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What Luther Says

Isaiah 50: The Servant's Obedience

A dear friend shared that he had read Isaiah 50 yesterday morning and found it to be quite comforting for him as well as applicable to a situation I'm personally going through right now.

After reading it myself, I wanted us to take a closer look at it here, because it really is quite a beautiful passage, and I'm positive that the Lord will use it for His glory (Isaiah 55:10-11).

Israel’s Sin And The Servant’s Obedience

Thus says the Lord: “Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce, with which I sent her away? Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities you were sold, and for your transgressions your mother was sent away. 2 Why, when I came, was there no man; why, when I called, was there no one to answer? Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a desert; their fish stink for lack of water and die of thirst. 3 I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering.”

4 The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. 5 The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. 6 I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.

7 But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. 8 He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. 9 Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

10 Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. 11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.

One of the 4 "Servant Songs" in Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-9; Isaiah 49:1-13; Isaiah 52:13-Isaiah 53:12). That is a GREAT passage of Scripture with so much depth in just a mere 11 verses too!

I mean, it's remarkable how much Law and Gospel truth there is in that one.

The Lutheran Study Bible provides this brief summary of the text:

As in Chapter 49, the Lord exhorts His doubting and despairing people to believe His promises of deliverance. Though the Servant is not expressly named, He again appears in His role as Redeemer of Israel and of the nations (cf Ch 49), speaking of His mission in the timeless expressions of prophecy. Israel's liberation from the Babylonian exile and repatriation in its homeland continue to be in the forefront of Isaiah's vision, but they become tokens of all people's salvation from the curse of sin, and pledge the restoration of all nations. Ch 50 makes unique contributions to this theme. The exiles, though punished and sent away for their iniquities and transgressions, are not like a woman irrevocably divorced from her husband. Nor are they like children whom a father sold into slavery to pay his creditors. The gracious and omnipotent God agrees to renew the bonds broken by infidelity and disobedience.

The chapter can be summarized as follows: Behold, sinners need not despair; behold, their sins are atoned for; behold, it is dangerous to refuse forgiveness.

Isn't that just a beautiful presentation of the effects of the Law, and of sin, but also of the hope found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ too? By contrast, my old MacArthur Study Bible (mentioned in yesterday's post) honed in on the Law side of things while only dancing around the Gospel. What a difference!

I like how this passage starts out (Isaiah 50:2-3) by reminding us that the Lord can empty the seas and rivers, though their flow and limits seem constant. Israel is to have no doubt over His power to turn the course of nations. The people feared that the Lord would not be able to do what He had promised, that is, give them hope and a future (cf Jeremiah 29:11). He asks why no one was willing to believe Him and begins to remind Israel of the exodus events -- drying up the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21), opening the Jordan River by turning it into dry land (Joshua 4:23), turning the Nile to blood and killing its fish, bringing darkness upon Egypt (Exodus 10:21), and giving Israel light (Exodus 10:23). He is reminding them that if He did it once, then He can surely do it again! The Lord's power to redeem was indisputable (Isaiah 59:1).

We then read the Servant's soliloquy about being perfected through obedience (Isaiah 50:4-5) and sufferings (Isaiah 50:6). One interesting fact is that the detail of Jesus' appearance in Isaiah 50:6 occurs only here. The Servant remained obedient though provoked to rebel by excessively vile treatment. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy by remaining submissive to the father's will (Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:26; Matthew 27:30; Mark 14:65; Mark 15:19; Luke 22:63; John 18:22). I love how so sure He was of the Lord God's help that He resolutely determined to remain unswayed by whatever hardship might await Him. No matter how He was mistreated, mocked, and repudiated, the Servant had full and complete confidence of God's support, so He even welcomed an adversary to come against Him (Isaiah 50:8-9).

In Isaiah 50:9 we get even more Gospel truth. Charged with the sins of the world, yet vindicated and acquitted when He was raised from the dead, we know that He "is at the right hand of God," defending the innocence credited to all who appeal to Him for justification (Romans 8:31-34). Yet, the Servant's enemies will be as fragile and vulnerable as cloth, which even a tiny moth can destroy. Oh yeah, my old MacArthur Study Bible did not feel it was necessary to comment on that at all.

