far-off heathen; His warfare with the world, His face set like a flint; His unworldly beauty, which men call ugliness; His unnoticed presence in His own generation, yet the effect of His face upon kings; His habit of woe, a man of sorrows and acquainted with sickness: His sore stripes and bruises, His judicial murder, His felon’s grave; His exaltation and eternal glory-till we may reverently say that these pictures, by their vividness and charm, have drawn our eyes away from our prophet’s visions of God, and have caused the chapters in which they occur to be oftener read among us, and learned by heart, than the chapters in which God Himself is lifted up and adored. Jehovah and Jehovah’s Servant-these are the two heroes of the drama.

Now we might naturally expect that so indispensable and fondly imagined a figure would also be defined past all ambiguity, whether as to His time or person or name. But the opposite is the case. About Scripture there are few more intricate questions than those on the Servant of the Lord. Is He a Person or Personification? If the latter, is He a Personification of all Israel? Or of a part of Israel? Or of the ideal Israel? Or of the Order of the Prophets? Or if a Person-is he the prophet himself? Or a martyr who has already lived and suffered, like Jeremiah? Or One still to come, like the promised Messiah? Each of these suggestions has not only been made about the Servant, but derives considerable support from one or another of our prophet’s dissolving views of his person and work. A final answer to them can be given only after a comparative study of all the relevant passages; but as these are scattered over the prophecy, and our detailed exposition of them must necessarily be interrupted, it will be of advantage to take here a prospect of them all, and see to what they combine to develop this sublime character and mission. And after we have seen what the prophecies themselves teach concerning the Servant, we shall inquire how they were understood and fulfilled by the New Testament; and that will show us how to expound and apply them with regard to ourselves.


The Hebrew word for "Servant" means a person at the disposal of another-to carry out his will, do his work, represent his interests. It was thus applied to the representatives of a king or the worshippers of a god. All Israelites were thus in a sense the "servants of Jehovah"; though in the singular the title was reserved for persons of extraordinary character and usefulness.

But we have seen, as clearly as possible, that God set apart for His chief service upon earth, not an individual nor a group of individuals, but a whole nation in its national capacity. We have seen Israel’s political origin and preservation bound up with that service; we have heard the whole nation plainly called, by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the Servant of Jehovah. Nothing could be more clear than this, that in the earlier years of the Exile the Servant of Jehovah was Israel as a whole, Israel as a body politic.

It is also in this sense that our prophet first uses the title in a passage we have already quoted; {Isaiah 51:8} "Thou Israel, My Servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham My lover, whom I took hold of from the ends of the earth and its corners! I called thee and said unto thee, My Servant art thou. I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away." Here the "Servant" is plainly the historical nation, descended from Abraham, and the subject of those national experiences which are traced in the previous chapter. It is the same in the following verses:- Isaiah 44:1 ff: "Yet now hear, O Jacob My Servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: thus saith Jehovah thy Maker, and thy Moulder from the womb, He wilt help thee. Fear not, My servant Jacob; and Jeshurun, whom I have chosen I will pour My spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring." Isaiah 44:21: "Remember these things, O Jacob; and Israel, for My servant art thou: I have formed thee; a servant for Myself art thou; O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me." Isaiah 48:20: "Go ye forth from Babylon; say ye, Jehovah hath redeemed His servant Jacob." In all these verses, which bind up the nation’s restoration from exile with the fact that God called it to be His Servant, the title "Servant" is plainly equivalent to the national name "Israel" or "Jacob" But "Israel" or "Jacob" is not a label for the mere national idea, or the bare political framework, without regard to the living individuals included in it. To the eye and heart of Him, "Who counts the number of the stars," Israel means no mere outline, but all the individuals of the living generation of the people-"thy seed," that is, every born Israelite, however fallen or forwandered. This is made clear in a very beautiful passage in chapter 43 (Isaiah 43:1-7): "Thus saith Jehovah, thy Creator, O Jacob; thy Moulder, O Israel Fear not, for I am with thee; from the sunrise I will bring thy seed, and from the sunset will I gather thee; My sons from far, and My daughters from the end of the earth; every one who is called by My name, and whom for My glory I have created, formed, yea, I have made him." To this Israel-Israel as a whole, yet no mere abstraction or outline of the nation, but the people in mass and bulk-every individual of whom is dear to Jehovah, and in some sense shares His calling and equipment-to this Israel the title "Servant of Jehovah" is at first applied by our prophet.


We say "at first," for very soon the prophet has to make a distinction, and to sketch the Servant as something less than the actual nation. The distinction is obscure; it has given rise to a very great deal of controversy. But it is so natural, where a nation is the subject, and of such frequent occurrence in other literatures, that we may almost state it as a general law.

In all the passages quoted above, Israel has been spoken of in the passive mood, as the object of some affection or action on the part of God: "loved," "formed," "chosen," "called," and "about to be redeemed by Him." Now, so long as a people thus lie passive, their prophet will naturally think of them as a whole. In their shadow his eye can see them only in the outline of their mass; in their common suffering and servitude his heart will go out to all their individuals, as equally dear and equally in need of redemption. But when the hour comes for the people to work out their own salvation, and they emerge into action, it must needs be different. When they are no more the object of their prophet’s affection only, but pass under the test of his experience and judgment, then distinctions naturally appear upon them. Lifted to the light of their destiny, their inequality becomes apparent; tried by its strain, part of them break away. And so, though the prophet continues still to call on the nation by its name to fulfil its calling, what he means by that name is no longer the bulk and the body of the citizenship. A certain ideal of the people fills his mind’s eye - an ideal, however, which is no mere spectre floating above his own generation, but is realised in their noble and aspiring portion-although his ignorance as to the exact size of this portion must always leave his image of them more or less ideal to his eyes. It will be their quality rather than their quantity that is clear to him. In modern history we have two familiar illustrations of this process of winnowing and idealising a people in the light of their destiny, which may prepare us for the more obscure instance of it in our prophecy.

