The Servant Songs of Isaiah- Part 2
Adam Thropay, California [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The third song, in Isaiah chapter 50, opens with, ‘Thus saith Jehovah’, and divides easily into sections by Jehovah the Father, vv. 1-3, Jehovah the Son, vv. 4-9, and Jehovah the Spirit, vv. 10-11. As in many other Biblical passages, the thought-rhyming pattern used is concentric symmetry,1 where the theme is found in the centre of the poem, and is surrounded by statements that parallel each other before and after it in order. The theme of this song is the triumphant statement by the Son, ‘The Lord God will help me’.
The Servant is seen as the provider of salvation to His people who reject Him. Much is revealed about the ‘hidden years’ of the Lord Jesus in this song. God manifests Himself as the Creator who came and found no one ready to receive Him, Israel’s Instructor or Teacher. Considered untaught by the world’s standards – having no formal schooling – yet He was able to teach the most learned scholars when only twelve years of age, Luke 2. 42-47. Later, in wondering amazement some asked, ‘How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?’ John 7. 15.
They did not know the secret of His personal tutoring and preparation, but it is disclosed right here in this song. Each morning of His formative years He was awakened to be instructed by His Father, v. 4. How would His purpose on earth be played out – what would it all involve? He shares a few details with us:
The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned (limood), Isa. 50. 4: one taught or trained by discipline.
that I should know (yahdah, with infinitive): to know absolutely and certainly; to be wise. The word includes the idea of knowing by seeing, hearing, and experience. He learned the facts and had wisdom to express them. This is indicated by the next word.
how (ake): how, where, or what
to speak a word in season (ayth): a fit time
to him that is weary (yawef): exhausted, fatigued; wearied out from running, severe labour, or thirst, cp. Matt. 11. 28. Perfectly appropriate words always came from the perfect Servant at the perfect time.
‘The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious (marah – bitter), neither turned away back (suwg)’, v. 5. This revelation of coming extreme torture did not cause Him to be bitter, or deterred from His course. Rather than recoil or shy away from what He must experience, He would deliberately give His back for scourging and place His face where it could easily be abused. ‘I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting’, v. 6. The soldiers contemptuously thought that He did not know what He was doing, when, blindfolded, He continued to place His face where they could easily strike Him.2
As the Servant anticipated the horrible treatment that He would receive, His confidence was stated in the theme words, ‘The Lord God will help me’. The word help (azar) means ‘to protect and help (by surrounding)’, and brings to mind the Psalmist’s promise, ‘The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them’, Ps. 34. 7. But wait – wasn’t God going to forsake His Servant on the cross? How then could He confidently assert, ‘The Lord God will help me’, in the context of the crucifixion? This did not look like deliverance!
The same question was scornfully alluded to by those surrounding the cross. Matthew chapter 27 verse 43, ‘He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God’. Psalm 22 verses 7 and 8, ‘All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: Let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him’. The enemies were convinced that His trusting in God was a vain hope. There He was, nailed to a cross to die in unspeakable torture. But their arrogant contempt did not have the desired effect upon God’s Servant. His confidence in His God was unchanged, regardless of outward appearances, and circumstances. Knowing God’s promises about Himself, He was steadfast in faith, evidenced by His words in verses 7 to 9:
I shall not be confounded (kalawm): This word means: (1) to be inwardly wounded or overcome by taunts or insults; to be inwardly ashamed; (2) confusion, and consciousness of disgrace, which follows disappointment of one’s opinion, hope, or expectation. All the taunts and insults neither affected Him emotionally nor caused Him to be confused in any way. Quite the opposite! His calm words to the repentant thief revealed that He knew the actuality in this situation that others could not see. Thanks to His selfless sacrifice, the thief would be with Him in paradise, in a matter of minutes or hours. What a triumph!
Therefore have I set my face as a flint (kacallamish): a very hard rock. In holy endurance, and uncrushable, like a hard rock, He turned His face towards His antagonists without pulling back or flinching. And I know (knowledge gained from experience) that I shall not be ashamed: (hoosh) disappointed or ashamed. God had never let Him down before, nor would He now. This was His expectation.
