The Character of the Servant of Jehovah (Isaiah 42.1-21)
In Matthew 12.17-21, the Lord Jesus is confirmed to be the fulfilment of the opening verses of Isaiah 42, when He was first here as a man on earth. In this first 'Servant passage' of Isaiah's prophecy, describing the glory of God's Son as Jehovah's perfect Servant, the emphasis is on the character of the Servant. The passage covers the full scope of His service, and highlights the contrast in the character He displays in His two advents.
In verses 1-4, we are first reminded of the submissiveness, dependence, faithfulness, devotion, compassion, quietness, gentleness, gracious ministry and steadfastness He displayed as the lowly Man of Nazareth. But, as we progress through the passage, in verses 13-16 we see that the character of the Servant changes considerably. To highlight that change in character, we read in verse 2 "He shall not cry" but, when we come to verse 13, "he shall cry, yea, roar". It is the same Servant in view in both verses, yet seemingly opposite character being displayed. The Hebrew word for 'cry' in these two verses is not exactly the same word, but the explanation of this apparent paradox is not resting solely on the detail of Hebrew words. Rather, it is readily understood by the context of the verses in which they are found, and the differing periods of service of Jehovah's perfect Servant here on earth.
Again, in verses 1-4 we have Jehovah's Servant come in grace - the character He displayed at His first advent when He came to earth as a man in the character of a lamb. John cried "Behold the Lamb of God" (Jn 1.29), He was ultimately "brought as a lamb to the slaughter" (Isa 53.7), and men perceived Him to be "crucified through weakness" (2 Cor 13.4). Thus, in connection with His first period of service on earth as Jehovah's perfect Servant, "He shall not cry" (Isa 42.2). But, in verses 13-16 we have Jehovah's Servant come in power - the character He will display at His second advent, when He will come again as a man to this earth in power and great glory. It will not then be with the character of a lamb, but with that of a lion, "the Lion of the tribe of Juda" (Rev 5.5). Thus, in connection with His second period of service on this earth as Jehovah's perfect Servant, He will "go forth as a mighty man ... a man of war", and like a lion "he shall cry, yea, roar" (v 13).
It is important for believers in the Lord Jesus to always appreciate the full scope of the ministry of our blessed Lord and Saviour. We think readily of His first advent, the days of His flesh, those 33 years when He tabernacled among men, and all that He faithfully accomplished for His God when He first came down to this world. But, in Isaiah 42, we are reminded that the perfect Servant still has a great service to fulfil, connected with His second coming to this world, His manifestation in glory, when in power "he shall prevail against his enemies" (v 13).
The Submissive Servant of Jehovah – Divinely Acknowledged
In Isaiah 42.1 we view the character of the Servant particularly in relation to His God. Jehovah acknowledges Him with evident pleasure, and invites all to "Behold my servant". In times past He was beheld by angelic beings in all His glory as the sovereign God, occupying the throne of heaven (Isa 6.1-3), but sinful humanity beholding God's Servant was only made possible by the incarnation of His beloved Son. He was the Sovereign One who willingly became the Servant; "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a father), full of grace and truth" (Jn 1.14, JND¹). As He dwelt among the sons of men, humanity was able to behold Him: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life" (1 Jn 1.1). Thus, consequent upon His incarnation, men were able to behold the Lord Jesus as the uniquely devoted and faithful Servant of God. Paul elaborates upon this truth in Philippians 2.6-8; "Who, being in the form of God [eternally subsisting in His essential deity] … took upon him the form of a servant [bondservant], and was made in the likeness of men". And "being found in fashion as a man", men were able to behold the eternal, divine and perfect Servant of God. As the eternal Son, He is eternally worthy of all the dignity of sonship, and though He could never relinquish anything of that inherent glory yet, in willing submission to His Father's will, He took upon Himself the character of a bondservant.
We should seek to apply this lovely character of God's Servant to ourselves in a practical way. New Testament Scripture often tells us that we are to be recognised as the servants of God. Paul, Peter, John and Jude were all apostles who readily took the ground of being bondservants. "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers [servants] of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4.1). Very few were apostles in that day, and none are today, but by divine grace we are all bondservants of Christ. We were once the slaves of sin, but we have been "bought with a price" (1 Cor 6.20), and become the bondslaves of Jesus Christ. We must recognise that we belong to Him entirely, and are to be at His complete disposal "as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart" (Eph 6.6). So, whatever service we have in God's assembly, let us seek to do it with heartfelt thanksgiving and joy, serving as humble and submissive bondslaves of Jesus Christ.
The Dependent Servant of Jehovah – Divinely Upheld
Further in Isaiah 42.1, we see that He is the dependent Servant, "whom I uphold". He was upheld by the God He served, and He ever served with that spirit of dependence. There are many references, particularly in the Gospel of John, to the fact that the words He spoke, the works He did, the doctrine He taught, the will that motivated Him, were all of the Father that sent Him. He acknowledges His complete dependence when He said "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do … For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth" (Jn 5.19-20), and again, "As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father …" (Jn 6.57). He was the dependent Servant who, in His service, was being upheld by His Father; of Himself He would do nothing. He was ever dependent upon the Father to be shown all things, and the Father loved Him the more because of that attitude of dependence and delighted to show Him all that He should do.
We too must serve our God with complete dependence, and be upheld by divine Persons. The Lord said to His disciples "apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15.5, ESV²), and Paul could say "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil 4.13). Paul was a servant who knew much of being upheld by the Lord. When he stood before Nero no man stood with him, but he says "Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me" (2 Tim 4.17). We can indeed depend upon Him who has promised "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Heb 13.5-6). He will always be our divine Helper, and we must ever look to Him to uphold us, and to fit us for whatever service He would have us to fulfil. (To be continued …)
¹ J N Darby, The Holy Scriptures - A New Translation from the Original Languages.
² English Standard Version.