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Today we are studying the fourth and final so-called Servant Song in Isaiah. It is actually two chapters combined running from Is. 52:13-15 to 53:12. And it is the song to which Isaiah has been building concerning the person and work of God’s Ideal Servant. And because it is so rich and so full of detail, we are going to split it in half and study it in two lessons.
In today’s lesson we will focus on verses 13-15, although for context sake we’re going to back up to verse 7. And we’re going to discover that the anticipation of this Ideal Servant finally begins to culminate. We will finally view Isaiah’s painting as a panoramic instead of viewing separate snapshots of Isaiah’s landscape. And when we view this painting in its entirety, a breathtaking vista is going to greet us. We will finally see, with great clarity, the big picture of God’s activity in the world.
And as always, God’s picture of his activity in the world revolves around his kingdom. Remember, the whole of Scripture tells us that ever since sin entered into the world, the Creator, the Master Artist, has been at work to restore his creative design back to its original state – a state of rest; a state of justice. And that restoration process begins with salvation – God’s plan to completely eradicate sin and all its effects. And so, Isaiah tells us that God’s plan for salvation has more far-reaching implications than simply to redeem individuals out of darkness. That plan doesn’t go far enough. God seeks to restore his justice – a complete social order of peace inherent in his creative design of his kingdom.
So, when we begin Is. 52 – this last Servant Song – we are not surprised to see Isaiah return to the imagery of the King returning to his kingdom. And in this song, the King has returned – the people can see him coming down the path toward their city.
And what joy accompanies the announcement of the king’s arrival, the king’s advent! As we read Is. 52:7-15 notice how the song builds as news spreads of the King’s advent, his arrival. It builds from solo (v. 7), to ensemble (v. 8), to mass choir with the entire cosmos joining in (v. 9). This is a song of great joy and celebration over what the King is going to do once he reaches the people’s city!
Read Is. 52:7-15
I. HERALDS OF THE KING (IS. 52:7)
I love how John Oswalt describes this scene. He says Isaiah is picturing a “besieged city” breathlessly waiting word from a messenger of the outcome of the battle. Have they won – will they be delivered? Or is the news defeat? And then, on the road leading to the city, feet appear. And as the messenger draws near to the city, it becomes plain that he is not so much running as he is dancing. And word quickly rifles through the city of the messenger’s news and the messenger’s feet are declared beautiful.
The messenger’s news is this: the King has returned to reign. The herald of the King brings the following news: the King has returned at last to reclaim His throne. For those who have suffered under foreign dominance for century after century, there could have been no better news. This message of the king’s return is three-fold: a message of peace; a message of good; and a message of salvation
A. Message of peace
First, the message brought by the feet of the King’s herald is a message of peace. Verse 7 says: “How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace…”
So, the herald on that mountain road is not simply bringing with him news that the war is over, that battle has ceased, that strife is no more. He brings much more important news than that. This is a message of complete well-being and wholeness. The news brought by the King’s herald is that all things are to be restored to the creative design God intended.
Throughout Scripture, this term shalom/peace is often associated with the throne of David, the rule of King David. Remember, God made specific promises to David concerning his throne – particularly that it would be eternal (2 Sam. 7). And Isaiah picks up on this in Is. 9:7 – he writes: “Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” Peace has come – rest, harmony, well-being. And it has come eternally with the advent of the King.
B. Message of good
But this messenger also bears news of the King’s reign as “good.” Look again at vs. 7:“How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things…”
In ancient Hebrew culture, the word “good” (טוב tob) has much deeper meaning than a mere adjective. Something was considered “good” when its purposes were fulfilled. Take for example, a piece of fruit. When God put Adam in the Garden, he gave the fruits of the garden for man to eat. Part of the fruit’s function in God’s created order was to serve as food, nutrition. And so, a piece of fruit was considered “good” when it had been eaten and when it had fulfilled that purpose for which it was created – not simply because it looked pleasant to the eye, as Eve declared (Gen. 3:1-15).
So, under God’s rule, all God’s purposes for creation will be realized. It will be once again be declared to be “good.” Remember, God’s constant declaration in Gen. 1 & 2 was that everything he created was “good” – the day, the night, the land, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the fish of the sea. Creation culminated with man who was declared ‘very good.’ This all meant in God’s eyes, they were good – their purposes were realized. They functioned in the purpose for which they were created. This messenger, then, is bringing tidings of good things – the King is coming to restore our purpose. Once again, the people will dwell in a good creative design of the King.
C. Message of salvation
And lastly, the messenger bears news of the King’s return as news of “salvation.” Verse 7 culminates by describing the herald as one “Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Throughout his book, Isaiah has linked the salvation offered through the Servant with deliverance. So, under the King’s rule, the people would be delivered from sin. So, where God reigns, all these elements follow: peace (well-being), good (realized purposes), and salvation (deliverance).
Essentially, this is the good news of the gospel preached in the New Testament. Sin causes us to be in disharmony with God. That ‘good’ purpose for which we were created – to live in peace and harmony with God – is ruptured. And so the message of the arrival of the King is the message of the gospel – the eradication of our sins that we can fulfill our purpose of living in harmony and peace with a holy God through his holy Servant. The good news of the gospel is borne to you today by the beautiful feet of a messenger.
But when we think of the good news, I think we are tempted to reduce the gospel its most basic elements – to the historic events surrounding the person of Jesus Christ (his life, death, and resurrection). And rightly so! The life, death, and resurrection of Christ IS the message of the good news.
But Isaiah goes a step further in this Song of Advent. He not only tells you about the coming King and his coming Servant and what they will accomplish, but he also shares with you the significance of that good news in your everyday life. And according to Isaiah 52:7, this is the significance of the good news – the King is freeing you from sin based on his peace and purpose. The good news of the gospel is the news of peace, goodness (meaning the fulfillment of a good purpose), and salvation. The King is extending salvation to you, then, based on His peace and His purpose.
II. RETURN OF THE KING (IS. 52:8)
As the messenger nears the city walls, the watchmen announce his arrival to the city. These watchmen add their voice to the herald’s solo in verse 7, and this Song of the Advent of the King begins to build. Listen to vs. 8: “Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, With their voices they shall sing together; For they shall see eye to eye When the LORD brings back Zion.”
And what is it that the watchmen shout for joy? The NIV renders it literally “the LORD returns to Zion.” And that is correct. But there is more here in this sense of the return of the King. Other translations capture this nuance. The KJV reads: “the LORD shall bring again Zion.” The NKJ reads: “the LORD brings back Zion.” And the NASB renders it: “When the LORD restores Zion.”
So, the Lord is returning to Zion, but he is also returning his people to Zion (that promised place of the future where all God’s promises of goodness, peace, and salvation are fulfilled).
So, the King is not only arriving on the scene, but he is bringing the fulfillment of his promises concerning the Kingdom with him – promises of that concerned restoring the people and place of Jerusalem. And so the joy of the advent of the King escalates into more than just the arrival of a lone traveler, but the arrival of his entire plan of salvation for the cosmos. Again, this is why the Isaiah calls the feet of the herald this message beautiful. How beautiful indeed.
III. BATTLE OF THE KING (IS. 52:9-10)
As we continue in this Song of Advent, joy concerning his arrival builds into the song of a mass choir, with the very creation itself joining in. Verse 9 reads: “Break forth into joy, sing together, You waste places of Jerusalem! For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.” A broken-down city (waste places) is called to sing. God’s good news is good news not just to humanity as Paul tells us in Rom. 8 for all creation – as creation groans for the day it will be restored alongside mankind.
More specifically, though, we see in verse 10 that the people are celebrating a victory, because the king’s arrival means a battle has been won. Isaiah tells us in vs. 10: “The LORD has made bare His holy arm In the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see The salvation of our God.”
