To commemorate Israel’s 60th anniversary in 2008, the nation’s antiquities department put the famous Isaiah scroll on display at the Israel Museum. Discovered in 1947, this 2,100 year old manuscript is the only complete book of the Bible found at Qumran. Because of its inestimable value it has not been on display since 1967. The Isaiah scroll is one of the seven scrolls found by the Bedouin shepherd boy looking for a stray goat among the barren cliffs overlooking the Dead Sea. He had no idea, that on the eve of Israel’s re-birth he was to find the words of the prophet announcing, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” In less than a year’s time, the world would have an answer to Isaiah’s brash challenge, “Can a nation be born in a day?”
Isaiah looked forward to an even greater event than the re-gathering of the nation; in the Spirit he saw the coming of “the Root of Jesse, the Prince of Peace, the Righteous Servant who will justify many and bear their iniquities.” Who is this Righteous servant? In this article, Moshe Morrison prepares the way of the Lord by removing the stones of misunderstanding surrounding His identity.
The identity of the Servant of the Lord described in Isaiah remains a nexus of controversy for our people. As a rallying point against the startling correspondence to the life and ministry of Yeshua, many of our leaders have dismissed these claims by emphasizing those servant passages that clearly define Israel as The Servant of the Lord. Such a claim is too simplistic and ignores the clear overlay of Servant Israel with “The righteous Servant”, Messiah. Let’s look at a few passages that delineate between the two.
Isaiah 41:8-9 admonishes God’s servant, who is clearly identified here as the corporate nation of Israel, not to fear the myriad of enemies that surround them. The Lord will not forsake His servant. He promises victory over those that come against Israel. Ironically, this same word ends with a rebuke. God cannot locate anyone within the nation to intercede on its behalf – Israel has been completely corrupted by idolatry (Isaiah 41:28-29).
The character of the servant and his job description is found in 42:1-7. He is appointed “as a covenant to the people, and a light to the nations. To open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon.”
This description of the servant is very different from chapter 41. There is a universal dimension to the servant’s ministry that Israel has never fully accomplished. Corporate Israel will yet accomplish this calling, but only in conjunction with this singular servant who is the Messiah. The purpose of Messiah is not to replace Israel, but to empower Israel to fulfill their call as a light to the nations.
Who Is As Blind As My Servant?
This chapter ends with a dramatic reversal. Instead of opening blind eyes, the servant is described as both blind and deaf! (Isaiah 42:18). How can Israel fulfill the will of God when they cannot see or hear Him? In verse 22, Isaiah says “this is a people plundered and despoiled, trapped in caves, hidden away in prisons, having become a prey with none to deliver them.” Because of their sins, Israel is given over to this tragic condition. This is the message that is found everywhere God affirms Israel’s call as His servant: the shifting back and forth between rebuke for their sins and the amazing promises of full restoration. (Note especially chapters 43 and 44.) All this generates a deep awareness that something must be done to rectify Israel’s condition so they can fulfill their calling.
The servant Messiah Himself provides the remedy. Description gives way to proclamation as the Servant declares his mission to restore the nation. “And now says the Lord, who formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, in order that Israel might be gathered to Him. For I am honored in the sight of the Lord and my God is my strength“. God answers the servant: “It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make you a light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:5, 6).
This servant will restore Israel and deliver them from their abject condition. This one will also be a testimony to the nations. This is God’s servant, chosen by God, called by God, honored by God, and highly esteemed by God. With all that clearly stated, verse 7 really comes as a shock. “Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and its holy one, to the despised one, to the one abhorred by the nation …” The one that God has called to save the nation is abhorred by them!
The Suffering Servant
However, this abhorrence and rejection was a necessary part of the process leading to Israel’s redemption. There is no more powerful image of this than Isaiah 53. Here is the graphic description of exactly how Yeshua would fulfill His role as the servant of the Lord. Verse 3 says, “He was despised and forsaken of men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, like one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised and we did not esteem him“. Our people have not wanted to look at Him. They are afraid of what they might see.
“Yet it was our pains he bore, our sorrows that he carried” (53:4). As a nation, we have carried so much pain and sorrow for so many generations. We have borne so much suffering, not realizing that He came to take that upon Himself on our behalf. We believed that He was suffering punishment for His own sins but, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities, the chastening for our well-being fell upon him and by his scourging we are healed” (53:5). What is repeatedly emphasized in the preceding chapters is again pointed out here. We have suffered for our wanderings, our rejection of God’s purposes and for not heeding the call to be a holy people. We have been unwilling to be His witnesses, to be the servant of the Lord because we like sheep have wandered off our own way. He became the innocent lamb that took the blow of death for us guilty sheep.
Isaiah 53:8 asks: “… as for his generation, who considered he was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people …?” Not only His generation, but the generations that followed, even to this day have refused to acknowledge Him. Consider these modern examples: The Chassidic Jews who regularly stand and curse outside the homes of believers in Arad, the Rabbis who called for a boycott of the annual Israeli Bible quiz because one of the finalists was a Messianic Jew, the religious forces in the Interior Ministry that want to keep Messianic Jews from receiving Israeli citizenship, those who sent a bomb disguised as a holiday gift package to the home of a Messianic family, severely injuring their 15 year old son, the yeshiva students who gathered up New Covenant scriptures and publicly burned them, the religious Jews who lobby for legislation to make it illegal for us
to “speak or teach at all in the name of Yeshua” (Acts 4:18).
All these have never considered that He was the spotless Lamb of God, and we were the guilty ones, who needed His blood to cleanse us. Instead they call Him names and say horrible things about Him, making accusations of illegitimate birth and claiming He did evil magic to lead people astray.
He Shall See The Labor Of His Soul
But they are wrong. Verse 9 says “He had done no violence nor was there any deceit in his mouth.” It was the will of God that He would be the perfect guilt offering to expunge our guilt. And if He would do this there would be offspring, there would be fruit. We are the offspring; those of us who love Him. We enter our place as a corporate servant of the Lord. We have been justified because He bore our iniquities, “because he poured out his soul unto death” (Isaiah 53:10-12).
But justification in the eyes of God also puts us in a negative place in the eyes of men, especially among our people. 1 Peter 2:4-5 explains we too will be rejected by men, though choice and precious in the sight of God. Peter calls us living stones, because Yeshua is the chief cornerstone. Upon Him we are being built as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. While it is painful to be despised and rejected, especially by our own people that we love, it is part of God’s plan. We are confident we have the ultimate victory, birthed out of the anguish of His soul: “All Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26).