Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Isaiah 43

Verses 1-28



Isaiah 41:8-20; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28

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 5-10



Isaiah 41:8-20;, Isaiah 42:1-7; Isaiah 42:18; Isaiah 43:5-10; Isaiah 49:1-9; Isaiah 1:4-10; Isaiah 52:13-15

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.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 43". "Expositor's Bible Commentary".