THE SERVANT OF THE LORD
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.
THE SERVANT OF THE LORD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
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.
PROPHET AND MARTYR
Isaiah 49:1-9;, Isaiah 50:4-11
THE second great passage upon the Servant of the Lord is Isaiah 49:1-9, and the third is Isaiah 50:4-11. In both of these the servant himself speaks; in both he speaks as prophet; while in the second he tells us that his prophecy leads him on to martyrdom. The two passages may, therefore, be taken together.
Before we examine their contents, let us look for a moment at the way in which they are woven into the rest of the text. As we have seen, chapter 49 begins a new section of the prophecy, in so far that with it the prophet leaves Babylon and Cyrus behind him, and ceases to speak of the contrast between God and the idols. But, still, chapter 49 is linked to chapter 48. In leading up to its climax, -the summons to Israel to depart from Babylon, - chapter 48, does not forget that Israel is delivered from Babylon in order to be the Servant of Jehovah: "say ye, Jehovah hath redeemed His Servant Jacob." It is this service, which chapter 49 carries forward from the opportunity, and the call, to go forth from Babylon, with which chapter 48, closes. That opportunity, though real, does not at all mean that Israel’s redemption is complete. There were many moral reasons which prevented the whole nation from taking full advantage of the political freedom offered them by Cyrus. Although the true Israel, that part of the nation which has the conscience of service, has shaken itself free from the temptation as well as from the tyranny of Babel, and now sees the world before it as the theatre of its operations, - Isaiah 49:1, "Hearken, ye isles, unto Me; and listen, ye peoples, from far,"-it has still, before it can address itself to that universal mission, to exhort, rouse, and extricate the rest of its nation, "saying to the bounden, Go forth; and to, them that are in darkness, Show yourselves" (Isaiah 49:9). Chapter 49, therefore, is the natural development of chapter 48. There is certainly a little interval of time implied between the two-the time during which it became apparent that the opportunity to leave Babylon would not be taken advantage of by all Israel, and that the nation's redemption must be a moral as well as a political one. But Isaiah 49:1-9 comes out of chapters 40-48, and it is impossible to believe that in it we are not still under the influence of the same author.
A similar coherence is apparent if we look to the other end of Isaiah 49:1-9. Here it is evident that Jehovah’s commission to the Servant concludes with Isaiah 49:9 a; but then its closing words, "Say to the bound, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves," start fresh thoughts about the redeemed on their way back (Isaiah 49:9-13); and these thoughts naturally lead on to a picture of Jerusalem imagining herself forsaken, and amazed by the appearance of so many of her children before her (Isaiah 49:14-21). Promises to her and to them follow in due sequence down to Isaiah 50:3, when the Servant resumes his soliloquy about himself, but abruptly, and in no apparent connection with what immediately precedes. His soliloquy ceases in Isaiah 50:9, and another voice, probably that of God Himself, urges obedience to the Servant (Isaiah 50:10), and judgment to the sinners in Israel (Isaiah 50:11); and chapter 51 is an address to the spiritual Israel, and to Jerusalem, with thoughts much the same as those uttered in Isaiah 49:14-26; Isaiah 50:1-3.
In face of these facts, and taking into consideration the dramatic form in which the whole prophecy is cast, we find ourselves unable to say that there is anything which is incompatible with a single authorship, or which makes it impossible for the two passages on the Servant to have originally sprung, each at the place at which it now stands, from the progress of the prophet’s thoughts.
Babylon is left behind, and the way of the Lord is prepared in the desert. Israel have once more the title-deeds to their own land, and Zion looms in sight. Yet with their face to home, and their heart upon freedom, the voice of this people, or at least of the better half of this people, rises first upon the conscience of their duty to the rest of mankind.
Hearken, O Isles, unto Me;
And listen, O Peoples, from far!
From the womb Jehovah hath called me,
From my mother’s midst mentioned my name.
And He set my mouth like a sharp sword,
In the shadow of His hand did He hide me;
Yea, He made me a pointed arrow.
In His quiver He laid me in store,
And said to me, My Servant art thou,
Israel, in whom I shall break into glory.
And I-I said, In vain have I laboured,
For waste and for wind my strength have I spent!
Surely my right’s with Jehovah,
And the meed of my work with my God!
But now, saith Jehovah-
Moulding me from the womb to be His own Servant,
To turn again Jacob towards Him,
And that Israel be not destroyed.
And I am of honour in the eyes of Jehovah,
And my God is my strength.
And He saith, ‘Tis too light for thy being My Servant,
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
Or gather the survivors of Israel.
So I will set thee a light of the Nations,
To be My salvation to the end of the earth.
Thus saith Jehovah, Israel’s Redeemer, his Holy,
To this mockery of a life, abhorrence of a nation,
Servant of tyrants,
Kings shall behold and shall stand up,
Princes shall also do homage,
For the sake of Jehovah, who shows Himself faithful,
Holy of Israel, and thou art His chosen.
Thus saith Jehovah,
In a favourable time I have given thee answer,
In the day of salvation have helped thee,
To keep thee, to give thee for covenant of the people,
To raise up the land,
To give back the heirs to the desolate heirdoms,
Saying to the bounden,
To them that are in darkness,
"Who is so blind as not to perceive that the consciousness of the Servant here is only a mirror in which the history of Israel is reflected-first, in its original call and design that Jehovah should be glorified in it; second, in the long delay and apparent failure of the design, and, thirdly, as the design is now in the present juncture of circumstances and concurrence of events about to be realised?" Yes: but it is Israel’s calling, native insufficiency, and present duty, as owned by only a part of the people, which, though named by the national name (Isaiah 49:3), feels itself standing over against the bulk of the nation, whose redemption it is called to work out (Isaiah 49:8-9) before it takes up its worldwide service. We have already sufficiently discussed this distinction of the Servant from the whole nation, as well as the distinction of the moral work he has to effect in Israel’s redemption from Babylon, from the political enfranchisement of the nation, which is the work of Cyrus. Let us, then, at once address ourselves to the main features of his consciousness of his mission to mankind. We shall find these features to be three. The Servant owns for his chief end the glory of God; and he feels that he has to glorify God in two ways-by Speech, and by Suffering.
