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Home » Daily Readings, Prophets

The Servant of Yahweh for the Holy Week

Submitted by on Monday, 6 April 2009No Comment

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The Lenten liturgy for Holy Week proposes for meditation the figure of the Servant of Yahweh, an OT character that appears in Isaiah’s Book of Consolation (Isaiah 40-55).  The relevant passages as defined by B. Duhm1 are:

  • Isaiah 42:1-4
  • Isaiah 49:1-6
  • Isaiah 50:4-9
  • Isaiah 52:13-53:12

These passages were read and meditated upon by the early christian community as they tried to understand the mystery of the passion and death of Jesus Christ.  Below is a table showing how these passages are cited or alluded to in the NT.

Isaiah 42

1

Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22; 23:35

1-4

Matthew 12:18-21

Isaiah 49

1

Galatians 1:15

2

Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 1:16; 19:15

4

Philippians 2:16

6

Luke 2:32; Acts 1:8; 13:47; Revelation 7:4

Isaiah 50

6

Matthew 5:39; 27:30; Mark 10:34

8

Romans 8:33

9

Hebrews 1:11; 1 Peter 3:13

Isaiah 52

13

James 3:4; Acts 3:13

15

Matthew 13:16; Romans 15:21; 1 Corinthians 2:9

Isaiah 53

1

John 12:38; Romans 10:16

3

Mark 9:12; Philippians 2:7

4

Matthew 8:17; 1 Peter 2:24

4f

1 John 3:5

5

Romans 4:25; 5:1; 1 Peter 2:24

5f

1 Corinthians 15:3

6

1 Peter 2:25

7

Matthew 27:12; Mark 14:49.61; John 1:29; Revelation 5:6.9

7f

Acts 8:32

8

1 Corinthians 15:3

9

1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5; Revelation 14:5

10ff

Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45

11

Acts 3:13; Romans 5:19; Philippians 2:7

11f

Mark 14:24; Romans 5:15; 1 John 3:5

12

Matthew 12:29; 27:38; Mark 15:7; Luke 11:22; 23:34; Romans 4:24; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24

In Hebrew usage, "servant of the King" is a title given to the king’s right-hand man.  It is a title of humility and is traceable to the practise of obliquely referring to oneself as "your servant" before the king.

In the Isaianic passages cited above, a person is referred to by Yahweh as "my servant … my chose, in whom I delight" (42:1).  We are not sure who this man is who has been identified either as king or prophet or as a corporate personality (cf. "Israel", Isaiah 49:3).  But he had the conviction that he has been chosen from before birth as one in whom God will be glorified.

The "Servant" is presented as one who will bring back Jacob and the remnant of Israel (49:56) and ultimately to bring justice to the nations (42:4).  He will carry out his mission in meekness and gentleness (cf. 42:2-3), perseveringly (42:4), as a light to the nations (49:6), sustaining with a word him that is weary (50:4).  He sees himself as Yahweh’s secret weapon, hidden in His hands (49:2).  His mouth is like a sharp sword and he himself is a polished arrow through which God can give His torah2.

The "Servant" is a teacher who speaks only what he has heard (50:4) and is wholly obedient to Yahweh (50:5), his help (50:7.9) and Advocate (50:7).  He was "obedient unto death." 

In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, we find a theological reflection on the death of this servant who was during his lifetime rejected by men and thought to be afflicted by God.

In Isaiah 52:13-15, Yahweh once more presents his servant, now lying in death, as one who will be exalted and lifted (52:13) and will be a surprise to all (52:14-15).  Added to this presentation is that of a community that has come to realize who this man and his suffering meant (53:1-10a).  It is through this community that we know what happened to this man.

He was from youth deemed inconsequential, "despised and rejected" (53:2-3).  He was oppressed, made to suffer and like a lamb he went to his death (53:5.7).  He was buried in dishonor, in a grave not his own (53:9).

It is also this community that explains the meaning of his suffering and death:

Surely he has borne our grief
and carried our sorrows …
He was wounded for our transgressions
he was buried for our iniquities
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole
and with his stripes we are healed.

