Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. In this week’s lesson Second Isaiah writes the first Servant Song that describes God’s just servant. Second Isaiah writes about a just servant who will bring a justice that Townsend Commentary explains “it connotes much more than judicial equity. In its broadest sense, it involves societal order in which the concerns of all are addressed.” That is the kind of justice that God promises in a just kingdom. Jesus the Christ, also known as the Messiah and the Saviour will be the one who brings about this just kingdom. Isaiah writes these words about 500 years before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In this prophecy God knew the ending 500 years before the beginning. God is the one who has created the heavens and the earth and all that dwells therein. When God inspired Second Isaiah to write chapter 42 God already knew. Likewise God continues to inspire us and to write the chapters of our lives just as God did with Isaiah. In the person of Jesus Christ, God sent a light for the Gentiles. The servant of the LORD is an example of the very best of Godly leadership. Some key ideas surrounding this week’s text includes the terms:
The book of Isaiah is the first of the five major prophets of the Old Testament. As we discussed in previous weeks, minor prophets are only called minor because of the size of their writings. Whether minor prophet or major prophet, both are equally valuable in every way to the other.
The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “scholars agree, Isaiah is an amalgam, consisting of the oracles of two or perhaps three prophets, designated as First, Second, and Third Isaiah”. So while many people may not think of this book as having more than one author, when I read Isaiah my initial approach is to hear it with one voice. Having more than one author of a book in Holy Scripture is not uncommon. The NISB continues “First Isaiah (also called “Isaiah of Jerusalem”) conducted his ministry in Jerusalem beginning in c. 742 and continuing through at least 701 and perhaps 689 BCE. Broadly speaking his literary work consists of Isaiah 1-39.” Some of the very familiar and well loved passages in First Isaiah from the KJV include Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD”; Isaiah 2:4 where is says “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks”; Isaiah 6:1-8 which says “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. (then verse 8) 8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me”. And Isaiah 38:1-5 where God says “Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.” And of course there are many other well loved and often quoted passages from First Isaiah.
The NISB also clarifies that “chapters 34-35 belong to the oracles of the Second Isaiah that date from c. 540 BCE”. So First Isaiah begins his ministry in 742 BC. It was in the year that King Uzziah died where Isaiah saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. The angel touched Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal which took away his guilt and atoned for his sin (Isaiah 6). The NISB also notes that “chapters 36-39, are almost identical to 2 Kings 18:13-20:19, and seem to be copied from there”.
Standard Lesson Commentary notes that Isaiah “is comprised of two parts. Chapters 1-39 has been described as the Book of Judgement; it focuses on the sins of the people of Judah.” Chapters 40-66 are described as the Book of Comfort and looks forward about a century and a half to the time when Judah’s exile in Babylon is about to end.”
The NISB explains that Second Isaiah is the name scholars give to the anonymous prophet whose oracles are found in chapters 34-35 and 40-55. These oracles date from c. 540 BCE, about 45 years after the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonian Empire and subsequent deportation of many Isralelites to Babylon.” So our text this week deals with the writings of Second Isaiah.
Verses one through four of this week’s text is one of the four biblical passages known as the Servant Songs. Westminister’s Dictionary of Theological Terms identifies the Servant Songs as “Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6, 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12. The term describes the “servant of the Lord,” whom some have identified with historical individuals or the nation of Israel itself. From the Christian perspective, the servant has been identified as prophesying Jesus Christ.”
The NISB notes “Matthew 12:18-21 rather freely paraphrases all of Isaiah 42:1-4, especially using the notion of silence in v. 2 to explain why Jesus urged those who followed him not to make him known.” So in the New Testament this text in Isaiah is quoted as a description of Jesus Christ. What Isaiah describes as the Messiah in about 540 BC becomes Jesus Christ the Saviour hundreds of years later.