I. THE SERVANT GLORIFIES GOD
He did say to me, My servant art thou,
Israel, in whom I shall break into glory.
The Hebrew verb, which the Authorised Version translates "will be glorified," means to "burst forth, become visible," break like the dawn into splendour. This is the scriptural sense of Glory. Glory is God become visible. As we put it in Book I, glory is the expression of holiness, as beauty is the expression of health. But, in order to become visible, the Absolute and Holy God needs mortal man. We have felt something like a paradox in these prophecies. Nowhere else is God lifted up so absolute, and so able to effect all by His mere will and word; yet nowhere else are a human agency and service so strongly asserted as indispensable to the Divine purpose. But this is no more a paradox than the fact that physical light needs some material in which to become visible. Light is never revealed of itself, but always when shining from, or burning in, something else. To be seen, light requires a surface that will reflect, or a substance that will consume. And so, to "break into glory," God requires something outside Himself. A responsive portion of humanity is indispensable to Him, -a people who will reflect Him and spend itself for Him. Man is the mirror and the wick of the Divine. God is glorified in man’s character and witness, -these are His mirror; and in man’s sacrifice, -that is His wick.
And so we meet again the central truth of our prophecy, that in order to serve men it is necessary first to be used of God. We must place ourselves at the disposal of the Divine, we must let God shine on us and kindle us, and break into glory through us, before we can hope either to comfort mankind or to set them on fire. It is true that ideas very different from this prevail among the ranks of the servants of humanity in our day. A large part of our most serious literature professes for its main bearing this conclusion, that the fellowship between man and man, which has been the principle of development, social and moral, is not dependent upon conceptions of what is not man, and that the idea of God, so far as it has been a high spiritual influence, is the ideal of a goodness entirely human." But such theories are possible only so long as the still unexhausted influence of religion upon society continues to supply human nature, directly or indirectly, with a virtue which may be plausibly claimed for human nature’s own original product. Let religion be entirely withdrawn, and the question, Whence comes virtue? will be answered by virtue ceasing to come at all. The savage imagines that it is the burning-glass which sets the bush on fire, and as long as the sun is shining it may be impossible to convince him that he is wrong; but a dull day will teach even his mind that the glass can do nothing without the sun upon it. And so, though men may talk glibly against God, while society still shines in the light of His countenance, yet, if they and society resolutely withdraw themselves from that light, they shall certainly lose every heat and lustre of the spirit which is indispensable for social service. On this the ancient Greek was at one with the ancient Hebrew. "Enthusiasm" is just "God breaking into glory" through a human life. Here lies the secret of the buoyancy and "freshness of the earlier world," whether pagan or Hebrew, and by this may be understood the depression and pessimism which infect modern society. They had God in their blood, and we are anemic. "But I, I said, I have laboured in vain; for waste and for wind have I spent my strength." We must all say that, if our last word is "our strength." But let this not be our last word. Let us remember the sufficient answer: "Surely my right is with the Lord, and the meed of my work with my God. We are set, not in our own strength or for our own advantage, but with the hand of God upon us, and that the Divine life may "break into glory though our life. Carlyle said, and it was almost his last testimony," The older I grow, and I am now on the brink of eternity, the more comes back to me the first sentence of the catechism, which I learned when a child, and the fuller does its meaning grow "What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."
It was said above, that, as light breaks to visibleness either from a mirror or a wick, so God "breaks to glory" either from the witness of men, -that is His mirror, -or from their sacrifice-that is His wick. Of both of these ways of glorifying God is the Servant conscious. His service is Speech and Sacrifice, Prophecy and Martyrdom.
II. THE SERVANT AS PROPHET
Concerning his service of Speech, the Servant speaks in these two passages - Isaiah 49:2 and Isaiah 50:4-5 :
He set my mouth like a sharp sword,
In the shadow of His hand did He hide me,
And made me a pointed arrow;
In his quiver He laid me in store.
My Lord Jehovah hath given me
The tongue of the learners,
To know how to succour the weary with words.
He wakeneth morning by morning,
He wakeneth mine ear
To hear as the learners.
My Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear.
I was not rebellious,
Nor turned away backward.
At the bidding of our latest prophet we have become suspicious of the power of speech, and the goddess of eloquence walks, as it were, under surveillance among us. Carlyle reiterated, "All speech and rumour is short-lived, foolish, untrue. Genuine work alone is eternal. The talent of silence is our fundamental one. The dumb nations are the builders of the world." Under such doctrine some have grown intolerant of words, and the ideal of today tends to become the practical man rather than the prophet. Yet, as somebody has said, Carlyle makes us dissatisfied with preaching only by preaching himself; and you have but to read him with attention to discover that his disgust with human speech is consistent with an immense reverence for the voice as an instrument of service to humanity. "The tongue of man," he says, "is a sacred organ. Man himself is definable in philosophy as an ‘Incarnate Word’; the Word not there, you have no man there either, but a Phantasm instead."
Let us examine our own experience upon the merits of this debate between Silence and Speech in the service of man. Though beginning low, it will help us quickly to the height of the experience of the Prophet Nation, who, with naught else for the world but the voice that was in them, accomplished the greatest service that the world has ever received from her children.
One thing is certain, -that Speech has not the monopoly of falsehood or of any other presumptuous sin. Silence does not only mean ignorance, -by some supposed to be the heaviest sin of which Silence can be guilty, -but many things far worse than ignorance, like unreadiness, and cowardice, and falsehood, and treason, and base consent to what is evil. No man can look back on his past life, however lowly or limited his sphere may have been, and fail to see that not once or twice his supreme duty was a word, and his guilt was not to have spoken it. We all have known the shame of being straitened in prayer or praise; the shame of being, through our cowardice to bear witness, traitors to the truth; the shame of being too timid to say No to the tempter, and speak out the brave reasons of which the heart was full; the shame of finding ourselves incapable of uttering the word that would have kept a soul from taking the wrong turning in life; the shame, when truth, clearness, and authority were required from us, of being able only to stammer or to mince or to rant. To have been dumb before the ignorant or the dying, before a questioning child or before the tempter, -this, the frequent experience of our common life, is enough to justify Carlyle when he said, "If the Word is not there, you have no man there either, but a Phantasm instead."
