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Isaiah xli. 8-20; xlii. 1-7, 18 ff; xliii. 5-10; xlix. 1-9; l. 4-10; lii. 13-liii.

With chapter xlii. we reach a distinct stage in our prophecy. The preceding chapters have been occupied with the declaration of the great, basal truth, that Jehovah is the One Sovereign God. This has been declared to two classes of hearers in succession—to God's own people, Israel, in ch. xl., and to the heathen in ch. xli. Having established His sovereignty, God now publishes His will, again addressing these two classes according to the purpose which He has for each. Has He vindicated Himself to Israel, the Almighty and Righteous God, Who will give His people freedom and strength: He will now define to them the mission for which that strength and freedom are required. Has He proved to the Gentiles that He is the one true God: He will declare to them now what truth He has for them to learn. In short, to use modern terms, the apologetic of chs. xl.-xli. is succeeded by the missionary programme of ch. xlii. And although, from the necessities of the case, we are frequently brought back, in the course of the prophecy, to its fundamental claims for the Godhead of Jehovah, we are nevertheless sensible that with ver. 1 of ch. xlii.253 we make a distinct advance. It is one of those logical steps which, along with a certain chronological progress that we have already felt, assures us that Isaiah, whether originally by one or more authors, is in its present form a unity, with a distinct order and principle of development.

The Purpose of God is identified with a Minister or Servant, whom He commissions to carry it out in the world. This Servant is brought before us with all the urgency with which Jehovah has presented Himself, and next to Jehovah he turns out to be the most important figure of the prophecy. Does the prophet insist that God is the only source and sufficiency of His people's salvation: it is with equal emphasis that He introduces the Servant as God's indispensable agent in the work. Cyrus is also acknowledged as an elect instrument. But neither in closeness to God, nor in effect upon the world, is Cyrus to be compared for an instant to the Servant. Cyrus is subservient and incidental: with the overthrow of Babylon, for which he was raised up, he will disappear from the stage of our prophecy. But God's purpose, which uses the gates opened by Cyrus, only to pass through them with the redeemed people to the regeneration of the whole world, is to be carried to this Divine consummation by the Servant: its universal and glorious progress is identified with his career. Cyrus flashes through these pages a well-polished sword: it is only his swift and brilliant usefulness that is allowed to catch our eye. But the Servant is a Character, to delineate whose immortal beauty and example the prophet devotes as much space as he does to Jehovah Himself. As he turns again and again to speak of God's omnipotence and faithfulness and agonising love for His own, so254 with equal frequency and fondness does he linger on every feature of the Servant's conduct and aspect: His gentleness, His patience, His courage, His purity, His meekness; His daily wakefulness to God's voice, the swiftness and brilliance of His speech for others, His silence under His own torments; His resorts—among the bruised, the prisoners, the forwandered of Israel, the weary, and them that sit in darkness, the far-off heathen; His warfare with the world, His face set like a flint; His unworldly beauty, which men call ugliness; His unnoticed presence in His own generation, yet the effect of His face upon kings; His habit of woe, a man of sorrows and acquainted with sickness; His sore stripes and bruises, His judicial murder, His felon's grave; His exaltation and eternal glory—till we may reverently say that these pictures, by their vividness and charm, have drawn our eyes away from our prophet's visions of God, and have caused the chapters in which they occur to be oftener read among us, and learned by heart, than the chapters in which God Himself is lifted up and adored. Jehovah and Jehovah's Servant—these are the two heroes of the drama.

Now we might naturally expect that so indispensable and fondly imagined a figure would also be defined past all ambiguity, whether as to His time or person or name. But the opposite is the case. About Scripture there are few more intricate questions than those on the Servant of the Lord. Is He a Person or Personification? If the latter, is He a Personification of all Israel? Or of a part of Israel? Or of the ideal Israel? Or of the Order of the Prophets? Or if a Person—is he the prophet himself? Or a martyr who has already lived and suffered, like Jeremiah? Or255 One still to come, like the promised Messiah? Each of these suggestions has not only been made about the Servant, but derives considerable support from one or another of our prophet's dissolving views of his person and work. A final answer to them can be given only after a comparative study of all the relevant passages; but as these are scattered over the prophecy, and our detailed exposition of them must necessarily be interrupted, it will be of advantage to take here a prospect of them all, and see to what they combine to develop this sublime character and mission. And after we have seen what the prophecies themselves teach concerning the Servant, we shall inquire how they were understood and fulfilled by the New Testament; and that will show us how to expound and apply them with regard to ourselves.


