Isaiah 50

50:4–9 The Third Servant Song

This remarkable prophetic song marks off a  significant advance, telling us in graphic detail what  the Servant’s work will entail. In the opening song  we learn of his ultimate victory, that he will not fail  until he has set justice in the earth; the second song  tells us that his ministry will suffer from opposition,  occasioning the question, whether he has laboured  in vain or not; in this third song we are told that  he will be subject to physical abuse, but that this  will in no wise undermine his confidence in the  Lord Yahweh. It is notable, too, that a new speaker  is suddenly introduced and his identity is soon  apparent; the words are those of none other than  the Servant himself. There is also a notable contrast  drawn between the response to the call of service  of the national Servant (Israel) and the individual  Servant, Messiah.

50:4–9 The Servant’s ear given to God, his body to  Man

Verse 4 “The Lord Yahweh hath given me the  tongue of the learned [rsv ‘those who are taught’],  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 [rsv ‘those who are taught’].”

This is a long verse and provides us with an  explanation of how and why the Servant is what  we behold in the Gospels. It basically tells us three  things:

  1. That the Servant could speak with wisdom because he was instructed by God
  2. The use to which his tongue would be put, to provide comfort to the weary
  3. How this wisdom was obtained.

“The Lord Yahweh hath given me the tongue of  the learned [rsv ‘those who are taught’] Notice  firstly that the Servant is the speaker and his voice  continues throughout the Song. We are taught a  salient lesson: real learning and wisdom is not to  be had from the institutions of man, but from God.  He was the source of Jesus’ wisdom which was so  often the cause of comment and wonder (Luke 2:47,  52; 24:19; John 7:15, 46). Jesus acknowledged the  close Father-Son relationship and attributed his  understanding to it: “the Son can do nothing of  himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what  things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son  likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth  him all things that himself doeth” (John 5:19–20).  This is an amazing revelation and accounts for his superlative wisdom (cp also Isa 11:1–4). The  revelation has meaning for saints: to the same  source of instruction they must turn: daily reading  of the Bible is mandatory, for they, too, must be  “taught of Yahweh” (Isa 54:13; John 6:45).

“The Lord Yahweh hath…” The use of Adonai  Yahweh is significant. Notice that it occurs four  times in this song (v4, 5, 7 and 9). In each case  we are told what Adonai Yahweh will do for His  Servant. “Adonai” signifies Lord, ruler or master,  and the title emphasises the relationship between  God and His Servant in the verses that follow,  particularly in verse 5.

“that I should know how to speak a word in  season to him that is weary” This Servant is to  provide words of solace and comfort for all seeking  deliverance and salvation from human frailty,  weakness and despair. We have only to glance at  the Gospels to find the fulfilment of these words:  in the synagogue in Nazareth they wondered at the  gracious words that came from his lips (Luke 4:22);  in the Sermon on the Mount in which are found the  Beatitudes and instruction for those who will be in  his Kingdom (Matt 5–7); in Capernaum he called  upon those who “laboured and were heavy laden”  to “come unto him” that they might find rest (Matt  11:28–30).

His “mouth was made like a sharp sword”  (49:2), but his appeal to the afflicted was with  unassertive and gentle speech (42:2–3), so that a  bruised reed would not be broken, nor a smoking  flax quenched (42:3).

“he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth  my ear to hear as the learned” “Wakeneth” is in  the continuous tense and the Father is the instigator.  “Wakening the ear” is an unusual expression and  of course involves wakening the Servant. But there  was a reason for this which the use of the pronoun  would have obscured. The Divine objective was  instruction and the awakened ear is the medium  of it, the prime requisite for a disciple under  instruction.

“Morning by morning …” Notice that the Servant  is not depicted as imposing this discipline on  himself, but he showed his discipleship by his ready  response. Nor was his instructed tongue the product  of an automatic, ‘all at once’ happening. It took  place over time, over years as he grew “in wisdom  and stature”. His unequalled grasp of Scripture can  be gauged from the fact that at the tender age of  12 he was both asking and answering questions in  the Temple in the midst of the doctors of the Law.  They were “astonished at his understanding and  answers” (Luke 2:46,47,52).

Verse 5 “The Lord Yahweh hath opened my ear, and  I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.”

Here we are informed of two salient facts; we learn  that the opened ear heard, but we are not told what he  was told to do; and then we learn what his response  was: unlike Israel, he was “not rebellious, neither  turned away back” (v2)! This is in itself instructive;  what he heard was not pleasant for he was told  that he would be subject to gross physical abuse,  scourging and mockery; he was even prepared to  surrender the most precious possession, life itself,  if that was the will of his Master (53:10).