In a well-known passage in the "Areopagitica," Milton exclaims, "Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself and shaking her invincible locks; methinks I see her as an eagle renewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means." In this passage the "nation" is no longer what Milton meant by the term in the earlier part of his treatise, where "England" stands simply for the outline of the whole English people; but the "nation" is the true genius of England realised in her enlightened and aspiring sons, and breaking away from the hindering and debasing members of the body politic-"the timorous and flocking birds with those also that love the twilight"-who are indeed Englishmen after the flesh, but form no part of the nation’s better self.

Or, recall Mazzini’s bitter experience. To no man was his Italy more really one than to this ardent son of hers, who loved every born Italian because he was an Italian, and counted none of the fragments of his unhappy country too petty or too corrupt to be included in the hope of her restoration. To Mazzini’s earliest imagination, it was the whole Italian seed, who were ready for redemption, and would rise to achieve it at his summons. But when his summons came, how few responded, and after the first struggles how fewer still remained, -Mazzini himself has told us with breaking heart. The real Italy was but a handful of born Italians; at times it seemed to shrink to the prophet alone. From such a core the conscience indeed spread again, till the entire people was delivered from tyranny and from schism, and now every peasant and burgher from the Alps to Sicily understands what Italy means, and is proud to be an Italian. But for a time Mazzini and his few comrades stood alone. Others of their blood and speech were Piedmontese, Pope’s men, Neapolitans, -merchants, lawyers, scholars, -or merely selfish and sensual. They alone were Italians; they alone were Italy.

It is a similar winnowing process, through which we see our prophet’s thoughts pass with regard to Israel. Him, too, experience teaches that "the many are called, but the few chosen." So long as his people lie in the shadow of captivity, so long as he has to speak of them in the passive mood, the object of God’s call and preparation, it is "their seed," the born people in bulk and mass, whom he names Israel, and entitles "the Servant of Jehovah." But the moment that he lifts them to their mission in the world, and to the light of their destiny, a difference becomes apparent upon them, and the Servant of Jehovah, though still called Israel, shrinks to something less than the living generation, draws off to something finer than the mass of the people. How, indeed, could it be otherwise with this strange people, than which no nation on earth had a loftier ideal identified with its history, or more frequently turned upon its better self, with a sword in its hand. Israel, though created a nation by God for His service, was always what Paul found it, divided into an "Israel after the flesh," and an "Israel after the spirit." But it was in the Exile that this distinction gaped most broad. With the fall of Jerusalem, the political framework, which kept the different elements of the nation together, was shattered, and these were left loose to the action of moral forces. The baser elements were quickly absorbed by heathendom; the nobler, that remained loyal to the divine call, were free to assume a new and ideal form. Every year spent in Babylonia made it more apparent that the true and effective Israel of the future would not coincide with all the "seed of Jacob," who went into exile. Numbers of the latter were as contented with their Babylonian circumstance as numbers of Mazzini’s "Italians" were satisfied to live on as Austrian and Papal subjects. Many, as we have seen, became idolaters; many more settled down into the prosperous habits of Babylonian commerce, while a large multitude besides were scattered far out of sight across the world. It required little insight to perceive that the true, effective Israel-the real "Servant of Jehovah"-must needs be a much smaller body than the sum of all these: a loyal kernel within Israel, who were still conscious of the national calling, and capable of carrying it out; who stood sensible of their duty to the whole world, but whose first conscience was for their lapsed and lost countrymen. This Israel within Israel was the real "Servant of the Lord"; to personify it in that character-however vague might be the actual proportion it would assume in his own or in any other generation-would be as natural to our dramatic prophet as to personify the nation as a whole.

All this very natural process-this passing from the historical Israel, the nation originally designed by God to be His Servant, to the conscious and effective Israel, that uncertain quantity within the present and every future generation-takes place in the chapters before us; and it will be sufficiently easy for us to follow if we only remember that our prophet is not a dogmatic theologian, careful to make clear each logical distinction, but a dramatic poet, who delivers his ideas in groups, tableaux, dialogues, interrupted by choruses; and who writes in a language incapable of expressing such delicate differences, except by dramatic contrasts, and by the one other figure of which he is so fond-paradox.

Perhaps the first traces of distinction between the real Servant and the whole nation are to be found in the Programme of his Mission in Isaiah 42:1-7. There it is said that the Servant is to be for a "covenant of the people" (Isaiah 42:6). I have explained below why we are to understand "people" as here meaning Israel. And in Isaiah 42:7 it is said of the Servant that he is "to open blind eyes, bring forth from prison the captive, from the house of bondage dwellers in darkness": phrases that are descriptive, of course, of the captive Israel. Already, then, in chapter 42 the Servant is something distinct from the whole nation, whose Covenant and Redeemer he is to be.

The next references to the Servant are a couple of paradoxes, which are evidently the prophet’s attempt to show why it was necessary to draw in the Servant of Jehovah from the whole to a part of the people. The first of these paradoxes is in Isaiah 42:18.

Ye deaf, hearken! and ye blind, look ye to see!

Who is blind but My Servant, and deaf as My Messenger whom I send?

Who is blind as Meshullam, and blind as the Servant of Jehovah?

Vision of many things-and thou dost not observe,

Opening of ears and he hears not.

