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God’s Perfect Servant (1): Christ Seen in Isaiah 49

Ian Gibson, Winnipeg, Canada


In Isaiah 42, the first of the prophet’s ‘Servant songs’ about the Lord Jesus Christ as Jehovah’s perfect Servant, the viewpoint is that of Jehovah. The second passage, in chapter 49, gives the Servant’s own perspective, as He speaks for Himself and of His own service. Three times in the passage there is reference to Him being identified as Jehovah’s Servant, in two of which He directly quotes the words Jehovah had spoken to Him, identifying Him as “my servant”: “Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (v 3); “And now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant” (v 5); and “It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob …” (v 6).

That this passage is speaking of the Lord Jesus as Jehovah’s Servant is confirmed in the New Testament. Simeon was surely alluding to Isaiah 49.6 when, holding the infant Jesus in his arms, he said “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Lk 2.30-32). The same verse is quoted by Paul and Barnabas when they were in Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13.47). In response to the Jews rejecting their preaching of Christ, they indicated that they would turn to the Gentiles with the glorious message of Christ the Saviour.

The passage gives an outline of the different stages of His preparation for service, and the grand programme of His service. The feelings of the Servant are made known as He pursues His service and fulfils a global programme, not only “to restore the preserved of Israel”, but also to be “for a light to the Gentiles”, and to be God’s “salvation unto the end of the earth” (Isa 49.6). We shall observe seven features of the perfect Servant of Jehovah in Isaiah 49.1-7 and, as we consider these things in relation to our blessed Lord Jesus, we will learn principles in relation to divine service that we can apply to our own individual and collective service for God.

Verse 1: The Servant’s Vocation

Jehovah’s Servant acknowledges His divine calling to a service that would encompass more than just the nation of Israel, so He begins by addressing those of the distant Gentile lands, those far-off islands: “Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people [peoples, plural], from far”. The Servant’s branches of blessing are going to graciously extend far beyond the confines of Israel, for His service has in view the enlightenment of the Gentiles, the provision of blessing, and “salvation unto the end of the earth” (v 6). Jehovah’s perfect Servant has been called to a service that will be on behalf of all of humanity, and only a divine Servant, with all the resources and attributes of deity, could be called to such a far-reaching ministry.

The Servant then speaks of His divine vocation; “The Lord hath called me …”, expressing His assurance in having heard such a call, and having been sent forth in this service by the Lord. This would indicate something of the Servant’s submission, dependence and humility in being sent forth to serve His God, even though as the divine, omniscient One, He well knew the details of the service He must accomplish. Though He was eternally co-equal with God, the Lord Jesus was still sensitive to the need to be called to go forth to fulfil the service of Jehovah.

As Jehovah’s Servant, He was called “from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.” The Lord Jesus would speak prophetically in the Psalms of His absolute dependence upon His God from the womb: “I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly” (Ps 22.10). This is in keeping with the true humanity of the Servant, and the service which had in view all of humanity being fulfilled by a Man Himself, “who, being in the form of God … took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2.6-7). Luke, who particularly presents the Lord Jesus in His perfect Manhood, is the only Gospel writer to speak of “the womb” of His mother Mary, and he does so four times (1.31, 42; 2.21; 11.27).

The word of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah was “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer 1.5). Similarly, the apostle Paul could say that “it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me” (Gal 1.15-16). These were servants of God, who were brought to appreciate His gracious and sovereign purpose in being set apart to divine service from the very beginning of their lives.

But the Lord Jesus was the unique Servant of Jehovah, in that He was fully conscious of His calling to service from the moment of His incarnation; “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me” (Heb 10.5), and “Lo, I come … to do thy will, O God” (v 7). The first recorded words of our Lord Jesus as a Man on earth are consistent with His vocation to service: in the temple, at the age of 12, He said “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk 2.49). He always had understanding that He had been called to accomplish the work and business of His Father.

It was from His incarnation that “He (Jehovah) made mention of my name.” In the angelic explanation given to Joseph, “thou shalt call his name JESUS [Jehovah the Saviour]: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt 1.21), that name emphasised the service He would accomplish. “His people” specifically referred to the nation of Israel, but Isaiah declares that His vocation has in view the provision of God’s salvation to all peoples, even “unto the end of the earth” (49.6). This would be a divine work of salvation, and the further name linked with His incarnation reflected the true deity of the Servant; “they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Mt 1.23). This was the great work, and the immense service, with which His blessed name was linked with a view to its fulfilment.

Turning to our vocation as believers in the Lord Jesus in this present age of the Church, we have all received a calling to God’s salvation: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling” (2 Tim 1.9); and we are “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb 3.1). Paul exhorts us to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Eph 4.1). Our walk, character and manner of living in this world as Christians should be commensurate with being called of God to such a place of blessing in Christ, as detailed in Ephesians 1-3.

But the context here in Isaiah 49.1 is specifically a calling to the service of God. In Acts 13.2, “the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” and, surely, in this age of the Spirit, He does the same with believers today. Paul, Silas and Timothy did not head for Philippi in Acts 16 until they had that clear conviction, and assurance of the Spirit of God directing them. The Lord called them to take the Gospel to Macedonia and into Europe, and they went “assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them” (v 10).

We likewise serve the living God, who calls His servants to specific spheres of service that He has equipped them to fulfil. For service that involves “the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15.58), we should expect divine Persons to actively direct that work, to call and mobilise the relevant and fitted servants of the Lord as They would desire, for the accomplishment of the work, and for the glory of God. The perfect Servant of Jehovah was called, and His name was linked to the fulfilment of His service: “He made mention of my name.” We too need to be sensitive to being called of God to the service He would have for us to do. He links our name with that service, and we need to be exercised to fulfil our  service for His glory.

(To be continued …)


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