The Four Servant Songs of Isaiah
During the period of the Old Testament, God repeatedly spoke to his people through his prophets. These prophets were men with a special calling from God to warn his people to stop the sinful idolatry of their day, and to announce the judgment which was soon to come because of this idolatry. But these prophets were also to bring the comforting promise that God would not forsake his people, but would send the Messiah to save them some day. One prophet which stands out as having given the clearest pictures of the coming Messiah is certainly the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah lived roughly 750 years before Jesus, yet he describes many aspects of Jesus' life and work very clearly, as if he was seeing it first-hand. At Christmas time, large sections of Isaiah's prophecy are recited by the children and read from the lectern, to remind us of how these prophecies began to come true in Bethlehem. During Holy Week, we often hear the words of Isaiah 53, and how our Lord's suffering on our behalf was predicted.
This study guide has been prepared to help you grow in your understanding of four important prophecies of the life of Jesus which come from Isaiah. The four are similar in that they each describe Jesus as the Servant of the Lord, eager to carry out the Father's Will. Therefore they are often called the four "servant-songs" of Isaiah.
Since the best way to study Old Testament prophecy is to look up passages from the New Testament which show the fulfillment of the prophecy being considered, you are encouraged to look up all the passages cited and see how wonderfully our Lord described our Savior and his work many years before he walked the earth. And since the best way to remember important information is to write it down, you are encouraged to write the cross references listed in this booklet into the margins of your Bible. Especially important cross references will be denoted by being preceded by "XR".
The First Servant-Song -- Is 42:1-9
The Servant who has concern for the weak, and blind, and imprisoned.
v1 God the Father calls his servant "my chosen one, in whom I delight." Two times in the gospels, God says this about Jesus. Name these two incidents: XR: Matt 3:17; 17:5
This verse also tells us "he will bring justice to the nations." The term "the nations" refers to the Gentiles, and shows that the Servant would come for all the world, not just for the Jewish nation.
v2 "he will not raise his voice in the streets" Did Jesus teach this way? Read each of the chapters listed below, and find one verse which indicates how Jesus conducted his ministry in a quiet, non-showy way:
Matt 8 v __________ Matt 9 v ________________ Matt 12 v ___________
XR: Matt 12:18-21 also establishes that these words of Isaiah are a foretelling of the life of Jesus.
v3 "a bruised reed" and "a smoldering wick" refer to people with a weak faith. The following sections refer to people Jesus met who had a weak faith. Tell how Jesus helped these people in each instance:
Matt 6:28-34; 16:5-12
"in faithfulness" When we speak about Jesus' faithfulness, we mean his unwavering devotion to doing his Father's Will. see John 6:38
v4 "his law" What is the law that Jesus has given to us? John 13:35-35;
v6-7 Who is God the Father talking to in these verses?
XR Luke 2:32 and Acts 13:46-48
v7 What is the blindness and the prison that is being referred to in this
verse? See John 12:39-47; John 8:31-36
v8 The LORD, that is, Jehovah God, says he will not give his glory to
another. Yet what will Jesus have when he comes at Judgment Day?
XR Matt 16:27
How can both of these passages be correct?
The Second Servant-Song -- Is 49:1-7
The Servant who is sent to the Jews, but who becomes the Light for the Gentiles.
v1 This message is one for the "islands" and "distant nations." Who does this refer to? cf Is 42:1
v2 What is the "sharpened sword" that the Servant's mouth is compared to?
XR Rev 2:12; Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12
The Servant is hidden "in the shadow of his hand." This means behind his hand, so no one would notice, where a person might hide a secret weapon. Jesus is like God's secret weapon against Satan.