The context shows that the Servant here-or Meshullam, as he is called, the "devoted" or "submissive one," from the same root, and of much the same form as the Arabic Muslim-is the whole people; but they are entitled "Servant" only in order to show how unfit they are for the task to which they have been designated, and what a paradox their title is beside their real character. God had given them every opportunity by "making great His instruction" (Isaiah 42:21), and, when that failed, by His sore discipline in exile (Isaiah 42:24-25). "For who gave Jacob for spoil and Israel to the robbers? Did not Jehovah? He against whom we sinned, and they would not walk in His ways, neither were obedient to His instruction. So He poured upon him the fury of His anger and the force of war." But even this did not awake the dull nation. "Though it set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it kindled upon him, yet he laid it not to heart." The nation as a whole had been favoured with God’s revelation; as a whole they had been brought into His purifying furnace of the Exile. But as they have benefited by neither the one nor the other, the natural conclusion is that as a whole they are no more fit to be God’s Servant. Such is the hint which this paradox is intended to give us.

But a little further on there is an obverse paradox, which plainly says, that although the people are blind and deaf as a whole, still the capacity for service is found among them alone. {Isaiah 43:8; Isaiah 43:10}

Bring forth the blind people-yet eyes are there!

And the deaf, yet ears have they!

Ye are My witnesses, saith Jehovah, and My Servant whom I have chosen.

The preceding verses (Isaiah 43:1-7) show us that it is again the whole people, in their bulk and scattered fragments, who are referred to. Blind though they be, "yet are there eyes" among them; deaf though they be, yet "they have ears." And so Jehovah addresses them all, in contradistinction to the heathen peoples (Isaiah 43:9), as His Servant.

These two complementary paradoxes together show this: that while Israel as a whole is unfit to be the Servant, it is nevertheless within Israel, alone of all the world’s nations, that the true capacities for service are found-"eyes are there, ears have they." They prepare us for the Servant’s testimony about himself, in which, while he owns himself to be distinct from Israel as a whole, he is nevertheless still called Israel. This is given in chapter 49. And He said unto me, "My Servant art thou; Israel, in whom I will glorify Myself. And now saith Jehovah, my moulder from the womb to be a Servant unto Him, to turn again Jacob to Him, and that Israel might not be destroyed; and I am of value in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God is my strength. And He said, It is too light for thy being My Servant, merely to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also set thee for a light of nations, to be My salvation to the end of the earth". {Isaiah 49:3-6} Here the Servant, though still called Israel, is clearly distinct from the nation as a whole, for part of his work is to raise the nation up again. And, moreover, he tells us this as his own testimony about himself. He is no longer spoken of in the third person, he speaks for himself in the first. This is significant. It is more than a mere artistic figure, the effect of our prophet’s dramatic style-as if the Servant now stood opposite him, so vivid and near that he heard him speak, and quoted him in the direct form of speech. It is more probably the result of moral sympathy: the prophet speaks out of the heart of the Servant, in the name of that better portion of Israel which was already conscious of the Divine call, and of its distinction in this respect from the mass of the people.

It is futile to inquire what this better portion of Israel actually was, for whom the prophet speaks in the first person. Some have argued, from the stress which the speaker lays upon his gifts of speech and office of preaching, that what is now signified by the Servant is the order of the prophets; but such forget that in these chapters the proclamation of the Kingdom of God is the ideal, not of prophets only, but of the whole people. Zion as a whole is to be "heraldess of good news". {Isaiah 40:9} It is, therefore, not the official function of the prophet-order which the Servant here owns, but the ideal of the prophet-nation. Others have argued from the direct form of speech, that the prophet puts himself forward as the Servant. But no individual would call himself Israel. And as Professor Cheyne remarks, the passage is altogether too self-assertive to be spoken by any man of himself as an individual; although, of course, our prophet could not have spoken of the true Israel with such sympathy, unless he had himself been part of it. The writer of these verses may have been, for the time, as virtually the real Israel as Mazzini was the real Italy. But still he does not speak as an individual. The passage is manifestly a piece of personification. The Servant is Israel- not now the nation as a whole, not the body and bulk of the Israelites, for they are to be the object of his first efforts, but the loyal, conscious, and effective Israel, realised in some of her members, and here personified by our prophet, who himself speaks for her out of his heart, in the first person.

By chapter 49, then, the Servant of Jehovah is a personification of the true, effective Israel as distinguished from the mass of the nation-a Personification, but not yet a Person. Something within Israel has wakened up to find itself conscious of being the Servant of Jehovah, and distinct from the mass of the nation-something that is not yet a Person. And this definition of the Servant may stand (with some modifications) for his next appearance in Isaiah 50:4-9. In this passage the Servant, still speaking in the first person, continues to illustrate his experience as a prophet, and carries it to its consequence in martyrdom. But let us notice that he now no longer calls himself Israel, and that if it were not for the previous passages it would be natural to suppose that an individual was speaking. This supposition is confirmed by a verse that follows the Servant’s speech, and is spoken, as chorus, by the prophet himself. "Who among you is a fearer of Jehovah, obedient to the voice of His Servant, who walketh in darkness, and hath no light. Let him trust in the name of Jehovah, and stay himself upon his God." In this too much neglected verse, which forms a real transition to Isaiah 52:13-15, the prophet is addressing any individual Israelite, on behalf of a personal God. It is very difficult to refrain from concluding that therefore the Servant also is a Person. Let us, however, not go beyond what we have evidence for; and note only that in chapter 1 the Servant is no more called Israel, and is represented not as if he were one part of the nation, over against the mass of it, but as if he were one individual over against other individuals; that in fine the Personification of chapter 49 has become much more difficult to distinguish from an actual Person.


This brings us to the culminating passage- Isaiah 52:13-15 through Isaiah 53:1-12. Is the Servant still a Personification here, or at last and unmistakably a Person?

