We are studying Isaiah 42:1-9 for Sunday, April 5 – Palm / Passion Sunday, or Palm Sunday of Christ’s Passion. This is the first part of the first of the “Servant Songs” in Second Isaiah. [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are a few questions we could think about or discuss or both:
What difference does it make who we identify as the servant? That is, who we have in mind when we read these verses?
What if we think of it as the nation of Israel currently in exile in Babylon? (the original historical audience) What if we think of it as Israel, also known as “the people of God”? What if we think of it as Jesus, who Christians understand to be Christ, God’s anointed?
Do those different answers give us different ideas about what is going on the passage? How? Do they give us different ideas about what the passage means for us, in our own time? How?
It might help to think about those questions above specifically in connection with verses 6-7, where God addresses “you,” the servant, directly.
It makes sense for us to think about: Who is “you”? And what difference does it make to us, specifically, how we answer that question?
In particular: does it have any impact on our own relationship with God, or on what we think we ourselves are being asked to do? What impact is that?
[We could think of the different possible answers for the identity of the servant, and then think about how we would read verses 6-7 with each of those answers in mind. I will say: I think this is a very illuminating exercise.]
How do we understand the mission of the servant, which is to “bring forth” or “establish justice.” Does that sound like a good thing to us? Why, or why not? How does that seem to depend on our definition of “justice”? What concept of “justice” do we think the text or its author is working with?
Verse 5 in particular tells us something specific about God. What impression does that give us of God? Does that impression of God affect our thoughts or feelings about God’s servant? How? Why is that, do we think?
[More personal:] Do we think of ourselves as God’s servants? What does that mean to us or for us, practically speaking?
A much more abstract question [which is actually also an incredibly practical question; for those who like to think about things like this, like I do]:
In a way, “justice” in Isaiah is like “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence. It’s both a principle that people continue to embrace in the abstract, and something that people have to put into practice in day to day historical circumstances.
We know from our high school history classes that the practical understanding of “all men are created equal” has changed in the past 200-plus years. We’ve eliminated property requirements for voting; abolished slavery; enfranchised women, and so on].
Does the same thing happen with the Biblical ideal of “justice”? Should it?