Idolatry has deprived Israel of her senses. This was one of the early messages to Isaiah (Isaiah 6). Yahweh sent him out to a people who had been deprived of their senses because of their commitment to idols. They become like the idols they serve. They still have eyes, but they can’t see. They still have ears, but they can no longer hear. They still have mouths, but they can’t say anything.
Within Judah, Yahweh begins to recreate a new human being, restored from His idolatry and from the effects of it (Isaiah 50). Lord Yahweh gives him a new tongue, loosens his tongue so that he can speak. Yahweh who made the tongue makes it possible for him to speak. It is the tongue of a learned one, the tongue of a disciple. This is the tongue of one who has been taught, so that he can teach.
Not only his mouth and tongue, but his ears are restored. Judah’s ears have fallen asleep; they’ve become tired of hearing. But one man within Judah, the servant of Yahweh, has alert ears, ears awakened by Lord Yahweh.
This is the kind of sacrifice Yahweh wants. Psalm 40 lists all the sacrifices of the Law, and says that these are not effective. They don’t do what sacrifice does. The sacrifice God looks for is the sacrifice of the open ear, the sacrifice of obedience.
And it is a sacrifice, and leads to sacrifice. When the Lord opens the ear of the servant, he becomes obedient, surging ahead in the Lord’s way, surging ahead in the path of obedience. He does not turn back, no matter what opposition he faces.
And he does face opposition. People strike him on the back with rods. People pull out the hairs of his beard. People spit on him. But he doesn’t turn back or flinch. He doesn’t even hide his face from those who spit on it. He is determined to be obedient no matter what it brings, not matter the insults, the humiliations, the pain, the opposition. He has an open ear, and as long as the master says “Forward,” he keeps going forward.
The Servant does this because he knows that the Lord will be with him. Because the Lord helps him, he won’t be ashamed or disgraced. He will be beaten, spit at, mocked, jeered, scorned, humiliated, shamed. But he will not finally be brought to confusion. The Lord will help him. He can set his face like flint and know that he will not be ashamed.
The way of obedience, the way of the open ear, is not the way of shame and defeat. It is the way of pain, but not the way of defeat.
In Isaiah 50:8, the prophet shifts the picture slightly. He’s now in a courtroom. His enemies want to bring a case against him. They bring their charges. They want to him to be condemned in the court.
But the servant knows that he can stand against their onslaught. He has a defender in the court. That vindicator is near, and in fact the vindicator is so near that they stand “as one” in the court. Enemies bring charges, but the servant has a vindicator in the dock alongside him. The judge comes near to condemn, but the one who justifies him is right there, so bound with the servant that they are one. Accuse the servant, accuse the vindicator. They are standing as one.
And because of that, the servant knows that he will not be condemned. He tosses out defiant questions. He trash talks the opposition. Who contends with me? Bring it on. What’s the charge? Who is there to condemn me? Who’s the judge? Let him come on. I’m ready for anything. He’s ready for anything because his vindicator is near, and they stand as one. He’s ready for anything because Lord Yahweh helps him.
He will go through the darkness, and he will not be alone. Yahweh gave him a tongue so he can speak what he hears through his now-open ears, and with that tongue he leads others through the darkness. Though he pass through the valley of shadows, still he can trust in the name of Yahweh, and so can all those who are with him. The Lord will make his enemies stumble into the fire, and he will be rescued.
All this, of course, is about Jesus. Jesus is the servant of the open ear, who hears the voice of His Father and obeys. He is the one whose tongue hastens the weary.
And the way of His obedience leads into darkness. He gives His back to the striker, and His beard to the one who plucks it. He doesn’t cover His face from the humiliation and spitting. For Jesus, this is all very literal, and it all very literally is the result of His determined obedience. Nothing keeps Him back from speaking what He has heard from His Father. Nothing will deter Him from the way of obedience. And so He goes resolutely on, headlong into the middle of a den of vipers.
He does this in faith. Jesus trusts His Father, and knows that His Father will be His help. He knows that His enemies will wear out like a garment, and moths will eat them away. He trusts in the assistance of His father. And He is our great pledge of justification. Jesus is the justified one, not because He had sins that needed to be forgiven but because He was falsely accused and was vindicated by His Father. The way to this vindication, to this justification in resurrection, is the way of obedience. As Jesus keeps His ear open to His Father, He can be confident that the Father is with Him, one with Him in the dock.
And because we are in Jesus, it is all also about us. The Lord has opened our ears, loosened our tongues. We are called to obey His voice, no matter where that obedience might lead. No matter what might stand in the way, or who. We are called to take up our cross and endure the opposite, humiliation, spitting, scorn, torture that our enemies lay out. But if we stay in the way of obedience, our ears open to the Lord’s voice, we can be sure that we will be justified. No matter what slander or lies come our way, we are one with our vindicator. He suffers our accusations with us, and will vindicate.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis.