High and Lifted Up: The Exalted Servant Part 5

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This is the fifth of a six-part study on the deity of Yeshua, specifically through the lens of the Apostles’ reading of the book of Isaiah. Our last post unpacked the message of Biblical monotheism. Second Isaiah (along with the rest of the Bible) presents a firm and impermeable line of distinction between God and all other reality. This helps pave the way for understanding the exalted identity of the Servant in Second Isaiah. We will do so by comparing the Song of the Suffering Servant with an important verse from the Psalms.

High and Lifted Up

When describing the unique identity of the God of Israel, Scripture often uses the metaphor of physical height. “For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.” (Psalm 97:9) “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!”(Psalm 108:5) This theme is also incorporated in a distinctive way in the book of Isaiah. Note the terminology used to describe God’s throne in Isaiah 6:1.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

The text here uses the phrase ram v’nisa (high and lifted up), a combination unique to the book of Isaiah. We see this phrase used again in Isaiah 57.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.[1]Isa 57:15, emphasis mine.

By using this metaphor of physical altitude, the writer seeks to emphasize the distinction between God and all other reality. When we “exalt” God in praise, we are acknowledging His unique identity above and beyond all creation. This exalted position is reserved for God alone.

Enter: The Servant

With these passages in mind, the opening words of the fourth Servant Song take on profound significance:

Behold, my Servant shall act wisely; He shall be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.[2]Isa 52:13, my translation.

The Hebrew here incorporates three separate words (yarum v’nisa v’gavah) and intensifies it all with the word “very” (meod) to express this idea of physical height. The emphasis could not be greater. Especially significant is the inclusion of the two-word combination mentioned above: yarum v’nisa; high and lifted up. As Oswalt notes,

One must not overlook the significance of these words. “High and lifted up” (rwm and ns’) are used in combination four times in this book (and no place else in the OT). In the other three places (6:1; 33:10; 57:15) they describe God.[3]Oswalt, Isaiah, p. 378. Perhaps Oswalt has overlooked Isaiah 2:13, describing the cedars of Lebanon as “high and lifted up” (haramim ...continue

The unique status of this Servant is quite exceptional. No other prophet or righteous figure in Scripture is given such a description. And it makes the rest of this servant song, with its description of humility, suffering and death, all the more paradoxical. Why is the servant introduced in such exalted terms and then depicted so lowly? Even the term, “exalted servant,” is an oxymoron. Yet this pattern of contrast between humility and exaltation characterizes the prophetic descriptions of Messiah, and is incorporated by the Apostles as we will see in the next section. Just like Joseph in the narratives of Genesis, Messiah must descend before He can ascend. And somehow even His descent paradoxically portrays His exaltation.

Psalm 110

This description of the exalted Servant relates to another passage that had a huge impact on the Apostles’ understanding of Yeshua and His identity. Earlier we noted that Isaiah is the one book of the Tanakh that is referenced most often by the apostles. The most-referenced verse, however, happens to be in the book of Psalms. This is the one verse in the Tanakh that is quoted or alluded to more often in the Apostolic Scriptures than any other. That verse is Psalm 110:1: “The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”[4]This verse is quoted or alluded to some 20 times by Yeshua and the Apostles.

The image of Messiah seated at the right hand of God had a profound impact on Apostolic theology. This verse was understood by the Apostles to describe Yeshua as participating in the sovereign rule of God.

The verse certainly does not have to be read as meaning that the person referred to as ‘my Lord’ (the Messiah) is seated on the divine throne itself and exercises the divine sovereignty over the cosmos. It could, for example, be read to mean simply that the Messiah is given a position of honour as a favoured subject beside the divine throne, where he sits inactively awaiting the inauguration of his rule on earth. … It is clear, however, that early Christians read it differently: as placing Jesus on the divine throne itself, exercising God’s own rule over all things.[5]Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, p. 21.

The image of Messiah exalted to God’s right hand is used by the Apostles to underscore Yeshua’s participation in the divine sovereignty:

“God exalted him at his right hand as Ruler and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31)

“…according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet…” (Ephesians 1:19–22)

“[Yeshua] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Peter 3:22)

The Exalted Servant

In light of Psalm 110:1, Isaiah 52:13 can be seen as expressing the same exaltation of Messiah to the very throne of God. By incorporating the same terminology used to describe God’s throne as Isaiah 6:1, the fourth Servant Song implies that this “Servant” is exalted to that throne. It is likely that the New Testament writers are intentionally alluding to these two passages together when they speak of Yeshua as being “exalted at the right hand of God”: “Exalted” hearkens back to Isaiah 52:13, and “the right hand of God” to Psalm 110:1.[6]Acts 2:33; 5:31. Cf. Heb 1:3. These passages combine the Greek hupsoo word group, used in the LXX of Isa 6:1 and 52:13, with the concept of Yeshua ...continue

This understanding of these passages places Messiah within the unique identity of the God of Israel by virtue of His participating in the ultimate sovereignty over all things. This is not a contradiction with the concept of Biblical monotheism that we saw in the previous post. Messiah is not exalted independently of God (which would be polytheism), but is identified with the one God.

Clearly the language used of the Servant in Isaiah is unique. This is no ordinary servant! An examination of the Apostolic Scriptures demonstrates that they concluded the same. In the next part of this series, we will conclude our study by looking at two examples of the apostolic use of Second Isaiah.


Image by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos / CC BY-NC

References   [ + ]

1. Isa 57:15, emphasis mine.
2. Isa 52:13, my translation.
3. Oswalt, Isaiah, p. 378. Perhaps Oswalt has overlooked Isaiah 2:13, describing the cedars of Lebanon as “high and lifted up” (haramim v’hanisa’im), a metaphor for the proud and arrogant. The two words are also used similarly in 2:12 and 14. But Oswalt’s point is valid in that Isaiah 2 speaks forcefully against this haughtiness of mankind and predicts its downfall, climaxing with the statement that “the LORD alone will be exalted in that day” (v. 17).
4. This verse is quoted or alluded to some 20 times by Yeshua and the Apostles.
5. Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, p. 21.
6. Acts 2:33; 5:31. Cf. Heb 1:3. These passages combine the Greek hupsoo word group, used in the LXX of Isa 6:1 and 52:13, with the concept of Yeshua being “seated at the right hand” (Psalm 110:1).

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