Click to donate today!
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Servant of God
Title of honor given to various persons or groups of persons; namely, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Deuteronomy 9:27; comp. Psalms 105:6,42), Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5; Joshua 1:1; 1 Chronicles 6:49; 2 Chronicles 24:9; Nehemiah 10:29; Daniel 9:11), Joshua (Joshua 24:29; Judges 2:8), David ( 18, , captions), the Prophets (Jeremiah 7:25, 25:4, and elsewhere), Isaiah (Isaiah 20:3), Job (Job 1:8, 2:3, 42:8), and even Nebuchadrezzar (Jeremiah 25:9, 27:6, 43:10). In the second part of Isaiah, in some passages of Jeremiah, and in Ezekiel the expression occurs with a special significance.
Semitic Use of "Servant."
That devoted worshipers of the Deity were commonly designated as God's servants is attested by the theophorous personal names frequent in all Semitic dialects, and in which one element is some form of the verb "'abad" () and the other the name of the god (comp. "'Abd Allah"; see Lidzbarski, "Handbuch der Nordsemitischen Epigraphik," pp. 332 et seq.). It is in this sense that Abraham, Moses, Job, and Joshua are designated as "the servants" of Yhwh. In the case of Nebuchadrezzar, the meaning is somewhat different. By the prophet the Babylonian king is considered as the instrument of God's plans. To explain why the title was conferred on him it is not necessary to speculate on the possibly monotheistic leanings of this monarch. Nebuchadrezzar in Daniel and Judith is the very prototype of Antiochus Epiphanes, the execrated enemy of God. Nor is the use of the epithet in this connection satisfactorily explained by the theory advanced by Duhm, that Nebuchadrezzar bore the title because during his reign Israel could not very well claim to be Yhwh's representative on earth. Unless "'Abdi" in the passages in Jeremiah given above is a scribal corruption—which most probably it is not—Nebuchadrezzar is so designated because he carries out, as would a slave who has no choice, the designs of Yhwh (comp. "Ashur shebeṭ appi," Isaiah 10:5).
Applied to Israel.
But the epithet represents the whole people or a section of Israel in the following passages: Ezekiel 28:25, 37:25; Jeremiah 30:10, 46:27; Isaiah 41:8; 42:19 et seq.; 43:10; 44:1 et seq., 21; 45:4; 48:20; it has ceased to be an "epitheton ornans" used to honor and distinguish an individual. This is patent from the use of "Jacob" as a synonymous designation (Ezekiel 28:25, 37:25; Jeremiah 30:10; Isaiah 44:1, 45:4, 48:20). Israel's destiny and duty, rather than its previous conduct, are indicated in this denomination. Israel is God's "chosen one," the equivalent of the expression "servant of Yhwh" used by these exilic prophets (Isaiah 43:20, 45:4; comp. ib. 65:9,15,22). "My chosen [ones]" = "My servants" (Sellin, "Studien zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Jüdischen Gemeinde," 1:81). Yhwh has "called" and "strengthened" Israel (Isaiah 41:9); therefore it is not abandoned and need not be afraid (ib. verse 10). Its enemies shall be confounded (ib. verses 11, 12). Yhwh has called Israel by its name (e., His "servant" or "son"): therefore it belongs to Him; for He has created it and formed it (ib. 43:1,2). Through flood and fire it may pass unscathed; for Yhwh is with it. He would exchange Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sheba (the richest countries) for Israel. God loves it: it is precious in His eyes (ib. verses 3 et seq.). Yhwh's spirit will be poured out on its seed, and His blessing on its shoots (ib. 44:3). Israel is, in fact, a witness unto Yhwh: as He is one, so Israel is the one unique chosen people (ib. 44:6,7,8, "'Am 'Olam"). As such a servant, predestined to be a light for the nations, Israel is called from the womb (ib. 49:1-6; but see below). It is for this that Israel will return from exile (Jeremiah 30:10), which was a disciplinary visitation (ib. verse 11). Israel, however, does not as yet recognize its own opportunity (Isa. 2). Though Israel has sinned God has not abandoned it (ib. 42:24), because He has not abdicated (ib. 42:8). It is for His own sake, not for Israel's, that God has chosen Israel (ib. 48:11). In another passage Israel is filled with doubts concerning this (ib. 63:15 et seq.; probably this is a non-Isaian chapter). At all events, as yet it is blind and deaf, although, inasmuch as it has eyes and ears, it should and might be both an observer and a hearer as behooves one that is "meshullam" and "'ebed Yhwh" (ib. 42:18-20; "meshullam" = "one that has completely given himself over," a synonym of "'ebed," as Mohammed's religion is Islam and he "'Abd Allah," 42:18-20). Hence the command "Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears" (ib. 43:8).
