The third Servant song (Isaiah 50:4-11) describes the Servant’s character and determination in the face of brutal opposition.
God intended for the nation of Israel to shine his light for the surrounding nations. Israel proved unwilling and incompetent. So God determined he had to do the work of redemption by himself (Isaiah 59:16). Jesus, being both God himself and authentically human, succeeded where Israel failed.
The tongue of disciples and an awakened ear
The Servant opens the song by declaring that the Lord God has given him the tongue of disciples, or the tongue or one who is taught. What a contrast with Israel, who never learned anything from God.
And every morning, God wakes the Servant’s ear to listen. In other words, the Servant is a man of prayer. The gospels frequently describe Jesus’ prayer life. It’s how he got his disciplined and instructed tongue. As a result, the Servant “knew how to sustain the weary one with a word. (v.4, NASB)”
God instructed the Servant to go through some very unpleasant experiences. Yet the Servant testifies, “I was not disobedient, nor did I turn back.”
No one wants to suffer. The thought that God wants his people to suffer is offensive to the human mind, but it’s through suffering that God draws people away from sin and into dependence on him. Jesus’ human nature didn’t like suffering any more than anyone else did. And his suffering didn’t draw him away from sin, because sin had no hold on him.
And so after Jesus’ arrest, he was flogged on his back (and elsewhere) and the soldiers spit on him, as v. 6 indicates. The gospels don’t record whether anyone plucked out his beard, but Isaiah often used conventional imagery. What matters most is that knowing in advance that he would be subjected to humiliating treatment (see Mark 10:34), he knew it would not put him to shame. He cared only about what God thought, and God would help him.
Who will contend with me?
The priests and Pharisees thought they were sitting in judgment of Jesus, but ultimately, God is judge, and his judgment vindicates the Servant.
So beginning in v. 8, the Servant turns the tables. He calls his accusers into court and demands that they make a case against him. They can only do the work of Satan and make accusations that can’t prevail. The Servant likens his accusers to moth-eaten garments, fit only to be discarded.
Finally, he issues a challenge to the entire nation. God’s ways are not always clear. Who, therefore, has enough respect for God to obey even when they seem to walk in darkness? Obedient people will trust and rely on God.
The disobedient, walking in darkness, will light their own fires to see by. They can’t be bothered to wait for God to provide light for them. The Servant promises that he will cause them to lie down in torment.
Judgment does not contradict grace
We don’t like that sentiment nowadays. It’s judgmental. But does not the Lord of the universe have the right to judge? In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of judgment and hell more than all other voices combined.
There is a hell, and some people will go there because of a rebellious attitude that rejects the way God has commanded. The curse of the law in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 foreshadows it.
But the torment promised here does not necessarily mean eternal damnation. The experience of exile, which Isaiah so vividly predicted, led a critical mass of Israelites to turn to God and repent of their sins.
The New Testament does not describe anyone who condemned Jesus as laying down their own firebrands and seeking God’s light. Neither does it give us any grounds for supposing none of them did. God reserves judgment for himself. And his coming to earth as a human and enduring the mistreatment described in this Servant song brought salvation to anyone who will accept it.
And that’s pure grace.