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Servant of the Lord (Yahweh, Jehovah)
See also Servant of the Lord
SERVANT OF THE LORD (YAHWEH, JEHOVAH) (עֶ֫בֶד, H6269; LXX παι̂ς, G4090, sometimes δου̂λος). A figure in the Book of Isaiah.
The Servant Songs.
The principle underlying the selection of these Songs is that all portray a single distinctive figure: “the.” Some scholars have carried this line of argument to the extent of postulating a separate author and period of origin for these passages (esp. S. Mowinckel). The general tendency today, however, is to interpret them in relation to their context in Isaiah, as an integral part of the prophet’s message.
Interpretation of the Servant.
Is there a Servant-figure?
Some modern scholars (e.g., M. D. Hooker) dispute that these passages are intended to portray a Servant-figure. The term “servant” is one frequently used in the OT for those who are obedient to God, and is therefore applied to Israel as she fulfills her vocation.
Certainly other figures in the OT are described as “servants of God,” esp. the prophets, the patriarchs, and other individuals such as Moses and David (each of these frequently; see e.g.
In Isaiah the term “servant” is used as frequently outside the Servant Songs as within. Note these passages in the vicinity of the Songs: 41:8,
Who is the Servant?
Interpretations may be divided into three basic classes, the collective, the individual, and the cultic. The various interpretations advanced are usefully set out by C. R. North (The Suffering Servant in Deutero-Isaiah, 6-116) and H. H. Rowley (The Servant of the Lord, 4-48).
1. Collective interpretations. The Servant is explicitly addressed as “Israel” in 49:3. This fact, and the close correspondence between the language of the Songs and that applied to Israel as God’s Servant in surrounding chs., have led many to see in the Servant-figure a projection of the prophet’s ideal for the nation. It is the nation as a whole which is to undergo redemptive suffering. Others restrict the reference to a pious remnant within the nation, thus making allowance for the fact that the Servant has a mission to Israel (49:5,
2. Individual interpretations. The Songs refer to the Servant in the singular and describe the life and experience of an individual (His birth, obedience, suffering, death, and triumph). That this is not a mere poetical personification of the nation is shown by His mission to Israel, as mentioned above. Interpreters have therefore taken the Servant as either a specific historical figure known to the author (e.g., Moses, Jeremiah, Cyrus, Zerubbabel, the prophet himself, or some unknown contemporary), or an ideal figure of the future—the Messiah. The latter was the predominant Christian interpretation until the end of the last cent.
3. Cultic interpretations. These interpretations, largely from Scandinavian scholars, see the background to the Servant-figure in a cultic ceremony, involving the symbolic death and rising again of the king, deriving from the Babylonian myth of the dying and rising god, Tammuz, and its liturgy. The Servant would, in this view, be neither a historical figure, past, present, or future, nor a collective personification of the nation, but a mythological symbol. The existence of such a mythology and ritual within Israel is highly controversial, and such interpretations have received little support outside Scandinavia.
4. Synthetic interpretations. Few scholars today hold to an exclusively collective or an exclusively individual interpretation. Some would see a progression of thought from the collective figure of the earlier Servant Songs to a more fully individualized figure in the fourth. The ideal for Israel was summed up in an ideal individual—the Messiah. “What began as a personification (has) become a person” (Rowley). Such an understanding of the Servant is best able to do justice to the apparently conflicting evidence of the text, as mentioned above. (See esp. the close juxtaposition of 49:3, where the Servant was addressed as “Israel,” and 49:5,
The subtlety of the prophet’s thought defies systematic analysis. It is in some such synthetic interpretation that the Biblical data will be most fully satisfied.
To describe the Servant as a messianic figure, in the sense of an individual who is central to the eschatological fulfillment of God’s purposes for His people, is therefore a correct, though not an exhaustive, description; and a messianic application of the Servant passages, and esp. of the passage where the individual terminology is clearest (52:13-53:12), will be in accordance with the intention of the prophet.
The character and mission of the Servant.
Working from the traditionally delimited Servant Songs (though the limitations of this approach have been indicated above), the following picture emerges:
The Servant in later Judaism.
Possible echoes of the Servant-figure have been detected in the OT itself, particularly in
In later Hel. Judaism there is little evidence of a messianic understanding of these passages, except what is implicit in the LXX tr. of
In Palestinian Judaism, on the other hand, a persistent messianic exegesis exists side by side with an embarrassment at the idea of a suffering Messiah. Thus the Targ. of Jonathan on
The Servant in the NT.
The NT writers are unanimous in stating both that the Servant is a messianic figure, and that Jesus is the Servant. What is in dispute is the extent of the influence of this figure in the NT. Some recent writers have argued that it was of minor importance, and that Jesus’ predictions of His suffering were based not on the Servant-idea, but on the “
In the teaching of Jesus.
It is relevant, too, that the heavenly voice at the baptism of Jesus (
Thus the Servant-idea appears as a major factor in Jesus’ understanding of His own mission as one of redemption through a vicarious suffering and death.
In the rest of the NT.
This material is, however, not impressive in its bulk. It would appear that the view of Jesus as the Servant of the Lord, while prominent in Jesus’ own teaching, and preserved in the earlier parts of the NT, esp. in connection with the teaching of Peter, was later superseded by the titles “Lord” and “,” though the fact of Christ’s vicarious and atoning death, which the Servant passages explicitly teach, was firmly established as the basis of His redemptive work.
A. For the whole article: W. Zimmerli and J. Jeremias, The Servant of God (revised ed. 1965) (= TWNT, V , 653-713).
B. For sections I-III: H. W. Robinson, The Cross of the Servant (1926; reprinted in The Cross in the, 55-114); J. S. Van der Ploeg, Les Chants du Serviteur de Jahvé (1936); I. Engnell, “The ‘Ebed Yahweh Songs and the Suffering Messiah in ‘Deutero-Isaiah,’” BJRL, XXXI (1948), 54-93; C. R. North, The Suffering Servant in Deutero-Isaiah (1948); J. Lindblom, The Servant Songs in Deutero-Isaiah (1951); H. H. Rowley, The Servant of the Lord (1952), 1-88; S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh (1956), 187-257; H. Ringgren, The Messiah in the Old Testament (1956), 39-53.
C. For section V: H. W. Wolff, Jesaja 53 in Urchristentum (1942); J. L. Price, “The Servant Motif in the