Special Usage in Isaiah.
There are, however, four passages in the Isaian compilation where perhaps the "national" interpretation is not admissible, namely, Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 4-9, 52:13-53:12. The descriptions in them of the attitude and conduct of the 'ebed Yhwh seem to be idealizations of the character of an individual rather than of the whole of Israel. Especially is this true of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the exaltation of the "man of suffering." In this a prophetic anticipatory picture of the MESSIAH has been recognized by both Jewish and Christian tradition. Modern critics read into it the portraits of Jeremiah (so Bunsen), Zerubbabel (Sellin, "Serubbabel," 1898, and Kittel, "Zur Theologie des Altentestaments," 2d ed.: "Jesaja und der Leidende Messias im A. T."), or Sheshbazar (Winckler, "Altorientalische Forschungen," 2:452-453). Rothstein (and Sellin at present) holds the description to be meant for Jehoiachin (Rothstein, "Die Genealogie des Jehojachin"); while Bertholet ("Zu Jesaja LIII."), dividing the chapters into two distinct "songs," regards the first (Isaiah 52:13-15, 53:11b-12) as a glorification of a teacher of the Torah; and the second (ib. 53:1-11a) as that of Eleazar (II Macc. 6:18-31). Duhm also is inclined to separate this description into two distinct "songs" (Duhm, "Das Buch Jesaia," 3d ed., 1902, pp. 355-367); but he declares it to be impossible to assign a definite person as the model. The "man of suffering" is, however, a teacher of the Torah. Even the period when these four 'ebed Yhwh songs were written is not determinable save in so far as they are post-exilic—perhaps as late as the days immediately preceding the Maccabean uprising.
It may be noted that these interpretations, according to which the picture is that of a definite individual, were anticipated among Jewish commentators of the Middle Ages. Saadia referred the whole section (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) to Jeremiah; and Ibn Ezra finds this view a probable one (see Neubauer and Driver, "The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters"). Kraetzschmar ("Der Leidende Gottesknecht"), among moderns, selects Ezekiel for the model on account of Ezekiel 4 Cheyne was at one time inclined to associate this 'ebed Yhwh with Job ("Jewish Religious Life," p. 162).
Present Conditions of Problem.
Ingenious as these various identifications are, of late years there has been in evidence a decided reversion to the theory that also Israel, or at least a part of the congregation, is idealized in these songs. Budde (in "American Journal of Theology," 1899, pp. 499-540) has successfully met the arguments of Duhm; and other scholars, e.g., Marti (see his commentary on Isaiah), Giesebrecht, and König, are now ranged on his side. This concession must be made: in the four songs, somewhat more strongly than in others where Israel is hailed the servant of Yhwh, stress is laid on missionary activity, both within and without Israel, on the part of the servant; furthermore various characteristics are dwelt on that are attributed in a certain group of the Psalms to the "pious." For this reason there is strong presumption that the "poor," the "'anawim" (meek) of the Psalms, are the Israel to which the epithet "'ebed Yhwh" and the portrayal of his qualifications refer. Budde reverts to the theory of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Ḳimḥi, that the confession in Isaiah 53 is uttered by the "nations" referred to in Isaiah 52:15, and that thus Israel is the martyr, with which view Wellhausen, Giesebrecht, Marti, and others agree. If the "remnant" (the "poor") be personified in the "servant," the "We" of the confession may refer to those of Israel that had rejected these "poor" and "meek"; if such an interpretation were to be accepted the exilic date of these idealized personifications would, of course, have to be abandoned. But these "poor" were just such quiet missionaries as are described in Isaiah 42:1-4. They suffered in the pursuit of their missionary labors (ib. 4) as well as at the hands of their own fellow Israelites (ib. , ).
- Commentaries on Isaiah; Schian, Die Ebed-Jahwe-Lieder in Jes. -66:1895;
- Laue, Die Ebed-Jahwe Lieder in II Theil des Jesaia, etc., 1898;
- Füllkrug, Der Gottesknecht des Deuterojesaia, 1899;
- Kraetzschmar, Der Leidende Gottesknecht, 1899;
- J. Ley, Die Bedeutung des Ebed-Jahwe im 2ten Theile des Propheten Jesaja, in Theologische Studien und Kritiken, 1899;
- Dalman, Jes. 53, etc., 2d ed., 1891;
- Kosters, in Theologisch Tijdschrift, pp. 591 et seq., Leyden, 1896;
- Cheyne, in Encyc. Bibl. 4:4398-4410, s. Servant of the Lord.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Servant of God'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/s/servant-of-god.html. 1901.