(4,10) The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught … Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. Strong words, important words … words that were most certainly written in the hurry and hurt of life.
But who’s words are they exactly? The answer to this question can radically change their meaning. So, who is speaking them? The immediate answer is of course Isaiah. It’s his book after all. And he would seem to fit with much of what is spoken by the “servant of the Lord” (4) The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught … Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The words Isaiah proclaimed were the words given him by the Lord God. Words of rebuke and punishment for sins against the Lord, and words of comfort for those who turn back from their evil ways, turn back to their God. Yet these were not likely words that in the end would give him any rest. Indeed, faithful Isaiah, history records, was sawed in two by a king who didn’t much appreciate his words.
Perhaps we should read these words as our own. I mean, don’t we too face trials and suffering for our faith? “I gave my back to the smiters” This was the punishment reserved for fools or criminals. Is not Christianity treated as foolishness by our culture. Indeed, isn’t much of what God says in His Holy Law, viewed as “criminal” by much of our “enlightened” Canadian society? You bet it is! “and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard I hid not my face from shame and spitting” Such an action was a sign of contempt and disrespect in the ancient world. Are Christians not likewise treated with contempt, when Sundays are subsummed by everything under the sun except, Jesus – God’s Son? Hockey, soccer, family, gardening, golf, or even sleping in is now more important than being with Christ. Is not Christianity disrespected when everything is tolerated in our society, but Christ? When Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, New Agers, Wicca, and Athiests are accepted as having a legitimate voice in society and politics, but Christians are refused the same? If these words are meant to be spoken in the hurry and hurt of life, then they certainly could be ours.
But are these words ultimately ours? No. Not likely, for they go on (7-8) For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. The sad truth is that most of us Christians DO find ourselves confounded in the face of such open assaults against our faith. Very few of us have set our faces like flint to resolutely face down that which belittles us. Most of us do from time to time feel the shame that our culture likes to heap upon us.
And why? Because in our heart of hearts we do not always firmly believe that our vindicator is near. And so we bite our tongues and let people portray our faith as foolish and agree that they may have a point. We disregard and disrespect the central importance of being with the Lord in His house to receive His gifts and instead allow ourselves to be pulled away by every meaningless triviality of life – miming along with the world that there will be time to make up for it later. We don’t take the time to study our faith and our scriptures and allow ourselves to be confounded by the “in-your-face” arguments of other religions. We defeat ourselves before we even begin, by debating these precious things on their terms and with their words. Admitting in our shame and fear that maybe they could be right, when nothing is further from the truth.
I guess then, that it is pretty clear these are not really our words. The reality of our day to day lives just doesn’t fit with the high caliber of sentiment. But there is also much in this text that leads us to believe that, while in many ways applicable to Isaiah, these words are not ultimately his words either. This section of his book is known as one of the servant songs. It is the third of four such songs. Each of these songs builds upon the others to give an ever sharper image of this servant of the Lord. This servant was to be the True Israel, that Israel herself had never been. This servant would be obedient even through trials and sufferings, and thus bring about salvation for God’s people. And there is our clue. Here is our rest for the hurt and hurry of life. These words belong only upon the lips of THE true Servant of the Lord – they are the words of Jesus Christ!
(4) The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Jesus’ Words are life and light, everyone who heard Him was astonished that they had never heard anyone speak with His authority before. He still speaks this way through His Holy Gospel and the liturgy of the church even today. (5) The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. There was not one obstacle to our salvation that Jesus ever backed down from. He faced the Scribes and Pharisees in every trap they laid. He faced down the devil and his temptations. In the Garden of Gethsemene, while sweating drops of blood from the pressures of life surrounding Him, He prayed not for his own safety, but that the Father’s will would be done even through His own suffering and death.
(6) I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. The crown of thorns, the rods, the fists, the lashes by the Romans, the spitting, the taunting the suffering, pain and humiliation of that Good Friday is nowhere else so succinctly described. Yet through it all He gave of Himself willingly, that He might suffer all things in the body here, and ultimately die the death of every weak-hearted sinner upon the cross and be buried in the tomb that only we deserve.
And why do all this? How could He do all this? (7-8) For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Jesus did it because He knew that the suffering, while terrible, would be short lived. The death, while real, would be temporary. He would rise again and bring new life – everlasting life – to all those He had just finished dying for. Jesus was doing the Father’s will and He would not be put to shame but would be vindicated, and all His people with him. (8-9) Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty?
In the hurry and hurt of life … whether inflicted by the world or self-imposed … our true rest is found in these words of Jesus. May they become your words in Him too. By the gift of His Words, spoken, sung, prayed and preached here every week, may you find the rest your soul needs to remain confident in all that comes your way. May you find that peace that passes all human understanding. May you grow in Christ enough to say: “For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”