The Hebrew word for Servant means a person at the disposal of another—to carry out his will, do his work, represent his interests. It was thus applied to the representatives of a king or the worshippers of a god.149149   A king's courtiers, soldiers, or subjects are called his servants. In this sense Israel was often styled the servants of Jehovah, as in Deut. xxxii. 36; Neh. i. 10, where the phrase is parallel to His people. But Jehovah's servants is a phrase also parallel to His worshippers (Psalm cxxxiv. 1, etc.); to those who trust Him (Psalm xxxiv. 22); and to those who love His name (Psalm lxix. 36). The term is also applied in the plural to the prophets (Amos iii. 7); and in the singular, to eminent individuals—such as Abraham, Joshua, David and Job; also by Jeremiah to the alien Nebuchadrezzar, while engaged on his mission from God against Jerusalem. All Israelites were thus in a sense the servants of Jehovah; though in the singular the title was reserved for persons of extraordinary character or usefulness.


But we have seen, as clearly as possible, that God set apart for His chief service upon earth, not an individual nor a group of individuals, but a whole nation in its national capacity. We have seen Israel's political origin and preservation bound up with that service; we have heard the whole nation plainly called, by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the Servant of Jehovah.150150   See p. 244. Nothing could be more clear than this, that in the earlier years of the Exile the Servant of Jehovah was Israel as a whole, Israel as a body politic.

It is also in this sense that our prophet first uses the title in a passage we have already quoted (xli. 8); Thou Israel, My Servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham My lover, whom I took hold of from the ends of the earth and its corners! I called thee and said unto thee, My Servant art thou. I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Here the Servant is plainly the historical nation, descended from Abraham, and the subject of those national experiences which are traced in the previous chapter. It is the same in the following verses:—xliv. 1 ff: Yet now hear, O Jacob My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: thus saith Jehovah thy Maker, and thy Moulder from the womb, He will help thee. Fear not, My servant Jacob; and Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.... I will pour My spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring. xliv. 21: Remember these things, O Jacob; and Israel, for My servant art thou: I have formed thee; a servant for Myself art thou; O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me. xlviii. 20: Go ye forth from Babylon; say ye, Jehovah hath redeemed His servant Jacob. In all these verses, which bind up the nation's restoration from exile with257 the fact that God called it to be His Servant, the title Servant is plainly equivalent to the national name Israel or Jacob. But Israel or Jacob is not a label for the mere national idea, or the bare political framework, without regard to the living individuals included in it. To the eye and heart of Him, Who counts the number of the stars, Israel means no mere outline, but all the individuals of the living generation of the people—thy seed, that is, every born Israelite, however fallen or forwandered. This is made clear in a very beautiful passage in ch. xliii. (vv. 1-7): Thus saith Jehovah, thy Creator, O Jacob; thy Moulder, O Israel.... Fear not, for I am with thee; from the sunrise I will bring thy seed, and from the sunset will I gather thee; ... My sons from far, and My daughters from the end of the earth; every one who is called by My name, and whom for My glory I have created, formed, yea, I have made him. To this Israel—Israel as a whole, yet no mere abstraction or outline of the nation, but the people in mass and bulk—every individual of whom is dear to Jehovah, and in some sense shares His calling and equipment—to this Israel the title Servant of Jehovah is at first applied by our prophet.

2. We say "at first," for very soon the prophet has to make a distinction, and to sketch the Servant as something less than the actual nation. The distinction is obscure; it has given rise to a very great deal of controversy. But it is so natural, where a nation is the subject, and of such frequent occurrence in other literatures, that we may almost state it as a general law.

In all the passages quoted above, Israel has been spoken of in the passive mood, as the object of some affection or action on the part of God: loved, formed,258 chosen, called, and about to be redeemed by Him. Now, so long as a people thus lie passive, their prophet will naturally think of them as a whole. In their shadow his eye can see them only in the outline of their mass; in their common suffering and servitude his heart will go out to all their individuals, as equally dear and equally in need of redemption. But when the hour comes for the people to work out their own salvation, and they emerge into action, it must needs be different. When they are no more the object of their prophet's affection only, but pass under the test of his experience and judgement, then distinctions naturally appear upon them. Lifted to the light of their destiny, their inequality becomes apparent; tried by its strain, part of them break away. And so, though the prophet continues still to call on the nation by its name to fulfil its calling, what he means by that name is no longer the bulk and the body of the citizenship. A certain ideal of the people fills his mind's eye—an ideal, however, which is no mere spectre floating above his own generation, but is realised in their noble and aspiring portion—although his ignorance as to the exact size of this portion, must always leave his image of them more or less ideal to his eyes. It will be their quality rather than their quantity that is clear to him. In modern history we have two familiar illustrations of this process of winnowing and idealising a people in the light of their destiny, which may prepare us for the more obscure instance of it in our prophecy.

