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Know the Whole Story
Many people know some stories from the Bible, but not how the narrative fits together. The Bible is one story that begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through points to Jesus Christ. Open is your guided journey through this powerful, life-transforming story.
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The Lord's Chosen Servant

42:1   Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
  I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
  He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
  a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
  He will not grow faint or be discouraged1
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.
  Thus says God, the LORD,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
  who gives breath to the people on it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
  “I am the LORD; I have called you2 in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
  I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
  to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
  I am the LORD; that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to carved idols.
  Behold, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
  before they spring forth
    I tell you of them.”

Sing to the Lord a New Song

10   Sing to the LORD a new song,
    his praise from the end of the earth,
  you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it,
    the coastlands and their inhabitants.
11   Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice,
    the villages that Kedar inhabits;
  let the habitants of Sela sing for joy,
    let them shout from the top of the mountains.
12   Let them give glory to the LORD,
    and declare his praise in the coastlands.
13   The LORD goes out like a mighty man,
    like a man of war he stirs up his zeal;
  he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes.
14   For a long time I have held my peace;
    I have kept still and restrained myself;
  now I will cry out like a woman in labor;
    I will gasp and pant.
15   I will lay waste mountains and hills,
    and dry up all their vegetation;
  I will turn the rivers into islands,3
    and dry up the pools.
16   And I will lead the blind
    in a way that they do not know,
  in paths that they have not known
    I will guide them.
  I will turn the darkness before them into light,
    the rough places into level ground.
  These are the things I do,
    and I do not forsake them.
17   They are turned back and utterly put to shame,
    who trust in carved idols,
  who say to metal images,
    “You are our gods.”

Israel's Failure to Hear and See

18   Hear, you deaf,
    and look, you blind, that you may see!
19   Who is blind but my servant,
    or deaf as my messenger whom I send?
  Who is blind as my dedicated one,4
    or blind as the servant of the LORD?
20   He sees many things, but does not observe them;
    his ears are open, but he does not hear.
21   The LORD was pleased, for his righteousness' sake,
    to magnify his law and make it glorious.
22   But this is a people plundered and looted;
    they are all of them trapped in holes
    and hidden in prisons;
  they have become plunder with none to rescue,
    spoil with none to say, “Restore!”
23   Who among you will give ear to this,
    will attend and listen for the time to come?
24   Who gave up Jacob to the looter,
    and Israel to the plunderers?
  Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned,
    in whose ways they would not walk,
    and whose law they would not obey?
25   So he poured on him the heat of his anger
    and the might of battle;
  it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand;
    it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart.

Footnotes

[1] 42:4 Or bruised
[2] 42:6 The Hebrew for you is singular; four times in this verse
[3] 42:15 Or into coastlands
[4] 42:19 Or as the one at peace with me

(ESV)

The Servant of the Lord

49:1   Listen to me, O coastlands,
    and give attention, you peoples from afar.
  The LORD called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.
  He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
  he made me a polished arrow;
    in his quiver he hid me away.
  And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”1
  But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
  yet surely my right is with the LORD,
    and my recompense with my God.”
  And now the LORD says,
    he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
  to bring Jacob back to him;
    and that Israel might be gathered to him—
  for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD,
    and my God has become my strength—
  he says:
  “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
  I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
  Thus says the LORD,
    the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
  to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
    the servant of rulers:
  “Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
  because of the LORD, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

The Restoration of Israel

  Thus says the LORD:
  “In a time of favor I have answered you;
    in a day of salvation I have helped you;
  I will keep you and give you
    as a covenant to the people,
  to establish the land,
    to apportion the desolate heritages,
  saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
    to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
  They shall feed along the ways;
    on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
10   they shall not hunger or thirst,
    neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
  for he who has pity on them will lead them,
    and by springs of water will guide them.
11   And I will make all my mountains a road,
    and my highways shall be raised up.
12   Behold, these shall come from afar,
    and behold, these from the north and from the west,2
    and these from the land of Syene.”3
13   Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
    break forth, O mountains, into singing!
  For the LORD has comforted his people
    and will have compassion on his afflicted.
14   But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.”
15   “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
  Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16   Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.
17   Your builders make haste;4
    your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.
18   Lift up your eyes around and see;
    they all gather, they come to you.
  As I live, declares the LORD,
    you shall put them all on as an ornament;
    you shall bind them on as a bride does.
19   “Surely your waste and your desolate places
    and your devastated land—
  surely now you will be too narrow for your inhabitants,
    and those who swallowed you up will be far away.
20   The children of your bereavement
    will yet say in your ears:
  ‘The place is too narrow for me;
    make room for me to dwell in.’
21   Then you will say in your heart:
    ‘Who has borne me these?
  I was bereaved and barren,
    exiled and put away,
    but who has brought up these?
  Behold, I was left alone;
    from where have these come?’”
22   Thus says the Lord GOD:
  “Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations,
    and raise my signal to the peoples;
  and they shall bring your sons in their arms,5
    and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
23   Kings shall be your foster fathers,
    and their queens your nursing mothers.
  With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
    and lick the dust of your feet.
  Then you will know that I am the LORD;
    those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”
24   Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
    or the captives of a tyrant6 be rescued?
25   For thus says the LORD:
  “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
    and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
  for I will contend with those who contend with you,
    and I will save your children.
26   I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
    and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
  Then all flesh shall know
    that I am the LORD your Savior,
    and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”

