Isaiah 41–42. The Enigmatic Servant of God.

Key Notes: First of four Servant poems. God's sovereign control. A solution to the "Servant" problem.

In these two chapters we are introduced to the Servant, a prominent figure of Isa.40–66. This section contains the first of four Servant poems. The four Servant poems are Isaiah 41:8–16 with 42:1–4; 49:1–7; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12. The Servant in this first poem will appear to be three different persons or groups which we will try to reconcile. We will also meet an unnamed conqueror. The other Servant poems will be easier to understand.

41:1–7 The nations are warned of the coming of a conqueror (?Cyrus the Mede). He will go so fast that his feet will not touch the ground. The nations will try to strengthen themselves, make alliances, and take refuge with their idols, but it is God, first and with the last, who is behind the conqueror.

41:8–20 The Servant as He is first presented is Israel, offspring of Abraham, God's friend, called from the ends of the earth, strengthened by God, and victorious over His enemies. He is described as a sledge (?a war machine) threshing mountains, an unusual concept, probably meaning the cutting of trees. For the needy, God will supply water, and the deciduous and evergreen trees will grow in the desert.

41:21–29 Can the idols recite the past or tell the future? Can they do anything, good or bad? The oracle at Delphi could only be understood by the priests and their messages were enigmatic enough so that they could be taken in opposite ways.
God has stirred up the conqueror (probably Cyrus), which will turn out to be good news for Israel, and bad news for the idols.

42:1–17 The Servant now appears as God's anointed, filled with the Spirit to bring justice to the nations. He will not be a demagogue. He will not reject those who smoulder and have little light, nor those who are wounded and painful to others. He will not stop until justice is done. He will be a covenant to the peoples, a light to the nations, opening the eyes of the blind, and liberating prisoners. (This passage is quoted of Jesus in Matt.12:18–21.)
May God be praised with a new song that will be sung in the desert and the city, for the Lord will go forth as a man of war.
But first God will suffer anguish in His judgment of Israel, causing drought, putting to shame the idolators, but also leading the blind, smoothing the way for His people.

42:18–20 The Servant on third appearance is blind and deaf, robbed and plundered, a prey with no escape. But it was God who gave Jacob up to the spoiler because of sin. Although Israel was burned by the heat of God's anger, she did not understand or take it to heart.

42:21 "The Lord was pleased for His righteousness' sake, to magnify His law and make it glorious." God's original purpose for Israel is shown here.
Moses prophesied 700 years before:

"Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances....Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they  hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a God so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon Him." (Deut.4:5–7)

It was enough for Israel merely to obey God's Law, and the world would be drawn to Him through their remarkable goodness. They did not have to reach out; they had only to be attractive.

God's sovereign control is a major teaching of these chapters

41:2–4 directing the victorious commander. Idols can do nothing. 41:7
41;8 choosing Jacob as Servant and supporting him. 41:13
41:17 bringing water for the needy.
41:22,26 predicting the future. Idols can do nothing. 41:23
42:1 anointing the Servant.
42:5 creating the world. Idols can do nothing. 42:8
42:13 going forth as a warrior.
42:15 drying up rivers. ?The Nile’:5; 11:15
42:16 leading the blind. Idols can do nothing. 42:17
42:24 giving up poor Servant Jacob to the plunderers.

When God is all-powerful, people tend to become apathetic, but the message here is:
•Don't depend on idols .
•God's help is for His people in their struggles. 41:10,13,14,17

We are presented with three quite different portraits of The Servant. How can the same title be given to all three?
Servant A. is national Israel recovered, empowered, and victorious. 42:16–18
Servant B. is a person endowed with the Holy Spirit, bringing justice, healing and liberation to the nations. 42:1–4
Servant C. is national Israel, blind, deaf, robbed and plundered. 42:18–22

First we must try to identify the three servants. Part of the solution is in the NT. Matt.12:18–21 describes Jesus in terms of Isa.42:1–4. He is Servant B. the representative head of spiritual Israel.
Then Servant C. must be Israel of Isaiah's day: "They have become a prey with none to rescue." (42:22)
And Servant A. must be Israel reborn in the Last Days under Christ as Head.

The harmony of these three aspects of the Servant of God can be seen as a triangular diagram.
The base of the pyramid is Israel according to the flesh, (Servant C, largely blind and deaf.

The middle piece of the triangle is spiritual Israel (Servant A. ), the "Israel of God" as Paul put it in Gal.6:16.
This group consists of the Jewish and Gentile believers. and contains the Remnant: "though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved." (Rom.9:27). Isaiah spoke to this Remnant in his time. (Isa.8:11–15)

The apex of the pyramid (Servant B.) is Christ Himself, the climax of God's direction and development of Israel, a light to the nations and their conquering King. {Diagram adapted from A.T. Pearson, of Bethel Seminary. Unpublished paper.}

It is tempting to make an analogy between the composite Servant as seen here and the Christian church. Its base would be those large church bodies which have access to the truth, but do not submit to it. The middle of the pyramid would be the invisible regenerate Body of Christ in all ages.
The apex is the head of the Church, Christ Himself.

We are to be little Christs, lights to the nations, opening the eyes of the blind, liberating the slaves.