The lecture asks the question: how does the picture of the terrible humiliation of the servant of Yahweh in Isaiah 53 square with the prelude to it in 52:13–15, where it is said that he will be ‘high and lifted up’, and ‘startle’ many nations and shut the mouths of kings? Differently, how can this epitome of powerlessness have a deep effect on the ‘powers’ of the world?
The question is pursued by means of a comparison of the respective roles of Cyrus the Persian and the servant in Isaiah 40–55, noticing the extent to which these overlap. What is the relationship between the divine use of powerful agencies in the world alongside the seemingly contradictory operation through a suffering servant to achieve the divine purpose? With regard to questions of composition, an argument is made for reading the two figures in relation to each other, as part of the concept of future hope for Israel and the nations developed through chs. 40-55 and 56-56, including the vision of ‘new heavens and a new earth’. Conclusions are drawn for the nature of such hope, in which assurances of ultimate salvation are held in tension with the prophetic call to enact righteousness within a faithful people of God.
Gordon McConville is Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Theology at the University of Gloucestershire, having taught previously at Trinity College, Bristol and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.
His written work includes studies of Deuteronomy, Joshua and Jeremiah, Old Testament political theology, and most recently Being Human in God's World (Baker). He is currently working on a commentary on the Book of Isaiah. A long-standing member of the Tyndale Fellowship, he was at one time Librarian of Tyndale House, Cambridge.