He is near (karob): near in place, and/or near in kindred – namely, His Father.
that justifieth (tsadak): to make morally or legally right, to vindicate.
me; who will contend (roob): to strive, quarrel, hold a controversy.
with me? Despite all appearances to the contrary, the Servant maintains that He will be vindicated, and that the One who will vindicate Him is very near. Any who contend with Him will be proven wrong!
Challenging any adversary to stand with Him in God’s court, the Servant expresses His confidence that God will judge in His favour and against His enemies. They will all waste away like an old, moth-eaten garment.
Who is he that shall condemn me? The condemnation of men did not matter to the Servant. He was interested only in God’s assessment. It is interesting that the apostle Paul quoted these words in Romans chapter 8, verses 33 and 34, with regard to all believers. ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us’. God intends that we should have this same confidence in Him that His Servant had. Any barrier to that confidence has been done away by the blood of Christ, and the justice of God. In Christ we, too, are vindicated. We can rejoice that we are made free from the condemnation we deserved.
The Holy Spirit of God now addresses two classes of people in verses 10 and 11.
In verse 10, it is those who fear the Lord – reverencing, respecting, and recognizing His greatness and their own weakness – and who obey His Servant’s voice. True obedience flows freely from the heart of one who is awed in the presence of God, ‘and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil’, Prov. 16. 6.
This one who fears God may be ‘walking in darkness’ chashekhah – metaphorically applied to all types of sorrow and adversity. He may be in a time of testing, when circumstances are like a heavy burden, with neither an apparent reason for the trial, nor an obvious solution to it. He feels totally helpless, without rest, and without even a ray of light. The situation seems hopeless. Notice that this is the very position of the Servant! We are exhorted to do what He did.
Let him trust (batak): to hurry for refuge; to put hope and confidence in. The hopeless one without light gets hope.
in the name of the Lord: The name stands for the Person. It represents the sum of all the characteristic qualities attached to the bearer of the name. To trust in the name of the Lord is to trust him completely, bearing in mind those things which make Him trustworthy.
and stay (lean, rest, rely) upon his God: The helpless one finds rest!
By contrast, in verse 11 the Holy Spirit warns those whose confidence is in themselves. Instead of trusting in God, they draw their own conclusions, and try to solve their own problems. How? By attack! They kindle a fire of wickedness, as described in James chapter 3 verses 5-6 regarding the tongue being ‘set on fire of hell’, and surround themselves with sparks (burning arrows) – a term used figuratively of blasphemies and falsehoods against the Servant or His followers. These are not occasional attacks, but the mood used in these verbs indicates intenseness and repetition. They constantly rekindle the flame to injure the attacked ones.
Suddenly, God reverses their position back upon themselves. The fire they have ignited for others will reflect upon them, and the burning arrows will turn around to pierce and burn them. ‘Ye shall lie down in sorrow’. Instead of the rest they seek, they experience anguish and misery. The fire of evil which they have kindled becomes the fire of divine punishment, and their bed of torment.
This Song of the Submissive Servant is the only one of the four songs that ends with a solemn warning, addressed to those who actively oppose the Servant and His followers.
- Concentric symmetry is a form of reverse symmetry. For the various types of Hebrew symmetry, see Walsh, Jerome T. Ph.D., Style and Structure in Biblical Hebrew Narrative, Liturgical Press, 2001, pp. 13-31. Several forms of parallelism used in the Greek New Testament, including the chiasmus, are credited to Hebrew. See Moulton, James Hope, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. IV, T. T. Clarke, pp. 96-97; also Radday, Jehuda T., Chiasmus in Hebrew Biblical Narrative, Welch, pp. 61-62. Some scholars may take the view that this passage is inverse parallelism, i.e., the first section is repeated again later with a central section that is different.
- Matt. 26. 68; Luke 22. 64.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Fellowships with an assembly meeting in his office building where many mebers were reached with the gospel as patients in his busy chiropractic practice. An overseer and diligent Bible scholar, Adam is known for his expository teaching and writings.