One big and persistent question about Isaiah 49:1-13, the “common text” for Sunday, June 12, strikes me as this: if we take this description of the servant of God, and of the people of God, as a pattern, for “how God does things” – how do we see that pattern, or where do we see that pattern, in the world today? And how do we see ourselves fitting in to it?
In other words: here is a text about “the servant of the HOLY ONE,” and about “the people of God” – who may also be, in some real way, the servant. A text about redemption, depicted as release from exile or even as release from bondage in Egypt. If we take that service and that redemption as a recurrent pattern in history, do we see service like that and redemption like that taking place today? Where? Who’s involved? In particular – how are we ourselves involved?
Or do we think this text from the past, about the past, can only be about the past? And if we think that, how is a text like that of any interest or relevance to us today? [Not saying it’s not, just asking – how is it?]
This is actually a big, basic question about how we read the Bible, or can read the Bible, or should read the Bible. We know the Bible is a text about the past, addressed to people who lived a long time ago. The question is: how much, and in what ways, can we or should we also read it – or individual parts of it – as a text that is about now, addressed to people who are alive now? Are some of the ways we try to read it as a text about now, addressed to us, mistaken? Are some of those ways legitimate? Which ones, do we think? [And why do we think that?]
Some notes on the text are here. Here are a couple of other more specific questions we could think about or discuss (and please feel free to share your thoughts along any of these lines in the comments):
What is the nature of the “service” the servant who appears in this text is going to perform? What can we tell from the images used (like weaponry images in verse 2, or the “raising up” and “restoring” in verse 6)?
Does the kind of service help us identify who “the servant” is? Or, does who we think of as “the servant” change the way we think of the “service” that’s being called for? What happens to us when we think about this question? Why, do we suppose?
[More personal] When we read this text, do we ourselves identify more with the servant, or with “the people” (for instance, the ones in v1, or verses 10-13)? Why is that, do we suppose?
What if we tried switching? If we usually think of ourselves as “the people,” what happens if we try to think of ourselves as the servant? If we usually think of ourselves as “the servant,” what happens if we try to think of ourselves as the people? Do we see anything new or different in the text? What?
[Even more personal] Any different sense of what we could or should be feeling or acting? What sense is that? What do we think or how do we feel about that? Why?
[Way more personal] What are we going to do about that?
There are a lot of references to land or the earth in this text (see vv1, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13). How would we describe the way the earth is involved in this announcement of redemption? What thoughts or feelings do we have about that?
Overall, we might want to spend some time meditating on whether, and why or why not, we ourselves identify in any way with “the servant” in the text, and what specifically that identification might ask of us. I read somewhere very recently that “everyone ought to think of themselves as being able to say ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to proclaim good news …’” That took me by surprise, I have to admit. It’s a lot to think about.
Image: “Spannende Lektüre,” Walther Firle, 1929, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
2 responses to “Reflecting on Isaiah 49 1-13”
As always, great stuff Heather. Have been trying to read the OT without the “Christian bias” as you mentioned in a previous post. Very helpful advice. Thanks!
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Thanks, Tim, or you’re welcome. It really does open up a whole new world of the text … it’s like the Bible is a mountain range, with row after row of peaks … so much in there.
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