In a well-known passage in the Areopagitica, Milton exclaims, "Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself and shaking her invincible locks; methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the259 full midday beam, ... while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means." In this passage the "nation" is no longer what Milton meant by the term in the earlier part of his treatise, where "England" stands simply for the outline of the whole English people; but the "nation" is the true genius of England realised in her enlightened and aspiring sons, and breaking away from the hindering and debasing members of the body politic—"the timorous and flocking birds with those also that love the twilight"—who are indeed Englishmen after the flesh, but form no part of the nation's better self.

Or, recall Mazzini's bitter experience. To no man was his Italy more really one than to this ardent son of hers, who loved every born Italian because he was an Italian, and counted none of the fragments of his unhappy country too petty or too corrupt to be included in the hope of her restoration. To Mazzini's earliest imagination, it was the whole Italian seed, who were ready for redemption, and would rise to achieve it at his summons. But when his summons came, how few responded, and after the first struggles how fewer still remained,—Mazzini himself has told us with breaking heart. The real Italy was but a handful of born Italians; at times it seemed to shrink to the prophet alone. From such a core the conscience indeed spread again, till the entire people was delivered from tyranny and from schism, and now every peasant and burgher from the Alps to Sicily understands what Italy means, and is proud to be an Italian. But for a time Mazzini and his few comrades stood alone. Others of their blood and speech were Piedmontese, Pope's men, Neapolitans,—merchants, lawyers, scholars,—or merely260 selfish and sensual. They alone were Italians; they alone were Italy.

It is a similar winnowing process, through which we see our prophet's thoughts pass with regard to Israel. Him, too, experience teaches that the many are called, but the few chosen. So long as his people lie in the shadow of captivity, so long as he has to speak of them in the passive mood, the object of God's call and preparation, it is their seed, the born people in bulk and mass, whom he names Israel, and entitles the Servant of Jehovah. But the moment that he lifts them to their mission in the world, and to the light of their destiny, a difference becomes apparent upon them, and the Servant of Jehovah, though still called Israel, shrinks to something less than the living generation, draws off to something finer than the mass of the people. How, indeed, could it be otherwise with this strange people, than which no nation on earth had a loftier ideal identified with its history, or more frequently turned upon its better self, with a sword in its hand. Israel, though created a nation by God for His service, was always what Paul found it, divided into an Israel after the flesh, and an Israel after the spirit. But it was in the Exile that this distinction gaped most broad. With the fall of Jerusalem, the political framework, which kept the different elements of the nation together, was shattered, and these were left loose to the action of moral forces. The baser elements were quickly absorbed by heathendom; the nobler, that remained loyal to the divine call, were free to assume a new and ideal form. Every year spent in Babylonia made it more apparent that the true and effective Israel of the future would not coincide with all the seed of Jacob, who went into exile.261 Numbers of the latter were as contented with their Babylonian circumstance as numbers of Mazzini's "Italians" were satisfied to live on as Austrian and Papal subjects. Many, as we have seen, became idolaters; many more settled down into the prosperous habits of Babylonian commerce, while a large multitude besides were scattered far out of sight across the world. It required little insight to perceive that the true, effective Israel—the real Servant of Jehovah—must needs be a much smaller body than the sum of all these: a loyal kernel within Israel, who were still conscious of the national calling, and capable of carrying it out; who stood sensible of their duty to the whole world, but whose first conscience was for their lapsed and lost countrymen. This Israel within Israel was the real Servant of the Lord; to personify it in that character—however vague might be the actual proportion it would assume in his own or in any other generation—would be as natural to our dramatic prophet as to personify the nation as a whole.

All this very natural process—this passing from the historical Israel, the nation originally designed by God to be His Servant, to the conscious and effective Israel, that uncertain quantity within the present and every future generation—takes place in the chapters before us; and it will be sufficiently easy for us to follow if we only remember that our prophet is not a dogmatic theologian, careful to make clear each logical distinction, but a dramatic poet, who delivers his ideas in groups, tableaux, dialogues, interrupted by choruses; and who writes in a language incapable of expressing such delicate differences, except by dramatic contrasts, and by the one other figure of which he is so fond—paradox.

