Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66.St. Louis: Concordia, 1972. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 42” pp. 60-83.
In Isaiah 42:1, Luther notes that the prophet calls us to look directly to the Servant, the Christ. This is in stark contrast to the work of the Enthusiasts, who look within. Salvation, rightly understood, must be rooted in someone outside of us. We look to the Christ, not to ourselves (LW 17, 60). Jesus, the Servant, is the one upheld by God, God’s delight. This is the Gospel of the Lord. Luther sets it apart from any ideas that we could dream up in our own selves (LW 17, 61). In verse 2, the Servant does not cry out, but brings justice. Luther sees this as evidence of the strength and competency of God. He is firm and assertive (LW 17, 63). Verse 3, affirming the Servant’s care for those who are downtrodden, Luther calls “a golden text which most beautifully sets Christ before us” (LW 17, 64). The faithful Christ, and his servants, will bring care to those who are weak and hurting. Luther contrasts the arrogance of many teachers with the humility of Christ. He concludes that true mortification of the flesh is inward and gentle to others (LW 17, 67).
As we read on, we find in verse 6 that the Lord is the one who has called his people, including the Servant. He cares for them and keeps them. Luther finds in this evidence of God’s intention to comfort his people (LW 17, 68). He opens the eyes of the blind. He releases the prisoners (v. 7). Because of his greatness, in verse 8, we read that God doesn’t share his glory with anyone else (LW 17, 70). God’s glory is related to his own person. He rejects idols of every sort. No matter what other priorities people identify, if they are in conflict with God’s own glory, they are not acceptable to him. Because of this exclusivity, in verse 10, the people are called to sing to the Lord. It is a universal song, for every nation, not only the Jews (LW 17, 72). The result of this new song is joy for all nations, giving glory to the Lord (v. 12) (LW 17, 73). Luther sees this as the opposite of the tyranny he finds in Rome, Arians, the papacy, Anabaptists, and Enthusiasts (LW 17, 74). They all seek to force conformity. The Gospel, however, draws people to the praise of God, which is a new song, not created by our own opinions.
The power of the Lord, as he arises in response to the new song, in verses 14 and following, will lay low all his opponents. Luther again applies this idea to his time, pointing out that the opponents of the Gospel must be expected to lose in power over time. God will gather al to himself and lay waste all his opponents (LW 17, 75). Luther sums the Christian life up, then, as follows. “The Christian way i to despair of all counsels and wisdom, to commit everything to God alone, and to walk the unknown way. God could have guarded Israel in a far different manner if He had wanted to use another way, and thus He devoured Mount Pharaoh and Led His own out on their way like blind people” (LW 17, 77). God will always make a way for his people, even though they may well not understand it. Yet, in verse 17, those who trust their own attitudes and their own graven images, will be put to shame. Again, the essence is trusting in God or trusting in ourselves (LW 17, 78). As we trust in God, we receive his righteousness. This is a gift of God which we do not merit. It is a gift in which the Lord takes pleasure (LW 17, 81).