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CHAPTER XVII.

THE SERVANT OF THE LORD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.

In last chapter we confined our study of the Servant of Jehovah to the text of Isa. xl.-lxvi., and to the previous and contemporary history of Israel. Into our interpretation of the remarkable Figure, whom our prophet has drawn for us, we have put nothing which cannot be gathered from those fields and by the light of the prophet's own day. But now we must travel further, and from days far future to our prophet borrow a fuller light to throw back upon his mysterious projections. We take this journey into the future for reasons he himself has taught us. We have learned that his pictures of the Servant are not the creation of his own mind; a work of art complete "through fancy's or through logic's aid." They are the scattered reflections and suggestions of experience. The prophet's eyes have been opened to read them out of the still growing and incomplete history of his people. With that history they are indissolubly bound up. Their plainest forms are but a transcript of its clearest facts; their paradoxes are its paradoxes (reflections now of the confused and changing consciousness of this strange people, or again of the contrast between God's design for them and their real character): their ideals are279 the suggestion and promise which its course reveals to an inspired eye. Thus, in picturing the Servant, our prophet sometimes confines himself to history that has already happened to Israel; but sometimes, also, upon the purpose and promise of this, he outruns what has happened, and plainly lifts his voice from the future. Now we must remember that he does so, not merely because the history itself has native possibilities of fulfilment in it, but because he believes that it is in the hands of an Almighty and Eternal God, who shall surely guide it to the end of His purpose revealed in it. It is an article of our prophet's creed, that the God who speaks through him controls all history, and by His prophets can publish beforehand what course it will take; so that, when we find in our prophet anything we do not see fully justified or illustrated by the time he wrote, it is only in observance of the conditions he has laid down, that we seek for its explanation in the future.

Let us, then, take our prophet upon his own terms, and follow the history, with which he has so closely bound up the prophecy of the Servant, both in suggestion and fulfilment, in order that we may see whether it will yield to us the secret of what, if we have read his language aright, his eyes perceived in it—the promise of an Individual Servant. And let us do so in his faith, that history is one progressive and harmonious movement under the hand of the God in whose name he speaks. Our exploration will be rewarded, and our faith confirmed. We shall find the nation, as promised, restored to its own land, and pursuing through the centuries its own life. We shall find within the nation what the prophet looked for,—an elect and effective portion, with the conscience of a national service to the world,280 but looking for the achievement of this to such an Individual Servant, as the prophet seemed ultimately to foreshadow. The world itself we shall find growing more and more open to this service. And at last, from Israel's national conscience of the service we shall see emerge One with the sense that He alone is responsible and able for it. And this One Israelite will not only in His own person exhibit a character and achieve a work, that illustrate and far excel our prophet's highest imaginations, but will also become, to a new Israel infinitely more numerous than the old, the conscience and inspiration of their collective fulfilment of the ideal.


1. In the Old Testament we cannot be sure of any further appearance of our prophet's Servant of the Lord. It might be thought, that in a post-exilic promise, Zech. iii. 8, I will bring forth My Servant the Branch, we had an identification of the hero of the first part of the Book of Isaiah, the Branch out of Jesse's roots (xi. 1), with the hero of the second part; but servant here may so easily be meant in the more general sense in which it occurs in the Old Testament, that we are not justified in finding any more particular connection. In Judaism beyond the Old Testament the national and personal interpretations of the Servant were both current. The Targum of Jonathan, and both the Talmud of Jerusalem and the Talmud of Babylon, recognise the personal Messiah in ch. liii.; the Targum also identifies him as early as in ch. xlii. This personal interpretation the Jews abandoned only after they had entered on their controversy with Christian theologians; and in the cruel persecutions, which Christians inflicted upon them throughout the middle ages, they were supplied281 with only too many reasons for insisting that ch. liii. was prophetic of suffering Israel—the martyr-people—as a whole.160160   Cf. The Jewish Interpreters on Isa. liii., Driver and Neubauer, Oxford, 1877. Abravanel, who himself takes ch. liii. in a national sense, admits, after giving the Christian interpretation, that "in fact Jonathan ben Uziel, 'the Targumist,' applied it to the Messiah, who was still to come, and this is likewise the opinion of the wise in many of their Midrashim." And R. Moscheh al Shech, of the sixteenth century, says: "See, our masters have with one voice held as established and handed down, that here it is King Messiah who is spoken of." (Both these passages quoted by Bredenkamp in his commentary, p. 307.) It is a strange history—the history of our race, where the first through their pride and error so frequently become the last, and the last through their sufferings are set in God's regard with the first. But of all its strange reversals none surely was ever more complete than when the followers of Him, who is set forth in this passage, the unresisting and crucified Saviour of men, behaved in His Name with so great a cruelty as to be righteously taken by His enemies for the very tyrants and persecutors whom the passage condemns.

