Second Servant Song: Outline of Jesus’s Ministry
Isaiah 49:1-6 is popularly called Isaiah’s Second Servant Song. As mentioned in the prior post Devotional 2.26, these verses capture Jesus’s future ministry as a human/divine being. In a teacher’s language, they present the Scope and Sequence of Jesus’s life.
- 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)
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: (LXE)
I. JESUS’S MINISTRY TO GENTILES
Jesus went first to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6; 15:24).
However, he also attended to Gentiles (Matthew 15:22-28; John 4:4-43). God’s intention always was that believers throughout the whole world would be saved. (See prior post for more on this topic: Devotional 2.26.)
John 12:31 ESV “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Matthew 28:19 ESV 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.”
Parables of God’s Displeasure with Israel
For the most part, Israel the nation consistently rejected their God. This resulted in exile for both the northern and southern kingdoms. Nor did Israel receive her King. Many parables that Jesus spoke indicated God’s response to this rejection.
- concerning a remnant only–Matthew 13:13-17
- tenants whose wickedness leads to their great loss–Matthew 21:33-43
- invited wedding guests who refuse to attend and ultimately get rejected–Luke 14:16-24
Luke 14:15 ESV When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”… 24 “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
Cursing the Fig Tree
Mark 11:13 ESV And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
Hosea 9:10 ESV Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved.
Nevertheless, a remnant will be saved. In this way, God fulfills all his promises to his chosen people.
II. CALLED FROM THE WOMB
That Jesus was born to the virgin Mary, as announced ahead of time by angels, is so well known that only passing mention will be given here.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Emmanuel. (LXE)
Matthew 1:20 ESV But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
and he has made my mouth as a sharp sword, and he has hid me under the shadow of his hand; he has made me as a choice shaft, and he has hid me in his quiver; (LXE)
I. MOUTH AS A SHARP SWORD
Jesus constantly impressed the people, the scribes, Pharisees, rabbis, and lawyers around him with the wisdom and often with the sharpness of his words. Truth pierces, and Jesus always spoke truth.
Luke 2:34 ESV And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Luke 2:46 ESV After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Matthew 22:46 ESV And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Revelation 1:16 ESV In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
II. HIDDEN BY GOD
God always hid his Son at critical moments. He did this in order to spare his life until the prophesied moment upon the cross.
Matthew 2:13 ESV Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
John 8:59 ESV So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
John 10:31 CEB Again the Jewish opposition picked up stones in order to stone him… 39 Again, they wanted to arrest him, but he escaped from them.
John 12:36 ESV While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.
and said to me, You are my servant, O Israel, and in you I will be glorified. (LXE)
I. YOU ARE MY SERVANT O ISRAEL
In terms of the much maligned “replacement theology,” it is not the church, per se, that “replaces” Israel. It is Christ himself who does so. God appointed him to this.
When the nation of Israel failed in God’s mission to them, God appointed his Son to be Israel, “He… said to me, ‘You are my servant, O Israel, and in you I will be glorified.‘” God directly calls the person with whom he is speaking, “Israel.” Only Jesus Christ hundreds of years later fulfills all the stated parameters of God’s Servant Israel.
God’s first and most important requirement of national Israel had always been the obedience of faith. In God’s statement to Isaac, Abraham’s son, everyone can see how closely God’s blessing is linked to obedience.
Genesis 26:4 ESV I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
In faithful obedience Israel the nation failed, but Israel God’s Servant in Isaiah 49:3–Christ, God’s Son–did faithfully obey. The Son became recipient of all the promises of God to Abraham. In Christ, the faithful remnant of ethnic Israel and all believers the world over receive the promises of God to Abraham. God spoke definitively on the subject when he allowed the Romans to destroy the temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D. “Israel,” with Christ as its head, had entered into the New Testament Covenant with God.
II. GOD GLORIFIED IN HIS SERVANT
- by his birth (Luke 2:13-14)
- by his words (John 8:53-55)
- by his many miracles (Matthew 15:31; Luke 5:25-25; 7:16)
- by his obedience (John 17:1, 4, 10, 22)
- by his identity (Matthew 17:5; John 17:5)
- through his disciples (John 17:10, 22, 24)
- through his body, the church (comprised of the remnant of Israel, Isaiah 49:13, and believing Gentiles, Isaiah 49:6) (Acts 11:18)
It is not the church that “replaced” Israel. Rather, it is the Son of God, who gave his life a sacrifice for his people, whom God appointed to be his Servant Israel. Praise God! “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” In God’s house are many mansions. May the elder son not be jealous because our bountiful God gives blessings to the whole world. Rather, let us give glory to God for his own special Son, for God’s singular Servant Israel.
Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have given my strength for vanity and for nothing: therefore is my judgment with the Lord, and my labor before my God. (LXE)
God has just told his Servant in verse 3 that he (God) would be glorified through him (the Servant.) But here in verse 4, the Servant speaks again. He appears to be greatly discouraged by what he views as the emptiness, the futility, the lack of fruit of his ministry. Nevertheless, he appeals to the Lord for his vindication. He places the judgment upon his life with God. His faith is in God.
Readers should first and foremost view the Servant’s statement as prophecy. Scripture here prophesies that from the Servant’s point of view, his ministry would appear to have failed. From the future Servant’s point of view, what could appear more like failure than death by crucifixion? God sent him to bless the people Israel, and they crucify him (Mark 12:1-12). Even all but one of his beloved disciples forsake him at the cross (John remained).
The verse before us is very similar to prophetic passages elsewhere in Scripture. Some of these are Psalm 18:1-25; Psalm 22; Psalm 116; Psalm 118:10-24; and Psalm 102.
Psalm 116:16 O Lord, I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast burst by bonds asunder. 17 I will offer to thee the sacrifice of praise, and will call upon the name of the Lord. 18 I will pay my vows unto the Lord, in the presence of all his people, 19 in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, Jerusalem. (LXE)
And now, thus says the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his own servant, to gather Jacob to him and Israel. I shall be gathered and glorified before the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. (LXE)
Sometimes, the more difficult a verse, the greater number of differences among the various translations. Isaiah 49:5 is such a verse. One difference between the Septuagint and Masoretic traditions is that the Septuagint names the Servant as the one who will be gathered. The Masoretic texts name national Israel, as a partner to Jacob. On the other hand, the character, persona, of the Servant is the one who speaks in first person in the Septuagint, “I shall be gathered.” God’s Servant, the person, is the one who shall be gathered. Notice the differences in these two textual traditions below.
ESV And now the LORD says, he who formed me from 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 eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength– (ESV)
NETS And now thus says the Lord, who formed me from the womb to be his own slave, to gather Iakob and Israel to him; I will be gathered and glorified before the Lord, and my God shall become my strength. (NETS)
THE SEPTUAGINT ACCORDS BEST WITH VERSE 3
All major translations agree on verse 3. Within the context of the passage, God addresses a grammatically singular person, who in turn replies to God in a first person singular voice. (This means that two persons are having a conversation.) In verse 3, God says to this other person, “You are my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (SAAS) (1).” Then, in the Septuagint, in verse 5 the Servant speaks. He is about to report something else God has said to him. This quotation occurs in verse 6. But in verse 5, the Servant say, “And now thus says the Lord, who formed me from the womb (verse 1) to be his own slave (verse 3), to gather Iakob and Israel to him; I will be gathered and glorified before the Lord, and my God shall become my strength.” (1)
The Septuagint text displays a strong tendency to favor Christ. New Testament authors used the Septuagint. Greek was the common language of Israel and the Mediterranean region in those years (2). Isaiah 49:5 LXX accords with the New Testament teaching concerning the body of Christ. The church, consisting of Jewish and Gentile believers, lives in Christ. The gathered people form one body, and Christ is the head. Without Christ, there would be no gathering. Christ is glorified by this arrangement. God is glorified. And it is also in Christ that the church is glorified.
THE SEPTUAGINT ACCORDS BEST WITH NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING
In Isaiah 49:3, God names the Servant as the one who is Israel. “You are my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” Verse 5 explains how this glory will occur. Israel, the Servant, who is Christ, will gather Jacob and the people Israel to himself. They will become part of him, “I will be gathered.” This gathering into God’s greater Servant will bring the servant glory. In verse 3, God is glorified in the Servant. In verse 5, the Servant is glorified before the Lord. Now see how well this fits in with New Testament teaching.
Gathered in Christ–Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (ESV)
Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. (ESV)
Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church. (ESV)
Colossians 2:19… the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (ESV)
The Servant Glorified–John 17:21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (ESV)
Verse 6 of the Servant’s Song is where God includes Gentiles in his blessing of his people Israel. Let it never, ever be said that God’s people Israel receive “the curses” and the church the blessings. Israel receives God’s blessing. What could be a greater blessing than to be identified as belonging to and part of the Son of God? What could be a greater blessing than to be included in the unique Servant Israel, God’s Son? The fact that God also includes Gentiles to manifest his own greatness does not in any way diminish the blessing to his people Israel.
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)
God loves his Son. Gathering Jacob and Israel to him is indeed a great thing. And still, God wants to manifest his own greatness and the glory of his faithful Servant even more. So he includes Gentiles among his covenant people, that the Servant “should be for salvation to the end of the earth.”
Paul states it best in Romans, when he responds to his own extensive comments on the subject of the inclusion of Gentiles into Israel’s olive tree.
Romans 11: 33Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!… 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (ESV)
1 Two of three independent translations of the Septuagint indicate that the Servant, speaking in first person, is the one who shall be gathered. These are Brenton’s and Silva’s translations.
2 Confer “Why the Septuagint? Part 1 and Part 2” by Christina M Wilson. Also, see Natalio Fernandez Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible, translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson (Brill: Leiden, the Netherlands, 2000), 338-339 and Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible (Oxford University Press: New York, 2013), 118-119.