v3 The Servant is called Israel. But God is not speaking to the nation, since the Servant is called to gather the nation of Israel in verse 5. Jesus is the ideal Israel, he will succeed where the nation of Israel
v4 "I have labored for no purpose." The Servant expresses sorrow about his work on earth. What gave Jesus the most sorrow? XR Matt 23:37
v4 "what is due me is in the LORD's hand" We know of at least one point in Jesus' life where he was very distressed, yet he obediently placed all his troubles and cares in the Lord's hand. At what point in Jesus' life did he express these thoughts? XR Mark 14:33-36
v5 "to bring Jacob back to him, and gather Israel to himself" While Jesus was on the earth, who were the main target of his work? Matt 15:24
v6 Whereas in verse 5 the Servant is to go to his people, the Jews, what aspect of Jesus' mission is predicted in this verse? XR Acts 26:23
Who quotes this passage in the New Testament? XR Acts 13:46-48
v7 In this verse we are told both about the rejection and humiliation of Jesus by his own nation, and also the acceptance of his kingship by many others, even kings and princes among the Gentiles.
The Third Servant-Song -- Is 50:4-11
The Servant who endures ridicule yet remains blameless
v4 "has given me an instructed tongue" What did Jesus' hearers say about his teachings?
XR Matt 7:29; John 7:46
"to listen like one being taught" This means Jesus too, learned to serve his Father by listening to him. In which other way did Jesus learn to serve his Father? Heb 5:8
Some aspects of the suffering Jesus endured for us are described in verses 6 to 9. As we read these words, it is not hard for us to picture Jesus in the Praetorium among the Roman soldiers, as they were mocking him before he was led away to be crucified. Compare these verses to Matt 27:27-31.
v6 "I offered my back" Who beat Jesus on the back? XR John 19:1
"pulled out my beard" This is one prophecy where an Old Testament writer tells us about an event which the New Testament writers did not include.
"mocking and spitting" XR John 19:3; Matt 26:67,68; Matt 27:30,31
v7 "I have set my face like flint" Something similar is said of Ezekiel when he was sent to prophesy to his people. Read Ez 3:4-9 What does this tell us of Jesus' determination?
The Servant says "I will not be put to shame." Yet being crucified was a shameful way to die. So, in your opinion, how can Jesus say this?
v8 "Who is my accuser? Let him confront me!" Jesus issued similar challenges which are recorded in John 8:46 and John 18:23. What did he ask his accusers then?
v9 Paul possibly had the first half of this verse in mind when he wrote those powerful words in Romans 8:28-39. Which two verses of Romans 8 are especially similar to Isaiah 50:9?
Verses 10 and 11 are similar to Jesus' words when he says in Matt 9:12 that the sick need a doctor, not the healthy. Or when he says in John 9:39-41 that you must become blind in order to see. Here he says that those who light their own fires (and so walk in their own light) will be tormented. Who are those who light their own fires, instead of depending on the Light of the World?
The Fourth Servant-Song -- Is 52:13 to 53:12
The Servant who suffered for the sins of mankind
v14 When was Jesus' appearance so "disfigured beyond that of any man"?
v15 How does Jesus "sprinkle many nations"? XR 1 Pet 1:2
v1 In what way does John say this verse is fulfilled? XR John 12:38
v2 "a tender shoot" XR Is 11:1-10
v3 "rejected by men" XR John 7:48
When Jesus' own disciples heard and saw how God intended Jesus to suffer and die, did they accept or reject this? XR Matt 16:22; Matt 26:56
Verses 4 through 7 are quoted quite frequently in the New Testament. You may find it edifying to look up the following portions of scripture, and write the cross references in the margin where this section of Isaiah is being referred to or directly quoted: Matt 8:17; 1 Pet 2:23-25; 2 Cor 5:21; Luke 23:9; John 1:29, 35; Rom 8:3,4; Acts 8:30-35
v4 "yet we considered him stricken by God" This indicates that the people who witnessed the sufferings of Jesus, believed that this was occurring to him because of his own sins before God.
Verse 5 explains the actual reason.
v5 This magnificent passage of scripture fully explains the purpose our Savior suffered for us. It can be divided into four parts, each of which lists a type of suffering, and its purpose for us. Fill in the purpose part of each section of this verse:
TYPE OF SUFFERING PURPOSE
"he was pierced" __________________________________________
"he was crushed" __________________________________________
"the punishment...was upon him" __________________________________________
"by his wounds" __________________________________________
Truly, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for us." XR Gal 3:13
vv7-8 Which disciple was given the opportunity to share this portion of scripture to bring another person to faith? Acts 8:30-35
v8 "who can speak of his descendants" A prophecy that the Servant would not father any children.
