First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7

The Risk of Leadership

4 The Lord YHWH has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him who is weary: he wakens morning by morning, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. 5 The Lord YHWH has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward. 6 I gave my back to the strikers, and my cheeks to those who plucked off the hair; I didnít hide my face from shame and spitting. 7 For the Lord YHWH will help me; therefore I have not been confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be disappointed.

World English Bible

These verses were part of the so called "Suffering Servant" Songs. Scholars have identified Isaiah 50:4-9 as a sliver of the Songs from this chapter. The sliver described the call of the Servant to preach, despite opposition.

In the context of the times, Second Isaiah used these verses to address his critics among the exiles in Babylon. A general pessimism had descended upon Jewish populace in the city. When Second Isaiah saw promise in the coming reign of Cyrus, the Persian conqueror. Cyrus respected local religions and customs. Second Isaiah pinned his ambitions upon the Persian. Whether the prophet wrote before or after the conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C. has been an open question. No matter. Second Isaiah wrote to raise the hopes of the exiles and presented the possibility of return. Isaiah 50:4-7 spoke to the resistance the prophet may have felt. God called him to proclaim an unpopular message and the prophet would remain true to his call [50:4-5]. His critics would try to shame him. Indeed, the prophet would allow his opposition to shame him. But God would vindicate him [50:6-7].

Second Isaiah used one of the Servant Songs to refer to his own ministry. And he projected his message onto this unidentified leader (or group) who would bear the burden of leadership and judgment. Leadership made one open to criticism and to judgment. The Servant would face both as part of God's plan. As long as the Servant remained true to his call, he would stand with honor before God, not before men.

No wonder early Christians adopted the image of the Suffering Servant and applied it to Jesus!

Has your leadership generated criticism? What happened? How has your faith sustained you through these times?