Perhaps the first traces of distinction between the262 real Servant and the whole nation are to be found in the Programme of his Mission in ch. xlii. 1-7. There it is said that the Servant is to be for a covenant of the people (ver. 6). I have explained below why we are to understand people as here meaning Israel.151151   The definite article is not used here with the word people, and hence the phrase has been taken by some in the vaguer sense of a people's covenant, as a general expression, along with its parallel clause, of the kind of influence the Servant was to exert, not on Israel, but on any people in the world; he was to be a people's covenant, and a light for nations. So practically Schultz, A. T. Theologie, 4th ed., p. 284. But the Hebrew word for people עם is often used without the article to express the people Israel, just as the Hebrew word for land ארץ is often used without the article to express the land of Judah. (הארץ with the article, is in Isa. xl.-lxvi. the Earth.) And in ch. xlix. the phrase a covenant of the people again occurs, and in a context in which it can only mean a covenant of the people, Israel. Some render ברית עם a covenant people. But in xlix. 8 this is plainly an impossible rendering. And in ver. 7 it is said of the Servant that he is to open blind eyes, bring forth from prison the captive, from the house of bondage dwellers in darkness: phrases that are descriptive, of course, of the captive Israel. Already, then, in ch. xlii. the Servant is something distinct from the whole nation, whose Covenant and Redeemer he is to be.

The next references to the Servant are a couple of paradoxes, which are evidently the prophet's attempt to show why it was necessary to draw in the Servant of Jehovah from the whole to a part of the people. The first of these paradoxes is in ch. xlii. ver. 18.

Ye deaf, hearken! and ye blind, look ye to see!
Who is blind but My Servant, and deaf as My Messenger
whom I send?
263Who is blind as Meshullam, and blind as the Servant of Jehovah?
Vision of many things—and thou dost not observe,
Opening of ears and he hears not!

The context shows that the Servant here—or Meshullam, as he is called, the devoted or submissive one, from the same root, and of much the same form as the Arabic Muslim152152   Meshullam is found as a proper name in the historical books of the Old Testament, especially Nehemiah, e.g., iii. 4, 6, 30.—is the whole people; but they are entitled Servant only in order to show how unfit they are for the task to which they have been designated, and what a paradox their title is beside their real character. God had given them every opportunity by making great His instruction (ver. 21, cf. p. 247), and, when that failed, by His sore discipline in exile (vers. 24, 25). For who gave Jacob for spoil and Israel to the robbers? Did not Jehovah? He against whom we sinned, and they would not walk in His ways, neither were obedient to His instruction. So He poured upon him the fury of His anger and the force of war. But even this did not awake the dull nation. Though it set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it kindled upon him, yet he laid it not to heart. The nation as a whole had been favoured with God's revelation; as a whole they had been brought into His purifying furnace of the Exile. But as they have benefited by neither the one nor the other, the natural conclusion is that as a whole they are no more fit to be God's Servant. Such is the hint which this paradox is intended to give us.

But a little further on there is an obverse paradox, which plainly says, that although the people are blind and deaf as a whole, still the capacity for service is found among them alone (xliii. 8, 10).


Bring forth the blind people—yet eyes are there!
And the deaf, yet ears have they!...
Ye are My witnesses, saith Jehovah, and My Servant whom I have chosen.

The preceding verses (vv. 1-7) show us that it is again the whole people, in their bulk and scattered fragments, who are referred to. Blind though they be, yet are there eyes among them; deaf though they be, yet they have ears. And so Jehovah addresses them all, in contradistinction to the heathen peoples (ver. 9), as His Servant.

These two complementary paradoxes together show this: that while Israel as a whole is unfit to be the Servant, it is nevertheless within Israel, alone of all the world's nations, that the true capacities for service are found—eyes are there, ears have they. They prepare us for the Servant's testimony about himself, in which, while he owns himself to be distinct from Israel as a whole, he is nevertheless still called Israel. This is given in ch. xlix. And He said unto me, My Servant art thou; Israel, in whom I will glorify Myself. And now saith Jehovah, my moulder from the womb to be a Servant unto Him, to turn again Jacob to Him, and that Israel might not be destroyed; and I am of value in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God is my strength. And He said, It is too light for thy being My Servant, merely to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also set thee for a light of nations, to be My salvation to the end of the earth (xlix. 3-6). Here the Servant, though still called Israel, is clearly distinct from the nation as a whole, for part of his work is to raise the nation up again. And, moreover, he tells us this as his own testimony about himself. He is no longer265 spoken of in the third person, he speaks for himself in the first. This is significant. It is more than a mere artistic figure, the effect of our prophet's dramatic style—as if the Servant now stood opposite him, so vivid and near that he heard him speak, and quoted him in the direct form of speech. It is more probably the result of moral sympathy: the prophet speaks out of the heart of the Servant, in the name of that better portion of Israel which was already conscious of the Divine call, and of its distinction in this respect from the mass of the people.

