“Look at my servant, whom I strengthen.
He is my chosen one, who pleases me.
I have put my Spirit upon him.
He will bring justice to the nations.” – Isaiah 42:1
It has for a long time been customary to refer to the “Servant of the Lord” in Isaiah 40-55 as the missionary par excellence. This interpretation flows from centrality of the concept “witness” in those chapters. The “servant” is, however, not an active missionary sent out to the nations. The verb “yos.i” in Isaiah 42:1 is not translated as “carry out,” “bring to,” but rather as “cause to become visible.” The NEB translation of this verse is therefore preferable: “…my servant…will make justice shine on the nations.” He is brought into the courtroom to witness in the case between God and the nations. He is, however, a very remarkable and , according to our standards, a useless witness, for he can neither see nor speak (Isaiah 42:18-20; 43:8-13). The purpose of this metaphor is, once again, not to say that the witness is blind, deaf and mute, but that, finally, Yahweh Himself is the Witness.
The “servant” of the Lord in Isaiah 40 – 55 is a model of Israel. Israel’s election and existence has no goal in itself, but through Israel God is busy with the nations. His salvific activities in Israel are a sign and signal to the nations —
“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.” — Isaiah 42:6
God intends to do more than merely restore the tribes of Judah and bring back the descendants of Israel —
“He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.
I will make you a light to the Gentiles,
and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6
It is true that the Old Testament views mission predominately in centripetal categories, but not exclusively so. The metaphor of light in the two passages above and elsewhere, is particularly appropriate to give expression to both a centripetal and a centrifugal movement. A light shining in the darkness draws people towards it, centripetally, yet at the same time it goes outward, crossing frontiers and allowing God’s salvation to reach the end of the earth.
Zechariah 8 gives classical expression to this. It is Yahweh who, after the exile, gathers His scattered people from the nations and instructs them. The nations see this and spontaneously express the desire also to go to Jerusalem.
“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” – Zechariah 8:23
It is not Israel’s faith, example and witness that act as a magnet here; it is God’s faithfulness to Israel that causes the nations to come.