Now, when we look within ourselves we see the reason of this. We perceive that the one fact, which amid the mystery and chaos of our inner life gives certainty and light, is a fact which is a Voice. Our nature may be wrecked and dissipated, but conscience is always left; or in ignorance and gloom, but conscience is always audible: or with all the faculties strong and assertive, yet conscience is still unquestionably queen, -and conscience is a Voice. It is a still, small voice, which is the surest thing in man, and the noblest; which makes all the difference in his life; which lies at the back and beginning of all his character and conduct. And the most indispensable, and the grandest service, therefore, which a man can do his fellow-men, is to get back to this voice, and make himself its mouthpiece and its prophet. What work is possible till the word be spoken? Did ever order come to social life before there was first uttered the command, in which men felt the articulation and enforcement of the ultimate voice within themselves? Discipline and instruction and energy have not appeared without speech going before them. Knowledge and faith and hope do not dawn of themselves; they travel, as light issued forth in the beginning, upon the pulses of the speaking breath.
It was the greatness of Israel to be conscious of their call as a nation to this fundamental service of humanity. Believing in the Word of God as the original source of all things, -"In the beginning God said, Let there be light; and there was light,"-they had the conscience that, as it had been in the physical world, so must it always be in the moral. Men were to be served and their lives to be moulded by the Word. God was to be glorified by letting His Word break through the life and the lips of men. There was in the Old Testament, it is true, a triple ideal of manhood: "prophet, priest, and king." But the greatest of these was the prophet, for king and priest had to be prophets too. Eloquence was a royal virtue, -with persuasion, the power of command, and swift judgment. Among the seven spirits of the Lord which Isaiah sees descending in the King-to-Come is the spirit of counsel, and he afterwards adds of the King: "He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked." Similarly, the priests had originally been the ministers, not so much of sacrifice, as of the revealed Word of God. And now the new and high ideal of priesthood, the laying down of one’s life a sacrifice for God and for the people, was not the mere imitation of the animal victim required by the priestly law, but was the natural development of the prophetic experience. It was (as we shall presently see) the prophet, who, in his inevitable sufferings on behalf of the truth he uttered, developed that consciousness of sacrifice for others, in which the loftiest priesthood consists. Prophecy, therefore, the Service of Men by the Word of God, was for Israel the highest and most essential of all service. It was the individual’s and it was the nation’s ideal. As there was no true king and no true priest, so there was no true man, without the Word. "Would to God," said Moses, "that all the Lord’s people were prophets." And in our prophecy Israel exclaims: "Listen, O Isles, unto me; and hearken, ye peoples from far. He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of His hand hath He hid me."
At first it seems a forlorn hope thus to challenge the attention of the world in a dialect of one of its most obscure provinces, -a dialect, too, that was already ceasing to be spoken even there. But the fact only serves more forcibly to emphasise the belief of these prophets, that the word committed to what they must have known to be a dying language was the Word of God Himself, -bound to render immortal the tongue in which it was spoken, bound to re-echo to the ends of the earth, bound to touch the conscience and commend itself to the reason of universal humanity. We have already seen, and will again see, how our prophet insists upon the creative and omnipotent power of God’s Word; so we need not dwell longer on this instance of his faith. Let us look rather at what he expresses as Israel’s preparation for the teaching of it.
To him the discipline and qualification of the prophet nation-and that means of every Servant of God-in the high office of the Word, are threefold.
1. First, he lays down the supreme condition of Prophecy, that behind the Voice there must be the Life. Before he speaks of his gifts of Speech, the Servant emphasises his peculiar and consecrated life. "From the womb Jehovah called me, from my mother’s midst mentioned my name." Now, as we all know, Israel’s message to the world was largely Israel’s life. The Old Testament is not a set of dogmas, nor a philosophy, nor a vision; but a history, the record of a providence, the testimony of experience, the utterances called forth by historical occasions from a life conscious of the purpose for which God has called it and set it apart through the ages. But these words, which the prophet nation uses, were first used of an individual prophet. Like so much else in "Second Isaiah," we find a suggestion of them in the call of Jeremiah. "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth from the womb I consecrated thee: I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations." [Jeremiah 1:5] A prophet is not a voice only. A prophet is a life behind a voice. He who would speak for God must have lived for God. According to the profound insight of the Old Testament, speech is not the expression of a few thoughts of a man, but the utterance of his whole life. A man blossoms through his lips; and no man is a prophet, whose word is not the virtue and the flower of a gracious and a consecrated life.
2. The second discipline of the prophet is the Art of Speech. "He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of His hand hath He hid me: He hath made me a polished shaft, in His quiver hath He laid me in store." It is very evident that in these words the Servant does not only recount technical qualifications, but a moral discipline as well. The edge and brilliance of his speech are stated as the effect of solitude, but of a solitude that was at the same time a nearness to God. Now solitude is a great school of eloquence. In speaking of the Semitic race, of which Israel was part, we pointed out that, prophet-race of the world as it has proved, it sprang from the desert, and nearly all its branches have inherited the desert’s clear and august style of speech; for, in the leisure and serene air of the desert, men speak as they speak nowhere else. But Israel speaks of a solitude that was the shadow of God’s hand and the fastness of God’s quiver; a seclusion which, to the desert’s art of eloquence, added a special inspiration by God, and a special concentration upon His main purpose in the world. The desert sword felt the grasp of God; He laid the Semitic shaft in store for a unique end.
3. But in Isaiah 50:4-5, the Servant unfolds the most beautiful and true understanding of the Secret of Prophecy that ever was unfolded in any literature, -worth quoting again by us, if so we may get it by heart.
My Lord Jehovah hath given me
The tongue of the learners,
To know how to succour the weary with words.