It is futile to inquire what this better portion of Israel actually was, for whom the prophet speaks in the first person. Some have argued, from the stress which the speaker lays upon his gifts of speech and office of preaching, that what is now signified by the Servant is the order of the prophets; but such forget that in these chapters the proclamation of the Kingdom of God is the ideal, not of prophets only, but of the whole people. Zion as a whole is to be heraldess of good news (xl. 9). It is, therefore, not the official function of the prophet-order which the Servant here owns, but the ideal of the prophet-nation. Others have argued from the direct form of speech, that the prophet puts himself forward as the Servant. But no individual would call himself Israel. And as Professor Cheyne remarks, the passage is altogether too self-assertive to be spoken by any man of himself as an individual; although, of course, our prophet could not have spoken of the true Israel with such sympathy, unless he had himself been part of it. The writer of these verses may have been, for the time, as virtually the real Israel as Mazzini was the real Italy. But still he does not speak as an individual. The passage is manifestly a piece of266 personification. The Servant is Israel—not now the nation as a whole, not the body and bulk of the Israelites, for they are to be the object of his first efforts, but the loyal, conscious and effective Israel, realised in some of her members, and here personified by our prophet, who himself speaks for her out of his heart, in the first person.

By ch. xlix., then, the Servant of Jehovah is a personification of the true, effective Israel as distinguished from the mass of the nation—a Personification, but not yet a Person. Something within Israel has wakened up to find itself conscious of being the Servant of Jehovah, and distinct from the mass of the nation—something that is not yet a Person. And this definition of the Servant may stand (with some modifications) for his next appearance in ch. l. 4-9. In this passage the Servant, still speaking in the first person, continues to illustrate his experience as a prophet, and carries it to its consequence in martyrdom. But let us notice that he now no longer calls himself Israel, and that if it were not for the previous passages it would be natural to suppose that an individual was speaking. This supposition is confirmed by a verse that follows the Servant's speech, and is spoken, as chorus, by the Prophet himself. Who among you is a fearer of Jehovah, obedient to the voice of His Servant, who walketh in darkness, and hath no light. Let him trust in the name of Jehovah, and stay himself upon his God. In this too much neglected verse, which forms a real transition to ch. lii. 13-liii., the prophet is addressing any individual Israelite, on behalf of a personal God. It is very difficult to refrain from concluding that therefore the Servant also is a Person. Let us, however, not go beyond what we have evidence for; and note only267 that in ch. l. the Servant is no more called Israel, and is represented not as if he were one part of the nation, over against the mass of it, but as if he were one individual over against other individuals; that in fine the Personification of ch. xlix. has become much more difficult to distinguish from an actual Person.

3. This brings us to the culminating passage—ch. lii. 13-liii. Is the Servant still a Personification here, or at last and unmistakably a Person?

It may relieve the air of that electricity, which is apt to charge it at the discussion of so classic a passage as this, and secure us calm weather in which to examine exegetical details, if we at once assert, what none but prejudiced Jews have ever denied, that this great prophecy, known as the fifty-third of Isaiah, was fulfilled in One Person, Jesus of Nazareth, and achieved in all its details by Him alone. But, on the other hand, it requires also to be pointed out that Christ's personal fulfilment of it does not necessarily imply that our prophet wrote it of a Person. The present expositor hopes, indeed, to be able to give strong reasons for the theory usual among us, that the Personification of previous passages is at last in ch. liii. presented as a Person. But he fails to understand, why critics should be regarded as unorthodox or at variance with New Testament teaching on the subject, who, while they acknowledge that only Christ fulfilled ch. liii., are yet unable to believe that the prophet looked upon the Servant as an individual, and who regard ch. liii. as simply a sublimer form of the prophet's previous pictures of the ideal people of God. Surely Christ could and did fulfil prophecies other than personal ones. The types of Him, which the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament, are not exclusively individuals.268 Christ is sometimes represented as realising in His Person and work statements, which, as they were first spoken, could only refer to Israel, the nation. Matthew, for instance, applies to Jesus a text which Hosea wrote primarily of the whole Jewish people: Out of Egypt have I called My Son.153153   Hosea xi. 1; Matt. ii. 15 Or, to take an instance from our own prophet—who but Jesus fulfilled ch. xlix., in which, as we have seen, it is not an individual, but the ideal of the prophet people, that is figured? So that, even if it were proved past all doubt—proved from grammar, context, and every prophetic analogy—that in writing ch. liii. our prophet had still in view that aspect of the nation which he has personified in ch. xlix., such a conclusion would not weaken the connection between the prophecy and its unquestioned fulfilment by Jesus Christ, nor render the two less evidently part of one Divine design.