It may relieve the air of that electricity, which is apt to charge it at the discussion of so classic a passage as this, and secure us calm weather in which to examine exegetical details, if we at once assert, what none but prejudiced Jews have ever denied, that this great prophecy, known as the fifty-third of Isaiah, was fulfilled in One Person, Jesus of Nazareth, and achieved in all its details by Him alone. But, on the other hand, it requires also to be pointed out that Christ’s personal fulfilment of it does not necessarily imply that our prophet wrote it of a Person. The present expositor hopes, indeed, to be able to give strong reasons for the theory usual among us, that the Personification of previous passages is at last in chapter 53 presented as a Person. But he fails to understand, why critics should be regarded as unorthodox or at variance with New Testament teaching on the subject, who, while they acknowledge that only Christ fulfilled chapter 53, are yet unable to believe that the prophet looked upon the Servant as an individual, and who regard chapter 53 as simply a sublimer form of the prophet’s previous pictures of the ideal people of God. Surely Christ could and did fulfil prophecies other than personal ones. The types of Him, which the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament, are not exclusively individuals. Christ is sometimes represented as realising in His Person and work statements, which, as they were first spoken, could only refer to Israel, the nation. Matthew, for instance, applies to Jesus a text which Hosea wrote primarily of the whole Jewish people: "Out of Egypt have I called My Son." {Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15} Or, to take an instance from our own prophet-who but Jesus fulfilled chapter 49, in which, as we have seen, it is not an individual, but the ideal of the prophet people, that is figured? So that, even if it were proved past all doubt-proved from grammar, context, and every prophetical analogy-that in writing chapter 53 our prophet had still in view that aspect of the nation which he has personified in chapter 49, such a conclusion would not weaken the connection between the prophecy and its unquestioned fulfilment by Jesus Christ, nor render the two less evidently part of one Divine design.

But we are by no means compelled to adopt the impersonal view of chapter 53. On the contrary, while the question is one to which all experts know the difficulty of finding an absolutely conclusive answer one way or the other, it seems to me that reasons prevail which make for the personal interpretation.

Let us see what exactly are the objections to taking Isaiah 52:13-15 through Isaiah 53:1-12 in a personal sense. First, it is very important to observe that they do not rise out of the grammar or language of the passage. The reference of both of these is consistently individual. Throughout, the Servant is spoken of in the singular. The name Israel is not once applied to him: nothing-except that the nation has also suffered-suggests that he is playing a national role; there is no reflection in his fate of the features of the Exile. The antithesis, which was evident in previous passages, between a better Israel and the mass of the people has disappeared. The Servant is contrasted, not with the nation as a whole, but with His people as individuals. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." As far as grammar can, this surely distinguishes a single person. It is true, that one or two phrases suggest so colossal a figure-"he shall startle many nations, and kings shall shut their mouths at him"-that for a moment we think of the spectacle of a people rather than of a solitary human presence. But even such descriptions are not incompatible with a single person. On the other hand, there are phrases which we can scarcely think are used of any but a historical individual; such as that he was taken from "oppression and judgment," that is from a process of law which was tyranny, from a judicial murder, and that he belonged to a particular generation-"As for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living." Surely a historical individual is the natural meaning of these words. And, in fact, critics like Ewald and Wellhausen, who interpret the passage, in its present context, of the ideal Israel, find themselves forced to argue that it has been borrowed for this use from the older story of some actual martyr-so individual do its references seem to them throughout.

If, then, the grammar and language of the passage thus conspire to convey the impression of an individual, what are the objections to supposing that an individual is meant? Critics have felt, in the main, three objections to the discovery of a historical individual in Isaiah 52:13-15 through Isaiah 53:1-12.

The first of these that we take is chronological, and arises from the late date to which we have found it necessary to assign the prophecy. Our prophet, it is averred, associates the work of the Servant with the restoration of the people; but he sees that restoration too close to him to be able to think of the appearance, ministry, and martyrdom of a real historic life happening before it. (Our prophet, it will be remembered, wrote about 546, and the Restoration came in 538.) "There is no room for a history like that of the suffering Servant between the prophet’s place and the Restoration."

Now, this objection might be turned, even if it were true that the prophet identified the suffering Servant’s career with so immediate and so short a process as the political deliverance from Babylon. For, in that case, the prophet would not be leaving less room for the Servant, than, in chapter 9, Isaiah himself leaves for the birth, the growth to manhood, and the victories of the Prince-of-the-Four-Names, before that immediate relief from the Assyrian which he expects the Prince to effect. But does our prophet identify the suffering Servant’s career with the redemption from Babylon and the Return? It is plain that he does not-at least in those portraits of the Servant, which are most personal. Our prophet has really two prospects for Israel-one, the actual deliverance from Babylon; the other, a spiritual redemption and restoration. If, like his fellow prophets, he sometimes runs these two together, and talks of the latter in the terms of the former, he keeps them on the whole distinct, and assigns them to different agents. The burden of the first he lays on Cyrus, though he also connects it with the Servant, while the Servant is still to him an aspect of the nation (see Isaiah 49:8-9). It is temporary, and soon passes from his thoughts, Cyrus being dropped with it. But the other, the spiritual redemption, is confined to no limits of time; and it is with its process-indefinite in date and in length of period-that he associates the most personal portraits of the Servant (chapter 1 and Isaiah 52:13-15 through Isaiah 53:1-12). In these the Servant, now spoken of as an individual, has nothing to do with that temporary work of freeing the people from Babylon, which was over in a year or two, and which seems to be now behind the prophet’s standpoint. His is the enduring office of prophecy, sympathy, and expiation- an office in which there is all possible "room" for such a historical career as is sketched for him. His relation to Cyrus, before whose departure from connection with Israel’s fate the Servant does not appear as a person, is thus most interesting. Perhaps we may best convey it in a homely figure. On the ship of Israel’s fortunes-as on every ship and on every voyage-the prophet sees two personages. One is the Pilot through the shallows, Cyrus, who is dropped as soon as the shallows are past; and the other is the Captain of the ship, who remains always identified with it - the Servant. The Captain does not come to the front till the Pilot has gone: but, both alongside the Pilot, and after the Pilot has been dropped, there is every room for his office.