See comments on v10, however.
v9 "he was assigned a grave with the wicked" In what way did this come true?
XR Compare Matt 27:38 and Is 53:12
"with the rich in his death" How did this come true? XR Matt 27:57-61
Peter quotes the last half of verse 9 in 1 Pet 2:22. Because Jesus acted innocently when he suffered, how should we act when we are insulted by others? Read 1 Pet 20-25
v10 "it was the LORD's will to crush him" Throughout the centuries, there have been Christians eager to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. But here it is clearly stated that it was the Lord's will that Jesus would die for us. XR Ps 22:15c
Actually. who is really to blame for Jesus' death?
"a guilt offering" One of five types of offerings specified in the ceremonial laws of Leviticus. What type of animal was always used in a guilt offering? XR Lev 5:14-19
"he will see his offspring" Here it says that the suffering Servant will have offspring. Who are these children, these offspring of Jesus?
XR Heb 2:13
"prolong his days" What did Jesus do after being put to death that prolonged his days?
v11 "he will see the light of life" This may also be a reference to the resurrection of Jesus.
By what means will the Servant justify many people after his resurrection?
What does this mean? What must we do to be saved? Refer to Acts 16:25-34
Verse 12 pictures the reward that is given to the Servant after winning the victory by suffering and dying and rising from the dead, following the plan and will of his Father perfectly. The phrases "I will give him a portion" and "he will divide the spoils" picture for us those who are victorious after a war, as they take the land and the property that have become theirs through conquest.
v12 What land and what property does Jesus take possession of after conquering Satan?
Compare Rev 11:15 or Rev 5:10
The last two verses of this final servant-song also provide a summary of the work our risen Savior is doing now, during the Christian era, the time period which extends from the day he ascended into heaven in full view of his disciples (Acts 1:9), until the day he returns "with a loud command" and "with the trumpet call of God" (1 Th 4:16), "in blazing fire with his powerful angels" (2 Th 1:7), and at which time those who are still alive will be caught up "in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so will we be with the Lord forever." (1 Th 5:17) The last two verses are therefore a fitting ending for these four prophecies.
Our Savior's work as prophet is described in the phrase "by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many." As the knowledge of Jesus is spread throughout the entire world, our Lord is moving his people to speak the message of the gospel to others. For it is not really we Christians who proclaim the Gospel, but the grace of God which is with us (1 Cor 15:10b). We may plant and water, but God makes his Church grow (1 Cor 3:6).
Our Savior's work as priest is described in the phrase "he poured out his life unto death." He is the greatest high priest, needing to make only one sacrifice, himself, which atoned for the sins of the entire world (Heb 7:26-28). His work as priest is also described in the phrase "and made intercession for the transgressors." Still today, Jesus is before his Father's throne, speaking to him in our defense (1 John 2:1), just like he did for his disciples on the night he was betrayed (John 17). Jesus is therefore the perfect high priest, for only he lives forever to intercede for us (Heb 7:23-25).
Our Savior's work as king is described in the words "he will divide the spoils with the strong." Jesus is a conquering king, we are the territory he conquers. By the preaching of the gospel, he is gathering a people for himself, taking us from the dominion of Satan and bringing us into the kingdom of light. In the end, the ends of the earth become his possession (Ps 2:8), everything is put under his feet (Ps 8:6; Eph 1:20-22), every knee bows to him and every tongue confesses that he is Lord (Phil 2:8-11).
All praise and thanks to our Lord, who declares the end from the beginning of time (Is 46:10)! For he gave to Isaiah comforting words of prophecy which strengthen our faith in times of doubt today!
(This devotion has been prepared for your spiritual growth by Robert Fink, of Manitowoc, WI 54220. email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Scripture quotations throughout this paper are from the New International Version of the Bible, c 1978 by the International Bible Society, New York.