INTRODUCTION

Isaiah prophesies the Babylonian exile, but also promises that Yahweh’s Servant will deliver Israel not only from Babylon but from the numbing effects of her own idolatry.

THE TEXT

“Where is the certificate of your mother’s divorce, whom I have put away? Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you? For your iniquities you have sold yourselves, and for your transgressions your mother has been put away . . . .” (Isaiah 50:1-11).

CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE

Earlier, Zion has complained that Yahweh, her Husband, has abandoned her (49:14). Yahweh assures her that He cannot forget her, and He reiterates that assurance at the beginning of chapter 50. Addressing the children of those “sent away” into exile, Yahweh asks if there is a certificate of divorce, or a bill of sale into slavery (50:1a). There is none. Zion was sent away because of the transgressions of her children, but the marriage is not over. He will call her back, dry up the river in a new exodus and bring plagues on Babylon (50:2-3; cf. Exodus 7:18). He can make Babylon’s lights go out in the same way He plunged Egypt into darkness.

THE OPENED EAR

Judah has grown deaf. Yahweh calls out and no one answer (50:2), and Isaiah’s preaching has only made them deafer (Isaiah 6). But there is hope. He opens the ear of His servant (cf. Exodus 21:5-6; Psalm 40), so that He can hear the voice of Yahweh and obey. Because He has ears of a disciple, the Servant also has a tongue, which Yahweh gives him to make more disciples (50:4a). The Servant will thus reverse the curse of deafness.

 

THE WAY OF OBEDIENCE

The way of obedience leads directly into conflict, opposition, and suffering. Because the open-eared Servant does not turn back, He clashes with torturers who strike him on the back, pluck out his beard, humiliate and insult him with spitting (50:6). Zealous obedience not only leads the servant into conflict, but is also a means for learning obedience (cf. Hebrews 5:8-9).

VINDICATION

The Servant perseveres in the way of obedience despite opposition because Yahweh is with him to help. He sets his face like a flint knife to circumcise hearts (cf. Exodus 4:25; Joshua 5:2-3) knowing that He will not be disgraced or ashamed. He defiantly calls on His enemies to bring a charge against him (50:8-9). Even if he walks in darkness, he trusts in Yahweh to guide him. He knows that the enemies who kindle a fire to burn him will just end up scorching themselves instead, falling into the fire they prepare for Yahweh’s servant (50:10-11).

SUFFERING SERVANT

Of course this and the following chapters speak of Jesus. His obedience leads to suffering, and He goes on in the way of obedience because He knows that His Father will vindicate Him. It is also, of course, about us. The Servant’s defiant questions – Who has a case against me? Who is he who condemns me? – are the very same questions Paul poses: “It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns?” (Romans 8:33-34).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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