Second Servant Song–Scope and Sequence
Septuagint Isaiah 49:1-6 (see link) is popularly known as the Second Servant Song. (See previous post Isaiah Devotional 2.25 for important background information concerning the divine dialogue in this section). The passage briefly reports the scope and sequence of the Servant/Messiah’s future ministry and life. These six verses coordinate extremely well with Jesus the Christ’s incarnate ministry.
- called from [virgin] birth (v 1)
- preaching and teaching (v 2)
- God glorified through the Servant’s [miracles] (v 3)
- apparent failure [in arrest, trial, and crucifixion] (v 4)
- new hope [in resurrection] (v 5)
- Great Commission (v 6)
Is this hindsight? Of course it is. And yet, honesty must admit that the elements do match up. Before ascending from earth, Jesus gave his disciples and us his followers the key to unlock Old Testament prophecy: himself (Luke 24:25-27). If someone were to say, “Isaiah didn’t know this,” my reply would be, “But God did.” Further, which of us some 2500 years later can say with certainty what Isaiah, God’s chosen prophet, may or may not have known? Additionally, according to New Testament authors, Isaiah wrote for us as much as for his own people (1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Peter 1:10-12).
Verse 1: “Listen…attend…says the Lord…He has called my name”
1. THE LORD TRUSTS HIS SERVANT
In Septuagint Isaiah 49:1, the Lord trusts his Servant implicitly.
1 Listen to me, you islands; and attend, you Gentiles; after a long time it shall come to pass, says the Lord: from my mother’s womb he has called my name: 2 and he has made my mouth as a sharp sword, and he has hid me under the shadow of his hand; (LXE)
The Lord calls the islands and Gentiles to attention. He tells them a prophecy concerning what will happen “after a long time” is about to be spoken. And then the Servant speaks. The Lord says, “Listen to me,” but it is the Servant who then speaks. By this means, readers understand that the Lord gives his speaking authority to his Servant. Then, as the Servant announces future events as though already accomplished (prophetic past tense), he takes over the role of prophet which the Lord has held for the last several chapters. The Servant becomes the “received” (official, approved) prophet who speaks for the Lord concerning himself.
2. A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SEPTUAGINT AND MASORETIC TEXTS
In regard to the first point above, there exists a difference between the Septuagint (Greek) and Masoretic (Hebrew) texts. The Septuagint has already been quoted. Below is an English translation of the Masoretic.
Isaiah 49:1 Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. (ESV)
Readers will notice that the entire phrase found in the Septuagint, “after a long time it shall come to pass, says the Lord:” is not present in the Masoretic. This omission (or addition, as the case may be) changes the underlying meaning of the text significantly, as developed in point 1 above (1).
If a reader picks up her Masoretic Bible (most English translations) and begins reading Isaiah 49 as a stand-alone chapter, she might not notice an anomaly in the content. Recall that the original biblical texts contained neither paragraph markers, chapter numbers, nor verse numbers. The text flows in continuous lines. Throughout most of chapter 48, the Lord himself speaks. Isaiah 48:22 directly quotes the Lord: “says the Lord”. Then, in the Masoretic, without warning or announcement of any kind, a change of speaker occurs. It is almost as though an unannounced speaker usurps the text. Not only is this a change of speaker, it is an unusual change of speaker, as discovered in the content.
WHO IS THIS SPEAKER? At first glance, a reader might think the unannounced Masoretic speaker is Isaiah the prophet. Continuing to verse 3 however, that possibility would be eliminated, because Isaiah the prophet is nowhere called “Israel.” The Septuagint, on the other hand, also does not identify the speaker immediately in verse 1. However, by including the words, “says the Lord,” in verse 1, readers know that no one has usurped the text. The Lord is still present.
The Lord is the one who brings the crowd (the islands and Gentiles) to attentive order before handing the microphone (so to speak) to the second speaker. In other words, in the Septuagint, the second speaker speaks, as it were, with the permission and blessing of the Lord, who is still present. But in the Masoretic text, readers are caught off-guard, not yet understanding what just happened with a sudden, unannounced change of speaker.