He wakeneth, morning by morning
He wakeneth mine ear
To hear as the learners.
My Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear,
I was not rebellious,
Nor turned away backward.
The prophet, say these beautiful lines, learns his speech, as the little child does, by listening. Grace is poured upon the lips through the open ear. It is the lesson of our Lord’s Ephphatha. When He took the deaf man with the impediment in his speech aside from the multitude privately, He said unto him, not Be loosed, but, "Be opened; and" first "his ears were opened, and" then the "bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain." To speak, then, the prophet must listen; but mark to what he must listen! The secret of his eloquence lies not in the hearing of thunder, nor in the knowledge of mysteries, but in a daily ‘wakefulness to the lessons and experience of common life. "Morning by morning He openeth mine ear." This is very characteristic of Hebrew prophecy and Hebrew wisdom, which listened for the truth of God in the voices of each day, drew their parables from things the rising sun lights up to every wakeful eye, and were, in the bulk of their doctrine, the virtues, needed day by day, of justice, temperance, and mercy, and in the bulk of their judgments the results of everyday observation and experience. The strength of the Old Testament lies in this its realism, its daily vigilance and experience of life. It is its contact with life-the life, not of the yesterday of its speakers, but of their today-that makes its voice so fresh and helpful to the weary. He whose ear is daily open to the music of his current life will always find himself in possession of words that refresh and stimulate.
But serviceable speech needs more than attentiveness and experience. Having gained the truth, the prophet must be obedient and loyal to it. Yet obedience and loyalty to the truth are the beginnings of martyrdom, of which the Servant now goes on to speak as the natural and immediate consequence of his prophecy.
III. THE SERVANT AS MARTYR
The classes of men who suffer physical ill-usage at the hands of their fellow-men may roughly be described as three, -the Military Enemy, the Criminal, and the Prophet; and of these three we have only to read history to know that the Prophet fares by far the worst. However fatal men’s treatment of their enemies in war or of their criminals may be, it is, nevertheless, subject to a certain order, code of honour, or principle of justice. But in all ages the Prophet has been the target for the most licentious spite and cruelty; for torture, indecency, and filth past belief. Although our own civilisation has outlived the system of physical punishment for speech, we even yet see philosophers and statesmen, who have used no weapons but exposition and persuasion, treated by their opponents who would speak of a foreign enemy with respect-with execration, gross epithets, vile abuse, and insults, that the offenders would not pour upon a criminal. If we have this under our own eyes, let us think how the Prophet must have fared before humanity learned to meet speech by speech. Because men attacked it, not with the sword of the invader or with the knife of the assassin, but with words, therefore (till not very long ago) society let loose upon them the foulest indignities and most horrible torments. Socrates’ valour as a soldier did not save him from the malicious slander, the false witness, the unjust trial, and the poison, with which the Athenians answered his speech against themselves. Even Hypatia’s womanhood did not awe the mob from tearing her to pieces for her teaching. This unique and invariable experience of the Prophet is summed up and clenched in the name Martyr. Martyr originally meant a witness or witness-bearer, but now it is the synonym for every shame and suffering which the cruel ingenuity of men’s black hearts can devise for those they hate. A Book of Battles is horrible enough, but at least valour and honour have kept down in it the baser passions. A Newgate Chronicle is ugly enough, but there at least are discipline and a hospital You have got to go to a Book of Martyrs to see to what sourness, wickedness, malignity, pitilessness, and ferocity men’s hearts can lend themselves. There is something in the mere utterance of truth, that rouses the very devil in the hearts of many men.
Thus it had always been in Israel, nation not only of prophets, but of the slayers of prophets. According to Christ, prophet-slaying was the ineradicable habit of Israel. "Ye are the sons of them that slew the prophets O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of prophets and stoner of them that are sent unto her!" To them who bare it the word of Jehovah had always been "a reproach": cause of estrangement, indignities, torments, and sometimes of death. Up to the time of our prophet there had been the following notable sufferers for the Word: Elijah, Micaiah the son of Imlah; Isaiah, if the story be true that he was slain by Manasseh; but nearer, more lonely, and more heroic than all, Jeremiah, a "laughing-stock" and "mockery," "reviled," "smitten," fettered, and condemned to death. In words which recall the experience of so many individual Israelites, and most of which were used by Jeremiah of himself, the Servant of Jehovah describes his martyrdom in immediate consequence from his prophecy.
And I-I was not rebellious,
Nor turned away backward.
My back I have given to the smiters,
And my cheek to tormentors;
My face I hid not from insults and spitting.
These are not national sufferings. They are no reflection of the hard usage which the captive Israel suffered from Babylon. They are the reflection of the reproach and pains, which, for the sake of God’s word, individual Israelites more than once experienced from their own nation. But if individual experience, and not national, formed the original of this picture of the Servant as Martyr, then surely we have in this another strong reason against the objection to recognise in the Servant at last an individual. It may be, of course, that for the moment our prophet feels that this frequent experience of individuals in Israel is to be realised by the faithful Israel, as a whole, in their treatment by the rest of their cruel and unspiritual countrymen. But the very fact that individuals have previously fulfilled this martyrdom in the history of Israel, surely makes it possible for our prophet to foresee that the Servant, who is to fulfil it again, shall also be an individual.
