By Christina M Wilson. Previously published at https://justonesmallvoice.com/fourth-servant-song-content-isaiah-devotional-2-47/.
Isaiah Journal 2.47 will discuss some of the features of Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song.
Introduction–Isaiah 52:13-15 LXE
Never has any mouth spoken a more concise synopsis of human history:
Behold, my servant shall understand, and be exalted, and glorified exceedingly. (Isaiah 52:13 LXE)
1. God’s Servant (Messiah) sums up in his person the purpose and totality of humanity. Of all people on earth at any time or place, God’s Servant alone understands. He understands all that God is and is about. He understands everything about the human heart.
2. God’s Servant shall be exalted, both physically (on the cross) and positionally. He will be King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15).
3. God’s Servant is for the whole world. Kings represent as head their own nation or people groups. The kings of “many nations” (without limit) will have nothing more to add to him, to command concerning him, or to deny him. They will be silent before him.
4. The last two clauses of verse 13 state, “… they to whom no report was brought concerning Him shall see; and they who did not hear shall understand” (SAAS) (1). These statements and the entire verse open the Servant’s ministry to all humanity, to the whole world, to those who are not of Israeli descent (see the Apostle Paul’s understanding in Romans 15:21).
5. Even though the text of these three verses does not specifically mention the children of Israel, Israel’s God speaks. The Servant is the God of Israel’s Servant. Therefore, through their relationship with God, and by extension his Servant, this Scripture includes the people of Israel.
Readers should always remember that none of the original texts contain chapter numbers, verse numbers, section titles, or paragraph spaces. Editors have added these for ease of reading and discussion. Content determines unit boundaries. The Fourth Servant Song begins with Isaiah 52:13 and continues through Isaiah 53:12. Verse 13 introduces the Servant with the words, “Behold, My Servant…” (SAAS). The remainder of the passage describes the Servant and his actions.
Isaiah 53:1 LXE, therefore, falls within the passage, but not at its beginning. It does introduce, however, a change of speaker. Such transitions contribute to the organizational structure of Old Testament texts, such as this prophecy and psalms. So, who speaks the first verse of chapter 53?
- God spoke the first sentences of the opening of the song (Isaiah 52:13) . Readers know that God speaks the words, “My Servant,” because Isaiah has already established this through prior passages that form the “My Servant” context. (See, for example Isaiah 49:1-6 LXE and the prior post Isaiah Devotional 2.25.)
- Readers can also reasonably conclude that God speaks verse 14, as well. There God addresses his Servant directly using the words “you” and “your” (Isaiah 52:14 LXE).
- The following verse, verse 15, uses only third person (him). It may be either God or Isaiah the prophet speaking.
- After this, Isaiah 53:1 LXE switches immediately to first person plural. The Septuagint text states, “our report.” The Masoretic translations alternate between “what we just heard” (NET) and “our report” (NASB 2020). This indicates that Isaiah the prophet speaks for himself and the entire group of God’s people. He identifies himself with Israel, the people (Isaiah Devotional Journal 2.46, the section labeled “Confession”).
Most of the verbs of verses 53:1-8 occur in simple past or passive tenses with a few present tenses included. One could say that Isaiah uses prophetic past tense to indicate future occurrences. But Isaiah doesn’t always use the prophetic past tense. To the contrary, the word “shall” occurs in 49 per cent of Isaiah’s total of 1290 verses.
The point is that the prophet speaks these words as though he were present during the events of the Servant’s life. The text reads as though Isaiah himself participates as one of the actors in those events. He could have been one of the Servant’s disciples reporting the events as he or she saw them. Such is the strength of Isaiah’s identification with the people and the occurrences he describes. The immediacy of his writing style brings the reader along with him. The text allows readers to experience what Isaiah writes in their very own personal way. The narrative thus produces a very strong dramatic effect.
Content: Part One
In the opening words of Isaiah the participating prophet, he addresses the Lord directly. That is, he prays. His tone is one of amazement and wonder in the realm of pathos, or sadness. Just a few verses back (52:13) God presents his Servant as the most wonderful of all human beings ever. Then, when witnesses of the actual (though future) events report what they saw and heard concerning the mighty acts of the Lord (the “arm of the Lord”) through his Servant, no one believes. How can this be? How incredibly tragic this is.
O Lord, who has believed our report? and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1 LXE)
The Apostle John in his gospel quotes Isaiah 53:1 LXE exactly, word for word (both Isaiah and John are written in Greek). Paul in Romans also quotes the first sentence exactly. Of course, he also writes in Greek.
John 12:37 But though He had performed so many signs in their sight, they still were not believing in Him. 38 This happened so that the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke would be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (NASB 2020)
Romans 10:16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” (NASB 2020)
John quotes Isaiah as an historian would, to indicate that the people who saw the miracles Jesus performed fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. In doing so, he confirms both Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus’s identity as God’s Servant Messiah. Paul’s purpose differs somewhat. He writes apologetically in Romans 10. That is, he seeks to explain how and why God includes Gentile believers in his kingdom, while the people of Israel appear to be excluded. He gives the element of believing faith as the reason. The Gentiles believe, whereas the bulk of Israel does not.
Content: Part Two to be continued in next post
1 SAAS: “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy SeptuagintTM. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”