Two Servants

The prophet Isaiah is unique amongst the men who penned the prophecies of the Messiah. In chapter 53, Isaiah describes the One who would come out of eternity and become one of us, called; “the Servant of the Lord,” the Messiah. In chapter 42, Isaiah also describes a servant who is not faithful to the Lord; the nation of Israel.

The existence of two servants in the Book of Isaiah, is seldom noticed by those who read his prophecies. For this reason, some people have stated that Isaiah Chapter 53 is not a description of the Messiah at all, but a commentary on the nation of Israel. The claim by many critic’s is that what Isaiah wrote, cannot be attributed to Jesus Christ.

The ancient Rabbi’s of Israel believed that the servant of Isaiah, chapter 53, is the Messiah. We see evidence of this in many of their writings:

“Our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the Messiah, and we shall ourselves also adhere to the same view.”[1] —Rabbi Moses Alschech 1437-1508

One of the most compelling proofs for the identity of the Servant from Isaiah 53, is found in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke, Jesus and John, all said that many of the things that Jesus had done, were a fulfillment of what Isaiah wrote in chapter 53:

Matthew 8:16-17
When evening had come, they brought to Jesus many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 53:5), saying: “He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses.”

Mark 15:27-28
With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says (Isaiah 53:8), “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”

Luke 22:37
(Jesus Speaking) For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:8).’ For the things concerning Me have an end.”

John 12:37-38
But although Jesus had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? (Isaiah 53:1) And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”

In the Book of Acts, the Lord spoke to Philip and told him to take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. While on this road, Philip met a man who was apparently there by divine appointment. Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, had a servant who was returning from Jerusalem where he had been worshipping the God of Israel. While on his return journey, he was reading from the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. As Philip meets this servant of the queen of Ethiopia, he asks this man if he understands what he is reading.

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. Acts 8:26-31

This prophecy had been written by Isaiah, in the fifty-third chapter, seven hundred years before Phillip met this man of Ethiopia.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. Isaiah 53:7a

The Ethiopian Eunuch asks Philip who the person is that Isaiah is referring to. Philip tells him that the prophecy is about Jesus, the Messiah.

The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Acts 8:32-35

The purpose of this encounter, which has been recorded for us in the Book of Acts, is to confirm the prophecy of Isaiah 53, is speaking of Jesus Christ.

Peter also quotes Isaiah 53 in describing the suffering of Jesus as a fulfillment of the Messiah’s prophecies:

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. 1 Peter 2:21-24

Today, a great number of Jews claim that all of the verses from Isaiah 53, were written about the nation of Israel, not the Messiah. This is due, primarily, to an inability to distinguish between the two servants of Isaiah chapter 42:

Verses 1-17: the Servant who is the Messiah, the faithful one.
Verses 18–20: the servant (small “s”) who is Israel, who is unfaithful to the Lord.

The mixing together of these verses of scripture from Isaiah 42, as the Servant who is the Messiah and the servant who is Israel, has caused some who interpret these verses, to conclude that the entire text is speaking of Israel and not the Messiah. This is, of course, an error.

The first 17 verses of Isaiah 42 are distinctly descriptive of a person who is faithful, with the Spirit of God, gentle, just, establishing His kingdom. This Servant is identified much later in the New Testament as Jesus Christ.

The Faithful Servant

Isaiah 42:1-4 “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. 2 He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. 4 He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”

Verses 18-20 describes My blind servant. This is a correct description for the spiritual condition of Israel during the time that Jesus appeared before the leadership of the Jews and confounded their ability to rightly identify Him as the Messiah.

The Blind Servant

Isaiah 42:18-20 “Hear, you deaf; And look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind but My servant, Or deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is blind as he who is perfect, And blind as the LORD’S servant? Seeing many things, but you do not observe; Opening the ears, but he does not hear.” Isaiah 42:18-20

This failure to recognize two servants in the text of Isaiah 42 has led to a further error in identifying the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 as the nation of Israel. Many commentators on the text of Isaiah 42 and 53 believe that both are depicting the suffering which the nation of Israel has undergone for the past 2,000 years.

