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In the first six verses of Isaiah 49 the Servant of the Lord speaks. Who is he? He is unnamed, but we can draw some inferences from the description provided by the text. Like the prophet Jeremiah, he was called by God before he was born (Isa. 49:1; cf. Jer. 1:5); like him, he meets opposition that drives him to despair, though he faithfully perseveres (Isa. 49:4; cf. Jer. 4:19–22, etc.). God has made his mouth “like a sharpened sword” (Isa. 49:2), which rather suggests prophetic ministry.
But what is most striking about this Servant is something that at first appears to be a striking confusion. God addresses him in these terms: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor” (Isa. 49:3, italics added)—so the Servant is Israel. Yet the Lord calls this Servant “to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself” (Isa. 49:5, italics added)—which distinguishes this Servant from Israel and represents him as Israel’s savior. Why?
As in Isaiah 42, this Servant embodies all that Israel should have been. This Servant is an ideal Israel, God’s perfect Servant—and thus a figure different from empirical Israel, and one that is able to save empirical Israel. In part, the identity of this Servant is still hidden at this point in the book: “[God] made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver” (Isa. 49:2), says the Servant. God does insist, however, that it is “too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). Indeed, even when the Lord uses this Servant “to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself” (Isa. 49:5), surely this envisages something more than a return to the land or to Jerusalem. After all, the servant Cyrus accomplishes that for Israel. This Servant, however, brings Israel to God; the restoration is not so much to a place as to the living God.
Isaiah 49 is too long and complex to permit an adequate summary here. But I draw attention to two themes. First, in Isaiah 49:8–12, the “returning” people are not Israelites only, but Gentiles, and the return is primarily to God. Israelites would return from the north, but these come from everywhere. Second, although God has promised some fine things, Zion (standing for the people of God) complains that the Lord has forsaken and forgotten her. But God replies with moving commitment: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast …? Though she may forget, I will not forget you” (Isa. 49:15). In stagnant, discouraging times, remember God’s long-range commitments, and reflect on Romans 8:31–39.
The Old Testament chapter quoted most often in the New Testament is Psalm 110. It is an oracular psalm: i.e., it does not so much disclose the experience of its writer as set forth words that the writer has received by direct and immediate revelation—as an “oracle” from God. Perhaps there are even parts of it the psalmist himself did not fathom too well (just as Daniel did not understand the meaning of all that he saw in his visions and was required to record for the benefit of a later generation (Dan. 12:4, 8–10).
In the psalm, the LORD, Yahweh, speaks to someone whom David himself addresses as “my Lord.” This element, as much as any other, has convinced countless interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, that this is explicitly a messianic psalm, and that the person whom David addresses is the anticipated Messiah.
I shall focus on verse 4: “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” Granted that Yahweh here addresses the Messiah, what do his words mean? Two elements attract attention:
First, Melchizedek himself—this is only the second mention of him in the Bible. The first is Genesis 14:18–20: after the defeat of the kings, Abraham meets this strange priest-king and pays him a tithe of the spoils. Various things can be inferred from the brief account (see meditation for January 13), but then Melchizedek drops from view until this psalm, written almost a millennium later.
Second, by this time much has taken place in the history of Israel. The people had endured slavery in Egypt, had been rescued at the Exodus, had received the law of God at Sinai, had entered the Promised Land, and had lived through the period of the judges to reach this point of the beginning of the Davidic dynasty. Above all, Sinai had prescribed a tabernacle and the associated rites, all to be administered by Levites and by high priests drawn from that tribe. The Mosaic Law made it abundantly clear that Levites alone could discharge these priestly functions. Yet here is an oracle from God insisting that God himself will raise up another priest-king with very different links. Yahweh will extend this king’s mighty scepter from Zion: i.e., his kingly power is connected with Zion, with Jerusalem, and thus with the fledgling Davidic dynasty. And as priest, he will be aligned, not with the order of Levi, but with the order of Melchizedek.
Small wonder the writer to the Hebrews understands that this is an announcement of the obsolescence of the Mosaic covenant (Heb. 7:11–12). We needed a better priesthood; and we have one.
22:1 “You shall not see your brother's ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. 2 And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. 3 And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother's, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. 4 You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.
5 “A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.
6 “If you come across a bird's nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. 7 You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long.
8 “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.
9 “You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole yield be forfeited,1 the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard. 10 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. 11 You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.
12 “You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.
13 “If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her 14 and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ 15 then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. 16 And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; 17 and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip2 him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels3 of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin4 of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days. 20 But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father's house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
22 “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.
23 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
25 “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, 27 because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.
28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.5
30 “A man shall not take his father's wife, so that he does not uncover his father's nakedness.6
110:1 The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 The LORD sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,1
in holy garments;2
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.3
4 The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs4
over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.
111:1 5 Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the LORD,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the LORD is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
he remembers his covenant forever.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy;
8 they are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!
49:1 Listen to me, O coastlands,
and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The LORD called me from the womb,
from the body of my mother he named my name.
2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away.
3 And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”1
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the LORD,
and my recompense with my God.”
5 And now the LORD says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD,
and my God has become my strength—
6 he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
7 Thus says the LORD,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the LORD, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
8 Thus says the LORD:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages,
9 saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will make all my mountains a road,
and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Behold, these shall come from afar,
and behold, these from the north and from the west,2
and these from the land of Syene.”3
13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted.
14 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.
17 Your builders make haste;4
your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.
18 Lift up your eyes around and see;
they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, declares the LORD,
you shall put them all on as an ornament;
you shall bind them on as a bride does.
19 “Surely your waste and your desolate places
and your devastated land—
surely now you will be too narrow for your inhabitants,
and those who swallowed you up will be far away.
20 The children of your bereavement
will yet say in your ears:
‘The place is too narrow for me;
make room for me to dwell in.’
21 Then you will say in your heart:
‘Who has borne me these?
I was bereaved and barren,
exiled and put away,
but who has brought up these?
Behold, I was left alone;
from where have these come?’”
22 Thus says the Lord GOD:
“Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations,
and raise my signal to the peoples;
and they shall bring your sons in their arms,5
and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
23 Kings shall be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
and lick the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the LORD;
those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”
24 Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
or the captives of a tyrant6 be rescued?
25 For thus says the LORD:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
and I will save your children.
26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
that I am the LORD your Savior,
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”
19:1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
2 for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
3 Once more they cried out,
The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”
4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And from the throne came a voice saying,
“Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
small and great.”
6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
9 And the angel said1 to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in2 blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule3 them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave,4 both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence5 had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.