Isaiah tells us “the LORD has made bare His holy arm” in battle. And this isn’t just any battle – this is a cosmic battle because it occurs in the sight of all nations. And the results of this battle mean two things – the people have been comforted and they have been redeemed, it says in vs. 9. Notice the verb tenses – they ‘have been’ comforted and saved. Now, remember, these are visions of the future, yet Isaiah is referring to them as past events. So, Isaiah is referring to comfort and redemption secured in battle by the Arm of the Lord as if they had already happened. This is called the prophetic past tense. So, even though the battle is not yet over, Isaiah is calling the people to give praise as if the victory is already theirs. Why? Because look at the surety of their Warrior.
A. The Arm of the Lord is holy
Isaiah calls the Arm of the Lord “holy.” It is the Arm of the Lord that will win this battle and deliver his people. We’ve talked at great length of the Arm of the Lord as pictured in Isaiah. We were first introduced to the Arm of the Lord in Is. 40 which is a Song of Comfort (Is. 40:10-11). The Arm of the Lord is a great comfort to the people because by it God re-establishes His rule, His justice, and His salvation. In a great paradox, this image of power – God’s very Arm – is an image of comfort.
And then we saw the Arm of the Lord again last week, in our Song of Obedience with respect to God’s nature as righteous (Is. 51:5). God’s righteousness is revealed and worked out through “his Arms.” It is on his Arms that the people trust. All this was situated squarely in the context of the coming Ideal Servant, who we discovered is the very Arm of the Lord. We see, then, that the King is extending salvation to us based not only on God’s peace and purpose but based on God’s work. This is the key theme Isaiah is driving home – your salvation comes by the Arm of the Lord, who is the Servant, not by the work of your own arms.
That is because only God’s Arm is powerful enough to win the day. There is only one qualified Warrior. The qualification? Holiness. Complete holiness. You and I have been sidelined in this battle for the human soul. Isaiah tells us we are unholy. Isaiah tells us we are blind. Isaiah tells us we are poor listeners and even poorer trusters. We are not qualified to fight the battle against sin. The only qualified player is the holy Arm of the Lord. And he is not only qualified but he is willing to fight on our behalf.
The King is extending salvation to you based on his work, not yours. He is the one who battles for your soul and conquers sin on your behalf. He is the one who procures the victory – the good news of peace, goodness, and salvation.
B. The Arm of the Lord is bared for a holy purpose
Furthermore, Isaiah tells us that not only is Arm of the Lord holy, the Arm of the Lord is bared for a holy purpose as well. It is bared for the nations. The warrior has no intention of winning comfort and redemption on the battlefield for the sake of Israel alone. There is a wider plan at play here – to win comfort and redemption for all people. This is his holy purpose.
I love how Oswalt describes the holiness of God’s purpose. He writes, God “does not bare his arm like some earthly tyrant to aggrandize himself at the cost of all those whom he can beat down. Rather, he exerts himself for those who are trampled down by human greed, those who are broken on the rack of sin, those who are imprisoned in the darkness of desire.”
So when you see the description of this holy Arm of the Lord – know that it is not just a reference to his character, but a holy purpose as well.
IV. RULE OF THE KING (IS. 52:11-12)
Read verses 11-12: “Depart! Depart! Go out from there, Touch no unclean thing; Go out from the midst of her, Be clean, You who bear the vessels of the LORD. 12 For you shall not go out with haste, Nor go by flight; For the LORD will go before you, And the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”
The colors in these two verses are vivid and bright. Isaiah uses imagery that all the Hebrews would have perceived – images from their shared history. Today, we often gloss over these historical images and when we do that we miss out on beautiful and life-changing truths. Let’s look at some of these truths.
