“Listen to me, you coastlands, and pay attention, you people from far away. YHWH called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother he has recorded my name. And he has made my mouth like a sharp sword. In the shadow of his hand he has hidden me, and he has made me a polished arrow. In his quiver he concealed me.
And he said to me, 'You are my servant Israel, in whom I will show my splendor.' And I said, 'I have labored for nothing. I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain. Surely my judgment is with YHWH, and my wages with my God.'
And now, says YHWH - the one who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring back Jacob to him, and Israel will be gathered to him, and I will be glorified in the eyes of YHWH, and my God will be my strength – he said:
'It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to bring back the preserved of Israel. I will also give you for a light of Gentiles, for you to become my salvation to the end of the earth.'” 1
Now, even though this servant is addressed as “Israel,” he was born from the womb to bring back Jacob and Israel, implying that Israel already existed before this servant is born.
Since his role is to “bring back the preserved of Israel,” he could be a representative of Israel, just as a king represents his country and can be its salvation or downfall. He is perhaps like the saviors of old, whom YHWH used to raise up before the days of the kings, when Israel went astray. But in YHWH’s eyes, this servant is also the embodiment of Israel.
That “he has made my mouth like a sharp sword” is similar to the description given to the “twig” out of the stem of Jesse, who will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the spirit of his lips he will put to death the wicked.” 2 Isaiah also said that YHWH would raise up “the root of Jesse who will stand as a banner for the people. To him the Gentiles will inquire; and his resting place will be glory.” 3
Yet he appears to fail in his mission to raise up Jacob and bring back Israel, at least at first, for he says, “I have labored for nothing. I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain.”
But YHWH comforts him, and says that he also has a greater mission, to be “a light of Gentiles” and to become YHWH’s “salvation to the end of the earth.” Now, if he has not brought Israel back at this point, then Israel as a nation cannot be the “light of Gentiles” and “salvation” spoken of here. Instead, it is the remnant, or one man who represents or becomes Israel to the nations.
And now YHWH speaks directly to this one: “This is what YHWH, the redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, says to him who is despised in soul, to the one whom the nation abhorred, to the servant of rulers:
'Kings will see and rise up, and princes will worship, because of YHWH who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.'
This is what YHWH says: 'In a time of favor I have answered you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you. And I will preserve you, and I will give you for a covenant of the people, to raise up the land, and to reapportion the allotted inheritances of the desolated ones, that you may say to the prisoners, ‘come out!’ and to those in the darkness, ‘show yourselves!’’” 4
Here, YHWH speaks more plainly to one person, and not the nation, calling this one “him who is despised in soul” and “one whom the nation abhorred.”
Indeed, this would explain why his mission to “bring back Jacob to him” appears to fail at first. It is because the nation of Israel despised him! Nevertheless, he would somehow be preserved, and be given for “a covenant of the people.”