Isaiah's servant songs are:
- Isaiah 42:1-7
- Isaiah 49:1-6
- Isaiah 50:4-9
- Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Now in the songs, the servant is clearly a figure who acts on behalf of the people. He is a covenant for the people (42:6). He will bring Jacob and Israel back to the LORD (49:5,6). His word is the word the people should fear (50:10). He is rejected by the people yet suffers on their behalf (all of chapter 53).
Yet "servant" is also mentioned in and around these songs:
Isaiah 41:8,9 (You O Israel are my servant)
Isaiah 42:19 (Who is blind like my servant)
Isaiah 43:10 (You are my witnesses and my servant)
Isaiah 44:1,2 (Jacob my servant)
Isaiah 44:21 (My servant O Israel)
Isaiah 45:4 (Jacob my servant)
Isaiah 48:20 (His servant Jacob)
Here 'servant' refers to Israel/Jacob.
Actually this is nothing new in Isaiah. Jerusalem for instance can stand either for the corrupt, faithless generation under the LORD's judgement or the centre of a new heavens and new earth that lies beyond the judgement. Jerusalem is both the problem and the hope!
In a similar way the servant of the LORD is Israel. The people really should be the LORD's faithful witness, judge, light, salvation etc. Yet earthly Israel is a crushing disappointment. Nonetheless the hope is not apart from Israel. The hope is the TRUE ISRAEL. This Ideal Israel is what the songs set before us. He takes a hold of old Israel and sweeps it up into His own triumphant work as Witness, Judge, Light, Salvation etc. Servants do that - they stand for the people - see Moses or Job for instance. In fact this Ideal Servant is spoken of as the King of Isaiah 6 (cf 52:13) - High and lifted up. The true King sums up in Himself His people and acts on their behalf. His victory is their victory.
And so the people may lament the servant Israel, yet at the same time they sing about THE TRUE ISRAEL, the Ideal Servant, the KING who stands in their place and acts as Israel. He is their hope and the Light for we Gentiles.
Anyway that seems to be the sort of interpretation of 'the Servant' which takes seriously both sets of verses - the songs and the surrounding references.
The one interpretation we should laugh off is the one that says "Foolish ancient people only understood half of these verses and so had no idea that there would be an individual Ideal Servant to stand for blind Israel. It takes a later re-reading to understand that there is an individual Ideal Servant, Jesus". No, no. No need for such chronological snobbery thank you very much.
By the way - has anyone read or heard anything good on the Servant Songs?? Please do let me know in the comments.