The second main objection to identifying an individual in Isaiah 52:13-15 through Isaiah 53:1-12, is. that an individual with such features has no analogy in Hebrew prophecy. It is said that, neither in his humiliation nor in the kind of exaltation which is ascribed to him, is there his like in any other individual in the Old Testament, and certainly not in the Messiah. Elsewhere in Scripture (it is averred) the Messiah reigns, and is glorious; it is the people who suffer, and come through suffering to power. Nor is the Messiah’s royal splendour at all the same as the very vague influence, evidently of a spiritual kind, which is attributed to the Servant in the end of chapter 53. The Messiah is endowed with the military and political virtues. He is a warrior, a king, a judge. He "sits on the throne of David, He establishes David’s kingdom. He smites the land with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He slays the wicked." But very different phrases are used of the Servant. He is not called king, though kings shut their mouths at him, -he is a prophet and a martyr, and an expiation; and the phrases, "I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong," are simply metaphors of the immense spiritual success and influence with which His self-sacrifice shall be rewarded; as a spiritual power He shall take His place among the dominions and forces of the world. This is a true prophecy of what Israel, that "worm of a people," should be lifted to; but it is quite different from the political throne, from which Isaiah had promised that the Messiah should sway the destinies of Israel and mankind.

But in answer to this objection to finding the Messiah, or any other influential individual, in chapter 53, we may remember that there were already traces in Hebrew prophecy of a suffering Messiah: we come across them in chapter 7. There Isaiah presents Immanuel, whom we identified with the Prince-of-the-Four-Names in chapter 9, as at first nothing but a sufferer - a sufferer from the sins of His predecessors. (Isaiah 1:1-31; Isaiah 2:1-22; Isaiah 3:1-26; Isaiah 4:1-6; Isaiah 5:1-30; Isaiah 6:1-13; Isaiah 7:1-25; Isaiah 8:1-22; Isaiah 9:1-21; Isaiah 10:1-34; Isaiah 11:1-16; Isaiah 12:1-6; Isaiah 13:1-22; Isaiah 14:1-32; Isaiah 15:1-9; Isaiah 16:1-14; Isaiah 17:1-14; Isaiah 18:1-7; Isaiah 19:1-25; Isaiah 20:1-6; Isaiah 21:1-17; Isaiah 22:1-25; Isaiah 23:1-18; Isaiah 24:1-23; Isaiah 25:1-12; Isaiah 26:1-21; Isaiah 27:1-13; Isaiah 28:1-29; Isaiah 29:1-24; Isaiah 30:1-33; Isaiah 31:1-9; Isaiah 32:1-20; Isaiah 33:1-24; Isaiah 34:1-17; Isaiah 35:1-10; Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38; Isaiah 38:1-22; Isaiah 39:1-8) And, even though we are wrong in taking the suffering Immanuel from the Messiah, and though Isaiah meant him only as a personification of Israel suffering for the error of Ahaz, had not the two hundred years, which elapsed between Isaiah’s prophecy of Israel’s glorious Deliverer, been full of room enough, and, what is more, of experience enough, for the ideal champion of the people to be changed to something more spiritual in character and in work? Had the nation been baptised, for most of those two centuries, in vain, in the meaning of suffering, and in vain had they seen exemplified in their noblest spirits the fruits and glory of self-sacrifice? The type of Hero had changed in Israel since Isaiah wrote of his Prince-of-the-Four-Names. The king had been replaced by the prophet; the conqueror by the martyr; the judge who smote the land by the rod of his mouth, and slew the wicked by the breath of his lips, -by the patriot who took his country’s sins upon his own conscience. The monarchy had perished; men knew that, even if Israel were set upon their own land again, it would not be under an independent king of their own; nor was a Jewish champion of the martial kind, such as Isaiah had promised for deliverance from the Assyrian, any more required. Cyrus, the Gentile, should do all the campaigning required against Israel’s enemies, and Israel’s native Saviour be relieved for gentler methods and more spiritual aims. It is all this experience, of nearly two centuries, which explains the omission of the features of warrior and judge from chapter 53, and their replacement by those of a suffering patriot, prophet, and priest. The reason of the change is, not because the prophet who wrote the chapter had not, as much as Isaiah, an individual in his view, but because, in the historical circumstance of the Exile, such an individual as Isaiah had promised seemed no longer probable or required.

So far, then, from the difference between chapter 53 and previous prophecies of the Messiah affording evidence that in chapter 53 it is not the Messiah who is presented, this very change that has taken place, explicable as it is from the history of the intervening centuries, goes powerfully to prove that it is the Messiah, and therefore an individual, whom the prophet so vividly describes.

The third main objection to our recognising an individual in chapter 53 is concerned only with our prophet himself. Is it not impossible, say some-or at least improbably inconsistent-for the same prophet first to have identified the Servant with the nation, and then to present him to us as an individual? We can understand the transference by the same writer of the name from the whole people to a part of the people; it is a natural transference, and the prophet sufficiently explains it. But how does he get from a part of the nation to a single individual? If in chapter 49 he personifies, under the name Servant, some aspect of the nation, we are surely bound to understand the game personification when the Servant is again introduced-unless we have an explanation to the contrary. But we have none.. The prophet gives no hint, except by dropping the name Israel, that the focus of his vision is altered, -no more paradoxes such as marked his passage from the people as a whole to a portion of them, -no consciousness that any explanation whatever is required. Therefore, however much finer the personification is drawn in chapter 53 than in chapter 49, it is surely a personification still.