But there are significant antecedents in the Law:  if an Hebrew servant wished to remain a slave in  his master’s house he could plainly say, “I love my  master, my wife and my children; I will not go out  free”: then his master could bring him before the  judges and then to the door or door post and “bore  his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him  forever” (Exod 21:1–6). The boring of his ear to  the door post signified that he would hear and obey  his master all his days. In Psalm 40:6–8 (quoted by  Paul in Hebrews of the offering of the Lord Jesus,  Yahweh’s obedient Servant), the sacrifices of the  Mosaic Law are contrasted with what Yahweh  really “desired”. “Sacrifice and offering thou [God]  didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened; burnt  offering and sin offering hast thou not required.  Then said I [Messiah, the Servant], Lo, I come:  in the volume of the book it is written of me, I  delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is  within my heart.” Clearly the opening of the ear to  receive Divine instruction coupled with obedience  to God’s will is what was desired by Him, and not  animal sacrifices. They were but a shadow, a type.  Commenting on this we read, “By the which will  we are sanctified through the offering of the body  of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10).

Verse 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.”

Here the sufferings the Servant would have to  endure in obedience to his Master are revealed.  They are not sufferings for wrongdoing on his  part but the cost of obedience; sufferings not deserved but accepted, involving judicial flogging  and scourging, torture and humiliation. We are  taken to the last hours of the Lord’s life, when his  obedience to the will of the Father was put to its  most excruciating tests, and we notice with what  resolve and serenity he conducted himself through  it all: “Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted  him; and others smote him …” (Matt 26:67);  “Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged  him” (John 19:1). For this he was prepared. All his  life he knew what would befall him at Passover in  Jerusalem, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all  things that are written by the prophets concerning  the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall  be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked,  and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they  shall scourge him, and put him to death …” (Luke  18:31–33).

Notice that he would give his body, his back,  cheeks and face to his tormentors, but one thing  they would never possess, his ear: they could have  the non-essentials, but his ear was the preserve of  his Father.

50:7–9 Despite the sufferings, Yahweh’s Servant is  confident that He will save him

Verse 7 “For the Lord Yahweh 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.”

“For the Lord Yahweh will help me; therefore I  shall not be confounded” In the first two Servant  Songs Yahweh, the Master of our Lord, has  promised to help him:

  • “I Yahweh have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep  thee” (42:6)
  • “In an acceptable time have I heard thee [rv answered] thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and will preserve thee”  (49:8).

With this assurance, this confidence, he could  conduct his ministry and face the opposition of his  enemies.

“Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I  know that shall I not be ashamed” When the Lord  and his disciples left Galilee for the last time, he  alone knew what would befall him in Jerusalem. It  weighed heavily on his mind. Time and again he  forewarned his disciples of his impending sufferings  and death, but they seemed unable to comprehend  (Matt 16:21; 17:22; 20:17–19).

Luke tells us of his grim resolve as they  approached Samaria: “And it came to pass, when  the time was come that he should be received up, he  stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51).

The expression “to set the face like a flint” can  be used in either a bad or a good sense, in the former  denoting haughtiness and shamelessness (cp 48:4;  Exod 32:9); and in the latter, as here, it denotes  courage, firmness and resolution.

Verse 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.”

Sufferings at the hand of his opponents could only  be justified if they could accuse him of wrongdoing.  Despite all attempts to trap and discredit him his  accusers were unable to bring a charge against him.  He was always able to answer their challenges,  often with lessons of the utmost worth for them in  order to lead them to realize who in reality he was,  their Messiah.

There are many references in the following  verses of this chapter to events that took place in  Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles six months  before he was crucified, as recorded in John 7 and  8. His claim to be the “Light of the World” was  challenged because they said, “Thou bearest record  of thyself; thy record is not true” (8:12–13). Jesus  rebutted this charge, alleging that the testimony  of two witnesses is true (Num 35:30; Deut 17:6),  namely he himself, and his Father Who was with  him: “I am one that beareth witness of myself, and  the Father that sent me beareth witness of me” (John  8:18). The miracle bore witness that the Father was  with him and “near” him.

Later in the same discourse he issued the  challenge, which is essentially that of Isaiah 50:8:  “Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I  say the truth, why do you not believe me?” (John  8:46). Continued attempts to accuse him were  ineffective and only demonstrated their lack of  understanding.

Verse 9 “Behold, the Lord Yahweh 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.”