But we are by no means compelled to adopt the impersonal view of ch. liii. On the contrary, while the question is one, to which all experts know the difficulty of finding an absolutely conclusive answer one way or the other, it seems to me that reasons prevail, which make for the personal interpretation. . Let us see what exactly are the objections to taking ch. lii. 13-liii. in a personal sense. First, it is very important to observe, that they do not rise out of the grammar or language of the passage. The reference of both of these is consistently individual. Throughout, the Servant is spoken of in the singular.154154   Of all the expressions used of him the only one which shows a real tendency to a plural reference is in his deaths (ver. 9), and even it (if it is the correct reading) is quite capable of application to an individual who suffered such manifold martyrdom as is set forth in the passage. The name269 Israel is not once applied to him: nothing—except that the nation has also suffered—suggests that he is playing a national rôle; there is no reflection in his fate of the features of the Exile. The antithesis, which was evident in previous passages, between a better Israel and the mass of the people has disappeared. The Servant is contrasted, not with the nation as a whole, but with His people as individuals. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. As far as grammar can, this surely distinguishes a single person. It is true, that one or two phrases suggest so colossal a figure—he shall startle many nations, and kings shall shut their mouths at him—that for a moment we think of the spectacle of a people rather than of a solitary human presence. But even such descriptions are not incompatible with a single person.155155   Not one word in them betrays any sense of a body of men or an ideal people standing behind them, which sense surely some expression would have betrayed, if it had been in the prophet's mind. On the other hand, there are phrases which we can scarcely think are used of any but a historical individual; such as that he was taken from oppression and judgement, that is from a process of law which was tyranny, from a judicial murder, and that he belonged to a particular generation—As for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living. Surely a historical individual is the natural meaning of these words. And, in fact, critics like Ewald and Wellhausen, who interpret the passage, in its present context, of the ideal Israel, find themselves forced to argue, that it has been borrowed for this use from the older story of some actual martyr—so individual do its references seem to them throughout.


If, then, the grammar and language of the passage thus conspire to convey the impression of an individual, what are the objections to supposing that an individual is meant? Critics have felt, in the main, three objections to the discovery of a historical individual in Isa. lii. 13-liii.

The first of these that we take is chronological, and arises from the late date to which we have found it necessary to assign the prophecy. Our prophet, it is averred, associates the work of the Servant with the restoration of the people; but he sees that restoration too close to him to be able to think of the appearance, ministry and martyrdom of a real historic life happening before it. (Our prophet, it will be remembered, wrote about 546, and the Restoration came in 538.) "There is no room for a history like that of the suffering Servant between the prophet's place and the Restoration."156156   A. B. D., in a review of the last edition of Delitzsch's Isaiah, in the Theol. Review, iv., p. 276.

Now, this objection might be turned, even if it were true that the prophet identified the suffering Servant's career with so immediate and so short a process as the political deliverance from Babylon. For, in that case, the prophet would not be leaving less room for the Servant, than, in ch. ix., Isaiah himself leaves for the birth, the growth to manhood, and the victories of the Prince-of-the-Four-Names, before that immediate relief from the Assyrian, which he expects the Prince to effect. But does our prophet identify the suffering Servant's career with the redemption from Babylon and the Return? It is plain that he does not—at least in those portraits of the Servant, which are most personal. Our271 prophet has really two prospects for Israel—one, the actual deliverance from Babylon; the other, a spiritual redemption and restoration. If, like his fellow prophets, he sometimes runs these two together, and talks of the latter in the terms of the former, he keeps them on the whole distinct, and assigns them to different agents. The burden of the first he lays on Cyrus, though he also connects it with the Servant, while the Servant is still to him an aspect of the nation (see xlix. 8a, 9b). It is temporary, and soon passes from his thoughts, Cyrus being dropped with it. But the other, the spiritual redemption, is confined to no limits of time; and it is with its process—indefinite in date and in length of period—that he associates the most personal portraits of the Servant (ch. l. and lii. 13-liii.). In these the Servant, now spoken of as an individual, has nothing to do with that temporary work of freeing the people from Babylon, which was over in a year or two, and which seems to be now behind the prophet's standpoint. His is the enduring office of prophecy, sympathy, and expiation—an office in which there is all possible "room" for such a historical career as is sketched for him. His relation to Cyrus, before whose departure from connection with Israel's fate the Servant does not appear as a person, is thus most interesting. Perhaps we may best convey it in a homely figure. On the ship of Israel's fortunes—as on every ship and on every voyage—the prophet sees two personages. One is the Pilot through the shallows, Cyrus, who is dropped as soon as the shallows are past; and the other is the Captain of the ship, who remains always identified with it—the Servant. The Captain does not come to the front till the Pilot has gone; but, both alongside the Pilot, and after the Pilot has been dropped, there is every room for his office.