To which objection an obvious answer is, that our prophet is not a systematic theologian, but a dramatic poet, who allows his characters to disclose themselves and their relation without himself intervening to define or relate them. And any one who is familiar with the literature of Israel knows, that no less than the habit of drawing in from the whole people upon a portion of them, was the habit of drawing in from a portion of the people upon one individual. The royal Messiah Himself is a case in point. The original promise to David was of a seed; but soon prophecy concentrated the seed in one glorious Prince. The promise of Israel had always culminated in an individual. Then, again, in the nation’s awful sufferings, it had been one man-the prophet Jeremiah-who had stood forth singly and alone, at once the incarnation of Jehovah’s word, and the illustration in his own person of all the penalty that Jehovah laid upon the sinful people. With this tendency of his school to focus Israel’s hope on a single individual, and especially with the example of Jeremiah before him, it is almost inconceivable that our prophet could have thought of any but an individual when he drew his portrait of the suffering Servant. No doubt the national sufferings were in his heart as he wrote; it was probably a personal share in them that taught him to write so sympathetically about the Man of pains, who was familiar with ailing. But to gather and concentrate all these sufferings upon one noble figure, to describe this figure as thoroughly conscious of their moral meaning, and capable of turning them to his people’s salvation, was a process absolutely in harmony with the genius of Israel’s prophecy, as well as with the trend of their recent experience; and there is, besides, no word in that great chapter, in which the process culminates, but is in thorough accordance with it. So far, therefore, from its being an impossible or an unlikely thing for our prophet to have at last reached his conception of an individual, it is almost impossible to conceive of him executing so personal a portrait as Isaiah 52:13-15 through Isaiah 53:1-12, without thinking of a definite historical personage, such as Hebrew prophecy had ever associated with the redemption of his people.


We have now exhausted the passages in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24 which deal with the Servant of the Lord. We have found that our prophet identifies him at first with the whole nation, and then with some indefinite portion of the nation-indefinite in quantity, but most marked in character; that this personification grows more and more difficult to distinguish from a person; and that in Isaiah 52:13-15 through Isaiah 53:1-12 there are very strong reasons, both in the text itself and in the analogy of other prophecy, to suppose that the portrait of an individual is intended. To complete our study of this development of the substance of the Servant, it is necessary to notice that it runs almost stage for stage with a development of his office. Up to chapter 49, that is to say, while he is still some aspect of the people, the Servant is a prophet. In chapter 1, where he is no longer called Israel, and approaches more nearly to an individual, his prophecy passes into martyrdom. And in chapter 53, where at last we recognise him as intended for an actual personage, his martyrdom becomes an expiation for the sins of the people. Is there a natural connection between these two developments? We have seen that it was by a very common process that our prophet transferred the national calling from the mass of the nation to a select few of the people. Is it by any equally natural tendency that he shrinks from the many to the few, as he passes from prophecy to martyrdom, or from the few to the one, as he passes from martyrdom to expiation? It is a possibility for all God’s people to be prophets: few are needed as martyrs. Is it by any moral law equally clear, that only one man should die for the people? These are questions worth thinking about. In Israel’s history we have already found the following facts with which to answer them. The whole living generation of Israel felt themselves to be sinbearers: "Our fathers have sinned, and we bear their iniquities." This conscience and penalty were more painfully felt by the righteous in Israel. But the keenest and heaviest sense of them was conspicuously that experienced by one man-the prophet Jeremiah. And yet all these cases from the past of Israel’s history do not furnish more than an approximation to the figure presented to us in chapter 53. Let us turn, therefore, to the future to see if we can find in it motive or fulfilment for this marvellous prophecy.



IN last chapter we confined our study of the Servant of Jehovah to the text of Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24, and to the previous and contemporary history of Israel. Into our interpretation of the remarkable Figure, whom our prophet has drawn for us, we have put nothing which cannot be gathered from those fields and by the light of the prophet’s own day. But now we must travel further, and from days far future to our prophet borrow a fuller light to throw back upon his mysterious projections. We take this journey into the future for reasons he himself has taught us. We have learned that his pictures of the Servant are not the creation of his own mind; a work of art complete "through fancy’s or through logic’s aid." They are the scattered reflections and suggestions of experience. The prophet’s eyes have been opened to read them out of the still growing and incomplete history of his people. With that history they are indissolubly bound up. Their plainest forms are but a transcript of its clearest facts; their paradoxes are its paradoxes (reflections now of the confused and changing consciousness of this strange people, or again of the contrast between God’s design for them and their real character): their ideals are the suggestion and promise which its course reveals to an inspired eye. Thus, in picturing the Servant, our prophet sometimes confines himself to history that has already happened to Israel; but sometimes, also, upon the purpose and promise of this, he outruns what has happened, and plainly lifts his voice from the future. Now we must remember that he does so, not merely because the history itself has native possibilities of fulfilment in it, but because he believes that it is in the hands of an Almighty and Eternal God, who shall surely guide it to the end of His purpose revealed in it. It is an article of our prophet’s creed, that the God who speaks through him controls all history, and by His prophets can publish beforehand what course it will take; so that, when we find in our prophet anything we do not see fully justified or illustrated by the time he wrote, it is only in observance of the conditions he has laid down, that we seek for its explanation in the future.

Let us, then, take our prophet upon his own terms, and follow the history, with which he has so closely bound up the prophecy of the Servant, both in suggestion and fulfilment, in order that we may see whether it will yield to us the secret of what, if we have read his language aright, his eyes perceived in it-the promise of an Individual Servant. And let us do so in his faith that history is one progressive and harmonious movement under the hand of the God in whose name he speaks. Our exploration will be rewarded, and our faith confirmed. We shall find the nation, as promised, restored to its own land, and pursuing through the centuries its own life. We shall find within the nation what the prophet looked for, -an elect and effective portion, with the conscience of a national service to the world, but looking for the achievement of this to such an Individual Servant, as the prophet seemed ultimately to foreshadow. The world itself we shall find growing more and more open to this service. And at last, from Israel’s national conscience of the service we shall see emerge One with the sense that He alone is responsible and able for it. And this One Israelite will not only in His own person exhibit a character and achieve a work that illustrate and far excel our prophet’s highest imaginations, but will also become, to a new Israel infinitely more numerous than the old, the conscience and inspiration of their collective fulfilment of the ideal.