2. But it is in the New Testament that we see the most perfect reflection of the Servant of the Lord, both as People and Person.

In the generation, from which Jesus sprang, there was, amid national circumstances closely resembling those in which the Second Isaiah was written, a counterpart of that Israel within Israel, which our prophet has personified in ch. xlix. The holy nation lay again in bondage to the heathen, partly in its own land, partly scattered across the world; and Israel's righteousness, redemption and ingathering were once more the questions of the day. The thoughts of the masses, as of old in Babylonian days, did not rise beyond a political restoration; and although their popular leaders insisted282 upon national righteousness as necessary to this, it was a righteousness mainly of a ceremonial kind—hard, legal, and often more unlovely in its want of enthusiasm and hope than even the political fanaticism of the vulgar. But around the temple, and in quiet recesses of the land, a number of pious and ardent Israelites lived on the true milk of the word, and cherished for the nation hopes of a far more spiritual character. If the Pharisees laid their emphasis on the law, this chosen Israel drew their inspiration rather from prophecy; and of all prophecy it was the Book of Isaiah, and chiefly the latter part of it, on which they lived.

As we enter the Gospel history from the Old Testament, we feel at once that Isaiah is in the air. In this fair opening of the new year of the Lord, the harbinger notes of the book awaken about us on all sides like the voices of birds come back with the spring. In Mary's song, the phrase He hath holpen His Servant Israel; in the description of Simeon, that he waited for the consolation of Israel, a phrase taken from the Comfort ye, comfort ye My people in Isa. xl. 1; such frequent phrases, too, as the redemption of Jerusalem, a light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, light to them that sit in darkness, and other echoed promises of light and peace and the remission of sins, are all repeated from our evangelical prophecy. In the fragments of the Baptist's preaching, which are extant, it is remarkable that almost every metaphor and motive may be referred to the Book of Isaiah, and mostly to its exilic half: the generation of vipers,161161   Isa. lix. 5. the trees and axe laid to the root,162162   Id. vi. 13; ix. 18; x. 17, 34; xlvii. 14. the threshing floor and fan,163163   Id. xxi. 10; xxviii. 27; xl. 24; xli. 15 ff. the fire,164164   Id. i. 31; xlvii. 14. the283 bread and clothes to the poor,165165   Isa. lviii. 7. and especially the proclamation of Jesus, Behold the Lamb of God that beareth the sin of the world.166166   Undoubtedly taken from Isa. liii. To John himself were applied the words of Isa. xl.: The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight; and when Christ sought to rouse again the Baptist's failing faith it was of Isa. lxi. that He reminded him.

