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49Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. 2He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. 3And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 4But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” 5And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— 6he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
7Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
What I am Learning:
Isaiah is probably not just the name of a person, but of a prophetic movement among the People of Israel. The prophet’s job is to be a truth-teller, not to force people to listen when they don’t want to.
This passage is known as a Servant Song. It seems to be a song about a leader who will reunite the scattered people of Israel and restore them to the purpose God intended for them. Notice that this leader has a mouth “like a sharp sword.” This expression subverts violence and indicates that the Servant will use nonviolent means to acheive what God calls him to do.
What was this purpose? To be a blessing to all nations, as God promised to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12.
Now you can imagine Isaiah’s community is writing to the second or third generation of people enslaved in Babylon. They have a real greivance! They wanted to get back home. They wanted justice for those who had taken them from their home.
Isaiah’s community says that God will gather the People back to their homeland - their needs will be addressed. But the mission of the People needs to be clarified and expanded: This leader will not only bring them together again, but will lead his people to enact God’s mission of healing and creation to all the nations of the world.
This passage was one that first century Jews looked to to describe the job of the Messiah. Isaiah is by far the most quoted book in the Christian Scriptures in part because many Jews saw in a Isaiah a promise they themselves needed. They were experiencing an “exhile at home” (NT Wright) and longed for a messiah/king/priest to lead them to a new situation.
But this passage is not just about this Servant leader. The mission of the Servant Leader is to help the People of Israel to be who they are called to be: to be authentic to God’s call to them to be a blessing to all nations.
When the Christian community quotes Isaiah to describe Jesus, they were not just talking about what Jesus had to do, but in describing Jesus they were implying the mission and shape of his disciple community.
How often have we in the church thought that salvation was something possessed by us instead of somethign to be shared? How often have we in the church assumed that we are only passive recipients and not coworkers with Christ? How often have we longed for the growth of the church instead of the riegn of God? These things are too light. In Christ we are called to our deeper mission to take part in the reign of God and so to our own healing.