This post was inspired by Chapters 42 and 43 of the book of Isaiah. Scripture references are from an online version of the New International Version of the Bible.
There is an incredible beauty in reading the prophetic passages of what we Christians call the “Old Testament.” There are many passages that speak of a glorious return of God to Israel. Many passages speak of a regathering of God’s chosen people to the Promised Land after the inevitable fall of Israel.
But who will lead such a gathering? Who will reach out into all the nations to bring a captive people out of servitude?
Spoiler alert: God himself promises to do so in 43:5-7.
The interesting thing is how this is promised to happen. Isaiah 42:1-4 He begins that whole section by saying,
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
Anything that I can say about this passage has been said before by other pastors and teachers much more eloquently than I can hope to match.
I cannot help but marvel, however, at how closely the first two statements above match the description of Jesus in Luke 3:21-22 as he is being baptized by John.
Luke 3:21-22 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
God literally puts his Spirit on Jesus, and then tells the witnesses that Jesus is his own Son, who is very pleasing to him. To me, this means that God delights in Jesus, his Son and chosen Servant.
The part about not snuffing out a smoldering wick or breaking a bruised reed is a poetic way of describing someone who will not oppress the helpless or powerless in society. He will be gentle with the weak and helpless, not harsh or domineering. The way he deals with the helpless woman caught in adultery is in keeping with this approach (John 8:1-11). (By helpless, I mean that she was about to be stoned to death by a mob. Why just the woman? If she was caught in the act, where was the man?)
I also find it fascinating that millions around the world for generations have found hope in Jesus’ teaching. The gospel of his death, resurrection and return has given generations of converts hope for a better future and strength to face the trials in their lives. There is no need for his followers to fear death. He will gather them all to himself in new bodies at his return. Death has lost its sting!
If Jesus is able to come back to life from the grave – with many witnesses – then a return in triumph and glory is no stretch great of the imagination.
The next section of Isaiah 42 is addressed to the Servant (vv. 5-7):
This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
Somehow this “servant” would become “a covenant for the people” as well as “a light for the Gentiles.” One can understand the metaphor of being a “light to the Gentiles,” but how does a man become a covenant?
Jesus does so by dying, then rising from the dead, and then placing his very own Spirit into those who come to believe in him as their Lord and Saviour.
8 “I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”
If Jesus Christ is the Word who both was with God and is God and is now made flesh as the Apostle John states (John 1:1-14), then God has not yielded his glory to anyone else by the saving work of Jesus. All of the glory belongs to God, in the person of Jesus, by the calling of the Father and through the work of the Spirit in each redeemed person.
The next section is a song of praise for God the redeemer of Israel. Within it is a quote from God about what he will do for Israel as he leads them out of captivity at the appointed time.
13 The Lord will march out like a champion,
like a warrior he will stir up his zeal;
with a shout he will raise the battle cry
and will triumph over his enemies.
14 “For a long time I have kept silent,
I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth,
I cry out, I gasp and pant.
15 I will lay waste the mountains and hills
and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn rivers into islands
and dry up the pools.
16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.
17 But those who trust in idols,
who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’
will be turned back in utter shame.”
Note that it is God himself who does these things, not a merely human agent or king.
After a section lamenting the lack of belief of Israel (42:18-28), Chapter 43 begins with a reminder that God is their one and only Saviour, who will be with them through flood and fire to save them (verses 1-4). He follows this up with the statement:
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
Notice that God is the one doing the gathering. This gathering is not only from Assyria or Babylon, but rather “from the ends of the earth.” This appears to be a worldwide gathering at an appointed time for everyone “called by my name, whom I created for my glory.”
Verses 8-13 tell Israel that when these things happen they must remember that it is their own God, not some foreign idol, who predicted it and made it all happen.
After reminding them of how he originally established them as a people by amazing miracles like the parting of the Red Sea and wiping out the Egyptian army’s chariots and soldiers, he tells them that he is about to do something completely new. This new thing will be so powerful and remarkable that it will all but obliterate the memory of the Exodus by its sheer magnitude (verses 14-21).
After once again chastising them for neglecting their own God, he reminds them that he is the only one who can forgive their sins and restore them to blessings, since he is the one who brought them blessings and then curses when they rebelled, causing their destruction and exile from the land.
All of the statements about Jesus as Saviour in the New Testament are predicated on passages like the one above that seem to require God himself to intervene to save Israel and to be a blessing to the Gentiles, and yet also seem to require a human servant of God to do those things.
The answer is that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, fulfilling both those requirements.