But, returning from this slight digression on the person of the Servant to his fate, let us emphasise again, that his sufferings came to him as the result of his prophesying. The Servant’s sufferings are not penal, they are not yet felt to be vicarious. They are simply the reward with which obdurate Israel met all her prophets, the inevitable martyrdom which followed on the uttering of God’s Word. And in this the Servant’s experience forms an exact counterpart to that of our Lord. For to Christ also reproach and agony and death-whatever higher meaning they evolved-came as the result of His Word. The fact that Jesus suffered as our great High Priest must not make us forget that His sufferings fell upon Him because He was a Prophet. He argued explicitly He must suffer, because so suffered the prophets before Him. He put Himself in the line of the martyrs: as they had killed the servants, He said, so would they kill the Son. Thus it happened. His enemies sought "to entangle Him in His talk": it was for His talk they brought Him to trial. Each torment and indignity which the Prophet-Servant relates, Jesus suffered to the letter. They put Him to shame and insulted Him; His helpless hands were bound; they spat in His face and smote Him with their palms; they mocked and they reviled Him; scourged Him again; teased and tormented Him; hung Him between thieves; and to the last the ribald jests went up, not only from the soldiers and the rabble, but from the learned and the religious authorities as well, to whom His fault had been that He preached another word than their own. The literal fulfillments of our prophecy are striking, but the main fulfilment, of which they are only incidents, is, that like the Servant, our Lord suffered directly as a Prophet. He enforced and He submitted to the essential obligation, which lies upon the true Prophet, of suffering for the Word’s sake. Let us remember to carry this over with us to our final study of the Suffering Servant as the expiation for sin.
In the meantime, we have to conclude the Servant’s appearance as Martyr in chapter 1. He has accepted his martyrdom; but he feels it is not the end with him. God will bring him through, and vindicate him in the eyes of the world, For the world, in their usual way, will say that because he gives them a new truth he must be wrong, and because he suffers he is surely guilty and cursed before God. But he will not let himself be confounded, for God is his help and advocate.
But My Lord Jehovah shall help me;
Therefore, I let not myself be rebuffed:
Therefore, I set my face like a flint,
And know that I shall not be shamed.
Near is my Justifier; who will dispute with
Let us stand up together!
Who is mine adversary?
Let him draw near me.
Lo! my Lord Jehovah shall help me;
Who is he that condemns me?
Lo! like a garment all of them rot,
The moth doth devour them.
These lines, in which the Holy Servant, the Martyr of the Word, defies the world and asserts that God shall vindicate his innocence, are taken by Paul and used to assert the justification, which every believer enjoys through faith in the sufferings of Him who was indeed the Holy Servant of God.
The last two verses of chapter 50 (Isaiah 50:10-11) are somewhat difficult. The first of them still speaks of the Servant, and distinguishes him-a distinction we must note and emphasise-from the God-fearing in Israel.
Who is among you that feareth Jehovah,
That hearkens the voice of His Servant,
That walks in dark places,
And light he has none?
Let him trust in the name of Jehovah,
And lean on his God.
That is, every pious believer in Israel is to take the Servant for an example; for the Servant in distress "leans upon his God." And so Paul’s application of the Servant’s words to the individual believer is a correct one. But if our prophet is able to think of the Servant as an example to the individual Israelite, that surely is a thought not very far from the conception of the Servant himself as an individual.
If Isaiah 50:10 is addressed to the pious in Israel, Isaiah 50:11 would seem to turn with a last word-as the last words of the discourses in Second Isaiah so often turn-to the wicked in Israel.
Lo! all you, players with fire,
That gird you with firebrands!
Walk in the light of your fire,
In the firebrands ye kindled.
This from my hand shall be yours;
Ye shall lie down in sorrow.
It is very difficult to know who are meant by this warning. An old and almost forgotten interpretation is that the prophet meant those exiles who played with the fires of political revolution, instead of abiding the deliverance of the Lord. But there is now current among exegetes the more general interpretation that these incendiaries are the revilers and abusers of the Servant within Israel: for so the Psalms speak of the slingers of burning words at the righteous. We must notice, however, that the metaphor stands over against those in Israel who "walk in dark places and have no light." In contrast to that kind of life, this may be the kind that coruscates with vanity, flashes with pride, or burns and scorches with its evil passions. We have a similar name for such a life. We call it a display of fireworks. The prophet tells them, who depend on nothing but their own false fires, how transient these are, how quickly quenched.
But is it not weird, that on our prophet’s stage, however brilliantly its centre shines with figures of heroes and deeds of salvation, there should always be this dark, lurid background of evil and accursed men?
DOUBTS IN THE WAY
Isaiah 49:1-26 - Isaiah 52:12
CHAPTERS 49-53 are, as we have seen, a series of more or less closely joined passages, in which the prophet, having already made the political redemption of Israel certain through Cyrus, and having dismissed Cyrus from his thoughts, addresses himself to various difficulties in the way of restoration, chiefly moral and spiritual, and rising from Israel’s own feelings and character; exhorts the people in face of them by Jehovah’s faithfulness and power; but finds the chief solution of them in the Servant and his prophetic and expiatory work. We have already studied such of these passages as present the Servant to us, and we now take up those others, which meet the doubts and difficulties in the way of restoration by means of general considerations drawn from God’s character and power. Let it be noticed that, with one exception, [Isaiah 50:11] these passages are meant for earnest and pious minds in Israel, -for those Israelites, whose desires are towards Zion, but chill and heavy with doubts.
The form and the terms of these passages are in harmony with their purpose. They are a series of short, high-pitched exhortations, apostrophes and lyrics. One, Isaiah 52:9-12, calls upon the arm of Jehovah, but all the rest address Zion, -that is, the ideal people in the person of their mother, with whom they ever so fondly identified themselves; or "Zion’s children"; or "them that follow righteousness," or ye "that know righteousness"; or "my people, my nation"; or again Zion herself. This personification of the people under the name of their city, and under the aspect of a woman, whose children are the individual members of the people, will be before us till the end of our prophecy. It is, of course, a personification of Israel, which is complementary to Israel’s other personification under the name of the Servant. The Servant is Israel active, comforting, serving his own members and the nations; Zion, the Mother-City, is Israel passive, to be comforted, to be served by her own sons and by the kings of the peoples.
We may divide the passages into two groups. First, the songs of return, which rise out of the picture of the Servant and his redemption of the people in Isaiah 49:9 b, with the long promise and exhortation to Zion and her children, that lasts till the second picture of the Servant in Isaiah 52:4; and second, the short pieces which lie between the second picture of the Servant and the third, or from the beginning of champ, 51 to Isaiah 52:12.