A. Departing as an act of faith (Is. 52:11)
After the king conquers the enemy on the battlefield, after he procures comfort and redemption for his people, and after he joyfully returns to his throne, the King gives a command. He tells the people to depart – to depart their broken down city, not to touch anything unclean, and to purify themselves. This may seem strange to us today, but Isaiah is invoking the imagery of another time in history when God delivered his people from bondage and commanded them to “depart.” This is imagery of the Exodus from Egypt.
God is reminding his people of a similar truth in Is. 52:11, namely that their release from bondage has already been procured. Consequently, God is commanding them to depart their bondage. The very act of departing would have been an act of faith, because Isaiah’s original hearers were probably sitting in exile/bondage of Babylon. How so? Those remaining Israelites who were blessed enough to survive the destruction of their homeland had probably assimilated into the cultural identity of Babylon. So, despite their captivity there was probably a sense of complacency in their everyday life. In this manner, God was asking them to leave their bondage, step out of their chains, and return to him.
In this chapter, Isaiah is using the imagery of a historical event – the exodus – to convey a spiritual truth. We know this, because he says ‘don’t touch anything unclean and purify yourselves.’ So, there is more at stake in these verses than the simple command to leave Babylon. In verse 11, there is a reference to “ritual defilement” or ritual uncleanness. This is a call to flee from the bondage of spiritual sin. Scripture links the presence of sin in our lives with uncleanness. That’s why in Leviticus we see all sorts of laws established for both priests and people designed to keep them “clean” and deal with “uncleanness.” It wasn’t just so that they would be physically clean, but so that their everyday lives would reflect a spiritual reality – the holiness of God that was given to them.
God is telling the people to depart from the bondage from which they have already been delivered. When they depart, they are to keep themselves clean – in a spiritual, moral sense – because they are to be vessels that reflect the King’s holiness. This was a call to act on their faith.
B. Departing by royal decree (Is. 52:12)
And as the people turned aside from sin and turned back toward God, God promises to be the “rearguard” of their exodus from bondage. In verse 12, Isaiah is still invoking that imagery of the people’s deliverance from Egypt when God went behind the people as they fled. But this time, the biblical artist is making a contrast. Isaiah is saying this new deliverance will be both like and unlike the people’s deliverance from Egypt. Whereas when the people left Egypt, they left in haste (remember they were told make unleavened bread) in the middle of the night, in this new exodus the people will go out “not in upheaval” nor “in flight” (v. 12).
Oswalt says the language of this command is like a royal decree. The people are being allowed to return to their land in an orderly fashion and in peace by the command of a king. And look at the context of this passage. A messenger of the king comes to bear news of victory, the enemy has been conquered on the battlefield and, now, redemption and comfort has been made for all nations. The people’s enemy has been defeated, and there is no fear of pursuit. There is no mad rush. There is no chaos to their departure. But the people are still being asked to respond in faith.
The same is true today. The King is extending salvation to you based on your response of faith. Even though salvation is extended to you based on God’s purpose and God’s work, you still have a role to play.
You don’t have to enter the battlefield. You don’t have to pick up a sword or weapon. You don’t have to wrestle with the enemy. But you are required to step out on faith by stepping out of the irons chaining your ankles. You are required to remove those hackles from your wrists. Your chains have already been unlocked, but you have the choice to remain where you are or to depart from your bondage.
In fact, the very word ‘depart’ here gives you a sense of how you are to demonstrate your faith. Depart is from the Hebrew root ‘cuwr’ rwo which means “turn aside” or “take away.” The prophets often used this word in connection with religious behavior. Jeremiah says “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, And take away the foreskins of your hearts…” (Jer. 4:4). That word “take away” is the word ‘depart.’ The people were to exhibit a change or departure in their religious behavior – they were to circumcise their hearts.
Listen to Ezra 11:19: “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh…” To describe the removal of the stony heart, Ezra uses the word ‘depart.’ The people were to exhibit a change. They were to turn aside from sin, and their ‘turning’ or ‘departing’ from sin would be evidenced by change – a new heart. A heart of flesh (warm and alive and obedient) instead of a heart of stone (hardened by sin and disobedience).
