Thou Art My Servant, Oh Israel

Isaiah 49, See also 1 Nephi 21

The first thought that impresses me in this reading is that the Lord is behind it all. It is His name’s honor that will be achieved in the end. “Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful,” (vs. 7)

At a different time and a different season in my life I was able to extract much more out of these verses than I have in the present season of my life. But then, what I am now discovering I never understood before.

This session of study started with a comparison of the two chapters. Notable, 1 Nephi 21 starts with a more detailed explanation of the target audience: “all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel.”

The first two verses sound like a reference to the Savior: “from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention” and “he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword”, etc. But then in verse 3, Isaiah sounds to be very deliberately shifting focus to address Israel: “Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
Are we talking about the Savior of the world or are we talking about Israel? Answer: both.

Here’s where the shift in my thinking takes place: I have always looked at Israel as sort of like God’s pet project. “At the end of the day, Israel will be saved.”

But no, Israel is not God’s pet project, but rather for Israel to take its rightful place in the work of God is for Israel to take its place as the Lord’s servant, and if a servant to the Lord, then also a partner, an equal. Christ and His servant, Israel, should be equal and one in the same.

God’s scope is much broader than just Israel. Israel is suppose to be the tool by which the rest of the nations are to be redeemed. And oh, what a frustrating prospect, it seems at times, to have to drag Israel along. ( See vs. 4 )

(The following are notes that were taken when I studied 1 Nephi 21 many years ago. It helps me to understand what’s going on in the rest of this chapter. )

Verses 16-26

These are some exciting verses that illustrates the surprise of a desolated House of Israel at the righteous posterity that will be raised up to possess the promised land.

Verse 16 is profoundly moving and encouraging. The Lord describes his capacity to remember us in terms of his suffering and crucifixion by saying, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” This is the evidence that the Lord Jesus Christ gives that he will not forsake His people and that He will honor the covenant that He has made with the House of Israel.

What follows are reassuring words of hope in the promise of a righteous posterity.

  • “Thy children shall make haste against thy destroyers,”(vs 17). This seems to suggests that whatever was a struggle for us in our day and time shall be much easier to overcome for the next generation that is brought up in righteousness.
  • “Lift up thine eyes round about and behold; all these gather themselves together, and they shall come to thee,” (vs 18). This reminds me that there are many that long for the ways of the righteous, and many will find them.
  • The actuality of such a posterity yet comes as such a surprise to the remnant of the house of Israel that they ask “Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children. ” (vs 21).

Verse 22 picks up as an answer to the question posed in verse 21: how is it that Zion had any children if everyone of her natural children had been destroyed? The answer is pivotal to understanding the purposes of the Lord in the last days and how exactly it is that the Lord will redeem His people.

The answer:

Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.

Verse 22

Footnotes on “standard”include additional references to this final work (see footnote – Ensign). The standard is also called an ensign. Important doctrines related to the establishment of this final standard or ensign: The work is to be initiated among the gentiles, and it is of such as scope that it will reach the ends of the earth. This is a global work. Yet it is extremely individual.

This particular final point is strongly impressed upon my mind. We are dealing with the salvation of God’s family, and in the end, it shall be as it was in the beginning–available to all. The atonement of Christ works for all men; Jew, Gentile, Tongan, Chinese, Ethiopian, Russian, Israeli, Palestinian, Scandinavian, Brazilian, Indian, French, Nigerian, Australian, American, and all. It is almost impossible for us to comprehend as mortals that all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God (see Isaiah 52:10, Mosiah 15:31, or Doctrine and Covenants 133:3). But this is the work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Then this chapter concludes with these words of encouragement: “For I will contend with them that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children,” (see vs. 25). This is the faith, the hope, the promise that inspires the work to be accomplished. This is the strength to scale an insurmountable mountain.

In these closing verses are assurance to go ahead with the fight that we are to wage against the forces of this world. There is also the reminder that this is in part why our Lord is also referred to as our Savior, our Redeemer, and the Mighty One of Jacob.

Footnote: There is something about myself personally that has always resonated with the idea of a global church family. I like being a part of a family that spans the globe. This idea feels to be a part of my purpose or personal mission.

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