Isaiah Got It Right
January 13, 2008
1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
2 He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.
3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
4 He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.
5 Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:
6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;
7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
8 I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.
9 Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.
A new year begins, and we wonder what the future holds. Who will win the Super Bowl? Which nation will grab the most gold at the 2008 Olympics? Who will be the next President? Or perhaps you are concerned about important stuff like, who will be the next American Idol?
We simply don’t know. it’s always amusing to look back at what people predicted would happen in earlier years but never did.
Take, for example, the inventions that some people predicted would have lots of fizz but fizzled instead. The immobilizing foam gun is a weapon that blasts a sticky foam at criminals, so sticky the bad guy cannot move. Problem is, the foam also immobilizes a person’s air passages, and the person quickly dies, so you might as well shoot him with a regular gun.
Or consider the ferret locator, deemed essential in the UK where ferrets are used to chase rabbits into their holes but often get lost. This device is a little black locator box which attaches to one of the weasel’s legs and emits a signal helping the owner to retrieve his pet ferret. The inventor thought it would be a big hit, but it flopped in the marketplace.
There is a huge list of invention and patent prognostications that went terribly bad. To mention a few: the dog umbrella, the automatic toilet closer, the finger toothbrush, and of course the beerbrella. That last one was supposed to keep beer from getting wet, but someone pointed out that beer is already wet.
It’s hard to tell the future, and yet there are market analysts, Pentagon wizards in Washington (those same folks that told us there were WMD’s in Iraq), and pseudo-prophets and soothsayers who do this sort of thing all the time.
We’re referring to people like Jeane Dixon, astrologer to the Reagans, and the “Amazing Criswell” among others. Dixon made hundreds of predictions in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and wrote a horoscope book for dogs. According to Mental_Floss magazine (November-December 2006), Dixon was most famous for foreseeing the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but she did not exactly get that right. She predicted that a Democrat would win the 1960 election and die in office, but she didn’t say that it would be Kennedy. In fact, in the heat of the presidential election, Dixon said that Kennedy would lose the election. She also said that World War III would break out in 1958, cancer would be cured in 1967, and peace would cover the earth in the year 2000.
Criswell, a pop-culture fixture of the 1960s, appeared on The old Jack Paar Program in 1963, and predicted that tragedy would strike President Kennedy in November. He got that right.
What he got wrong: predictions that a space ray would zap Denver, brain transplants would be sold in vending machines, mass cannibalism would break out in August 1999, and Mae West would be elected president. That’s not all: As president, Mae West would celebrate by taking her close friends to the moon.
Clearly, whether you are trying to predict what’s going to happen in 2008, or attempting to predict the success of a new invention, you’re probably going to be mostly wrong..
It’s pretty much always been like that. Except. Except for biblical prophecy.
In Isaiah 42:1, the prophet speaks of God’s servant. He indicates that this servant is chosen by the Lord, full of God’s Spirit, and known for his justice and his teachings. Mishpat and torah are the marks of this servant — that is Hebrew for justice and teaching. The prophet Isaiah is announcing that God’s servant is bringing justice and teaching right into the middle of all the chaos and confusion of day-to-day human life.
But who is this servant of the Lord? Isaiah does not say. Isaiah 42 is one of several sections of the book of Isaiah that are called servant songs. The identity of the Servant, however, is a subject of vigorous scholarly debate. Possibilities abound, including the prophet Isaiah himself, or the nation of Israel. or a Spirit-endowed messianic deliverer.
As we examine these verses from Isaiah 42, we see that God is central. The LORD speaks; the LORD’s Spirit acts through the Servant. The LORD God’s powerful name and glory are behind the LORD’s quiet aim to bring justice.
Justice/mishpat is a frequent biblical theme. Mishpat appears 40 times in Isaiah. The word occurs three times in chapter 42, in vv. 1, 3, 4. God wants the peoples of Israel and the world to live right before God and each other. The Servant will see to it that that happens.