Our Lord, then, sprang from a generation of Israel, which had a strong conscience of the national aspect of the Service of God,—a generation with Isa. xl.-lxvi. at its heart. We have seen how He Himself insisted upon the uniqueness of Israel's place among the nations—salvation is of the Jews—and how closely He identified Himself with His people—I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But all Christ's strong expression of Israel's distinction from the rest of mankind, is weak and dim compared with His expression of His own distinction from the rest of Israel. If they were the one people with whom God worked in the world, He was the one Man, whom God sent to work upon them, and to use them to work upon others. We cannot tell how early the sense of this distinction came to the Son of Mary. Luke reveals it in Him, before He had taken His place as a citizen and was still within the family: Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business? At His first public appearance He had it fully, and others acknowledged it. In the opening year of His ministry it threatened to be only a Distinction of the First—they took Him by force, and would have made Him King. But as time went on it grew evident that it was to be, not the Distinction of the First, but the Distinction of the Only. The284 enthusiastic crowds melted away: the small band, whom He had most imbued with His spirit, proved that they could follow Him but a certain length in His consciousness of His Mission. Recognising in Him the supreme prophet—Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life—they immediately failed to understand, that suffering also must be endured by Him for the people: Be it far from Thee, Lord. This suffering was His conscience and His burden alone. Now, we cannot overlook the fact, that the point at which Christ's way became so solitary was the same point at which we felt our prophet's language cease to oblige us to understand by it a portion of the people, and begin to be applicable to a single individual,—the point, namely, where prophecy passes into martyrdom. But whether our prophet's pictures of the suffering and atoning Servant of the Lord are meant for some aspect of the national experience, or as the portrait of a real individual, it is certain that in His martyrdom and service of ransom Jesus felt Himself to be absolutely alone. He who had begun His Service of God with all the people on His side, consummated the same with the leaders and the masses of the nation against Him, and without a single partner from among His own friends, either in the fate which overtook Him, or in the conscience with which He bore it.

Now all this parallel between Jesus of Nazareth and the Servant of the Lord is unmistakable enough, even in this mere outline; but the details of the Gospel narrative and the language of the Evangelists still more emphasize it. Christ's herald hailed Him with words which gather up the essence of Isa. liii.: Behold the Lamb of God. He read His own commission from285 ch. lxi.: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. To describe His first labours among the people, His disciples again used words from ch. liii.: Himself bare our sicknesses. To paint His manner of working in face of opposition they quoted the whole passage from ch. xlii.: Behold My Servant ... He shall not strive. The name Servant was often upon His own lips in presenting Himself: Behold, I am among you as one that serveth. When His office of prophecy passed into martyrdom, He predicted for Himself the treatment which is detailed in ch. l.,—the smiting, plucking and spitting: and in time, by Jew and Gentile, this treatment was inflicted on Him to the very letter.167167   Cf. with the Greek version of Isa. l. 4-7, Luke xviii. 31, 32; Matt. xxvi. 67. As to His consciousness in fulfilling something more than a martyrdom, and alone among the martyrs of Israel offering by His death an expiation for His people's sins, His own words are frequent and clear enough to form a counterpart to ch. liii. With them before us, we cannot doubt that He felt Himself to be the One of whom the people in that chapter speak, as standing over against them all, sinless, and yet bearing their sins. But on the night on which He was betrayed, while just upon the threshold of this extreme and unique form of service, into which it has been given to no soul of man, that ever lived, to be conscious of following Him—as if anxious that His disciples should not be so overwhelmed by the awful part in which they could not imitate Him as to forget the countless other ways in which they were called to fulfil His serving spirit—He took a towel and girded Himself, and when He had washed their feet, He said unto them, If I,286 then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet—thereby illustrating what is so plainly set forth in our prophecy, that short of the expiation, of which only One in His sinlessness has felt the obligation, and short of the martyrdom, which it has been given to but few of His people to share with Him, there are a thousand humble forms rising out of the needs of everyday life, in which men are called to employ towards one another the gentle and self-forgetful methods of the true Servant of God.

With the four Gospels in existence, no one doubts or can doubt that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the cry, Behold My Servant. With Him it ceased to be a mere ideal, and took its place as the greatest achievement in history.

3. In the earliest discourses of the Apostles, therefore, it is not wonderful that Jesus should be expressly designated by them as the Servant of God,—the Greek word used being that by which the Septuagint specially translates the Hebrew term in Isa. xl.-lxvi.168168   In Isa. xl.-lxvi. the Septuagint translates the Hebrew for Servant by one or other of two words—παις and δουλος. Παις is used in xli. 8; xlii. 1; xliv. 1 ff.; xliv. 21; xlv. 4; xlix. 6; l. 10; lii. 13. But δουλος is used in xlviii. 20; xlix. 3 and 5. In the Acts it is παις that is used of Christ: "An apostle is never called παις (but only δουλος) Θεου" (Meyer). But David is called παις (Acts iv. 25).: God hath glorified His Servant Jesus. Unto you first, God, having raised up His Servant, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.... In this city against Thy holy Servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel foreordained to pass. Grant that signs and wonders may be done through287 the name of Thy Holy Servant Jesus.169169   Acts iii. 13, 26; iv. 27-30. It must also be noticed, that in one of the same addresses, and again by Stephen in his argument before the Sanhedrim, Jesus is called The Righteous One,170170   Acts iii. 14; vii. 52. doubtless an allusion to the same title for the Servant in Isa. liii. 11. Need we recall the interpretation of Isa. liii. by Philip?171171   Acts viii. 30 ff.

