Before we get into the specifics of today’s passage, I need to make a few notes about the term “Servant” that’s mentioned here and elsewhere.
First, we need to recognize that although the term is often linked with the humble (and humiliating) aspects of the Messiah’s work, it’s not intrinsically such in and of itself. The word “servant” was repeatedly used of a right-hand subordinate of a king. Moses was called the “servant of the Lord,” as well as others, so it’s not a bad thing or lowly concept. To be called a “servant of the Lord,” as Job was, was a badge of honor and a vindication before his accusatory “friends.”
Also, we need to recognize, in fairness, that when God calls someone his “servant” in these passages, it’s not always clear that he’s referring to Jesus. To add to the confusion, the Servant is specifically called “Israel” in vs. 3. Lots of traditional Jewish interpreters have latched onto this to claim that the Servant is not Jesus, but national Israel.
They might even have a point, except for the fact that the Servant says that part of his mission is bring Israel/Jacob back to the Lord in vs. 5. The Servant can’t be national Israel (in this passage, at least) if his job is to bring Israel back to God’s embrace. How do we explain it? How can “Israel” bring “Israel” back to the Lord?
We’ve talked about this before. The reason is that Jesus is the true Israel. Not that national Israel was “fake” or anything like that. But God had given them the Law and a mission: To be a kingdom of priests. That means that they were supposed to represent God to the nations and the nations before God. And if you’re familiar at all with the stories of the Old Testament, you know very well they failed miserably. They never really lived up to their calling, and more often than not they flagrantly disobeyed his explicit instructions and rejected his revelation.
But Jesus came forward, hidden up to that point in God’s “hand,” concealed in the Lord’s “quiver” to be “fired” at just the right moment. And everything national Israel was supposed to be and failed, he succeeded in being and doing.
What’s the first part of verse 4 talking about, by the way? In what sense did Jesus ever say something like “Well, I guess I’ve just been wasting my time. I’ve been serving the Lord faithfully, and it’s all been for nothing.” Well, if we’re taking this passage to be referring to the Messiah, then how can we interpret it?
I can’t get around the fact that this is the Messiah talking. Not the people around him, not the disciples, not the religious leaders, but he himself is quoted here. There are different explanations, but I think that this was a thought that he was tempted with. Not that he ever gave into it, not for an instant. But from his human perspective, this is what he felt like at some point during the Passion. This is an open honest expression of how he felt, just like his cry of abandonment from the Cross. What we feel or the thoughts that come into our head are not our responsibility. What we do with them is. That’s where the issue of sin or obedience comes into play.
He didn’t give into that despair for an instant. In the same verse, he immediately refocused on what awaited him after the Cross: his glorious reward from the Father’s hand. In the Father’s timing, he would ultimately be exalted beyond all measure.
And what would the Father give as his reward? Gold? Money? Land? Well, of course that all belonged to him anyway. What did the Father give to him that Jesus really valued over all else? Worship from redeemed souls. Not just Jewish souls, those of national Israel. No, the Father won’t be satisfied, and the Messiah won’t be either, until people from all different nations and ethnic backgrounds and tribes and tongues proclaim the praises of the Servant. “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Can’t wait.
No Lord Jesus, I really can’t wait. I’m not going to. I want a taste of that right here and now. I’m not going to wait for kings and princes. I’m going to bow down, both with my body and my spirit, before your glorious presence. You deserve it. All of it.