This is the result of an incorrect exegesis and hermeneutical interpretation of the text.[2] Simply reading through each verse, and allowing the context to speak to us without a premise or bias towards any particular interpretation, leaves the reader with a clear conclusion that the two servants are distinct from each other by marked contrasts in the language of the text.

In the following verses of Isaiah 1-17 and 18-20, I believe that you will be able to see, by my descriptions before these verses, the difference between the two servants.

The Servant, as the Messiah, is called My Elect One.

The attributes of the Messiah described:

He has the Spirit of God to bring salvation to the Gentiles. He is gentle in character and gentle with those He comes to save. He arrives to establish justice by putting away sins through His sacrifice.

Isaiah 42:1-4 “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. 2 He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. 4 He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”

The Servant as the Messiah who created the heavens…

Isaiah 42:5 Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it.

The Servant as the Messiah who will bring a new covenant: to bring light, to open blind eyes, to release those held in the bondage of their sin.

Verse 6

Isaiah 42:6-8 “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, 7 To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house. 8 I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images.”

The LORD describing the New kingdom of the Messiah, as a New Song. (from where the term Servant Songs originated).

Isaiah 42:9-12 “Behold, the former things have come to pass, And new things I declare; Before they spring forth I tell you of them.” 10 Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise from the ends of the earth, You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, You coastlands and you inhabitants of them! 11 Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voice, The villages that Kedar inhabits. Let the inhabitants of Sela sing, Let them shout from the top of the mountains. 12 Let them give glory to the LORD, And declare His praise in the coastlands.

The Messiah’s wrath or the wrath of the Lamb described, speaking of the seven-year Tribulation in which the Messiah will finally cease in holding His peace.

As Jesus described the Tribulation as like a woman in labor, Isaiah repeats this description here in his portrayal of the Messiah’s wrath in the Tribulation period.

Isaiah 42:13-15 The LORD shall go forth like a mighty man; He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war. He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud; He shall prevail against His enemies. 14 “I have held My peace a long time, I have been still and restrained Myself. Now I will cry like a woman in labor, I will pant and gasp at once. 15 I will lay waste the mountains and hills, And dry up all their vegetation; I will make the rivers coastlands, And I will dry up the pools.”

The ministry and mission of the Messiah: to open the eyes of the blind, to lead the lost to salvation, and make the crooked places straight.

It is interesting that these are the same words that are used by the prophet Malachi, in speaking of the forerunner, who was John the Baptist.

Verse 16

Isaiah 42:16-17 I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, And crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, And not forsake them. 17 They shall be turned back, They shall be greatly ashamed, Who trust in carved images, Who say to the molded images, “You are our gods.”

Departing from a description of the faithful Servant, the Messiah, to the unfaithful servant, Israel, notice the change of language in verses 18-20.

As Jesus repeatedly tried to open the eyes of the scribes and the Pharisees to His true identity, they would not see nor understand that He was the fulfillment of all the prophecies concerning the Messiah.

Isaiah 42:18-20 “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 he who is perfect, And blind as the LORD’S servant? 20 Seeing many things, but you do not observe; Opening the ears, but he does not hear.”

By careful observation of the above text, we understand that Isaiah is describing two different servants: the faithful Messiah and the unfaithful nation of Israel.

Those who are diligent students of the Bible may have noticed that there are certain verses which speak of the Messiah that could have been included in this list of Messianic Prophecies. Verse 13-15, speaking of the wrath of the Messiah in the Tribulation Period, are fulfilled by Jesus in the Book of Revelation. These specific prophecies were not delineated separately in my list of Prophecies, though they could have been included. As you study the Old Testament, you will find many more than 365 Prophecies which I placed in this book. I included those prophecies which I considered the most prominent and descriptive for identifying the Messiah.