The forty-second chapter deals with the servant as a light to the nations, a hymn of praise, and Israel’s disobedience. It is a description of a just servant, God’s just servant. But as Townsend Commentary notes, there is “longstanding debate over the identity of the servant.” For example the NISB “understands the servant to be Israel, called by God to bring to the nations the covenant precepts originally revealed to the Israelites through Moses and championed by the prophets.” As we continue our focus on justice, this week’s lesson is an example of justice to the nations. Townsend Commentary explains that the Hebrew word for “justice” (mispat) connotes much more than judicial equity. In its broadest sense, it involves societal order in which the concerns of all are addressed.” As I said earlier the text for this week is an example of justice for the nations. So not only is God concerned about justice and righteousness for individual people but also for the nations and the world. Some important terms to consider about this text include:
Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:
In last week’s lesson Malachi like the other minor prophets we have studied speaks truth to power. Malachi gave us an example of the importance of leading justly and the need for just leaders. The priests had forsaken the way of righteousness and the people were no better. It had been 1,000 years since Moses wrote Genesis. Moses opened the Old Testament with Genesis and Malachi closed the Old Testament and the post-exilic period with the last word in Malachi being a threat of curse. Townsend Commentary described Malachi as “an argument between God and the people.” Like we studied in Micah, Malachi had an unusual dialog between God and the people. Also like Micah, Malachi warned Judah of coming judgement if they didn’t change their ways. And like Micah and other prophets we studied it was the oppression of vulnerable people that would bring God’s judgement. God was utterly disgusted with the priests and would bring them to abject shame and humiliation. In chapter one of last week’s text the people accused God of not loving them and God responded. God accused the priests of being disrespectful. In chapter two God threatened to take the priests away from the priesthood and Judah of profaning the covenant. Chapter three covered the coming messenger, how the people had robbed God of tithes and offerings, and the reward of the faithful. Malachi closed with the warning of the great day of the LORD. The last chapter of Malachi reminded Judah to remember the teachings of Moses and that God would send the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD. God closed Malachi with a warning saying “so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson God’s Just Servant. Standard Lesson Commentary titles this week’s lesson A Just Servant. The scripture text comes from Isaiah 42:1-9.
I want you to hold in your mind the idea of Jesus as the servant and the idea that the servant could be Israel. I think many if not most Christian’s take the Christological viewpoint. But again, there is a longstanding debate about who this Servant Song describes.
What Takes Place in This Passage:
This lesson opens in chapter forty-two, verse one with the first Servant Song. As I mentioned in the background a Servant Song describes the servant of the Lord. When Second Isaiah writes these words it would be another 500 years before Jesus Christ makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as Saviour. The NISB notes that “elsewhere in Second Isaiah, Israel (also called Jacob) is called God’s servant and God’s chosen (41:8-9; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4-53:12).” The NISB also notes that even “in the Servant Song of 49:3 Israel is called God’s servant. Yet 49:5-6 might suggest the servant is to be differentiated from Israel/Jacob and in related chapters 55-66, God’s servant is identified as Moses (63:11).”
This section of scripture is titled “the servant, a light to the nations”. Verse one begins “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him.” The King James Version uses the term “mine elect,” the NIV and NRSV use the term my “chosen one”. This should not be considered as part of the doctrine of election.
Verse one begins with God as the speaker. It is a description of the servant of the Lord. God will choose this servant, uphold this servant, delight in this servant, and God will put God’s spirit upon this servant. Note that in the Old Testament the Spirit of God did not indwell people as God’s Spirit does now, after the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Verse one concludes with the promise that the Lord’s servant will bring forth justice to the nations. As I noted earlier, Townsend Commentary explains that this justice “involves societal order in which the concerns of all are addressed.” So this will be a justice that is concerned about equity and righteousness for all.
Verse two begins “He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street”. This is a stark contrast to the previous prophets we have studied. Each of the previous prophets were well known to cry aloud and spare not. The NISB notes that “the servant is not to accomplish his mission through preaching (v. 2) or aggression (v.3). That interpretation lends itself to the idea that Israel is the servant of the Lord.
