Readings this week, leading up to Palm Sunday, March 25
MONDAY, MARCH 19
A picture of a true disciple’s false accusation, punishment – and assurance of the Lord’s vindication
Context and application note: This is called the third Servant Song of Isaiah, following Isaiah 42:1-9 (first) and 49:4, 7 (second). The first hearers might have seen Isaiah as the servant, or a purified Israel as the servant; with the advantage of hindsight it seems clear to us that this looks forward to Christ. John Wesley in his Notes said of the phrase “given me” that “this and the following passages may be in some sort understood of the prophet Isaiah, but they are far more evidently and eminently verified in Christ, and indeed seem to be meant directly of Him.”
4 The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
“Well-instructed tongue” – the tongue of one being taught, or a disciple’s tongue
“Word that sustains” – the Hebrew translated “sustains” is a rare word, probably the equivalent of our sense of a timely word or a word in season, and emphasising the Servant’s prophetic role in hearing and speaking. As with any understanding of being a disciple, hearing from the Lord and responding to Him comes before speaking.
5 The Sovereign Lord has opened My ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.
“Opened my ears” – a sign of obedience. As we would say, the servant is “open” to hearing about the test of obedience that the Lord is presenting. Israel has been rebellious; by contrast the Servant is attentive – and resolute about what follows.
6 I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting.
“Who beat me” – beatings were for fools, or criminals Proverbs 10:13, 19:29, 26:3, Matt 27:26, John 19:1.
“Pulled out my beard” – a way of showing contempt, 2 Samuel 10:4-5, Neh. 13:25.
“Mocking and spitting” – associated with the insult and disgrace of hatred, Job 30:10, Deut 25:9, Job 17:6, Mt 27:30.
7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
“Set my face like flint” – as Luke 9:51, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (NIV), ” steadfastly and determinedly set His face…” (Amplified).
8 He who vindicates Me is near. Who then will bring charges against Me? Let us face each other! Who is My accuser? Let him confront Me!
This is the language of a courtroom, where the devil performs his role as accuser and the Sovereign Lord gives judgment. The sanctity of the heavenly legal process, which of course is completely fair, must be upheld.
Whatever the nature of the Servant’s call (v.5) and its cost in suffering (v.6) and resoluteness (v.7), these must fulfil the legal requirements. In v.8 “near” is a parallel word to gōʾēl, the Redeemer or Next-of-Kin of Ruth 2:20, 3:12. See also Lev. 21:2–3, 25:25, Num. 27:11.
“He who vindicates” – As this is fulfilled in the Messiah, it is also good news in the lives of those whose lives are hidden in Him. As Christ was sinless, He is able to nullify the charges brought against His own who have put their trust in Him, Romans 8:31-34.
9 It is the Sovereign Lord who helps Me. Who will condemn Me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.
“Condemn” means proven guilty. The Servant is confident of a favourable judgment. The vindication, in Jesus’ trials, did not spare Him the unjust punishment, even though the charges did not stick (see further study references). In the same way we experience injustice at the hands of men, but the verdict of heaven is a resounding ‘not guilty’ and freedom from any shame. There is also destruction for those involved in the wrongful action.
Jesus challenged His enemies: “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”, John 8:46.
“The moths” – what John Wesley called ‘the secret curse’ of destruction of false accusers, reiterated in Isaiah 51:8.
For further study, see Matthew 27:3–4, 19, 24; Mark 15:3; Luke 23:4, 10, 14–15, 41; John 8:46; John 19:6 and the ultimate vindication, 1 Timothy 3:16.
This is a picture of utter devotion and obedience in the face of harsh treatment and false accusation. There is a courtroom scene where accusations are made, defence made and the Lord’s judgment will be pronounced after the legalities are thrashed out.
Earlier readers would have seen this as applying to Isaiah himself – Israel had a poor record of heeding God’s messages and honouring God’s messengers.
How does this sit with us? Life is frequently unfair and a particular difficulty Christians have is being singled out for harsh treatment, often at the hands of religious people. Bad things do happen to people who are by no means bad or deserving of it. The extreme case was the mock trial and then execution of Jesus. This passage reminds us that eventually false accusers self-destruct and vindication by the Lord is assured – but people of malicious intent still have free will to cause a lot of hurt through their slander.
It took faith for the first disciples to hold on to God’s greater plan and it took them time to see God’s purpose in it all, even though they had been taught and reminded by Jesus Himself. It takes faith for us to hold on to God’s goodness and promises when everything appears to be under the devil’s domination, knowing that “because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced – who will condemn me?” Faith that is not stretched and tested is not mature faith.
For reflection, or as a discussion starter
When everything is going wrong and spiritual oppression is causing confusion, does God speak and how do we best position ourselves to hear Him?
Also published on Medium.