The Servant of Isaiah Brings Salvation

One of the compelling proofs for the Messiah as the intent of Isaiah’s prophecies, originates from the manner in which this prophet presents the Faithful Servant. In this next prophecy of Isaiah, we see that Salvation is brought to the world through this Servant. Although Israel was chosen to be the vessel by which the Lord would bring salvation into the world, she was not the actual instrument of redemption. This would be accomplished only by the Messiah.

Isaiah 49:6a Indeed He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.”

New Testament Fulfillment:

Luke 2:25-32 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”

Matthew 4:13-16 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”

Romans 11:11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.

Relevance:

The question we should ask in this prophecy is: “Who is this servant?” At times, in the Book of Isaiah, it is difficult but not completely impossible to tell which servant Isaiah is speaking of.

There are actually three servants who are mentioned in the Book of Isaiah:

1. David: in Isaiah 37:35
2. Israel: in iIsaiah 41:8-16, 42:18-20, 43:1, 44:1-8, 44:21-23, 45:4, 48:20
3. Messiah: in Isaiah 42:1-12, chapter 49, chapter 54

There is also a section in Isaiah where the Messiah as the Servant restores Israel, the servant: 50:4-6, 52:13-15, 53:1-12

This particular prophecy is easier than many to identify who the servant is, because of the language Isaiah 42:5-7 uses. Here in verse 6, the Servant Messiah is to restore Israel, the servant of God.

You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel

The Messiah of Isaiah Chapter 49 will also be a light to the Gentiles, in that God will use the gospel of the Messiah to save people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people. We see this completed work of the Messiah in the Book of Revelation, where the redeemed are all together before the throne of God, worshipping Him.

Revelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation…”

It was always the purpose of God to offer salvation to every person. First, this great work of redemption was offered to Israel who so often ignored, rejected and disobeyed God’s command. When Peter first brought the message of Jesus’ cross, he went to Israel. Upon their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah, God expanded His grace to all the nations and people of the earth.

Isaiah contains, what has been called, “The Servant Songs.” Named by Berhard Duhm in 1892.[3]

1. Isaiah 42
2. Isaiah 49:1-13
3. Isaiah 50:4-9
4. Isaiah 52:13-53:12

There is no evidence that these Servant Songs were ever sung by Israel or the church. The lyrics to these song are a poetic description of the life and ministry of the coming Messiah. All of the text in these Servant Songs could rightly be applied to Jesus as the Messiah. In fact, there is no other person to whom we could rightly apply these words, other than Jesus.

There are many books from the Old Testament that present the Messiah in light of the prophecies He will later fulfill, in the New Testament. The two books which present the greatest amount of prophecy about the Messiah are the Psalms with 96 prophecies, and Isaiah with 131 prophecies. Together, these two books contain 221 of the 365 Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah which are the subject of my book: “Prophecies of the Messiah.” Of course, there are many additional prophecies in the Psalms and Isaiah that could be included in the total list, as well as other books that identify the work and ministry of the Messiah. I have included the most prominent of the total list, estimated at close to 500.

What continues to be extraordinary in regards to this study of Old Testament prophecy, is that Jesus fits all the requirements for every prediction. Even the greatest of skeptics, once they have arrived at this section of Isaiah, would have to admit that it is beyond happenstance that all these predictions are so perfectly fulfilled by every aspect of Jesus’ life. We are left with only one reasonable conclusion: The person who is described by all of these predictions is the One revealed in the New Testament as Jesus of Nazareth.


[1] Rabbi Moses Alschech 1508-160
Abrabanel (1437-1508) said earlier:
“This is also the opinion of our own learned men in the majority of their Midrashim.”
Rabbi Yafeth Ben Ali ( second half of the 10th Century):
“As for myself, I am inclined to regard it as alluding to the Messiah.”
[2] Hermeneutics is the method of study that is concerned with how we interpret the Bible. Exegesis is the actual interpretation of the Bible by drawing the meaning out of the Biblical text.
[3] Bernhard Lauardus Duhm was a German Lutheran theologian born in Bingum, today part of Leer, East Frisia. Born: October 10, 1847, Died: November 1, 1928