In Isaiah 49:9 b God’s promise of the return of the redeemed proceeds naturally from that of their ransom by the Servant. It is hailed by a song in Isaiah 49:13, and the rest of the section is the answer to three doubts, which, like sobs, interrupt the music. But the prophecy, stooping, as it were, to kiss the trembling lips through which these doubts break, immediately resumes its high flight of comfort and promise. Two of these doubts are: Isaiah 49:14, "But Zion hath said, Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me"; and Isaiah 49:24, "Shall the prey be taken from the mighty or the captives of the terrible be delivered?" The third is implied in Isaiah 50:1.
The promise of return is as follows: "On roads shall they feed, and on all bare heights shall be their pasture. They shall not hunger nor thirst, nor shall the mirage nor the sun smite them: for He that yearneth over them shall lead them, even by springs of water shall He guide them. And I will set all My mountains for a way, and My high ways shall be exalted. Lo, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the North and from the West, and these from the land of Sinim. Sing forth, O heavens; and be glad, O earth; let the mountains break forth into singing: for Jehovah hath comforted His people, and over His afflicted He yearneth."
Now, do not let us imagine that this is the promise of a merely material miracle. It is the greater glory of a purely spiritual one, as the prophet indicates in describing its cause in the words, "because He that yearneth over them shall lead them." The desert is not to abate its immemorial rigours; in itself the way shall still be as hard as when the discredited and heartbroken exiles were driven down it from home to servitude. But their hearts are now changed, and that shall change the road. The new faith, which has made the difference, is a very simple one, that God is Power. and that God is Love. Notice the possessive pronouns used by God, and mark what they put into His possession: two kinds of things, -powerful things, "I will make all My mountains a way"; and sorrowful things, "Jehovah hath comforted His people, and will have compassion on His afflicted." If we will steadfastly believe that everything in the world which is in pain, and everything which has power, is God’s, and shall be used by Him, the one for the sake of the other, this shall surely change the way to our feet, and all the world around to our eyes.
1. Only it is so impossible to believe it when one looks at real fact; and however far and swiftly faith and hope may carry us for a time, we always come to ground again and face to face with fact. The prophet’s imagination speeding along that green and lifted highway of the Lord lights suddenly upon the end of it, -the still dismantled and desolate city. Fifty years Zion’s altar fires have been cold and her walls in ruin. Fifty years she has been bereaved of her children and left alone. The prophet hears the winds blow mournfully through her fact’s chill answer to faith. "But Zion said, Forsaken me hath Jehovah, and my Lord hath forgotten me!" Now let us remember that our prophet has Zion before him in the figure of a mother, and we shall feel the force of God’s reply. It is to a mother’s heart God appeals. "Doth a woman forget her sucking child so as not to yearn over the son of her womb? yea, such may forget, but I will not forget thee," desolate mother that thou art! Thy life is not what thou art in outward show and feeling, but what thou art in My love and in My sight. "Lo, upon both palms have I graven thee; thy walls are before Me continually." The custom, which to some extent prevails in all nations, of puncturing or tattooing upon the skin a dear name one wishes to keep in mind, is followed in the East chiefly for religious purposes, and men engrave the name of God or some holy text upon the hand or arm for a memorial or as a mark of consecration. It is this fashion which God attributes to Himself. Having measured His love by the love of a mother, He gives this second human pledge for His memory and devotion. But again He exceeds the human habit; for it is not only the name of Zion which is engraved on His hands, but her picture. And it is not her picture, as she lies in her present ruin and solitariness, but: her restored and perfect state: "thy walls are continually before Me." For this is faith’s answer to all the ruin and haggard contradiction of outward fact. Reality is not what we see: reality is what God sees. What a thing is in His sight and to His purpose, that it really is, and that it shall ultimately appear to men’s eyes. To make us believe this is the greatest service the Divine can do for the human. It was the service Christ was always doing, and nothing showed His divinity more. He took us men and He called us, unworthy as we were, His brethren, the sons of God. He took such a one as Simon, shifting and unstable, a quicksand of a man, and He said, "On this rock I will build My Church." A man’s reality is not what he is in his own feelings, or what he is to the world’s eyes; but what he is to God’s love, to God’s yearning, and in God’s plan. If he believe that, so in the end shall he feel it, so in the end shall: he show it to the eyes of the world.
2. Upon those great thoughts, that God’s are all strong things and all weak things, and that the real and the certain in life are His will, the prophecy breaks into a vision of multitudes in motion. There are a great stirring and hastening, crowds gather up through the verses, the land is lifted and thronged. "Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all of them gather together, they come unto thee. As I live, saith Jehovah, thou shalt surely clothe thyself with them all as with an ornament, and gird thyself with them, like a bride. For as for thy waste places and thy desolate ones and thy devastated land-yea, thou wilt now be too strait for the inhabitants, and far off shall be they that devour thee. Again shall they speak in thine ears, -the children of thy bereavement" (that is, those children who have been born away from Zion during her solitude), "Too strait for me is the place, make me room that I may dwell. And thou shalt say in thine heart, Who hath borne me these,"-not begotten, as our English version renders, because the question with Zion was not who was the father of the children, but who, in her own barrenness, could possibly be the mother, -"Who hath borne me these, seeing I was" first "bereft of my children, and" since then have been "barren, an exile and a castaway! And these, who hath brought them up! Lo, I was left by myself. These, -whence are they!" Our English version, which has blundered in the preceding verses, requires no correction in the following; and the first great Doubt in the Way being now answered, for "they that wait on the Lord shall not be ashamed," we pass to the second, in Isaiah 49:24.
2. "Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of the tyrant be delivered?" Even though God be full of love and thought for Zion, will these tyrants give up her children? "Yea, thus saith Jehovah, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be delivered; and with him that quarreleth with thee will I quarrel, and thy children will I save. And I will make thine oppressors to eat their own flesh, and as with new wine with their blood shall they be drunken, that all flesh may know that I am Jehovah thy Saviour, and thy Redeemer the Mighty One of Jacob."