Footnotes

[1] 49:3 Or I will display my beauty
[2] 49:12 Hebrew from the sea
[3] 49:12 Dead Sea Scroll; Masoretic Text Sinim
[4] 49:17 Dead Sea Scroll; Masoretic Text Your children make haste
[5] 49:22 Hebrew in their bosom
[6] 49:24 Dead Sea Scroll, Syriac, Vulgate (see also verse 25); Masoretic Text of a righteous man

(ESV)

53:1   Who has believed what he has heard from us?1
    And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
  For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
  he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
  He was despised and rejected2 by men,
    a man of sorrows3 and acquainted with4 grief;5
  and as one from whom men hide their faces6
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
  Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
  yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
  But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
  upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
  All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
  and the LORD has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.
  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
  like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
  By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
  that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
  And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
  although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10   Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;7
  when his soul makes8 an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
  the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11   Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see9 and be satisfied;
  by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12   Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,10
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,11
  because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
  yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Footnotes

[1] 53:1 Or Who has believed what we have heard?
[2] 53:3 Or forsaken
[3] 53:3 Or pains; also verse 4
[4] 53:3 Or and knowing
[5] 53:3 Or sickness; also verse 4
[6] 53:3 Or as one who hides his face from us
[7] 53:10 Or he has made him sick
[8] 53:10 Or when you make his soul
[9] 53:11 Masoretic Text; Dead Sea Scroll he shall see light
[10] 53:12 Or with the great
[11] 53:12 Or with the numerous

(ESV)

Overview

Jesus Christ is the Servant who gets the will of God done. He said to His disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). Those who know Jesus are to go out into a broken world and show the compassion of Christ. We are to proclaim the truth of what God has done in Jesus, so that people who do not know Him may come to enjoy the freedom that He gives.

Christ sends His servants to all the nations of the earth. As we go and minister in His name, the blessing of God will come to many people, and Christ will see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

I will never forget my first view of Rishikesh, India. The streets were lined with idols shaped in the images of lions, monkeys, and snakes. This was where the Beatles had come in the sixties, looking for spiritual meaning. The place seemed bereft of the presence of God, and as I walked into the city I wondered, What would it take for the will of God to be done here?

The same question comes to mind in less exotic places – the inner city, the college campus, or the affluent suburb. It was no different in Isaiah’s day: What would it take to get the will of God done?

God said to Abraham that His blessing would come to the nations, but in the 1,300 years that had passed since the time of Abraham, there had not been much progress. God had blessed Abraham’s descendants and called them to be a light to the nations, but they were divided. They had turned to other gods, and now they were coming under the judgment of God themselves.

Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem would become a desolate wasteland (6:11). The place where God had put His name would be a smoldering ruin. So what hope was there of God’s blessing coming to the nations?

The One Who Gets God’s Will Done
God’s answer was: “Behold, my servant…” (Isaiah 42:1). A servant is a person who gets his master’s will done. If you are a servant, your job description is very simple: Whatever your master tells you to do, you do it! The servant is at the beck and call of his or her master, and the role of the servant is to get what the master wants done.

So when God introduces His servant, He is saying, “Let Me tell you about the person who will get My will done in the world.” God’s words about the servant give us a pattern for the kind of ministry that gets His will done and the kind of person He uses to bring His blessing to the world.

God’s servant has remarkable privileges: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (42:1).

The servant is chosen, loved, anointed, and sustained, and his calling is to bring justice to the world. Justice is more than getting right decisions in a court of law. The servant’s task is to put things in order and make them as they ought to be – no more corruption, deception, or exploitation.

By any standards, bringing justice to the nations would be an extraordinary achievement, and we are bound to ask: Who could possibly bring this transformation about? And how could this be done?

If you were given the job of bringing justice to the world, where would you begin? Would you call a press conference, initiate an education program, or declare martial law and put the army on the streets? God’s servant would do none of these things. Instead, we are told, “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street” (42:2).

God says, “My servant will not be a celebrity. He will not promote himself. He will not be the kind of person who tries to dominate everybody else. He will not shout. In fact, the outstanding thing about him will be the quietness of his ministry. He will get on with doing My will without drawing attention to himself.”