The passage concludes with Yahweh announcing this man’s resurrection from the dead (53:10), his victorious vindication (53:12) and the justification of many (53:11)

Isaiah 42:1-4
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1Behold my servant, I will uphold him: my elect, my soul delighteth in him: I have given my spirit upon him, he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
2He shall not cry, nor have respect to person, neither shall his voice be heard abroad.
3The bruised reed he shall not break, and smoking flax he shall not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
4He shall not be sad, nor troublesome, till he set judgment in the earth: and the islands shall wait for his law.
Isaiah 49:1-6
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1Give ear, ye islands, and hearken, ye people from afar. The Lord hath called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother he hath been mindful of my name.
2And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword: in the shadow of his hand he hath protected me, and hath made me as a chosen arrow: in his quiver he hath hidden me.
3And he said to me: Thou art my servant Israel, for in thee will I glory.
4And I said: I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength without cause and in vain: therefore my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.
5And now saith the Lord, that formed me from the womb to be his servant, that I may bring back Jacob unto him, and Israel will not be gathered together: and I am glorified in the eyes of the Lord, and my God is made my strength.
6And he said: It is a small thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to convert the dregs of Israel. Behold, I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayst be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth.
Isaiah 50:4-9
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4The Lord hath given me a learned tongue, that I should know how to uphold by word him that is weary: he wakeneth in the morning, in the morning he wakeneth my ear, that I may hear him as a master.
5The Lord God hath opened my ear, and I do not resist: I have not gone back.
6I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me.
7The Lord God is my helper, therefore am I not confounded: therefore have I set my face as a most hard rock, and I know that I shall not be confounded.
8He is near that justifieth me, who will contend with me? let us stand together, who is my adversary? let him come near to me.
9Behold the Lord God is my helper: who is he that shall condemn me? Lo, they shall all be destroyed as a garment, the moth shall eat them up.
Isaiah 52:13-53
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13Behold my servant shall understand, he shall be exalted, and extolled, and shall be exceeding high.
14As many have been astonished at thee, so shall his visage be inglorious among men, and his form among the sons of men.
15He shall sprinkle many nations, kings shall shut their mouth at him: for they to whom it was not told of him, have seen: and they that heard not, have beheld.
Matthew 3:17
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17And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Luke 3:22; 23:35
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322And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, as a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
2335And the people stood beholding, and the rulers with them derided him, saying: He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the elect of God.
Matthew 12:18-21
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18Behold my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom my soul hath been well pleased. I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.
19He shall not contend, nor cry out, neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.
20The bruised reed he shall not break: and smoking flax he shall not extinguish: till he send forth judgment unto victory.
21And in his name the Gentiles shall hope.
Galatians 1:15
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15But when it pleased him, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace,
Ephesians 6:17
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17And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God).
Hebrews 4:12
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12For the word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Revelation 1:16; 19:15
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116And he had in his right hand seven stars. And from his mouth came out a sharp two edged sword: and his face was as the sun shineth in his power.
1915And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp two edged sword; that with it he may strike the nations. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God the Almighty.
Philippians 2:16
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16Holding forth the word of life to my glory in the day of Christ, because I have not run in vain, nor laboured in vain.
Luke 2:32
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32A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
Acts 1:8; 13:47
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18But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth.
1347For so the Lord hath commanded us: I have set thee to be the light of the Gentiles; that thou mayest be for salvation unto the utmost part of the earth.
Revelation 7:4
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4And I heard the number of them that were signed, an hundred forty-four thousand were signed, of every tribe of the children of Israel.
Matthew 5:39; 27:30
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539But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other:
2730And spitting upon him, they took the reed, and struck his head.
Mark 10:34
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34And they shall mock him, and spit on him, and scourge him, and kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.
Romans 8:33
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33Who shall accuse against the elect of God? God that justifieth.
Hebrews 1:11
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11They shall perish, but thou shalt continue: and they shall all grow old as a garment.
1 Peter 3:13
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13And who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good?
James 3:4
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4Behold also ships, whereas they are great, and are driven by strong winds, yet are they turned about with a small helm, whithersoever the force of the governor willeth.
Acts 3:13
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13The God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus, whom you indeed delivered up and denied before the face of Pilate, when he judged he should be released.
Matthew 13:16
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16But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.
Romans 15:21
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21But as it is written: They to whom he was not spoken of, shall see, and they that have not heard shall understand.
1 Corinthians 2:9
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9But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.
John 12:38
