by Graziano Marcheschi, M.A. D.Min
Song 4 — Suffering and Triumph of the Servant of the Lord
This fourth Song of the Suffering Servant is likely one of the best known
texts of the entire Old Testament. It is a plaintive dirge that declares
God’s innocent Servant was punished for ours ins and crushed for our iniquities.
Like a “lamb led to the slaughter,” he went silently to his death, a
death that bore away our offenses and made us whole. Though the
“suffering” of the Suffering Servant is more evident in this text than
in the other “songs,” this passage begins with a trumpet blast
declaration of the Servant’s future glory. His exaltation, however,
won’t spring from victory but from a well of deep sorrow. Though cast in
the past tense, the Servant’s suffering is palpable.
what’s most remarkable about the Servant is how unremarkable he is: “no
majestic bearing” to attract, “no beauty” to please the eye. He was
shunned and avoided the way one might recoil from a leper. And yet, says
the prophet, it was for us that he suffered, for us that he endured
shame. Foolishly, we assumed he was reaping the fruit of his own
failures, but now we see the truth: it was ours ins brought him
low. In street parlance we might say, “We did the crime, but he did the
time.” If at least he would complain, express anger, go resentfully to
his death. Maybe that would assuage our guilt. But he accepts his fate
in silent dignity. No finger pointing; no “woe is me.” Mercifully, he bore the wounds butwewere healed. He did no wrong,
Isaiah tells us, yet somehow it suits the will of God to make him a
“reparation offering” and let him be cast aside “among the wicked.”
willing self-sacrifice is as surprising as the spin Isaiah gives it.
Any religious person of his day would have viewed the Servant’s
suffering as rightful punishment for sin. But the prophet sees through a
different lens. With beautiful imagery, Isaiah announces ultimate
vindication for the Servant whose vicarious suffering will “justify the
many.” God greatly rewards the selfless Servant and turns his suffering
into the ointment that heals the world.
This vision must have
shocked Isaiah’s audience. A Messiah who would suffer and die instead of
riding in with brandished sword to drive out their foreign dominators
was plain preposterous. So was the notion that he would “justify the many.”
The Messiah’s light was to shine on Israel, not upon the nations. It
would be difficult, indeed, to long for such a universal Messiah.
who could fail to recognize the suffering Christ within the contours of
the Servant’s face? No one paints a better portrait than Isaiah of the
Christ who suffered silently for our sins. But let’s not forget how this
song begins: “My servant shall be raised high and greatly exalted.”
Because he “surrendered himself to death,” the suffering, mocked Messiah
is now the Lord who reigns and reconciles.
Questions for Reflection
Does the assertion that “it was the Lord’s will to crush him with pain” raise any difficult questions for you?
do you think it would have been difficult for the people of ancient
Israel to believe salvation would be extended not just to Israel, but to
the whole world? Do you see a connection with Jesus’ parable of the
workers in the vineyard who were all paid the same amount for their
various hours of labor (Matthew 20:1-16)?
What stirs within you when you observe innocent suffering?
What about your own pain? Do you feel you suffer alone, or do you sense Christ suffering with you?
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