Hear me, O islands,
listen, O distant peoples.
The Lord called me from birth,
from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.
Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
Yet my reward is with the Lord,
my recompense is with my God.
For now the Lord has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
That Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
And I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
This is my favorite of the four songs. It is so rich. Where to begin? The allusion to the call of Jeremiah and the psalmist reminding us of God’s agency in our lives even before we are born.
This is a song for a mystic: the dark night when we are sure we’ve “toiled in vain.” And the servant doesn’t dwell on personal misfortune very long. Indeed, is it manic or messianic that the restoration of Israel and Judah is deemed “too little?” God’s salvific plan is no longer just for a chosen people, but for a whole planet. It’s come a long way since the Pentateuch, eh?