WHO IS THE IDEAL SERVANT, THE TRUE ISRAEL? – Isaiah 49

Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye peoples, from far: Jehovah hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name: and he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me: and he hath made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he kept me close: and he said unto me, Thou art my servant; Israel, in whom I will be glorified. But I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and vanity; yet surely the justice due to me is with Jehovah, and my recompense with my God. And now saith Jehovah that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, and that Israel be gathered unto him (for I am honorable in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God is become my strength); yea, he saith, It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. Thus saith Jehovah, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers: Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall worship; because of Jehovah that is faithful, even the Holy One of Israel, who hath chosen thee.

Isaiah 49:1‭-‬7 ASV

This is punctuated differently from the text of the American Standard Version in the text above; because the semicolon that divides Israel from the previous part of this sentence is an error.

In this passage, God Almighty himself named the future Messiah “ISRAEL.”

We have already noted that Jesus Christ is indeed the great Anti-type of Israel; and Christ himself accepted this title in John 15:1ff, where it is recorded that he said, “I AM THE TRUE VINE,” the old fleshy Israel, the secular nation, of course, being the corrupt vine or degenerate vine as revealed in both Isaiah and Jeremiah (Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21).

MEANINGS OF THE WORD “ISRAEL”

The proper interpretation of the Word of God must always take into account the Biblical pattern of using the same word for multiple meanings.

Similarly, there are no less than eight legitimate meanings of the word Israel in the holy Bible.

(1) This was the name (Israel) given by the angel to Jacob on the occasion when he wrestled with him till daylight (Genesis 32:28).

(2) This was the name that came to be applied to the posterity of Jacob through the twelve patriarchs.

(3) This was the name that Ephraim and the ten tribes who seceded from the House of David usurped and claimed for themselves only (Hosea 8:14).

(4) This was the name that applied to the kingdom of Judah, after the captivity and loss of the Ten Tribes with Ephraim in the fall of Samaria (722 B.C.).

(5) This was the “covenant name” of the righteous remnant as distinguished from the hypocritical, rebellious majority, who made up the principal mass of those deported into captivity in Babylon.

(6) In the times of the personal ministry of Messiah, the name “Israel” was reserved for a tiny handful of the fleshly nation of the Jews who were called “Israelites Indeed” by Jesus Christ (John 1:47), categorically distinguishing between them and the “sons of the devil” who at the same time they plotted the death of Christ were calling themselves “Israelites,” and “sons of Abraham.” (See John 8:31-50). Nathaniel, Zacchaeus, Anna, Simeon, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, the holy apostles, and that little handful of 120 people who attended that meeting in Acts 1:15 made up the total number of Israelites indeed.

(7) The name “Israel” in our own times, and reaching back to the ministry of Jesus Christ, rightfully belongs to the true followers of Jesus Christ, his church. Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches refers to them in Galatians 6:16 as “The Israel of God.” The apostles are reigning over the “twelve tribes of Israel,” a name applied to the church of Jesus Christ (Matthew 19:28); and the 144,000 of Revelation 7 are none other than the kingdom or church of the Messiah.

(8) The name “Israel” in this very Isaiah 49:3 refers exclusively to Jesus Christ the Messiah. This corresponds with the fact that Christ is the “head of the church which is his spiritual body,” the whole body (all the church) itself being also “The Israel of God.”

The significance of this meaning of Israel in this passage is very great. Without this information, commentators are simply puzzled and checkmated as regards the discovery of what the passage means.

The elusiveness of the servant’s identity is nowhere more apparent than here (Isaiah 49:3) … He is unequivocally identified as Israel…One way out of the impasse would be to delete the word Israel, but the ancient versions will not support such a deletion … There is no easy solution to the problem of the servant’s identity.

All such confusion and lack of understanding disappears instantly when it is understood that “Israel” in this passage is a God-given title of Messiah himself.

After all that Isaiah had already revealed about the blindness and deafness of the fleshly nation (Israel), and of their judicial hardening, and of their being no longer the noble vine God had planted, but a “degenerate vine,” it is a foolish mistake indeed to try to identify that blind, deaf, hardened, hypocrite of the fleshly nation with the “Servant” who would heal that very nation.