3. But now a third Doubt in the Way seems to have risen. Unlike the two others, it is not directly stated, but we may gather its substance from the reply which Jehovah makes to it. [Isaiah 50:1] "Thus saith Jehovah, What is this bill of divorce of your mother whom I have sent away, or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you?" The form, in which this challenge is put, assumes that the Israelites themselves had been thinking of Jehovah’s dismissal of Israel as an irrevocable divorce and a bankrupt sale into slavery.
"What now is this letter of divorce, -this that you are saying I have given your mother?
You say that I have sold you as a bankrupt father sells his children, -to which then of my creditors is it that I have sold you?"
The most characteristic effect of sin is that fit is always reminding men of law. Whether the moral habit of it be upon them or they are entangled in its material consequences, sin breeds in men the conscience of inexorable, irrevocable law. Its effect is not only practical, but intellectual. Sin not only robs a man of the freedom of his own will, but it takes from him the power to think of freedom in others, and it does not stop till it paralyses his belief in the freedom of God. He, who knows himself as the creature of unchangeable habits or as the victim of pitiless laws, cannot help imputing his own experience to what is beyond him, till all life seems strictly law bound, the idea of a free agent anywhere an impossibility, and God but a part of the necessity which rules the universe.
Two kinds of generations of men have most tended to be necessitarian in their philosophy, the generations which have given themselves over to do evil, and the generations whose political experience or whose science has impressed them with the inevitable physical results of sin. If belief in a Divine Redeemer, able to deliver man’s nature from the guilt and the curse of sin, is growing weak among us to-day, this is largely due to the fact that our moral and our physical sciences have been proving to us what creatures of law we are, and disclosing, especially in the study of disease and insanity, how inevitably suffering follows sin. God Himself has been so much revealed to us as law, that as a generation we find it hard to believe that He ever acts in any fashion that resembles the reversal of a law, or ever works any swift, sudden deed of salvation.
Now the generation of the Exile was a generation, to whom God had revealed Himself as law. They were a generation of convicts. They had owned the justice of the sentence which had banished and enslaved them; they had experienced how inexorably God’s processes of judgment sweep down the ages; for fifty years they had been feeling the inevitable consequences of sin. The conscience of Law, which this experience was bound to create in them, grew ever more strong, till at last it absorbed even the hope of redemption, and the God who enforced the Law Himself seemed to be forced by it. To express this sense of law these earnest Israelites-for though in error they were in earnest-went to the only kind of law with which they were familiar, and borrowed from it two of its forms, which were not only suggested to them by the relations in which the nation and the nation’s sons respectively stood to Jehovah, as wife and as children, but admirably illustrated the ideas they wished to express. There was, first, the form of divorce, so expressive of the ideas of absoluteness, deliberateness, and finality; -of absoluteness, for throughout the East power of divorce rests entirely with the husband; of deliberateness, for in order to prevent hasty divorce the Hebrew law insisted that the husband must make a bill or writing of divorce instead of only speaking dismissal; and of finality, for such a writing, in contrast to the spoken dismissal, set the divorce beyond recall. The other form, which the doubters-borrowed from their law, was one which, while it also illustrated the irrevocableness of the act, emphasised the helplessness of the agent, -the act of the father, who put his children away, not as the husband put his wife in his anger, but in his necessity, selling them to pay his debts and because he was bankrupt.
On such doubts God turns with their own language. "I have indeed put your mother away, but ‘where is the bill’ that makes her divorce final, beyond recall? You indeed were sold, but was it because I was bankrupt? ‘To which,’ then, ‘of My creditors (not the scorn of the plural) was it that I sold you? Nay, by means of your iniquities did you sell yourselves, and by means of your transgressions were you put away.’ But I stand here ready as ever to save, I alone. If there is any difficulty about your restoration it lies in this, that I am alone, with no response or assistance from men. ‘Why when I came was there no man? when I called was there none to answer? Is My hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem? or is there in it no power to deliver?"’ And so we come back to the truth, which this prophecy so often presents to us, that behind all things there is a personal initiative and urgency of infinite power, which moves freely of its own compassion and force, which is hindered by no laws from its own ends, and needs no man’s co-operation to effect its purposes. The rest of the Lord’s answer to His people’s fear, that He is bound by an inexorable law, is simply an appeal to His wealth of force. This omnipotence of God is our prophet’s constant solution for the problems which arise, and he expresses it here in his favourite figures of physical changes and convulsions of nature. "Lo, with My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and sackcloth I set for their covering." The argument seems to be: if God can work those sudden revolutions in the physical world, those apparent interruptions of law in that sphere, surely you can believe Him capable of creating sudden revolutions also in the sphere of history, and reversing those laws and processes, which you feel to be unalterable. It is an argument from the physical to the moral world, in our prophet’s own analogical style, and like those we found in chapter 40.
Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-12
Passing over the passage on the Servant, Isaiah 50:4-11, we reach a second series of exhortations in face of Doubts in the Way of the Return. The first of this new series is Isaiah 51:1-3.
Their doubts having been answered with regard to God’s mindfulness of them and His power to save them, the loyal Israelites fall back to doubt themselves. They see with dismay how few are ready to achieve the freedom that God has assured, and upon how small and insignificant a group of individuals the future of the nation depends. But their disappointment is not made by them an excuse to desert the purpose of Jehovah: their fewness makes them the more faithful, and the defection of their countrymen drives them the closer to their God. Therefore, God speaks to them kindly, and answers their last sad doubt. "Hearken unto Me, ye that follow righteousness, that seek Jehovah." "Righteousness" here might be taken in its inward sense of conformity to law, personal rightness of character; and so taken it would well fall in with the rest of the passage. Those addressed would then be such in Israel, as in face of hopeless prospects applied themselves to virtue and religion. But "righteousness" here is more probably used in the outward sense, which we have found prevalent in "Second Isaiah," of vindication and victory; the "coming right" of God’s people and God’s cause in the world, their justification and triumph in history. They who are addressed will then be they who, in spite of their fewness, believe in this triumph, "follow it," make-it their goal and their aim, and "seek Jehovah," knowing that He can bring it to pass. And because, in spite of their doubts, they are still earnest, and though faint are yet pursuing, God speaks to comfort them about their fewness. Their present state may be very small and unpromising, but let them look back upon the much more unpromising character of their origin: "look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and the hole of the pit whence ye were digged." Today you may be a mere handful, ridiculous in the light of the destiny you were called to achieve, but remember you were once but one man: "look unto Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bare you: for as one I called him and blessed him, that I might make of him many."
