Isaiah’s servant songs (Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12) are four passages in Isaiah that uniquely prophesy Christ and are of central importance as we remember the death, burial, and resurrection. Select quotes below show the importance of Isaiah’s Servant Songs.
Eugene Peterson’s Summary of the Four Servant Songs
|Servant Song||Peterson Thought|
|Isaiah 42:1-9||The servant is chosen for a mission. He won’t force his way, but will do it quietly and gently.|
|Isaiah 49:1-7||The servant is formed in the womb. It will be a huge task, but he will be given as a light to the nations.|
|Isaiah 50:4-9||This song reaffirms the servant’s work of witness and preaching that is met with scorn and contempt.|
|Isaiah 52:13-53:12||The servant will win the victory through the unlikely approach of suffering in the place of those he saves: “sacrificial suffering, suffering with and for others.”|
Youngblood says that the theme of the suffering servant is the most important theme in Isaiah.
Oswalt regarding the Servant Songs writes:
. . . there is a unique emphasis on what the Servant will accomplish for the world . . . my position is that in these passages Isaiah is speaking of an individual, almost certainly the Messiah, who will be the ideal Israel. Through his obedient service to God, Israel will be enabled to perform the service of blessing the nations that had been prophesied in Gen 12:3 and elsewhere.
God’s answer to the oppressors of the world is not more oppression, nor is his answer to arrogance more arrogance; rather, in quietness, humility, and simplicity, he will take all of the evil into himself and return only grace. That is power (Oswalt, 111).
In the context of reflecting on the Servant Songs, Edward J. Young writes:
Christ was sent in order to bring the whole world under the authority of God and under obedience to Him.
Those who gather about him to hear his teaching will discover that he spoke as never man spoke. His teaching was not accomplished through loud proclamation but by quiet instruction.
Isaiah 52:12-53:12 is one of four servant songs. In the Old Testament “Only the strange, silent figure of Isaiah 53 stands before us as one who, it is said, remains innocent and righteous.” N.T. Wright
Along with Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 is the central prophetic prophecy of the atonement found in the Old Testament. It vividly describes Christ’s substitutionary death 700 years before the cross. The Church Father Polycarp said Isaiah 53 is the golden “passional” of the Old Testament evangelist. Youngblood tells us that this song is often called the Gospel of the Old Testament and this passage is quoted more often than any other in the New Testament.
Regarding the importance of Isaiah 53 in regards to the atoning work of Christ, Stott writes:
But it is particularly the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, describing the servant’s suffering and death, which is applied consistently to Jesus Christ. ‘No other passage from the Old Testament’, Joachim Jeremias has written, ‘was as important to the Church as Isaiah 53.’19 The New Testament writers quote eight specific verses as having been fulfilled in Jesus. Verse 1 (‘who has believed our message?’) is applied to Jesus by John (12:38). Matthew sees the statement of verse 4 (‘he took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’) as fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry (8:17). That we have gone astray like sheep (v. 6), but that by his wounds we have been healed (v. 5) are both echoed by Peter (1 Pet. 2:22–25), and so in the same passage are verse 9 (‘nor was any deceit in his mouth’) and verse 11 (‘he will bear their iniquities’). Then verses 7 and 8, about Jesus being led like a sheep to the slaughter and being deprived of justice and of life, were the verses the Ethiopian eunuch was reading in his chariot, which prompted Philip to share with him ‘the good news about Jesus’ (Acts 8:30–35). Thus verses 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11 – eight verses out of the chapter’s twelve – are all quite specifically referred to Jesus.
Stott also notices that Jesus himself made numerous references to Isaiah 53. For example, Christ said that he would be:
- Taken away.
- Numbered with the transgressors
Many other statements allude to Isaiah 53. Regarding Isaiah 53, Spurgeon wrote:
This is one of the chapters that lie at the very heart of the Scriptures. It is the very Holy of holies of Divine Writ. Let us, therefore, put off our shoes from our feet, for the place whereon we stand is especially holy ground.
This fifty-third of Isaiah is a Bible in miniature. It is the condensed essence of the gospel. I thought that our beloved friend, Mr. Moody, answered with extreme wisdom a question that was put to him when he came to London some years ago. A number of ministers had come together to meet Mr. Moody, and they began to discuss various points, and to ask what were the evangelist’s views upon certain doctrines. At last, one brother said, “Would Mr. Moody kindly give us his creed? Is it in print?” In a moment the good man replied, “Certainly; my creed is in print, it is the 53rd of Isaiah.” It was a splendid reply. How could a man come closer to the very essentials of the faith than by saying, “My creed is in the 53rd of Isaiah”? I trust that many of you, dear friends can not only say, “This is my creed,” but also, “This is the foundation upon which I have built all my hopes for time and for eternity; this is the source of my sweetest consolation; this is the sun that makes my day, and the star that gilds my night.” In these twelve verses there is everything that we need to teach us the way of salvation; God, the infinitely-wise Teacher, has revealed to us, within this short compass, all that is necessary to bring peace to troubled Spirits.
 Peterson, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, 175–176.
 Ronald F. Youngblood, The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 147. See also Peterson, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, 174.
 John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, ed. R.K. Harrison and Robert L. Jr. Hubbard, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 108.
 Ibid., 111.
 Youngblood, The Book of Isaiah, 111.
 Ibid., 113.
 N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 72.
 Stott, The Cross of Christ, 145.