The second servant song is recorded in Isaiah 49. Isaiah 49-55 is a special section in the prophecy as it records the amazing redemption God will accomplish through his servant for the world. Chapter 49 contains another unique aspect in that we read the speech of the servant. The servant now speaks, declaring his purpose and reciting what the Lord told him. The servant’s message tells us about what God has planned and what his servant will do.
The Servant’s Message (49:1-4)
The servant begins by calling for the world to listen to him. God is the one who calls for the world to listen to his message (cf. 48:1; 48:12). For the servant to speak with a command for the world to listen to him not only indicates that his work will affect the world but also indicates that he is divine. He is allowed to speak like God, calling the world to listen to him. The calling of the servant mirrors the same description of Cyrus’ calling in Isaiah 44:2. The plan of this servant has been in the mind of the Lord long before the arrival of the servant.
But this is where the similarities to the servant Cyrus end. Notice in verse 2 that the sharp sword comes from his mouth. Unlike Cyrus, the weapon of this servant’s warfare comes from his mouth. This becomes the reference point for the description of Christ in the book of Revelation.
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. (Revelation 1:16 ESV)
From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Revelation 19:15 ESV)
There is another interesting image used concerning the work of the servant. Verse 2 says that the servant was hidden in the shadow of the Lord’s hand and is a polished arrow hidden in the Lord’s quiver. This seems to picture that the servant is protected by the hand of God and is concealed by God for a purpose to be revealed later. He is God’s chosen vessel who will suddenly appear on the scene to accomplish God’s plan.
But here is the strange thing. Notice in verse 3 that the servant is called Israel. “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” So have we misunderstood the identity of the servant? We will speak more to verse 5-6 in a moment, but notice that the servant’s task is to gather Israel (49:5) and bring back the preserved of Israel (49:6). Therefore, the servant is not the nation of Israel because the servant’s task is to gather the people of Israel. The purpose of the servant is to reconcile Israel to God. So how can the servant, who we have noticed from verse 2 is the Christ, be called Israel?
The gospel of John seems to relate to this prophecy directly in the descriptions that are given to Jesus.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, “Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47 NET) Notice that Jesus is not just simply an Israelite without sin, but he is a true Israelite.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9 ESV) Jesus is not simply the light of the world, but he is the true light. Israel was supposed to be a light to the world as Isaiah 49:6 observes.
John 15 is perhaps the clearest usage by John to show that Jesus is the true Israel where Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” The vine represented Israel. Jesus is not just the vine but he is the true, genuine vine. The message, therefore, is that the coming servant sent by God, the Christ, will be the true Israel. Jesus will be everything that Israel was not. Where Israel failed, Jesus will succeed. This servant is the ideal Israel, represented and seen in this one person. Israel was supposed to be a model of God’s standards to the nations by living according to God’s law. The prophets point out that Israel’s disobedience caused the nations to blaspheme God. The sinful nation failed but the servant will succeed. Notice the declared success in Isaiah 49:3. The servant will bring God glory. The nation of Israel failed to bring God glory. This servant will do it.
Verse 4 is rather shocking. Notice the point of view of the servant. The servant utters sad words. The servant has labored in vain and spent his strength for nothing. His work appears to have come to nothing. His ministry appears to be full of discouragement. There will be resistance in accomplishing the mission. However, the servant will rest in the Lord. His work will be vindicated by the Lord. God will be the one to show the value of the work of the servant. By all human calculations, the work will appear to be have been a waste. The ultimate outcome will be success and the servant will be vindicated. What a thought that Isaiah predicts the coming of the servant whose work will appear to have been for nothing but whose work will be vindicated by God!
The Servant’s Mission (49:5-6)
Now we read God’s charge to his servant. We have already summarized the mission as the reconciliation of Israel to God. The servant will work to gather his people back to the Father. This is an important message. It is not possible for humanity to reconcile themselves to God. The servant is sent to be the one who accomplishes the reconciliation. This fits the very words of Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). We cannot come to the Father. We need the servant to bring us to him. This work is given to this servant because he is honored by the Lord and his strength is in the Lord alone. This is all that matters to the servant. He is honored by the Father and finds his strength in the Lord. This should be all that matters to us as we pattern our lives after Jesus. The glory of the Lord, not the glory of people, is all that matters and we live by the strength of God alone, not our own might.
But then God says something amazing in verse 6. This task is too small of a task for the servant. It is not enough for the servant to bring back the people of Israel to God. Therefore another task is given to the servant. God will make the servant a light to the Gentiles (the nations) and bring the salvation of the Lord to the ends of the earth. Not only will the servant restore and save Israel, but he will also restore and save the world. This is an appropriate task for the servant. Restoring Israel was too small. Restoring the world is a fitting task for him. Jesus becomes the light to the world. Jesus is the light to the Gentiles. Jesus would be the means of bringing salvation to the ends of the earth. This seems like a great finale and yet there is something more. Turn to Acts 13:44-49.
Light Your World (Acts 13:44-49)
Paul and Barnabas have been preaching in the synagogue in Antioch. The people beg them to stay and preach to them again the next Sabbath. We pick up the reading in verse 44. Carefully read verse 47. “The Lord has commanded us” and then he quotes this passage from Isaiah 49:6. How can Paul and Barnabas, one who is an apostle and one who is not, say that they were given the command of Isaiah 49 when clearly the servant received this command which was referring to Jesus?
Isaiah 49:3 is the answer to this dilemma. Christ represents the ideal Israel. Those who belong to Christ are the true Israel and have also received this command from the Lord. This is why John 15 records Jesus as the true vine and we are the branches that bear fruit. To belong to Christ means that we bear fruit consistent with being the people of God. The charge given to Christ as the servant to be a light to the Gentiles and bring salvation to the ends of the earth becomes our mission as well, and the first century Christians understood this. The Christians in the first century did not need Matthew 28 to know that they were to go into all the world to preach the gospel and make disciples. Isaiah declared it would happen and Jesus emphasized it when he said that we were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Israel was to be a light to the world, bringing people to God. Israel failed in its role, causing the world to reject and blaspheme God. Jesus is the true Israel and functions perfectly as the light of the world and brought salvation to the world. Those who believe in Jesus and join themselves to him become branches in the vine, belonging to the true Israel, the true people of God. Therefore we are agreeing to adopt the mission given to Christ when we join ourselves to him and become his people. We have been commanded to take the message of Jesus to the world.
Further, we must not be discouraged or dissuaded from sharing the gospel because of rejection. As Isaiah 49 indicates, we may feel that we have labored in vain and spent our strength for nothing. We do a lot of work to invite people to services. We may have invited people to our latest gospel meeting. You may ask people for Bible studies. Perhaps you are directing people to the website. You may try hard to connect to our guests that join us for worship. But poor results must not cause us to give up on the task given to us. We must do what we can to bring the message of salvation to our community. We must be willing to try different things and not give up when success is not immediately visible. Remember what God told Isaiah in the sixth chapter. God told him that the people would not listen but he must continue to preach to them anyway. We never know who is interested in the gospel. Take the message of Jesus to them. Ask them questions about God. Invite them to our Bible studies in the community. Send them to the website. Find your way to fulfill your purpose of bringing God glory by taking the gospel to the people in your sphere of influence.