The Power of Compassion
The will of God does not get done in this world through the genius of spectacular programs or by the glamour of mega-personalities. The servant’s style is altogether different: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (42:3).

When a reed bends, it usually gets trampled on. And if a candle is burning low, you snuff it out and light another one. But God says that His servant will not do that. He will not break a bruised reed and He will not quench a faintly burning wick.

Perhaps you can identify with the bruised reed. You have been trampled on and you struggle to stand up under a crushing weight that seems too great to bear. Or perhaps you can relate to the picture of a smoldering wick. There was a time when your faith burned brightly, but now you are running out of fuel. Your inner resources of patience, hope, and love seem to be burning low and the light within you is flickering.

Broken, bruised, and burned-out people will never be drawn to the loudmouthed showman. The servant who gets God’s will done has a quiet ministry that touches the lives of wounded and weary people with compassion.

The Scale of the Challenge
The people to whom God sends His servant are not only bruised and broken, but also blind and bound. So the servant faces an overwhelming challenge. He has to “open eyes that are blind,” and “bring out the prisoners from the dungeon” (42:7).

If people had the capacity of spiritual sight, it would be relatively easy to flood the world with the good news of the gospel. People would immediately see their need and come to Christ. But the problem God’s servants face is that even when we have described the glory of God and the good news of the gospel, our hearers lack the capacity to grasp the truth and respond to it. They are blind.

And even if they had the capacity to see clearly, they are incapable of responding to God because they are bound. If sin were simply a choice, it would be relatively easy to educate people toward better choices. But sin is a power that binds us. Apart from this work of the Holy Spirit, we are all like blind people in an art gallery, or prisoners who have a map but sit behind bars.

Who Fits the Profile?
When God first spoke about the servant, it must have seemed to Isaiah that He was talking about Israel. “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, ‘You are my servant’” (41:8–9).

God’s people, Israel, were called to fulfill the role of His servant among the nations. They had been given the light of God’s truth, the law and the sacrifices. God’s people were to be the means by which His blessing would come to the world.

But God’s people could not live up to their calling. The servant was called to bring sight to the blind and release to the prisoners, but God said, “Who is blind but my servant…? This is a people… trapped in holes and hidden in prisons” (42:19, 22). The people who were supposed to bring sight and freedom to others turned out to be blind and bound themselves!

Since Israel was clearly not in a position to fulfill the role of God’s servant, could Isaiah be the means of getting God’s will done? Speaking directly to Isaiah, God said, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (49:3). God called Israel to bring light to the nations, but Israel failed, so God was saying to Isaiah, “You are Israel. You are my servant.” But how could Isaiah possibly be the means by which God’s blessing would come to the world?

Isaiah knew that the job was beyond him. When he said, “I have labored in vain” (49:4), he was saying, “There is no way that my little ministry with its puny results can begin to fulfill the role of the servant!”

But God went even further: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob… I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (49:6). This was mission impossible! No prophet ever achieved this or even came close. So who could fulfill the calling of the servant and get God’s will done?

When God revealed the person who would bring love, justice, light, and salvation to the world, Isaiah was so staggered, he feared no one would believe what he had seen. “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (53:1). “If I tell you what I saw,” Isaiah was saying, “you won’t believe it.”

What Isaiah couldn’t get over was that the servant who would get the will of God done was despised and rejected. Violence was poured out on him, and the servant was so disfigured that people hid their heads in their hands. They could hardly bear to look at him.

Isaiah must have winced as he saw what would happen to the servant on whom the hope of God’s blessing depends. He was pierced. He was crushed. He was punished, and he was wounded.

Then God told Isaiah something that must have made him gasp. “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” (53:10). How could the suffering inflicted on the humble, compassionate servant of the Lord be the will of God! Did this mean that God’s servant would fail? Isaiah must have wondered.

But God said: “The will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (53:10). God’s servant would bring blessing to the nations. And it would come through his suffering and death.

Christ fulfilled what Isaiah saw. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (53:5).

Jesus Christ is clearly identified in the New Testament as the gentle, compassionate Servant of God. Matthew tells us that His ministry fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope” (Matthew 12:18–21).

Jesus opens our blind eyes to know God and He sets us free from the power of sin that binds us. You can come to Him, knowing that He is compassionate to the bruised, the broken, and the faltering.

  1. What is a servant? Do you consider yourself a servant of God?
  2. Why do you think God chooses to get His work done through compassion?
  3. What makes God’s work in the world particularly challenging?
  4. Who is this Servant of God that Isaiah was talking about?
  5. What is the means by which this Servant brings God’s blessing to the world?
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