So God is calling you to enjoy his comfort and redemption for which he battled for you – but you must respond in faith. That means you must depart – turn away – turn aside. Cut out of your life those things that keep you in bondage. Take away the chains that have been unlocked for you by the Servant.
This means you must stop placing your hope in those things that can only offer you temporal joy, temporal comfort, temporal relief. Because this is what happens. When we place our hope in something other than God for our deliverance, we are essentially placing hope in ourselves – hoping that our plans for comfort and joy are greater than the Great Comforter and the Redeemer. We are hoping in ourselves. We are worshiping ourselves. We are making the choice to sit in darkness of the prisons. We are making the choice to stay right where we are with hackles around our wrists and chains around our ankles. And you can’t serve God, you can’t go where God wants you to God go, you can’t do anything when you are burdened by chains.
Isaiah is telling you to depart. Depart from your chains. Whatever those chains may be – whatever is hindering your walk with the King. Depart from self and sin and turn to God. And the King promises to protect you along the way.
V. PROCLAMATION OF THE KING (IS. 52:13-15)
A. The means of salvation – the Servant (Is. 52:13)
And then look at how suddenly verse 13 opens. After God declares that his holy Arm has procured victory for all the nations and asks us to respond to him in faith, he makes a proclamation about His Servant – the Ideal Servant. Look at vs. 13: “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.”
Isaiah is saying that the Servant will accomplish his purpose, this very purpose of comfort and redemption that we just talked about. The Servant is the one who will accomplish it. He will ‘prosper’ or ‘deal prudently’, meaning he will be successful in this task.
So, this is the case that Isaiah is making at the beginning of this fourth and final Servant Song. He is saying the Servant is the Arm of the Lord. Remember, it is by God’s holy Arm that he fulfills his holy purposes for redemption. And then in verse 13, Isaiah says, the Servant will be the means by which this holy purpose will be fulfilled.
The Servant is the means by which God brings about his plan of salvation and wins the battle against sin. The Servant is the Holy One, the holy Arm of God. We see this imagery echoed in the New Testament in Mark 1:24 – an unclean spirit (having possessed a man in the temple) cries out to Jesus and says: “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”
The Servant is the Holy One of God. The Servant is the means of God’s salvation.
B. The mode of salvation – the Servant’s suffering (Is. 52:14-15)
So, the Arm of the Lord is the Servant, and he is called the Holy One. He is “high and lifted up and very exalted” in verse 13. This terminology is unique to Isaiah, and out of all of its usage (save one), it refers to God himself.
But look at the contrast of this individual who is high and exalted in verse 14-15. He is brought to dramatic humbling. Read verses 14-15: “14Just as many were astonished at you, So His visage was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men; 15So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; For what had not been told them they shall see, And what they had not heard they shall consider.”
The appearance of this Ideal Servant – the means of God’s very plan of redemption – is not what is expected of an exalted Servant of the King. Isaiah tells us this man is disfigured and appalling – so much so that the nations will “shut their mouths.”
They had not seen this before. And it doesn’t make sense – how one so exalted appears to be so low. This must be in the back of the Apostle Paul’s mind as he penned those famous words that now serve as one of our chair Christological texts, Phil 2:5-11.
There is a paradox here – one of the crucial points Isaiah is making in his book. The Servant, while being the Arm of the Lord (a symbol of power and prestige) will bring about victory on the battlefield in a very unexpected way. The victory over sin will come through suffering; the mode of salvation will come through the suffering of the Ideal Servant.
And while Isaiah has prepared us in small ways to accept this truth – this is the climax: the Ideal Servant will be a Suffering Servant. I love how Oswalt describes this. He says “the power of God’s arm is not the power to crush the enemy (sin), but the power, when the enemy has crushed the Servant, to give back love and mercy.”