The second main objection to identifying an individual in ch. lii. 13-liii. is, that an individual with such features has no analogy in Hebrew prophecy. It is said that, neither in his humiliation, nor in the kind of exaltation, which is ascribed to him, is there his like in any other individual in the Old Testament, and certainly not in the Messiah. Elsewhere in Scripture (it is averred) the Messiah reigns, and is glorious; it is the people who suffer, and come through suffering to power. Nor is the Messiah's royal splendour at all the same as the very vague influence, evidently of a spiritual kind, which is attributed to the Servant in the end of ch. liii. The Messiah is endowed with the military and political virtues. He is a warrior, a king, a judge. He sits on the throne of David, He establishes David's kingdom. He smites the land with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He slays the wicked. But very different phrases are used of the Servant. He is not called king, though kings shut their mouths at him,—he is a prophet and a martyr, and an expiation; and the phrases, I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, are simply metaphors of the immense spiritual success and influence with which His self-sacrifice shall be rewarded; as a spiritual power He shall take His place among the dominions and forces of the world. This is a true prophecy of what Israel, that worm of a people, should be lifted to; but it is quite different from the political throne, from which Isaiah had promised that the Messiah should sway the destinies of Israel and mankind.

But, in answer to this objection to finding the Messiah, or any other influential individual, in ch. liii., we may remember that there were already traces in273 Hebrew prophecy of a suffering Messiah: we come across them in ch. vii. There Isaiah presents Immanuel, whom we identified with the Prince-of-the-Four-Names in ch. ix., as at first nothing but a sufferer—a sufferer from the sins of His predecessors.157157   Isaiah I. i.-xxxix., pp. 134, 135. And, even though we are wrong in taking the suffering Immanuel for the Messiah, and though Isaiah meant him only as a personification of Israel suffering for the error of Ahaz, had not the two hundred years, which elapsed between Isaiah's prophecy of Israel's glorious Deliverer, been full of room enough, and, what is more, of experience enough, for the ideal champion of the people to be changed to something more spiritual in character and in work? Had the nation been baptized, for most of those two centuries, in vain, in the meaning of suffering, and in vain had they seen exemplified in their noblest spirits the fruits and glory of self-sacrifice?158158   See p. 42. The type of Hero had changed in Israel since Isaiah wrote of his Prince-of-the-Four-Names. The king had been replaced by the prophet; the conqueror by the martyr; the judge who smote the land by the rod of his mouth, and slew the wicked by the breath of his lips,—by the patriot who took his country's sins upon his own conscience. The monarchy had perished; men knew that, even if Israel were set upon their own land again, it would not be under an independent king of their own; nor was a Jewish champion of the martial kind, such as Isaiah had promised for deliverance from the Assyrian, any more required. Cyrus, the Gentile, should do all the campaigning required against Israel's enemies, and Israel's native Saviour be relieved for gentler methods and more spiritual aims. It is all this experience, of274 nearly two centuries, which explains the omission of the features of warrior and judge from ch. liii., and their replacement by those of a suffering patriot, prophet and priest. The reason of the change is, not because the prophet who wrote the chapter had not, as much as Isaiah, an individual in his view, but because, in the historical circumstance of the Exile, such an individual as Isaiah had promised, seemed no longer probable or required.

So far, then, from the difference between ch. liii. and previous prophecies of the Messiah affording evidence that in ch. liii. it is not the Messiah who is presented, this very change, that has taken place, explicable as it is from the history of the intervening centuries, goes powerfully to prove that it is the Messiah, and therefore an individual, whom the prophet so vividly describes.