Verses 1 and 6: The Great Commission
Isaiah 49:6 And he said to me, It is a great thing for you to be called my servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob, and to recover the dispersion of Israel: behold, I have given you for the covenant of a race, for a light of the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the end of the earth. (LXE)
Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)
THE CHURCH IS NOT A PARENTHESIS
Some biblical commentators whose eschatology (end-times worldview) is dispensational, refer to God’s calling of Gentile peoples to himself a “parenthesis.” This parenthesis, they say, became necessary when Israel rejected (crucified) their Messiah, their King. They call Pentecost and the missionary activity that began in Matthew 28 with Jesus’s Great Commission the beginning of the “church age.” This church age, they say, was not part of God’s original plan, but is a parenthesis in God’s dealing with Israel, his chosen, ethnic people (2).
The book of Isaiah from its early chapters brings the lie to the fiction that the church is a kind of Plan B, a parenthesis, in God’s will for humankind. God always joyfully planned that Messiah’s salvation would extend to Gentiles.
Isaiah 2:2 For in the last days the mountain of the Lord shall be glorious, and the house of God shall be on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall come to it. 3 And many nations shall go and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will tell us his way, and we will walk in it: for out of Sion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord out of Jerusalem. (LXE)
Isaiah 11:10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall arise to rule over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust, and his rest shall be glorious. (LXE)
Isaiah 42:4 He shall shine out, and shall not be discouraged, until he have set judgment on the earth: and in his name shall the Gentiles trust… 6 I the Lord God have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will strengthen you: and I have given you for the covenant of a race, for a light of the Gentiles: (LXE)
There is a false view that says God blesses according to ethnicity. In this view, God is a kind of Santa Claus who chose a special, ethnic people so that he could bless them no matter what. Scripture, however, teaches that God elected Israel to be his servant. By serving God and obeying him, they would be a beacon, a light, a trumpet to the whole world. The purpose of Israel as a servant was to show the nations the blessings that would accrue to a people who obeyed the will of the Lord. That way, all humanity would choose to imitate Israel and receive God’s blessing.
Genesis 22:18 “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (ESV)
Likewise, the gift of the Law to Israel was intended for good (Psalm 19:7-11). Gentiles would observe a godly Israel and turn to their God who blessed them. God has always been a God of mission. According to God’s missionary will, Gentiles were part of God’s plan from the very beginning. As Paul points out, Abraham, before his call, was a Gentile (uncircumcised) (Romans 4:9-17).
When Israel as a people group, a nation, failed God’s mission for them, God sent his greater Servant, Messiah, to become Israel.
Isaiah 49:3 And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” (ESV)
Just as Paul taught in the Romans 4 passage cited above, Jesus also taught the Samaritan woman at the well.
John 4:19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (ESV)
When Jesus taught this way, was he teaching Plan B? Was he inviting the Samaritan woman to partake in a parenthesis? No, but rather God planned righteousness by faith from the beginning. Salvation would always come through the obedience of faith in God. Later, this salvation would come through faithful loyalty to his righteous, singular Servant, Israel.
Messiah-Servant-Israel was God’s plan for all people from the beginning. Septuagint Isaiah 49:1, 6, and 8 establish this. Isaiah writes with joy in the Servant, “Rejoice, you heavens; and let the earth be glad: let the mountains break forth with joy; for the Lord has had mercy on his people, and has comforted the lowly ones of his people.” And God’s plan, according to Isaiah, was always that his Servant “should be for salvation to the end of the earth.” Hallelujia!
1 The oldest extant Septuagint texts predate the oldest Masoretic texts by roughly one thousand years. At that early time of history when translators created the Greek text, scholars think it likely that more than one Hebrew textual tradition existed. Or, it is possible that post-Christ, Hebrew rabbis edited their Hebrew text for reasons of their own. After Augustine, western church fathers came to prefer the Hebrew text and began using it more regularly than the Septuagint. The New Testament authors and earliest church fathers used the Septuagint. See Psalm 28: Why the Septuagint? Part 1-Background – justonesmallvoice.com and Psalm 28: Why the Septuagint? Part 2-Specifics and an Exhortation – justonesmallvoice.com by Christina M Wilson.
2 The reader is free to Google the term “church age a parenthesis” to find these sources. She may also Google “church not a parenthesis” to read exegesis from the other side.