1. In the Old Testament we cannot be sure of any further appearance of our prophet’s Servant of the Lord. It might be thought that in a post-exilic promise, Zechariah 3:8, "I will bring forth My servant the Branch," we had an identification of the hero of the first part of the Book of Isaiah, "the Branch out of Jesse’s roots," {Isaiah 11:1} with the hero of the second part; but "servant" here may so easily be meant in the more general sense in which it occurs in the Old Testament, that we are not justified in finding any more particular connection. In Judaism beyond the Old Testament the national and personal interpretations of the Servant were both current. The Targum of Jonathan, and both the Talmud of Jerusalem and the Talmud of Babylon, recognise the personal Messiah in chapter 53; the Targum also identifies him as early as in chapter 42. This personal interpretation the Jews abandoned only after they had entered on their controversy with Christian theologians; and in the cruel persecutions, which Christians inflicted upon them throughout the Middle Ages, they were supplied with only too many reasons for insisting that chapter 53 was prophetic of suffering Israel-the martyr-people-as a whole. It is a strange history-the history of our race, where the first through their pride and error so frequently become the last, and the last through their sufferings are set in God’s regard with the first. But of all its strange reversals none surely was ever more complete than when the followers of Him, who is set forth in this passage, the unresisting and crucified Saviour of men, behaved in His Name with so great a cruelty as to be righteously taken by His enemies for the very tyrants and persecutors whom the passage condemns.

2. But it is in the New Testament that we see the most perfect reflection of the Servant of the Lord, both as People and Person.

In the generation from which Jesus sprang there was, amid national circumstances closely resembling those in which the Second Isaiah was written, a counterpart of that Israel within Israel, which our prophet has personified in chapter 49. The holy nation lay again in bondage to the heathen, partly in its own land, partly scattered across the world; and Israel’s righteousness, redemption, and ingathering were once more the questions of the day. The thoughts of the masses, as of old in Babylonian days, did not rise beyond a political restoration; and although their popular leaders insisted upon national righteousness as necessary to this, it was a righteousness mainly of the ceremonial kind-hard, legal, and often more unlovely in its want of enthusiasm and hope than even the political fanaticism of the vulgar. But around the temple, and in quiet recesses of the land, a number of pious and ardent Israelites lived on the true milk of the word, and cherished for the nation hopes of a far more spiritual character. If the Pharisees laid their emphasis on the law, this chosen Israel drew their inspiration rather from prophecy; and of all prophecy it was the Book of Isaiah, and chiefly the latter part of it, on which they lived.

As we enter the Gospel history from the Old Testament, we feel at once that Isaiah is in the air. In this fair opening of the new year of the Lord, the harbinger notes of the book awaken about us on all sides like the voices of birds come back with the spring. In Mary’s song, the phrase "He hath holpen His Servant Israel"; in the description of Simeon, that he waited for the "consolation of Israel," a phrase taken from the "Comfort ye, comfort ye My people" in Isaiah 40:1; such frequent phrases, too, as "the redemption of Jerusalem, a light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, light to them that sit in darkness, and other echoed promises of light and peace and the remission of sins, are all repeated from our evangelical prophecy. In the fragments of the Baptist’s preaching, which are extant, it is remarkable that almost every metaphor and motive may be referred to the Book of Isaiah, and mostly to its exilic half: "the generation of vipers," the "trees and axe laid to the root," "the threshing floor and fan," "the fire," "the bread and clothes to the poor," and especially the proclamation of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God that beareth the sin of the world." To John himself were applied the words of Isaiah 40:1-31: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye "ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight"; and when Christ sought to rouse again the Baptist’s failing faith it was of Isaiah 61:1-11 that He reminded him.

Our Lord, then, sprang from a generation of Israel, which had a strong conscience of the national aspect of the Service of God, -a generation with Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24 at its heart. We have seen how He Himself insisted upon the uniqueness of Israel’s place among the nations-"salvation is of the Jews"-and how closely He identified Himself with His people-"I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But all Christ’s strong expression of Israel’s distinction from the rest of mankind is weak and dim compared with His expression of His own distinction from the rest of Israel. If they were the one people with whom God worked in the world, He was the one Man whom God sent to work upon them, and to use them to work upon others. We cannot tell how early the sense of this distinction came to the Son of Mary. Luke reveals it in Him, before He had taken His place as a citizen and was still within the family: "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?" At His first public appearance He had it fully, and others acknowledged it. In the opening year of His ministry it threatened to be only a Distinction of the First-"they took Him by force, and would have made Him King." But as time went on it grew evident that it was to be, not the Distinction of the First, but the Distinction of the Only. The enthusiastic crowds melted away: the small band, whom He had most imbued with His spirit, proved that they could follow Him but a certain length in His consciousness of His Mission. Recognising in Him the supreme prophet-"Lord to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life"-they immediately failed to understand that suffering also must be endured by Him for the people: "Be it far from Thee, Lord." This suffering was His conscience and His burden alone. Now, we cannot overlook the fact that the point at which Christ’s way became so solitary was the same point at which we felt our prophet’s language cease to oblige us to understand by it a portion of the people, and begin to be applicable to a single individual, -the point, namely, where prophecy passes into martyrdom. But whether our prophet’s pictures of the suffering and atoning Servant of the Lord are meant for some aspect of the national experience, or as the portrait of a real individual, it is certain that in His martyrdom and service of ransom Jesus felt Himself to be absolutely alone. He who had begun His Service of God with all the people on His side, consummated the same with the leaders and the masses of the nation against Him, and without a single partner from among His own friends, either in the fate which overtook Him, or in the conscience with which He bore it.