The third main objection to our recognising an individual in ch. liii. is concerned only with our prophet himself. Is it not impossible, say some—or at least improbably inconsistent—for the same prophet first to have identified the Servant with the nation, and then to present him to us as an individual? We can understand the transference by the same writer of the name from the whole people to a part of the people; it is a natural transference, and the prophet sufficiently explains it. But how does he get from a part of the nation to a single individual? If in ch. xlix. he personifies, under the name Servant, some aspect of the nation, we are surely bound to understand the same personification when the Servant is again introduced—unless we have an explanation to the contrary. But we have none. The prophet gives no hint, except by dropping the name Israel, that the focus of his vision275 is altered,—no more paradoxes such as marked his passage from the people as a whole to a portion of them,—-no consciousness that any explanation whatever is required. Therefore, however much finer the personification is drawn in ch. liii. than in ch. xlix., it is surely a personification still.

To which objection an obvious answer is, that our prophet is not a systematic theologian, but a dramatic poet, who allows his characters to disclose themselves and their relation without himself intervening to define or relate them. And any one who is familiar with the literature of Israel knows, that no less than the habit of drawing in from the whole people upon a portion of them, was the habit of drawing in from a portion of the people upon one individual. The royal Messiah Himself is a case in point. The original promise to David was of a seed; but soon prophecy concentrated the seed in one glorious Prince. The promise of Israel had always culminated in an individual. Then, again, in the nation's awful sufferings, it had been one man—the prophet Jeremiah—who had stood forth singly and alone, at once the incarnation of Jehovah's word, and the illustration in his own person of all the penalty that Jehovah laid upon the sinful people. With this tendency of his school to focus Israel's hope on a single individual, and especially with the example of Jeremiah before him, it is almost inconceivable that our prophet could have thought of any but an individual when he drew his portrait of the suffering Servant. No doubt the national sufferings were in his heart as he wrote; it was probably a personal share in them that taught him to write so sympathetically about the Man of pains, who was familiar with ailing. But to gather and276 concentrate all these sufferings upon one noble figure, to describe this figure as thoroughly conscious of their moral meaning, and capable of turning them to his people's salvation, was a process absolutely in harmony with the genius of Israel's prophecy, as well as with the trend of their recent experience; and there is, besides, no word in that great chapter, in which the process culminates, but is in thorough accordance with it. So far, therefore, from its being an impossible or an unlikely thing for our prophet to have at last reached his conception of an individual, it is almost impossible to conceive of him executing so personal a portrait as ch. lii. 13-liii., without thinking of a definite historical personage, such as Hebrew prophecy had ever associated with the redemption of his people.

4. We have now exhausted the passages in Isa. xl.-lxvi. which deal with the Servant of the Lord. We have found that our prophet identifies him at first with the whole nation, and then with some indefinite portion of the nation—indefinite in quantity, but most marked in character; that this personification grows more and more difficult to distinguish from a person; and that in ch. lii. 13-liii. there are very strong reasons, both in the text itself and in the analogy of other prophecy, to suppose that the portrait of an individual is intended. To complete our study of this development of the substance of the Servant, it is necessary to notice that it runs almost stage for stage with a development of his office. Up to ch. xlix., that is to say, while he is still some aspect of the people, the Servant is a prophet. In ch. l., where he is no longer called Israel, and approaches more nearly to an individual, his prophecy passes into martyrdom. And in ch. liii., where at last we recognise him as intended for an actual personage,277 his martyrdom becomes an expiation for the sins of the people. Is there a natural connection between these two developments? We have seen that it was by a very common process that our prophet transferred the national calling from the mass of the nation to a select few of the people. Is it by any equally natural tendency that he shrinks from the many to the few, as he passes from prophecy to martyrdom, or from the few to the one, as he passes from martyrdom to expiation? It is a possibility for all God's people to be prophets: few are needed as martyrs. Is it by any moral law equally clear, that only one man should die for the people? These are questions worth thinking about. In Israel's history we have already found the following facts with which to answer them. The whole living generation of Israel felt themselves to be sinbearers: Our fathers have sinned, and we bear their iniquities. This conscience and penalty were more painfully felt by the righteous in Israel. But the keenest and heaviest sense of them was conspicuously that experienced by one man—the prophet Jeremiah.159159   See ch. ii. of this volume. And yet all these cases from the past of Israel's history do not furnish more than an approximation to the figure presented to us in ch. liii. Let us turn, therefore, to the future to see if we can find in it motive or fulfilment for this marvellous prophecy.

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