Although not usually designated as one of the Servant Songs, the opening verses of this chapter merit being called the fifth song due to the similarities with 49:1-7 and 50:4-9 where the Servant speaks in the first person and testifies to an anointing from God for a ministry that is to include proclamation of good news, liberty to captives and gladness in the place of mourning. It is notable that at the start of his ministry Jesus read from this passage, demonstrating that he clearly saw his life as a fulfilment of these words (see Luke 4:16-21).
The first three verses of this chapter certainly have the feel of another portrait of the Servant that we have seen emerging in the second half of Isaiah as an anticipation of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is given to the servant both to set him apart for service and to empower him for his mission. The fundamental nature of the servant’s ministry – here described in terms of “good news for the poor”, wholeness for “the broken-hearted” and “freedom for the captives” – is of course a spiritual salvation that goes way beyond the hope, healing and liberty experienced by the exiles returning to Jerusalem. The transformation in these people from “mourning” to “praise” again points ahead to deliverance from sin as something far greater than the deliverance from exile. “The year of the LORD’S favour” echoes the earlier expressions “time of favour” (49:8) and “day of favour” (58:5), speaking of God’s grace for his people. “Day of vengeance of our God” denotes the administration of divine justice as God vindicates his righteousness in judging those opposed to him. Remember the wonder of Jesus being judged in our place is how we can know the ultimate realties being anticipated here!
In verses 7 to 9, once more the greater realities for God’s New Covenant community are described in terms borrowed from the original inheritance of Canaan by Israel. “Everlasting covenant” echoes the language of 55:3, occurring again in Jeremiah 32:40 & 50:5 and Ezekiel 16:60 & 37:26 as an expression signifying the New Covenant that God graciously grants to us through Jesus, something that stands to be acknowledged across the world.
In verses 10 and 11, the speaker here is probably Zion (Jerusalem as an embodiment of the people of God) personified as she celebrates the salvation given her by God. The depiction of God’s people radiant with joy like a bride and bridegroom points ahead to the New Covenant reality of the Church of Jesus in this age and the age to come! And this ultimate future destiny for the Church represents the full outworking of what is described in verses 4 to 6 where we stand to dwell in the eternal Jerusalem (see Revelation 21), worship alongside people from every tribe and tongue and enjoy the presence of God forever!
Once more we see three levels of fulfilment to the prophetic vision cast by Isaiah: first, the restoration of the exiles, second, the New Covenant salvation secured by Jesus, and, third, the ultimate expression of these things to be realised in terms of the people of God both as New Jerusalem and the bride of Christ united with their bridegroom at the return of Jesus and enjoying our eternal union (see Revelation 21)! Just as a mountain range can have a series of peaks building up to the highest one, so Isaiah casts a truly breath-taking vision here of the glorious destiny of God’s people, reaching beyond the restoration of the exiles, beyond even the ministry of Jesus and the wonder of his Church in this age right up to the highest peak: the Church in the age to come!
PRAYER: Let’s spend a few moments dwelling on what is to come. Read the passage from Revelation shown below and reflect (NB the ref to sea gone – sea was used to denote evil, therefore reference is that all evil will be gone)
What resonates with you? Thank God for these aspects of future hope. If it highlights the struggle going on now, pray into this.