The following blog post was originally posted here: Intro Servant Songs; Structure of Isaiah …
Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider…(Isaiah 52:13-15)
Before we look closely at the Evangelical jewel climaxing in the 4th Servant Song of Isaiah, consisting of the above three verses in chapter 52, and all of Isaiah 53, it would be good to look at the setting of this prophecy within the latter half of the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah has a curious structure. It mirrors the structure of the entire Bible. Isaiah’s prophecy is composed of 66 chapters, (the Bible contains 66 books). Like the 39 books of the Tanach, the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are composed of pronounced judgments upon Judah, Israel, Jerusalem, the surrounding nations, and eventually engulfing the whole earth in tribulation. “The earth staggers like a drunkard…”, as the LORD judges it in righteousness.
But the last 27 chapters of Isaiah correspond in a loose way to the “New Testament”. His vision in chapter 40 begins with “A voice crying out in the wilderness…”(John the Baptist), and ends in chapter 66 with a new heaven and a new earth,(similar to the book of Revelation).*
The second part of Isaiah, (chapters 40-66) can be divided equally into 3 sections of 9 chapters each. The three sections conclude with a variation of the phrase,”There is no peace saith my God for the wicked”.
*Isaiah 48:22- There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.
*Isaiah 57:20-21 But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
* Isaiah 66:24-And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.
The first section, Isaiah 40-48, concerns the new exodus of Judah and the remnant of Israel, God’s servant, out of Babylon. Isaiah had predicted that Judah would go into captivity as Israel had, but that God would redeem his servant again and restore him.
God would raise up and use another anointed servant, a pagan king named Cyrus, whom the LORD called “My servant…my anointed who will do my will…” to bring this Exodus from captivity in Babylon . King Cyrus commanded the release of the Jewish remnant and even financed the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. **
The last section of Isaiah is a vision of the restored children of Israel and Judah, back from captivity, again reconciled to God, and restored as priests of God, radiant in the garments of salvation.
The forces of wickedness are amassing against them, but “No weapon formed against you shall prosper and any tongue which rises up in judgment against you, shall be condemned…” . This section portrays the final restoration of Israel, into the Messianic Kingdom.
But this final restoration of Israel isn’t the result of the aforementioned Exodus from Babylon. Israel would lapse back into captivity again and remain there for many long centuries.
This final and lasting deliverance of Israel comes to pass as a result of the person who is the primary subject of (chapters 49-58). The Messiah of Israel, is the very embodiment of “Israel my servant…” , he is the ultimate Servant of the LORD, who takes Israel and the world far beyond the deliverance of “Cyrus, my servant”.
There are 4 Servant Songs which emerge in Isaiah,
* He is introduced in Isaiah 42:1-4
*His Discouragement and ultimate triumph is sung of in Isaiah 49:1-7
* In Isaiah 50:4-11 we hear of His discipleship under the hand of the LORD himself.
* In Isiah 52:13-53:12, we hear the song of his redemptive sacrifice and exaltation.
*I am indebted to a wonderful Bible teacher named David Baron for these structural insights, from his little exposition called “The Servant of Jehovah”.
** (Cyrus would not come forth for another 200+ years, in the days of the Medo Persian empire. When Isaiah’s prophecy was shown to him, calling him by name 200 years in the past, the Pagan king was astonished!)