The Spirit and the Lord’s Servant

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God” (vv. 1–2b).

- Isaiah 61:1–3

Isaiah’s vision of the salvation of the world through the reflection of God’s glory in faithful Israel is glorious indeed (Isa. 60). His wisdom in overturning what sinners define as glory and power is seen in His use of the small nation of Israel as the vehicle to draw great nations and kings to Himself (vv. 1–3). The Lord proves His grace and love for Israel in blessing this undeserving people with the world’s riches. Innumerable camels, symbolizing the wealth and goods of trade, will bring wares to Zion (vv. 4–7). All enmity between nations will cease and city gates will be left freely open because there will be no evildoers to invade (v. 11). Violence will be gone as peace and righteousness rule the people (vv. 17b–18). Moreover, God’s people, Jew and Gentile alike, will experience the greatest covenant blessing of all—the presence of the Lord Himself among His children as their light and glory (vv. 19–22; see Lev. 26:10–11).

But who accomplishes all of this? The prophet has already answered this question. The Messiah must come as the ideal Israel, fulfilling Israel’s vocation to be a light to the world, dying an atoning death for His people, and rising again to rule creation in perfect righteousness (Isa. 9:6–7; 42:1–7; 49:1–7; 52:13–53:12). Today’s passage reinforces this point in its first-person description of the one who comes “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (61:1–3). Although some commentators have said otherwise, the speaker in Isaiah 61 cannot be the prophet himself. Isaiah nowhere else describes himself in such lofty terms or in a manner that ascribes the same kind of authority to himself as the preacher here. More importantly, there are numerous conceptual similarities between the figure of Isaiah 61:1–3 and the messianic figure described elsewhere by the prophet. Consider, for example, the parallels between the preacher of Isaiah 61 and the Davidic king of Isaiah 11. The Spirit of the Lord rests upon both individuals (11:2; 61:1). Righteousness adorns the Son of Jesse in 11:5, and in 61:3, the preacher’s work effects righteousness in the people. Both figures speak words of immense power (11:4; 61:2).

We have, then, in Isaiah 61, what one commentator describes as the “climactic representation” of the Servant of the Lord. This Servant is the ideal Israel, the Davidic Messiah who frees His people not only from the captivity of human enemies but that of sin and death. In so doing, He gives eternal beauty to His own (61:3).

Coram Deo

Isaiah 61:3 indicates that one result of the Messiah’s work is to make His people “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord.” This is an image of permanence, of life in God’s presence forever. John Calvin comments, “There is no other way in which we are restored to life than when we are planted by the Lord.” If we trust in Christ, we are planted in righteousness forever, and will be preserved by His hand for the sake of His eternal glory.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 106:47
Isaiah 25:9
Romans 6:23
1 John 5:11

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