So, listen to how the Apostle Paul finishes his great passage on Christ’s self-empting. In verses 9-11 of Phil 2 he says: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The King is extending salvation to you based on the work of His Suffering Servant. The Servant is the Arm of the Lord – but that Arm procures our victory not through pure power and might – but by suffering. Isaiah is telling us, in this Song of Advent, that the Ideal Servant is the means of our salvation (our liberation from sin) and the mode of that salvation comes through the Servant’s suffering.
Our salvation can come no other way. We’ve seen it in this chapter.
- The King extends salvation to you based on His peace and purpose.
- The King extends salvation to you based on His work, not yours.
- The King extends salvation to you based on your response of faith.
- The King extends salvation to you based on the suffering of the Ideal Servant.
 In the book of Isaiah, this anticipation of the return of the King has been building since chapter 40. God has affirmed his power and sovereignty over false gods by being able to predict the future (deliverance through Cyrus) (Is. 40-48). God has confirmed his compassion by preserving his people in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds (Is. 43; 51). God has demonstrated his love by promising to be faithful to his plan for salvation through His Servant (Is. 42; 49; 50; 52-53). Isaiah has been meticulously building anticipation for the advent of the Servant.
 John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66 in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998),pg. 367.
 Bible Dictionary 1261.
 The sin of Eve is seen in her desire to decide the ‘good’ autonomously – apart from God’s previous definition of good and command concerning the Tree of Knowledge.
 I think that is why Paul quotes from this very passage in Rom. 10. Turn with me to Romans 10:14-15. Paul is speaking of the Jews and their need for the King – the one whom God first declared this message to! And Paul says: “14How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”
 The broken condition of the city symbolize the condition of the people, Oswalt says, 370. The king has returned to restore the city, and by implication, the people as well.
 “has comforted” is Piel Perfect and “has redeemed” is Qal Perfect.
 The Servant is RIGHTEOUSNESS:
- he is the means of the covenant/relationship,
- he is the instruction or Word of the Lord,
- he is the means by which salvation and justice are restored.
 Oswalt, 371.
 Please note that I’m not trying to spiritualize the text – or indicate that the text has two different meanings. We often do that with prophecy when try to apply it to our lives. Instead, we are seeking out those interpretative clues that the author, Isaiah, gives us.
 Oswalt, 372.
 Oswalt, 372. ‘Depart’ is used in connection with religious behavior, Oswalt says. See 2 Chron. 32:12 –Has not the same Hezekiah taken away His high places and His altars, and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, “You shall worship before one altar and burn incense on it”? “
 The NIV “my servant will act wisely.” But the NASB renders it “My servant will prosper.”
 The phrase “deal prudently” (שכל sakal) is Hiphil Imperfect. The root of sakal means (in the Qal tense) “to be prudent, be circumspect, wisely understand, prosper.” But in the Hiphil it means “to prosper, have success.” See Brown Driver Briggs, Hebrew Lexicon, 968.
 See Luke’s account in Luke 4:34. And by acting as God’s Arm, the Servant is the covenant (the relationship between the people and God), he is the instruction or Word of the Lord, he is salvation. All the elements of holiness and righteousness we saw in last week’s lesson in our Song of Obedience. And this justice is not just for the restoration of one nation, but for all nations.
 See 6:1; 33:10; 57:15 all reference God as exalted and lifted up. However, 2:6-22 speaks of the sin of human exaltation.
 “So he shall sprinkle” is from נזה nazah meaning to spurt, spatter, sprinkle. In this verse it is Hiphil Imperfect and carries with it the connotation “to cause to leap, startle.” So this Servant’s disfigurement appalls the nations and ‘startles’ them.
 Paul quotes Is. 52:15 in Rom. 15:21 with respect to preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul is saying “those who had not heard” are the Gentiles.
 Oswalt, 376-377.