I hate to go backwards for a minute, but I should also point out the additional comfort offered in Isaiah 50:5, which only the LSB points out in the verse-by-verse commentary. Because the Servant is listening, it follows that He cannot be rebellious. This description sets Him apart from all other servants, prophets, or leaders of Israel (and sets Him apart from you and me), since everyone else had times in which they turned their back on the Lord (Exodus 4:13; Jeremiah 20:9; Jeremiah 20:14; John 1:3). Only one Servant could truly claim such obedience to the Lord (cf John 8:29). So, remember that the next time Satan whispers in your ear that you're not a "good enough" Christian, or when those within the "Emergent" and "Radical For Christ" movements try to tell you that you're "just not doing enough" to prove your love and obedience to God and to please Him.

I particularly love how it all ends with Isaiah 50:10-11 too! First and foremost, notice how the Servant and the Lord are set parallel to each other. Fear and obedience are due to both. Here was a call to the unconverted to believe and be saved (pure Gospel!), along with a clear warning that those who tried to escape their moral, spiritual darkness by lighting their own fire (i.e., by man-made religion and/or works righteousness) will only end up in eternal torment. To put it another way, those who try to "walk by the light" of their own fire, the Do-It-Yourself way of spirituality, will eventually have their lights extinguished. Only those who depend on the Lord will have the true light.

Finally, the LSB adds this nice bookend and exclamation point:

The Lord contrasts His Servant's humility and obedience with Israel's rebelliousness. The Servant's obedience and suffering atoned for your sins and the sins of all the world. Walk in the light of His Word. In Him there is no disgrace. Awaken my ear, O Jesus. Rouse me each day to fear, love, and trust my Lord. Amen.

By the way, I should probably also mention how cool it is that LCMS Lectionaries make reference to this same passage in "The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost" or "Proper 19 (Sept 11-17)" that's worth reading too.


PROPER 19 (Sept 11—17))

Isaiah 50:4–10
James 3:1–12
Mark 9:14–29

Christ Jesus Delivers Us from Sin, Death and the Devil Those who teach the Word of God “will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1), because it is by the Word that saving faith is obtained; whereas false doctrine always threatens to destroy Christian faith and life. The tongue “boasts of great things,” whether for good or evil (James 3:5). In fallen man, “it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). But anyone who bridles his tongue with the Word of God, who “does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man” (James 3:2). It is Christ who opens His ear to the voice of His Father, so that, with “the tongue of those who are taught,” He is able to sustain the weary “with a word” (Is. 50:4–5). Entrusting Himself to His Father, even to death, He is not put to shame but is vindicated in His Resurrection (Is. 50:6–9). By His faith and faithfulness, He casts out the “mute and deaf spirit” from us (Mark 9:25). He has compassion on us and helps us, so that we are not destroyed but cleansed from every evil and raised up from death to life (Mark 9:22–27).

Love it. Don't you?

I also found this little reading based on Isaiah 50:5-10 derived from the confessions found in the Book of Concord:


A poor sinful person is justified before God, that is, absolved and declared free and exempt from all his sins and from the sentence of well-deserved condemnation.because of the sole merit, complete obedience, bitter suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Christ alone. His obedience is credited to us for righteousness. We trust that for the sake of His obedience alone we have the forgiveness of sins by grace, are regarded as godly and righteous by God the Father, and are eternally saved. Paul says, "by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:19) and "so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men" (Romans 5:18). The righteousness that is credited to faith or to the believer out of pure grace is Christ's obedience, suffering, and resurrection, since He has made satisfaction for us to the Law and paid for our sins. He didn't have to suffer and die for His own sake. For this reason, then, His obedience (not only in His suffering and dying, but also because He was voluntarily made under the Law in our place and fulfilled the Law by this obedience) is credited to us for righteousness. So, because of this complete obedience, which He rendered to His heavenly Father for us by doing and suffering and in living and dying, God forgives our sins. He regards us as godly and righteous... (paragraphs 9,11-12,14-15)

Powerful and I just can't get enough.

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, Isaiah 50 beautifully and simply reminds us all that our hope is not in ourselves, not in our righteous works even if they're done in His name (Isaiah 64:6; Matthew 7; Revelation 3), but only in the Messiah, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and His death and resurrection, His atoning and redemptive work upon the cross on our behalf for our sins.

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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