Now all this parallel between Jesus of Nazareth and the Servant of the Lord is unmistakable enough, even in this mere outline; but the details of the Gospel narrative and the language of the Evangelists still more emphasise it. Christ’s herald hailed Him with words which gather up the essence of Isaiah 53:1-12: "Behold the Lamb of God." He read His own commission from chapter 61: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me." To describe His first labours among the people, His disciples again used words from chapter 53: "Himself bare our sicknesses." To paint His manner of working in face of opposition they quoted the whole passage from chapter 42: "Behold My Servant He shall not strive." The name Servant was often upon His own lips in presenting Himself: "Behold, I am among you as one that serveth." When His office of prophecy passed into martyrdom, He predicted for Himself the treatment which is detailed in chapter 50, -the "smiting," "plucking" and "spitting": and in time, by Jew and Gentile, this treatment was inflicted on Him to the very letter. As to His consciousness in fulfilling something more than a martyrdom, and alone among the martyrs of Israel offering by His death an expiation for His people’s sins, His own words are frequent and clear enough to form a counterpart to chapter 53. With them before us, we cannot doubt that He felt Himself to be the One of whom the people in that chapter speak, as standing over against them all, sinless, and yet bearing their sins. But on the night on which He was betrayed, while just upon the threshold of this extreme and unique form of service, into which it has been given to no soul of man, that ever lived, to be conscious of following Him-as if anxious that His disciples should not be so overwhelmed by the awful part in which they could not imitate Him as to forget the countless other ways in which they were called to fulfil His serving spirit-"He took a towel and girded Himself, and when He had washed their feet, He said unto them, I, I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet"-thereby illustrating what is so plainly set forth in our prophecy, that short of the expiation, of which only One in His sinlessness has felt the obligation, and short of the martyrdom which it has been given to but few of His people to share with Him, there are a thousand humble forms rising out of the needs of everyday life, in which men are called to employ towards one another the gentle and self-forgetful methods of the true Servant of God.

With the four Gospels in existence, no one doubts or can doubt that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the cry, "Behold My Servant." With Him it ceased to be a mere ideal, and took its place as the greatest achievement in history.

3. In the earliest discourses of the Apostles, therefore, it is not wonderful that Jesus should be expressly designated by them as the Servant of God, -the Greek word used being that by which the Septuagint specially translates the Hebrew term in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24: "god hath glorified His Servant Jesus. Unto you first, God, having raised up His Servant, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities…In this city against Thy holy Servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel foreordained to pass. Grant that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Thy Holy Servant Jesus." It must also be noticed, that in one of the same addresses, and again by Stephen in his argument before the Sanhedrim, Jesus is called "The Righteous One,": doubtless an allusion to the same title for the Servant in Isaiah 53:11. Need we recall the interpretation of Isaiah 53:1-12 by Philip?

It is known to all how Peter develops this parallel in his First Epistle, borrowing the figures, but oftener the very words, of Isaiah 53:1-12 to apply to Christ. Like the Servant of the Lord, Jesus is "as a lamb": He is a patient sufferer in silence; He "is the Righteous (again the classic title) for the unrighteous"; in exact quotation from the Greek of Isaiah 53:1-12: "He did no sin, neither was found guile in His mouth, ye were as sheep gone astray, but He Himself hath borne our sins, with whose stripes ye are healed."

Paul applies two quotations from Isaiah 52:13-15 through Isaiah 53:1-12 to Christ: "I have striven to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named; as it is written, To whom He was not spoken of they shall see, and they that have not heard shall understand; and He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin." And none will doubt that when he so often disputed that the "Messiah must suffer," or wrote "Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures," he had Isaiah 53:1-12 in mind, exactly as we have seen it applied to the Messiah by Jewish scholars a hundred years later than Paul.

4. Paul, however, by no means confines the prophecy of the Servant of the Lord to Jesus the Messiah. In a way which has been too much overlooked by students of the subject, Paul revives and reinforces the collective interpretation of the Servant. He claims the Servant’s duties and experience for himself, his fellow-labourers in the Gospel, and all believers.

In Antioch of Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas said of themselves to the Jews: "For so hath the Lord" commanded us, saying, "I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation to the ends of the earth." {Acts 13:47, after Isaiah 49:6} Again, in the eighth of Romans, Paul takes the Servant’s confident words, and speaks them of all God’s true people. "He is near that justifieth me, who is he that condemneth me?" cried the Servant in our prophecy, and Paul echoes for all believers: "It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?" {Isaiah 1:8 and Romans 8:33; Romans 8:24} And again, in his second letter to Timothy, he says, speaking of that pastor’s work, "For the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle towards all"; words which were borrowed from, or suggested by, Isaiah 42:1-3. In these instances, as well as in his constant use of the terms "slave," "servant," "minister," with their cognates, Paul fulfils the intention of Jesus, who so continually, by example, parable, and direct commission, enforced the life of His people as a Service to the Lord.

5. Such, then, is the New Testament reflection of the Prophecy of the Servant of the Lord, both as People and Person. Like all physical reflections, this moral one may be said, on the whole, to stand reverse to its original. In Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24 the Servant is People first, Person second. But in the New Testament-except for a faint and scarcely articulate application to Israel in the beginning of. the gospels-the Servant is Person first and People afterwards. The Divine Ideal which our prophet saw narrowing down from the Nation to an Individual, was owned and realised by Christ. But in Him it was not exhausted. With added warmth and light, with a new power of expansion, it passed through Him to fire the hearts and enlist the wills of an infinitely greater people than the Israel for whom it was originally designed. With this witness, then, of history to the prophecies of the Servant, our way in expounding and applying them is clear. Jesus Christ is their perfect fulfilment and illustration. But we who are His Church are to find in them our ideal and duty, -our duty to God and to the world. In this, as in so many other matters, the unfulfilled prophecy of Israel is the conscience of Christianity.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 42". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/isaiah-42.html.
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