This is the third of the traditional servant songs in Second Isaiah. Like the second (49:1-6), this one too borrows from the language of the prophets. The servant's task is to speak God's word to sustain the weary. As a prophet and teacher he must first listen, so he will know what to say. The word is God's, not the prophet's.
In this song, we learn that the servant's work meets with resistance. His poem here begins to sound like the laments of the prophet Jeremiah, who also paid a high price for his fidelity to God's mission (Jeremiah 11:18-23; 12:1-6; 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-12, 14-18).
Why would the servant's message of liberation be rejected? He has come with good news, announcing God's deliverance of the exiles. Perhaps some had become already established in Babylon, so the call to return merely promised disruption. Perhaps others were so deep in despair they could not believe the good news, so they turned against its speaker. Jerusalem, of course, still lay in ruins. To return meant an arduous journey through the desert. God's announcement of a new beginning would mean hardship in the short run, and apparently some were not prepared to accept the challenge.
The servant's lament, however, takes the same turn as many of the lament psalms, following the lament with a confession of trust in God's continued care (see the sections of confidence in Psalm 22:3-5 and 9-10, interspersed with the laments of 22:1-2, 6-8, 12-18). The servant's confidence is based not on his own strength, but on the assurance of God's help. If God is with him, what can hinder his work? The same kind of confidant assurance is repeated later by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:31-39, a passage that echoes many of the themes of this servant song.
4 The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,*
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
5 The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backwards.
6 I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
7 The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
8 he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
9 It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org