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38That the saying of Isaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he said: Lord, who hath believed our hearing? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Romans 10:16
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16But all do not obey the gospel. For Isaias saith: Lord, who hath believed our report?
Mark 9:12
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12But I say to you, that Elias also is come, (and they have done to him whatsoever they would,) as it is written of him.
Philippians 2:7
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7But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.
Matthew 8:17
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17That it might be fulfilled, which was spoken by the prophet Isaias, saying: He took our infirmities, and bore our diseases.
1 Peter 2:24
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24Who his own self bore our sins in his body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice: by whose stripes you were healed.
1 John 3:5
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5And you know that he appeared to take away our sins, and in him there is no sin.
Romans 4:25; 5:1
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425Who was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification.
51Being justified therefore by faith, let us have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ:
1 Peter 2:24
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24Who his own self bore our sins in his body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice: by whose stripes you were healed.
1 Corinthians 15:3
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3For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures:
1 Peter 2:25
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25For you were as sheep going astray; but you are now converted to the shepherd and bishop of your souls.
Matthew 27:12
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12And when he was accused by the chief priests and ancients, he answered nothing.
Mark 14:49
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49I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not lay hands on me. But that the scriptures may be fulfilled.
John 1:29
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29The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world.
Revelation 5:6
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6And I saw: and behold in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the ancients, a Lamb standing as it were slain, having seven horns and seven eyes: which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth.
Acts 8:32
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32And the place of the scripture which he was reading was this: He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb without voice before his shearer, so openeth he not his mouth.
1 Corinthians 15:3
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3For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures:
1 Peter 2:22
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22Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.
1 John 3:5
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5And you know that he appeared to take away our sins, and in him there is no sin.
Revelation 14:5
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5And in their mouth there was found no lie; for they are without spot before the throne of God.
Matthew 20:28
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28Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.
Mark 10:45
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45For the Son of man also is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.
Acts 3:13
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13The God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus, whom you indeed delivered up and denied before the face of Pilate, when he judged he should be released.
Romans 5:19
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19For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just.
Philippians 2:7
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7But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.
Mark 14:24
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24And he said to them: This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many.
Romans 5:15
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15But not as the offence, so also the gift. For if by the offence of one, many died; much more the grace of God, and the gift, by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
1 John 3:5
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5And you know that he appeared to take away our sins, and in him there is no sin.
Matthew 12:29; 27:38
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1229Or how can any one enter into the house of the strong, and rifle his goods, unless he first bind the strong? and then he will rifle his house.
2738Then were crucified with him two thieves: one on the right hand, and one on the left.
Mark 15:7
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7And there was one called Barabbas, who was put in prison with some seditious men, who in the sedition had committed murder.
Luke 11:22; 23:34
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1122But if a stronger than he come upon him, and overcome him; he will take away all his armour wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils.
2334And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. But they, dividing his garments, cast lots.
Romans 4:24
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24But also for us, to whom it shall be reputed, if we believe in him, that raised up Jesus Christ, our Lord, from the dead,
1 Corinthians 15:3
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3For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures:
Hebrews 9:28
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28So also Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many; the second time he shall appear without sin to them that expect him unto salvation.
1 Peter 2:24
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24Who his own self bore our sins in his body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice: by whose stripes you were healed.
Isaiah 49:3
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
3And he said to me: Thou art my servant Israel, for in thee will I glory.
Isaiah 52:13-53
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
13Behold my servant shall understand, he shall be exalted, and extolled, and shall be exceeding high.
14As many have been astonished at thee, so shall his visage be inglorious among men, and his form among the sons of men.
15He shall sprinkle many nations, kings shall shut their mouth at him: for they to whom it was not told of him, have seen: and they that heard not, have beheld.
Isaiah 52:13-15
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13Behold my servant shall understand, he shall be exalted, and extolled, and shall be exceeding high.
14As many have been astonished at thee, so shall his visage be inglorious among men, and his form among the sons of men.
15He shall sprinkle many nations, kings shall shut their mouth at him: for they to whom it was not told of him, have seen: and they that heard not, have beheld.

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