by Dr. Keith Megilligan
“4 The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. 5 The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. 6 I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. 7 For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. 8 He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. 9 Behold, the Lord GOD will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up. 10 Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.”
Most students of the Bible would find, after a quick examination of this passage, several key phrases that would remind them of New Testament quotations from or about Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. But if you’re not careful, you might overlook the context of this passage and miss some subtle if not important factors. It’s the difference of separating the forest from the trees. Let’s start with the trees, then move to the forest.
First, we will consider the verse that contains the word “servant,” verse 10 in this paragraph of verses and then back up to flesh out its content.
Within the content of 50:10 are three distinct words that reference God. First, “Who is among you that feareth the LORD…” Most English translations of this Hebrew word (also rendered Yahweh (Jehovah)) distinguish this name of God by capitalizing all letters of the word LORD. This is done to show that the Hebrew word being translated is the four lettered tetragrammaton speaking of God, the I AM (the eternal one). It is this name by which the LORD chose to introduce himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14).
Next is the phrase, “that obeyeth the voice of his servant…” Though this phrase contains the key word of our subject here: servant, more importantly the use of this name of God demonstrates a humility by which God identifies himself. As another portion of this passage indicates, God gave us His servant (Hebrew transliterated, ev’do / wdbe ) so that he may suffer (Isaiah 50:6). Of some note is the fact that within the context of these several chapters (49-53) the possessive pronouns, “my” and “his” are used several times referring to “servant” along with the definite article “the” being used once as well. The humility of the servant and God are intertwined, not only by the personal pronoun (his servant), but also in the Apostle Paul’s description of God’s servant: “…Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:5-7, emphasis added).
The final phrase of verse ten includes yet one other distinct name for God: “…let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God…” We are reacquainted with the “I AM” title for God again with the rendered: LORD. The next word for God is different: b’elohaiu (wyhlab derivation of Elohim), translated here, “his God.” The word, Elohim, takes us back to Genesis chapter one where God/Elohim is introduced to us as the creator God.
The fact that three separate words/names are presented by the prophet as he talks about “God,” is not unusual. There are many passages in Isaiah, Jeremiah and the Psalms in which multiple title/ascriptions are given to God. The reason is fairly simple: the majesty and immenseness of God is so profound that one word is not enough for us to comprehend Him. It is an illustration of the finite attempting to comprehend the infinite. God in His grace has infinite character. He offers us aspects of that character in scripture for us to begin to mentally and spiritually wrestle with His greatness. And certainly, three or four titles, as presented here, do not come close in number to cover the names/titles of God presented in just the Hebrew text of scripture. And yet, we are not done! Consider the following:
The depiction of “his servant” in this passage is likewise rich and multifaceted. First, in verse four, we are introduced to yet a fourth title for God: The LORD God = hwhy ynda (transliterated, adonai Yahweh). Adonai can also be rendered “my Lord/God.” It is a title of honor, as if one would say, “my Master/Lord.” This “servant” is given a tongue of “the learned,” as the KJV renders it. Actually, the Hebrew word means taught, as a disciple. In each place the word “learned” is used in this verse, taught or disciple could be substituted. Either way, the rendering once again includes the concept of humility. This “servant” has come to be taught and to be discipled.
In my mind, two key NT passages jump out as you consider this concept of discipleship as it relates to “his servant.” The first is Luke 2:39-52. Jesus the Messiah is depicted by Dr. Luke as one who from his childhood “grew,” was “filled with wisdom,” “was subject” to his human parents, and “increased in wisdom,” all because the “grace of God was upon him.” If that’s not a demonstration of being taught or being a disciple, I’m not sure what is! But beyond Luke’s teaching is the additional word from the author of Hebrews: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered…” Hebrews 5:8. It was not beneath the stature of the LORD God as his “servant” to experience learning, discipleship, and being taught – even through suffering. Again, humility is a key characteristic of “his servant.”
Verse six gives us some other key phrases about “his servant.” It is written “I gave my back to the smiters,” “my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair,” “I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” As the Son of Man, Jesus spoke of enduring His own humility in Mark 10: 33, 34. The acts themselves are spoken of in Mark 14:65 and 15:19.
A little later in verse seven of Isaiah 50, there is the phrase, “…I set my face like a flint…” Dr. Luke uses almost this exact phrase to depict Jesus’ resolution in heading for Jerusalem to face his trial, abuse and crucifixion (Luke 9:51; cf. 13:34, 35). In a similar vein, we Christians are to set our face on Jesus as we run our race of faith here on earth (Hebrews 12:1, 2).
There is then an allusion, if not depiction, of “his servant” dealing with his adversaries. The language of verses eight and nine show a give and take between those who would be enemies and those who would be friends of the Messiah. In either case it doesn’t matter because “his servant” puts his confidence in “the LORD God,” not his friends, and certainly not his enemies.
The above mentioned verses, six through nine, bear striking similarities to the content of Psalm 22. That Psalm is generally considered one of the great Messianic Psalms. The language of Psalm 22 depicts virtually every life-draining moment that the Messiah, “his servant,” spent on the cross. Whereas Isaiah 50:6-9 may be considered the microphone of recorded sorrow for “his servant,” Psalm 22 is the megaphone of grief and anguish endured by the Messiah.
When you come back to verse ten, you see the prophet evoke a similar theme he mentions throughout his great work. It is the theme of darkness and light. “Who…among you…walketh in darkness, and hath no light?” Prophets were masters at using images or imagery to help proclaim their message. In Isaiah 9, for example, the prophet writes of “those who dwell in darkness shall see a great light.” As he writes those words, set in the context of war and armies marching through the land of Israel, you can almost see the early morning shadow of darkness being cast by the trans-Jordan mountain range over the little villages of Galilee. At the same time, Isaiah puts down a foundation for us to appreciate the One who would come hundreds of years later to that region of the world, preaching light and being the Light: “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace,” Isaiah 9:6.
In conclusion, a very brief comment on the forest. As indicated above, there are far more than three or four names that have been given for us to appreciate not only the God of Scripture, but also “his servant” as presented in Isaiah. “His servant” is shown as humble so that we may better appreciate His majesty. He is glorious so that we may be able to walk in light through darkness. He is resolute so that we may not waver. He is infinite yet continually present. He is a disciple so that we may learn from His teaching. So, let us exalt His majesty, walk in light, not waver, and learn from the Master.