If the servant, therefore, is interpreted collectively (that is, of the fleshly nation of Israel), then one is confronted with the strange anomaly of the nation effecting its own spiritual renewal.

The reference here (Isaiah 49:3) applies to the nation collectively, admits that Isaiah 49:5,6 constitute the most serious obstacle to the collective view.

Of course, such an identification of the servant as Israel in the collective sense as the whole nation is not merely a serious obstacle to that viewpoint, it is overwhelming proof of the error of that viewpoint.

“I have labored in vain …” (Isaiah 49:4). These words from the Messiah himself indicate that Jesus’ work with the nation of Israel would be, in one sense, frustrating, unsuccessful, and in the large measure useless.

The discouragement which our Lord surely encountered was first mentioned in Isaiah 42:4, but here it surfaces again.

Thus Isaiah follows the pattern he announced in Isaiah 28:10,13, the same being proof that our human author here is not some “2nd Isaiah,” but Isaiah himself. Regarding the apparent failure of Jesus’ mission to “the physical Israel,” only 120 were gathered together as his disciples after the resurrection.

These marvelous prophecies of that “Ideal Servant” reveal that Christ alone offers salvation to men.

The ancient idolaters who bowed down to images made by men fed their soul upon ashes and wasted themselves in degrading and worthless activities; but, “Even so, in philosophical circles today, Bible-rejecting agnostics demonstrate a similar blindness to the great truth that the mechanism of the Universe demands a Mechanic to fashion it, and the equally great truth that neither the ancient idolaters nor our modern unbelievers can answer the all-important question:

How can I be saved?

Isaiah 49:5 speaks of the mission of the Servant to bring Jacob back to the Lord and to restore Israel; but in Isaiah 49:6, it is revealed that God considered such an achievement on the part of Messiah too light a thing, that is a work not sufficiently great to be the full task of Messiah, and that his complete work would involve also his bringing light to the heathen nations of the Gentiles.

It would have been an insufficient reward for the `Ideal Servant’ to have received only the conversion of Jews as a result of his labors; therefore, God gave him for his recompense the gathering in of the Gentles also, and made him the means of salvation even to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Isaiah 49:6 reveals that Messiah’s mission to the Jewish nation did not include the restoration of all of the rebellious nation, but “the restoring of the preserved of Israel, thus being a reference to the “righteous remnant” only.

The recognition on the part of the Apostles themselves appeared, not at first, but eventually, that there was “no distinction” between Jews and Gentiles, nor even between Jews and barbarians.

The Great Commission was “to all creation,” and “to every creature,” and “all nations.”

“Thus saith Jehovah, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers: Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall worship; because of Jehovah that is faithful, even the Holy One of Israel, who hath chosen thee.

Thus saith Jehovah, In an acceptable time have I answered thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to raise up the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages; saying to them that are bound, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves.

They shall feed in the ways, and on all bare heights shall be their pasture.

They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them will lead them; even by springs of water will he guide them.

And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.

Lo, these shall come from far; and, Lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim.

The speaker in this passage is Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel; and it should be noted that God here speaks of that Ideal Servant, Messiah.

“Man despiseth … the nation abhorreth …” (Isaiah 49:7). Here is the prophecy that natural, secular Israel will despise and reject the Son of God when, at last he comes from heaven to redeem the world from sin.

“A servant of rulers …” (Isaiah 49:7). This means that the rulers of that day would look upon him with the same disdain with which they looked upon any servant whom thy considered to be far beneath themselves and unworthy of any particular interest on their part.

All of that, however, would be erased in the glorious success God here promised to give his Ideal Servant Messiah.

Kings and princes would honor and worship him; all obstacles to those who would serve him shall be removed.

“I will give thee for a covenant of the people …” (Isaiah 49:8). The paradox of Israel sent to redeem Israel is insoluble in Old Testament terms, since no prophet or king or priest was ever big enough for the title. It is part of the powerful thrust of the Old Testament toward the New Testament in which Jesus Christ stands forth as the sole worthy and rightful bearer of the name Israel.

Christ alone is the mediator of the new covenant; he only is the means by which men on earth may come unto God. He only is the “Way, the Truth and the Life; and no in an cometh unto the Father except by him” (John 14:6).

Servants, obey in all things them that are your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord: whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance: ye serve the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:22‭-‬24 ASV

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