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Home » Daily Readings, Prophets

Good Friday: The Servant of Yahweh

Submitted by on Friday, 10 April 2009No Comment

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Isaiah 52:13-53:121 is the last of the Servant Songs. In Isaiah 42:1-4, Yahweh presents him as "my servant… my chosen" who will bring justice to the nations. In Isaiah 49:1-6, the servant introduces himself and his mission to, first, Israel, and then to the all the earth. In Isaiah 50:4-9, the Servant describes his work as Yahweh’s secret weapon the violent opposition against his work and his continued confidence that Yahweh will help him succeed. The Servant however dies violently: he was "taken away…cut off" (53:8) after being made to suffer (53:7). He was buried among criminals in a grave that was not even his own (53:9).

This last of the Servant songs is a reflection on the meaning of the suffering and death of the man who identifies himself as one in whom God will be glorified. This theological reflection which has the force of a prophetic oracle is given as a joint declaration made by Yahweh and an unidentified group about him who became an expiation for the many.

The first part is once more a presentation of the Servant (hinneh) but this time as one who has suffered much and bearing in his body the suffering he has undergone (52:14). Immediately before and after this brief description is the declaration that he will be lifted up and shall be the cause of astonishment of nations and kings (13.15). The reason for the astonishment and the silence of the dumbstruck is to be found in 53:10-13: this man is going to live and be the cause of the justification of many.

The central part of the passage is the reaction of a community that perhaps was closely associated with the Servant. Isaiah 53:1 and 53:10a expresses their puzzlement at the mystery of the man’s death. It is puzzling because it was the plasure that his death be accomplished although he was "not a violent, nor deceit was found in his lips" (53:9). His career is described as that of utter failure (53:2-3), but this group is convinced that his sufferings have an atoning value (53:4-7). He was like a lamb offered in sacrifice for the sins of many.

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.

All we like sheep have gone astray
we have turned, everyone, to his own way
And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all
He was oppressed and was afflicted
yet opened not his mouth
Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter
and like sheep that before its shearer is dumb
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away
and as for this generation, who did think think
that he was cut off out of the land of the living and stricken
because of the transgression of his people?

The vindication of the Servant already announced in Isaiah 50:7-9 is surprising because it is described as a resurrection:

he will see his offspring
and prolong his days
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hands
After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life (Isaiah Qumran; cf. LXX) and be satisfied in his knowledge (that)
my righteous servant will justify many
and he will bear their iniquities (10c-11).

At the conclusion of the text, Yahweh expresses his agreement with the judgment of the community expressed in 53:4-7.

He poured out his soul in death
and was numbered with the transgressors
yet he bore the sins of many
and made intercession for the transgressors(53:12).

Thus, Yahweh himself gives the reason for the servant’s burial among the wicked: even in death he is in solidarity with them.

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 42:1-4
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
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
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
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 53:1
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
1Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
Isaiah 50:7-9
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
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.

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  1. This is a repost from Otium Sanctum []

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