Summary: This study of Isaiah 50 compares the disobedience of Israel and the obedience of the humble servant who is the Lord's anointed one.
Isaiah 50: Israel’s sin and the Servant’s Obedience
Isaiah 50 is the third “servant song” (the first two are Isaiah 42 and 49). This song shares some things in common with the previous chapter. There was an allusion to the disfigurement of the crucifixion when the writer had God saying to Zion, “I have inscribed you in the palms of my hands.” This time the servant has simply said, “The sovereign Lord has opened my ears.” Although this can be interpreted in at least two ways, the remainder of the verse helps us to interpret the ear opening as the custom of poking a hole in the ear of a servant who wants to be a servant to his master for life. The body is marked or scarred permanently as a sign of ownership, just as Jesus retained the scars of crucifixion after his resurrection. (See verses 5-6).
The other similarity here is contrasting the obedience of God’s servant with the disobedience of Israel as a nation. God is letting Israel know that their troubles came from sin rather than God’s abandonment. Both chapters contain these messages and the message that God stands ready to restore the nation if Israel repents and returns to God. There is also a similarity in both chapters in the format of questions from a disobedient Israel and God’s answers to those questions.
1. God the Father states the reason for Israel’s Rejection (vs. 1-3)
God asks questions of Israel characterizing her as a wayward wife. He asks rhetorically if she had received a bill of divorcement from him or if He had sold her as a slave to pay off His debts. The answer to both questions is a resounding “No!” Israel had been sent away, not because God had grown tired of her, nor because Jehovah had any debts to pay, but because of her sins. The Lord then asks, again rhetorically, if his arms are too short to save, or his strength to little to ransom her. Again, the implied answers are “No!” The Lord stood ready to rescue, fully prepared to do what ever Israel needed, but she never called on him for help. In fact, when God came to her, she was missing. This is a veiled reference to Jesus’ rejection by the Nation of Israel. God came in person as Messiah, but the nation ignored him and rejected him. This would be a forewarning of what is to come, but it represents the general attitude of Israel which was seen again and again throughout history.
This is what prompted Jesus to say in (Mat 23:37 NIV) "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. "
Having mentioned about God’s ability to save, and Jerusalem’s unwillingness to receive such salvation from God’s hand, the subject now changes to the faithfulness of the “servant”, and the voice changes from that of God the Father, to that of God the Son.
2. The Son speaks of his faithfulness even in humiliation (vs. 4-9)
This section of scripture is quite prophetic concerning the Messiah with verse 6 as perhaps the most well known prophetic verse in this chapter. The servant calls God “Jehovah Adonai” (The Sovereign Lord) which implies his servanthood, obedience, and devotion to his master.
He begins this section by declaring that the Sovereign Lord has given him an instructed tongue and a listening ear (vs. 4). This implies that he who was himself “the word of God” spent time giving himself daily to instruction in the Word of God. He had an instructed tongue because he had a listening ear awakened each day by God’s teaching in the Word. Some have asked how Jesus spent the first 30 years of His life. If the answer were, “as a carpenter” that would only be half right. He spent the first 30 years of his life in the study of Torah, the Prophets, and the Hebrew Hymnbook (the Psalter). By the age of 12 he astounded the teachers of the Law with not only his knowledge of the Word of God, but his understanding of the underlying message. It was not unusual for a Hebrew boy to immerse himself in study of Torah, but being knowledgeable in it’s meaning was quite impressive. This is why Jesus was called Rabbi by the disciples and the masses even though he had no official credentials from the Rabbinical school in Jerusalem.
Verses 5-6 contain the message of the extent of the servant’s obedience to the Sovereign Lord. In having his ears opened we could point back to the previous verse, but this is most likely a reference to what is to follow concerning his sufferings. If so, it refers to the ancient Levitical practice of making a willing slave into a slave for life by boring a hole in the ear lobe with an awl on the door of the master’s house. (Deuteronomy 15:16-17). The servant, because of his devotion to the Sovereign Lord, offered his back to those who beat him, his cheeks to those who pulled out his beard, and his face to mocking and spitting.