But notice how the Servant will bring about mishpat. We might have expected a military or political response to the injustice of nations and persons. But the Servant “will not cry or lift up his voice” (v. 2) and will not break a bruised reed nor quench a dimly burning lamp (v. 3).
He comes in gentleness and mercy and love. And V4 assures us, “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth.”
The New Testament closely associates Jesus Christ with the LORD’s Servant in Isaiah. For example, in Matthew 12 we read this description of Jesus:
18 Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles.
19 He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.
21 And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.
That is a pretty close parallel to what Isaiah said about the Servant of God hundreds of years earlier.
Isaiah got it right. He showed us something about Jesus the Messiah. When Jesus was baptized by John, the Spirit of God descended like a dove and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). These words could have come straight out of Isaiah 42, in which God says, “Here is my servant … my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (v. 1).
Jesus is the servant of the Lord with God’s “spirit upon him” (v. 1), the one who “will faithfully bring forth mishpat — justice” (v. 3). Jesus will be “a covenant to the people, a light to the nations” (v. 6), a savior who will “bring out the prisoners from the dungeon” (v. 7). Isaiah sensed what God was up to, and he spoke the truth about Jesus, the Messiah of God.
This reveals a key fact about good prophets, one that we need always to keep in mind. They are not supposed to be fortune-tellers who predict precisely what will happen in the months and years to come. Instead, they’re supposed to be forth-tellers who speak forth the truth of God.
A good prophet paints a clear picture of the state of the world, with all its pain and brokenness, sin and selfishness. A good prophet speaks the truth in love, and points people to where God is at work in the middle of all our human failings and flailings. A good prophet is a truth-teller, not a fortune-teller.
Take Paul Ehrlich, a respected professor at Stanford University. In 1968, he wrote a book called The Population Bomb, which stated that people would have a lot of babies in the future. He saw the population growth around him, and he spoke clearly about it. That’s truth-telling. That’s good prophecy.
But Ehrlich went on to say that “hundreds of millions of people will starve to death,” and he predicted that India would run out of food in 1971. That’s fortune-telling. That’s bad prophecy.
Isaiah is a good prophet because he paints a clear picture of the state of the world. He speaks the truth in love, and points people to where God is at work. He doesn’t predict details of the arrival of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, but says that God’s servant will “open the eyes that are blind” and “bring out the prisoners from the dungeon” (v. 7). Isaiah sees the world’s problems, and identifies God’s solution. God’s solution is Jesus.
You might say, well that is nice, the suffering servant of Isaiah is the one who died on the cross. But get to the bottom line. How does that effect us?
It reassures us about God’s plan and God’s sovereignty. God is actually in control of the universe, and God has a purpose. God’s purpose is going to be fulfilled. You can count on that. You can believe that.
Now how can I say that. How can I dare to say that. I certainly cannot prove God’s sovereign plan in a logical, rational way. I am speaking from faith, but I have hints that reassure my faith. The prophet who wrote Isaiah 42 lived centuries before the birth of Jesus.
You may know that there is much debate about the book of Isaiah. Some scholars divide the book into two parts a first Isaiah and a Second Isaiah. For our purposes this morning that does not matter. Everyone agrees that the book of Isaiah was completed and in circulation centuries before Jesus was born.
But Isaiah 42 describes that attitude and the mission of the Christ, the messiah. How did that happen? The prophet was so attuned to the will and mind of God that something of God’s plan and purpose spilled over into the prophet’s mind, and he, the prophet, got it right. He got it right about Jesus.
Jesus is God’s answer to the world’s problems. Jesus is God’s answer for my problems. Now I know that you may have come here today with many problems. You may be worried, anxious, burdened. But the ultimate problem we all face, the source of all my problems, is my lack of any kind of real connection with God. I need God in my life to live the kind of life I ought to live, but I am separated from God by my sins. Jesus is the answer for you and for me. He died on the cross to atone for my sins. He is God’s suffering servant, who suffered for me.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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