For the second time the Servant expresses his  confidence that Yahweh his Lord will help him (v7). With this help, who could prove him guilty?  Sinlessness, spotless righteousness in the eyes of  Yahweh was the quest of the Servant. He needed  to have a perfect knowledge of His will in order to  achieve this goal. His ear was opened and by him  given to instruction “morning by morning”. This  is why he had a complete understanding of His  Father’s will and purpose with him. His enemies  lacked this knowledge. This knowledge was power  and it gave him a confidence that was unassailable.  His claim to be the Son of God, the promised  son of David, the Messiah, must have sounded  monstrous to his adversaries, but the indisputable  demonstrations of Divine power in his hand, the  miracles performed, were the stamp of Divine  approval, and gave them reason to reassess their  judgment. Failure to make this assessment, to see  that his claims were justified would be fatal, and that  abysmal end is signalled by the words that follow,  “lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth  shall eat them up.” This is language to be found in  the chapter that follows and also in the mouth of  our Lord during his ministry (51:8; Matt 6:19–20;  Luke 12:33; cp Psa 102:26). The old Mosaic system  was soon to pass away and the “righteousness of  the law” would be seen to be no righteousness at  all, a rotting garment that could not cover sins. The  righteousness of God, which is by faith in Jesus  Christ, would provide the true covering for sins, and  salvation would come by forgiveness as a result of  the death of a man who never sinned.

Saints, then, can have the same confidence that  they too will be justified. In Christ they are secure  from privations of men. Picking up these words the  Apostle Paul says, “Who shall lay anything to the  charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.  Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died,  yea rather that is risen again …” (Rom 8:33, 34).

50:10–11 In view of Yahweh’s vindication of His  Servant, men are exhorted to trust in Him or perish.

Like the two previous Servant Songs the third is  followed by a tail piece. In this one and the final  one (52:13–53:12) the tailpieces are exhortations  to respond to the Servant, by accepting him as the  model.

These two verses show the great gulf between  two classes of people, those who walk after the  example of the Servant, and those who make their  own way, the way of self-sufficiency.

Verse 10 “Who is among you that feareth Yahweh,  that obeyeth [mlb ‘listens to’] the voice of his  servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no  light? Let him trust in the name of Yahweh, and  stay upon his God.”

Notice how “fearing Yahweh” and “obeying  [listening to] the voice of his servant” are the same,  such is the place and status of the Servant.

The exhortation of this verse takes into account  what has been said in the earlier verses (v7–9).  Those who fear and obey may be in circumstances  of trial and darkness as was the Servant. He is the  example and they are to follow him. They must  not rely on their own power but put their trust in  Yahweh’s name and stay (lean) upon Him: He will  never leave nor forsake them.

Jesus alludes to this verse in John 8:12: “I am  the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not  walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”  At the Feast of Tabernacles there were celebrations  commemorating the provision of the “pillar of fire”  that guided the Israelites by night: “And Yahweh  went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to  lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire,  to give them light; to go by day and night (Exod  13:21). Jesus was the antitype of the “pillar of  fire”, and for the benefit of those who “feared”  and “obeyed the voice” of God’s servant, he was  defining its true significance. In following him in  a life of trust and dependence, despite the darkness  and the persecutions, in reality they had the “light  of life”. Verse 10 in itself does not say what the  reward will be. It simply encourages continuing in  trust. It is Jesus who defines what the reward will  be – “the light of life”.

Verse 11 “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire that  compass [gird] yourselves about with sparks [fire  brands]: walk in the light [roth blaze] of your fire,  and in [among] the sparks that ye have kindled.  This shall ye have [appointed] of mine hand; ye  shall lie down in sorrow [rsv, mlb format).”

Notice that this class of people also “walk” (cp v10),  but instead of trusting and relying on God and His  Servant, they ‘go it alone’. They have no need, they  think, of God’s help; they deal with life’s darkness  by a do-it-yourself remedy. They have their own  philosophies, their own theories to explain life’s  mysteries and leave God out of the equation. How  can the creature succeed when the greatest facts  are ignored? It will not work. The light or sparks that they gird themselves with are but a flash in the  darkness and they will end in ruin. Though they  thought they were self-sufficient and had need of  nothing that they could not generate themselves, in  the end they will not escape the inexorable Divine  law of sin and death – “This shall ye have of mine  hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow” (torment). So  much for Humanism, Evolution and all the Goddenying  theories of men; forever in the grave is  their fruit.

Jesus’ words in John 8:12 appear to have  an extra thrust in view of the ceremonies that  accompanied the celebration of the giving of the  Pillar of Fire during the Feast of Tabernacles: four  large golden candelabras were lit in the Court of  the Women in Herod’s Temple and they shed their  radiance upon every house in Jerusalem. Religious  men known as the Chasidim and the Men of Deed  danced before the people with flaming torches and  sang hymns (Edersheim, The Temple p283). In the  midst of this ritual, Jesus stood up and interpreted its  real significance: he was the form and embodiment  of the pillar of fire. Tragically they did not heed  but continued to walk in the light of the fire they  had lit, not God! Their defiance of his claims in  the ensuing debate underlines the tragedy. He in  an apparent reference to Isaiah 50:11 points out  no less than three times that if they did not believe  that “I am he”, that is, that he was what he claimed  to be, the Messiah, they would “die in their sins”  (John 8:24,28).

We can be thankful that we know this Servant  of Yahweh and walk in the light, knowing that we  have in him the “light of life” itself.