When we are weary and hopeless it is best to sit down and remember. Is the future dark: let us look back and see the gathering and impetus of the past! We can follow the luminous track, the unmistakable increase and progress, but the most inspiring sight of all is what God makes of the individual heart; how a man’s heart is always His beginning, the fountain of the future, the origin of nations. Lift up your hearts, ye few and feeble; your father was but one when I called him, and I made him many!
Having thus assured His loyal remnant of the restoration of Zion, in spite of their fewness, Jehovah in the next few verses (Isaiah 51:4-8) extends the prospect of His glory to the world: "Revelation shall go forth from Me, and I will make My law to light on the nations." Revelation and Law between them summarise His will. As He identified them both with the Servant’s work, [Isaiah 40:11] so here He tells the loyal in Israel, who were in one aspect His Servant, that they shall surely come to pass; and in the next little oracle, Isaiah 51:7-8, He exhorts them to do that in which the Servant has been set forth as an example: "fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be dismayed at their revilings. For like a garment the moth shall eat them up, and like wool shall the worm devour them." It is a response in almost the same words to the Servant’s profession of confidence in God in Isaiah 50:7-9. By some it is used as an argument to show that the Servant and the godly remnant are to our prophet still virtually one and the same; but we have already seen (Isaiah 50:10) the god-fearing addressed as distinct from the Servant, and can only understand here that they are once more exhorted to take him as their example. But if the likeness of the passage on the Servant to this passage on the suffering Remnant does not prove that Remnant and Servant are the same, it is certainly an indication that both passages, so far from being pieced together out of different poems, are most probably due to the same author and were produced originally in the same current of thought.
When all Doubts in the Way have now been removed, what can remain but a great impatience to achieve’ at once the near salvation? To this impatience the loosened hearts give voice in Isaiah 51:9-11 : "Awake, awake, put on strength, Arm of Jehovah; awake as in the days of old, ages far past!" Not in vain have Israel been called to look back to the rock whence they were hewn and the hole of the pit whence they were digged. Looking back, they see the ancient deliverance manifest: "Art thou not it that hewed Rahab in pieces, that pierced the Dragon! Art thou not it that dried up the sea, waters of the great flood; that did set the hollows of the sea a way for the passage of the redeemed." Then there breaks forth the march of the Return, which we heard already in the end of chapter 35, (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 to His people’s impatience Jehovah responds in Isaiah 51:9-16 in strains similar to those of chapter 40. The last verse of this reply is notable for the enormous extension which it gives to the purpose of Jehovah in endowing Israel as His prophet, -an extension to no less than the renewal of the universe, -"in order to plant the heavens and found the earth"; though the reply emphatically concludes with the restoration of Israel, as if this were the cardinal moment in the universal regeneration, -"and to say to Zion, My people art thou." The close conjunction; into which this verse brings words already applied to Israel as the Servant and words which describe Israel as Zion, is another of the many proofs we are discovering of the impossibility of breaking up "Second Isaiah" into poems, the respective subjects of which are one or other of these two personifications of the nation.
But the desire of the prophet speeds on before the returning exiles to the still prostrate and desolate city. He sees her as she fell, the day the Lord made her drunken with the cup of His wrath. With urgent passion he bids her awake, seeking to rouse her now by the horrid tale of her ruin, and now by his exultation in the vengeance the Lord is preparing for His enemies. [Isaiah 51:17-23] In a second strophe he addresses her in conscious contrast to his taunt-song against Babel. Babel was to sit throneless and stripped of her splendour in the dust; but Zion is to shake off the dust, rise, sit on her throne and assume her majesty. For God hath redeemed His people. He could not tolerate longer "the exulting of their tyrants, the blasphemy of His name". [Isaiah 52:6] All through these two strophes the strength of the passion, the intolerance of further captivity, the fierceness of the exultation of vengeance, are very remarkable.
But from the ruin of his city, which has so stirred and made turbulent his passion, the prophet lifts his hot eyes to the dear hills that encircle her; and peace takes the music from vengeance. Often has Jerusalem seen rising across that high margin the spears and banners of her destroyers. But now the lofty skyline is the lighting place of hope. Fit threshold for so Divine an arrival, it lifts against heaven, dilated and beautiful, the herald of the Lord’s peace, the publisher of salvation.
"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation!
Hark thy watchmen! they lift up the voice, together they break into singing; yea, eye to eye do they see when Jehovah returneth to Zion."
The last verse is a picture of the thronging of the city of the prophets by the prophets again-so close that they shall look each other in the face.
For this is the sense of the Hebrew "to see eye to eye," and not that meaning of reconciliation and agreement which the phrase has come to have in colloquial English. The Exile had scattered the prophets arm driven them into hiding. They had been only voices to one another, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel with the desert between the two of than, or like our own prophet, anonymous and unseen. But upon the old gathering-ground, the narrow but the free and open platform of Jerusalem’s public life, they should see each other face to face, they should again be named and known. "Break out, sing together, ye wastes of Jerusalem: for Jehovah has comforted His people, has redeemed Jerusalem. Bared has Jehovah His holy arm to the eyes of all the nations, and see shall all ends of the earth the salvation of our God."
Thus the prophet, after finishing his long argument and dispelling the doubts that still lingered at its close, returns to the first high notes and the first dear subject with which he opened in chapter 40. In face of so open a way, so unclouded a prospect, nothing remains but to repeat, and this time with greater strength than before, the call to leave Babylon:
Draw off, draw off, come forth from there, touch not the unclean;
Come forth from her midst; be ye clean that do bear the vessels of Jehovah.
Nay, neither with haste shall ye forth, nor in flight shall ye go,
For Jehovah goeth before thee, and Israel’s God is thy rearward.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 49". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany