Servant Song–Isaiah 42:1-4
Isaiah 42:1, ESV Jacob is my servant, I will help him: Israel is my chosen, my soul has accepted him; I have put my Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. 2 He shall not cry, nor lift up his voice, nor shall his voice be heard without. 3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench; but he shall bring forth judgment to truth. 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. (LXE, Brenton)
Servant (A Group-Collective)
Scripture clearly states that Old Testament Israel, as a collective whole, is the servant of God.
Isaiah 41:8 But thou, Israel, art my servant Jacob, and he whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraam, whom I have loved: 9 whom I have taken hold of from the ends of the earth, and from the high places of it I have called thee, and said to thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and I have not forsaken thee. (LXE, Brenton)
But, by this point in the book of Isaiah, is there any doubt that Israel has failed to fulfill God’s commission to Abraham, “In you all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed,” (Genesis 12:3)? Those who read straight through the chapters in this portion of the book will realize that Israel appears to sabotage God’s plan for them again and again. Their failure stems from their lack of belief and trust in, and loyalty to their one true God. They worship idols. God’s desire was to bless Israel and through them the whole world, but they would not.
42:21 It pleased the LORD for the sake of his righteousness to make his law great and glorious… 24 Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways; they did not obey his law. 25 So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart. (NIV)
Scripture also clearly states that God will not abandon forever his servant, Israel. God must stand by his promise to Abraham, yet the people Israel make this impossible. Therefore, because of their repeated failures, God creates a “new thing” (Isaiah 43:19). This “new thing” is his Servant, a very singular Servant, one person, one man, unique, one of a kind, God’s Son. God calls his Son “Israel.”
Chapter 42 of Isaiah does not state that “my servant” is God’s Son. Matthew, the Gospel author, does so state.
Matthew 12:17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: 18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; 20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; 21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (ESV)
Without the Servant, Isaiah a Bleak Book
If the reader were to read Isaiah 41 followed immediately by Isaiah 43, the picture would be bleak, barren, depressing, and static. Isaiah 42:1-17 introduces the contrasts of joy, happiness, excitement, hope, and a flowing river that carries the depressed human soul forward. The book of Isaiah without the Servant would be utter darkness–just like the book of a human life without the Lord, Christ, God’s Servant Son. Believers and non-believers alike, let us all make room for Christ in our lives. As the chapters of our lives unfold, let us never leave out God’s solution to our existential problem of sin and hopelessness. God gave his Servant to Israel the people and to all the Gentile peoples of the world as a gift. Let us come to his light and partake freely of the abundantly flowing waters of life.