“Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” (Isaiah 49:1)
This is about me, beloved reader. Now don’t think that I have completely lost it – because this verse is about you too. It is about all of us. Yes, I know this flies in the face of most, if not all, biblical commentators who say it must be the Messiah that is referred here. And then commence to making all sorts of theological gymnastics to explain why verse four can still be applied to the Messiah. The argument is that only the Messiah could say . . .
“He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” (Verses 2 – 3)
But would the Messiah say . . .
“But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.” (Verse 4)
What of Jesus’ ministry was in vain? That the Jewish people of his time did not believe and believe in him? Belief in God and Jesus has always been a matter of free will. Jesus said “let those who have ears, hear” meaning (according to the same biblical commentators) those who are willing to listen and believe will do so.
Or was it in vain because Jesus was put to death rather than be recognized as the Lord come to earth? Jesus said he had great forces at his command and could have seized any throne. But that was not Jesus’ way of bringing hope and salvation to the world.
No, these are the words of one who has toiled as a prophet of God, but does not feel he (or she) has accomplished what should have been done. The Messiah that was imagined in Isaiah’s time was a conquering divine king who would not fail. On the evening that I am writing this, I cannot believe that Jesus – who really was, is and will be – the Redeemer of Israel and the Holy One would say of himself/the Godself that he labored in vain.
Besides, these “modern” biblical commentators complete pass over the actual Hebrew words that were used, words/nouns that mean ordinary folk – like you and me.
“And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength- he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Verse 5 – 6)
This is where the “crunch” comes, taking the concept of Jesus as a light to the world and seguing these verses to support that. Pause a moment and consider that the book of Isaiah, indeed all the books of the bible, have become illuminating to the world in bringing the word of God to humanity. This is not hubris, but hope that what the prophet Isaiah tried to do in his/her human way might be used by the Lord to do good down the line – which it has.
“Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Verse 7)
I have made this pitch before, this retrieving and return the words of the prophets to their own mouths. And in that way calling all of us to be servants of God, created by God and inspired by God to carry out God’s mission in the world. It gives us hope that our efforts are not in vain. And it can inspire converts to faith to pick up the tasks of God’s mission in the world.
May you, beloved reader, be called by God to succeed in the ways of God, and not in the ways of humanity. Selah!