The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The text is Isaiah 51:4-6 and, according to Reed Lessing, alludes to the First (42:1-4) and Second (49:1-6) Servant Songs of Isaiah in these ways:
1) Yahweh’s teaching goes forth (42:4)
2) “Justice” will be established (42:1-4; 49:4)
3) These gifts will be a light for the nations (42:1-4; 49:6)
Thus, our pericope provides a portion of the transition between the first three Servant songs and the Fourth (52:13-53:12) Servant song.
It is important to note the “mission” character of this text. Indeed, these would have been strange words for Isaiah’s audience. The Israelites had taken the Covenantal promise and the language of separation and chosen for them to mean that the message of salvation and restoration was meant for no one but them. Sometimes we even run into this line of thought in various commentaries, but this is very much counter to the reality of the Scriptures, Old and New.
The LORD desires that all mankind might be saved—this is, again, a truth for Old Testament and New Testament both. Unfortunately, the Israelites had become very “exclusive” in their interpretation and understanding of God’s Messianic promises. Thus, the words of Isaiah must have offended them in some ways—it certainly would have challenged their misguided ideas. Isaiah tells us that the, “teaching will go forth from me (the LORD),” (vs 4) to all nations, peoples and coastlands. The word hrAT “Torah” is too often translated as “law” when it most frequently, and in this case in particular means, “teaching; instruction; word.” The entire revelation of God in Holy Scripture is to go forth from Him to all the world. A good, preachable moment!
A thank you to Reed Lessing and the work he has done in his commentary on Isaiah 40-55 in the Concordia Commentary Series. He is very helpful in capturing the “messianic” character and message of the text.
51:4 הַקְשִׁיבוּ ((hak-Shi-vu) root: קְשׁב (kaw-shab) Hiphil: “to listen attentively; give full attention”
וּלְאוּמִּי (u-le-um) from: לאמ (leh-ome) ”people; nation”
הַאֲזִינוּ (ha-a-Zi-nu) root: אזן (aw-zan) Hiphil: “to give ear; hear; listen to…” In the Hebrew it is easier to see the chiastic structure of this verse. It is also interesting to see that the LORD identifies the people as His own; “my people”, “my nation”—in the singular. His words are addressed to Israel, but He informs Israel that His word as a whole is going out to “all peoples”. Again, this תוֹרה “Torah” is frequently translated as “law” but in reality, this is the third most common usage of the term. The most common usage as seen here is “word; revelation; instruction; teaching”. The second most common usage is in specific reference to the first five books of Moses. As Lessing notes, “Torah” as the subject of יצא (yaw-tsaw) ”to go forth” is somewhat rare and is found in Isaiah 2:3; 51:4; Micah 4:2. This is the entire council of God, Law and Gospel, that will go forth.
אַרְגִּיעַ; (ar·Gi·a) root: רגעַ (raw-gah) Hiphil imperfect “to place; establish” This is an unusual word and occurrence. Together with מִשְׁפָּטִי i (mish-paw-ti) may be best translated as “I will establish my justice”
51:5 קָרוֹב (ka-Rov) ”near” As in, “near is my righteousness” or “my righteousness is near”
יָצָא (ya-Tza) “to go out; to go forth” As in “my salvation goes forth”
וּזְרֹעַי (u-ze-ro-Ai) from: זרוֹעַ (zer-o-ah) ”arm” Dual form: two arms.
אִיִּים (i-Yim) from: אִ אִי (ee) ”distant shore; coastland; coastal islands” Indicates the far reaches. Sometimes used synonymously for “Gentiles” or “Nations”.
יְקַוּוּ (ye-kav-Vu) root: קוה (kaw-vaw) Piel: “to hope; look expectantly; await”
יְיַחֵלוּן (ye-ya-che-Lun) root: יחֵל (yaw-chal) Piel: “to wait; hope for” These two verbs in the Piel form indicate saving faith.
51:6 וְהַבִּיטוּ (ve-hab-Bi-tu) root: נבט (naw-bat) Hiphil: “to look”
כֶּעָשָׁן,, (ke-a-Shawn) from: עשׁן (aw-shawn) ”smoke”, with the כֶּ, (ke) prefix “like smoke”
נִמְלָחוּ (nim-La-chu) root: מלח (maw-lakh) Niphal: “to be torn to pieces; to be scattered; to be dissipated; to vanish” This is a hapax legomenon (a term of which only one instance of use is recorded).
תִּבְלֶה (tiv-Leh) root: בלה (baw-law) Qal: “to be worn out; wear out”
כֵן (chen) This is another difficult word which probably refers to a small insect of some kind. Most likely gnats or lice. Usually translated here as “in like manner” or “so it was
”תֵחָתe (te-Chat) root: חתת (khaw-thath) Niphal (some think a Qal imperative—same meaning): “to be shattered; be abolished; be annihilated”
Because the nation of Israel and her unfaithfulness has hindered the spreading out of the Gospel, the LORD Himself will send out His teaching/word through the Servant who is the Word made flesh to dwell among us. From Him comes righteousness and salvation for all the world. It is no accident that these verses reside within the Servant Songs of Isaiah. After these words of encouragement for the nations the Fourth Servant Song goes on to detail how this will take place. The Servant will indeed suffer greatly as He bears our sin and carries our sorrows to the cross at Calvary.
Concordia Theology: Multiple resources for preaching Isaiah 51:4-6 from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.