Verse three tells us “a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” This brings to mind a description of someone who “walks softly”. It is a description of someone who is non-violent. The Pulpit Commentary notes “this image represents the weak and depressed in spirit, the lowly and dejected. Christ would deal tenderly with such, not violently.” Verse three closes with “he will faithfully bring forth justice.” This is a prophecy that indicates finally, one day, true justice will come.
Verse four reads “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.” With as much unrighteousness that exists in the earth, setting judgement in the earth will require someone who can not fail or be discouraged. The good news is that when the Servant of the Lord does set judgement in the earth, even the distant nations across the earth will await his justice.
Verse five is an eloquent description of how God is the creator God. God is the one who has created the heavens and the earth and all that dwells therein. God stretched out the heavens and spread out the earth. God gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it. This reminds me of Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.”
In verse six God says “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,” In these words God is describing the Servant of the LORD. God’s servant will be righteous and kept by God. God’s servant will be a covenant, an agreement between God and the people of one who rules with equity, justice, and righteousness. As a light for the Gentiles, the servant of the LORD will be an example of the very best of Godly leadership.
In verse seven we learn more of the purpose of the LORD’s servant. The servant will open blind eyes, set captives free, and free those who sit in darkness in the dungeons. I’ve said many times that God is always on the side of the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed. God cares about people. God cares about how people are treated. This verse helps us understand that the Servant of the LORD will open blind eyes and set captive prisoners free. Standard Lesson Commentary notes that “this prophecy likely carries a double meaning. In the first sense Isaiah is probably looking about 150 years ahead to his people’s release from captivity in Babylon. In the context of the calling of the servant… this servant will provide liberation from the bondage of sin (compare Acts 26:18; 2 Timothy 2:26; Hebrews 2:14, 15).”
In verse eight God gives us a gentle reminder that this is God’s plan and God’s doing. We should remember that just a few verses ago we were reminded that God is the creator of the heavens and the earth and all that dwell therein. When this verse says “I am the LORD, this is my name” it does at least two things. It tells us to put some respect on God’s name and secondly it reminds us that this is the same all powerful God who created the heavens and the earth previously mentioned.
Verse nine closes this lesson with God saying “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”
I like to say that God knows the ending before our beginning. This verse helps us understand that. The former things have already been revealed. The new things that are yet to happen, God will declare before they happen. Only the one true God can do this. Not like the idols mentioned in verse eight. When Isaiah writes these words it would be about 500 years before Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus would come as a gentle servant riding on a donkey. Not like the Jewish people expected as a king prepared to lead them in rebellion against Rome.
God knows the ending before our beginning. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across American we can be sure of God already knows. God knows about the disruption, the anxiety, the legitimate concern and even fear that many of us feel. God knows about the interruption of our daily work schedules and worship schedules. God knows. God is not surprised by this pandemic. Since God knows and we are God’s people, as we continue to take prudent precautions, we should continue to place our faith, trust, and confidence in God. 500 years before Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, God knew and God inspired the writing of Isaiah chapter 42. God knows what we are facing and God is present, still inspiring, and still writing the chapters of our lives today.
Messiah – The promised deliverer of Israel who would establish God’s rule. Christians see Jesus as the “Christ” and the one in whom God’s promises are fulfilled (Acts 2:31-36) and who will ultimately rule the world and its new divine order (Phillipians 2:5-11).
Servant Song – Four biblical passages (Isa. 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) describing the “servant of the Lord” whom some have identified with historical individuals or the nation of Israel itself. From the Christian perspective, the servant has been identified as prophesying Jesus Christ.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
What is the significance of waving palms on Palm Sunday?
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:
Next week’s lesson is Resurrection Sunday or Easter. Next week we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament and continue to study justice in the context of God promising a just kingdom. The lesson for April 12, 2020 comes from 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 12-14, 20-23, 42-45. Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title next week’s lesson Resurrection Hope. Standard Lesson Commentary titles next week’s lesson A Resurrected Savior.
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