God introduces the divine servant, empowered with God’s spirit to bring forth justice throughout the earth.
Readers of IsaiahIsaiah, son of Amoz, who prophesied in Jerusalem, is included among the prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. (along with Amos, Hosea, and Micah)--preachers who boldly proclaimed God's word of judgment against the economic, social, and religious disorders of their time. More have often designated four texts as “Servant Songs”–songs that describe God’s “servant” and the work for which the servant is commissioned (see Introductory Issues). This is the first of those four songs.
The term “servant” is used often in Second IsaiahSecond Isaiah refers chapters 40-55 of the book of Isaiah. This work was likely written during Israel's exile in Babylon (597-538 B.C.E.). Second Isaiah includes poetic passages of hope as well as descriptions of the Suffering Servant. More, usually referring to all Israel, God’s servant people. The four so-called “servant songs” should not be read in isolation from those other texts, so the “servant” is always understood to be a symbol or representative of Israel. Still, in the four traditional servant passages, the servant is commissioned for particular work in ways that suggest that a particular individual might be meant. That individual is never identified, so he too might simply be Israel personified (or perhaps the prophet). Attempts to apply the text to a known historical individual in Israel’s history have been unconvincing. The New Testament will apply some of these texts to JesusJesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity More, making the case that Jesus comes as the personification of Israel, chosen to do God’s work in the world. This first “Servant Song” provides part of the background for the introduction of Jesus at his baptismJesus was baptized (literally, "dipped") in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer, at which time he was acclaimed from heaven as God's Son, the Beloved. Much later baptism became one of the sacraments of the Church, the action by which a person is incorporated... More (Mark 1:11).
The servant’s work in this text is to bring forth “justice” and “teaching” (or “Torah”) to all nations throughout the earth. The expanse of the servant’s mission is an example of the striking universalistic outlook of the second part of Isaiah.
Surprisingly, the emphasis here is not only on what the servant will do, but also on what he will not do. The servant will not cry aloud and he will not quench “a dimly burning wick.” Somehow, the servant will bring about God’s justice gently rather than with noise and earthly power. We learn in 43:17 that the quenched wick image refers to the destruction of Pharaoh’s soldiers at the exodus. Now the new exodus, which is both like the old one and different from it, will be accomplished without the same kind of destruction. The New Testament uses this message of quiet justice to point to Jesus’ efforts to halt people from making him known (MatthewA tax collector who became one of Jesus' 12 disciples More 12:17-21).