The pericope for consideration continues the identity and mission of Isaiah’s servant. We find in the mysterious individual further paradoxes concerning the purpose of the individual’s life and actions. This servant has a difference about them that makes life appear in a world where sin and death reign. The servant surprisingly bears the crimes of the guilty making them right with the offended party (God). This part of the poem speaks about the result of a future victory and the hope of the servant standing in the end in triumph. It is in the ultimate task of absorbing death that the servant has changed the course of the rebels’ destiny.
Often, we look to the New Testament writers to form our theology regarding salvation. For the Christian, it would be wise to look back to the Old Testament to get a better grasp at the foundations of such theological formations. In this passage (and the previous verses) we have important clues on how to think about what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean. Isaiah’s vision regarding the servant grounds itself in sacrificial language from Leviticus. The servant’s actions give writers like Paul in the NT the ability to put forth considerable conclusions regarding the sinner’s response to the actions of Jesus’ (arguably saving) actions.
Obviously, the Christian is indebted to these passages in Isaiah (both in their own context and via the NT) for their formation of soteriology. It is eye opening to go back and read Isaiah without assuming Jesus as the fulfillment of this vision. Oswalt notes that Isaiah’s goal was not to produce a literal future prediction of Jesus’ entire ministry. However, the congruence with which the NT writers match up Jesus with the servant described by Isaiah is remarkable (408). The identity of the servant should be considered within Isaiah’s contexts before jumping to the NT’s illumination. Most of us must attempt to honestly approach this task in a backwards manner because of our Christian upbringing. It might need to be noted that I am not arguing that it is wrong to come to our soteriology “backwards”. In my opinion, it is very striking however, that when one studies Isaiah for its own sake, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are enhanced for their salvific significance rather than diminished.
The human dilemma has become God’s priority in the biblical narrative (404). God’s solution, according to Isaiah, is a sacrificial human. This human has a servant role that is misunderstood completely. The important religious concepts such as holy and righteous are totally flipped upside down within Isaiah’s servant. The servant takes on the iniquities of the non-innocent. Oswalt highlights that this is not just symbolic but something that happens in reality. The righteous one makes others righteous by absorbing the world’s sins. This priest type figure offers themselves for the people’s sin. Unlike animals, this God-like human steps into the active place of substitution to make relationship with God wholly possible again (405).
One’s future thinking about resurrection is hinted at in verse 10. As Oswalt points out, this does not necessarily speak of resurrection but that the servant’s life and death will not be in vain (402-403). I think that the bigger idea of death being dealt a “death-blow” is an appropriate image regarding the servant’s actions. God’s servant not only has a message, but the servant’s action accomplishes what no religion could (even Israel’s sacrificial system). Isaiah plants within this part of the poem further imagination regarding God’s heart and plan to deal with sin and its consequences. God does this through God’s servant in a powerfully absurd way that ends up victorious in the end. One’s theology regarding sin and redemption are given much ground to reflect on within these few verses. The servant further reveals God and the important fact that death loses when God gets actively involved. These thoughts should shape each of us as we ponder the Bible’s ultimate message regarding redemption and restoration.