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“Behold, my servant whom I uphold;
my chosen, in whom my soul delights.
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring justice to the nations. Bible

“my servant.” Isaiah 42:1-7 is the first of four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah, which are poetic sections about the Messiah. They are called “Servant Songs” because they are Hebrew poetry about the servant of God, the Messiah. The scholars differ about the exact ending of each song, because there is not a definitive “last verse” in the songs letting people know when it ends. Nevertheless, the four songs seem to be: Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-11 and 52:13-53:12. The last “Servant Song,” Isaiah 52:13-53:12, is famous because it is the section that shows the Messiah suffering for the sins of mankind, and has verses such as these: “Surely he has borne our sickness and carried our suffering, yet we considered him plagued, struck by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:4-5).

In the “Servant Songs,” the Messiah is called God’s “servant,” which is the Hebrew word ebed (#05650 עֶבֶד), which can mean “servant” or “slave” in the same way that the Greek word doulos can mean “servant” or “slave.” However, the idea of a “servant” can be very broad. For example, a servant in a household is usually a very low position, while a “servant of the king” can be a high official or an office in the army (cp. Esther 1:3). In the Servant Songs, the servant of Yahweh is understood to be a very high official, indeed, he is the Messiah himself, who will rule over nations (Isa. 42:1). [For more information on the Servant Songs, see commentary on Isa. 52:13].

“I have put my spirit upon him.” The Servant Songs, like a lot of biblical prophecy, uses the Hebrew idiom of the “prophetic perfect,” which is stating a future event as if it has already happened to emphasize the fact that it will happen. The Bible has many verses in which a future event is spoken of as if it were a past event. The prophetic perfect idiom is why Isaiah 53 speaks of the suffering of Christ in the past tense and says, “he has borne our sickness and carried our suffering, yet we considered him plagued, struck by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way, and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth” (Isa. 53:4-7). The past-present-future language of the Servant Song confuses some people, just as some 2000 years ago it confused the Ethiopian eunuch, who asked Philip, “of whom does the prophet say this? About himself, or about some other person (Acts 8:34)

The prophetic perfect idiom is a challenge to translators. Some translators want to keep the idiom, expecting the reader to become educated as to what it means, so versions like the ESV have, “I have put My spirit upon him,” while other versions, trying to make the English make sense to the less educated reader, use the future tense and say, “I will put my spirit on him” (NIV). In the REV we have generally, but not always, retained the literal reading of the text and expect the reader to know from the context and scope of Scripture that the verse is speaking of a future event. The Messiah was not even born when Isaiah 42:1 was written, and so we know that God’s putting His gift of holy spirit upon him referred to a future event. Then, from the New Testament, we learn that God put holy spirit upon Jesus right after he was baptized by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22).

Jesus received the gift of holy spirit at His baptism and had it upon him when he started his ministry (Luke 4:18). Jesus needed God’s gift of holy spirit, just like the leaders and prophets of the Old Testament did so he could walk with spiritual power (cp. Num. 11:17-29; Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 1 Sam. 10:6, 10; 16:13; 1 Chron. 12:18; 2 Chron. 15:1; Micah 3:8). Other verses that say God was going to put holy spirit upon the Messiah are Isaiah 11:2 and 61:1.


Additional resource:

play media Jesus the Servant of Yahweh

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The more we know about Jesus Christ, the more we can fully appreciate what he went through personally, the more deeply we can love him, and the more personal inspiration we can draw from his example. There are many prophecies of the Lord Jesus in the Old Testament, many of which are well known. A series of prophecies that are not as commonly known are the four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah; four sections that refer to the Messiah as the “servant.” These songs encapsulate much of the attitude and mission of the Messiah, and reveal how he would be hated by people; that he would be a sacrifice for our sin; and how God intended through Jesus’ death to ratify the New Covenant and bring salvation not only to Israel, but to all the people on earth. We hope this teaching will inspire you as John Schoenheit opens the Servant Songs of Isaiah and provides insights into the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Commentary for: Isaiah 42:1