It is known to all how Peter develops this parallel in his First Epistle, borrowing the figures but oftener the very words of Isa. liii. to apply to Christ. Like the Servant of the Lord, Jesus is as a lamb: He is a patient sufferer in silence; He is the Righteous—again the classic title—for the unrighteous; in exact quotation from the Greek of Isa. liii.: He did no sin, neither was found guile in His mouth, ye were as sheep gone astray, but He Himself hath borne our sins, with whose stripes ye are healed.172172   1 Peter i. 19; ii. 22, 23; iii. 18.

Paul applies two quotations from Isa. lii. 13-liii. to Christ: I have striven to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named; as it is written, To whom He was not spoken of they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand; and He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin.173173   Rom. xv. 20 f.; 2 Cor. v. 21. And none will doubt that when he so often disputed that the Messiah must suffer, or wrote Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he had Isa. liii. in mind, exactly as we have seen it applied to the Messiah by Jewish scholars a hundred years later than Paul.

4. Paul, however, by no means confines the prophecy of the Servant of the Lord to Jesus the Messiah. In a way which has been too much overlooked by students288 of the subject, Paul revives and reinforces the collective interpretation of the Servant. He claims the Servant's duties and experience for himself, his fellow-labourers in the gospel, and all believers.

In Antioch of Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas said of themselves to the Jews: For so hath the Lord commanded us saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation to the ends of the earth.174174   Acts xiii. 47, after Isa. xlix. 6. Again, in the eighth of Romans, Paul takes the Servant's confident words, and speaks them of all God's true people. He is near that justifieth me, who is he that condemneth me? cried the Servant in our prophecy, and Paul echoes for all believers: It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?175175   Isa. l. 8, and Rom. viii. 33, 34. And again, in his second letter to Timothy, he says, speaking of that pastor's work, For the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle towards all; words which were borrowed from, or suggested by, Isa. xlii. 1-3.176176   2 Tim. ii. 24. We may note, also, how Paul in Eph. vi. takes the armour with which God is clothed in Isa. lix. 17, breastplate and helmet, and equips the individual Christian with them; and how, in the same passage, he takes for the Christian from Isa. xl. the Messiah's girdle of truth and the sword of the Spirit,—he shall smite the land with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. In these instances, as well as in his constant use of the terms slave, servant, minister, with their cognates, Paul fulfils the intention of Jesus, who so continually, by example, parable, and direct commission, enforced the life of His people as a Service to the Lord.

5. Such, then, is the New Testament reflection of the Prophecy of the Servant of the Lord, both as People and Person. Like all physical reflections, this moral one may be said, on the whole, to stand reverse289 to its original. In Isa. xl.-lxvi. the Servant is People first, Person second. But in the New Testament—except for a faint and scarcely articulate application to Israel in the beginning of the gospels—the Servant is Person first and People afterwards. The Divine Ideal which our prophet saw narrowing down from the Nation to an Individual, was owned and realised by Christ. But in Him it was not exhausted. With added warmth and light, with a new power of expansion, it passed through Him to fire the hearts and enlist the wills of an infinitely greater people than the Israel for whom it was originally designed. With this witness, then, of history to the prophecies of the Servant, our way in expounding and applying them is clear. Jesus Christ is their perfect fulfilment and illustration. But we who are His Church are to find in them our ideal and duty,—our duty to God and to the world. In this, as in so many other matters, the unfulfilled prophecy of Israel is the conscience of Christianity.


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