A servant is someone who carries out the will of another. The Servant of the Lord fulfills God’s will and is often presented in Scripture as someone chosen by God to hold a leadership position, to represent Him, and to accomplish a certain divine work. In the Bible, the term Servant of the Lord has been applied to individual people, certain groups of people, the nation of Israel, and the Messiah, who is identified as Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
The book of Isaiah contains four “Servant Songs” describing the Servant of the Lord. The first is found in Isaiah 42:1–9; the second in Isaiah 49:1–13; the third in Isaiah 50:4–11; and the fourth in Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12. In Jewish tradition, the Servant of the Lord in all four passages refers to the nation of Israel. In the final Servant Song of Isaiah 53, a singular pronoun he is used for the Servant of the Lord. Rabbis understand this singular pronoun to be a collective reference to a faithful remnant of Israel, a personification treating the group as one person.
The New Testament clearly identifies the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah as our Savior, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. This unique Servant takes a preeminent place above all others in Scripture. This perfect Servant never fails to accomplish the will of the Lord and the purposes of God (John 17:5). The final Servant Song (Isaiah 53) is about an innocent Suffering Servant who dies in place of the guilty. That passage foretells the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 53:3 says about the Servant of the Lord, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Jesus was despised by the religious people of His day and rejected as their Messiah.
Jesus Christ, the Servant of the Lord, was “pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). In giving His life for us, “he was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (verse 7). At His trial, Jesus did not defend Himself but remained silent against His accusers. He suffered and died in the place of guilty sinners. The sins of all people were placed upon Him, the sacrificial Lamb of God. Jesus paid the price for our salvation. These are just a few of many details in Isaiah 53 that point to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of messianic prophecy (Matthew 8:17; Luke 22:37; John 12:38; Acts 8:32–33; Romans 10:16; 1 Peter 2:22, 24–25).
When God the Son came to earth, He took on the role of a servant. The Creator chose to serve His creatures. Jesus said that He had come “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In the book of Acts, the word servant is applied to Jesus four times in connection with His death (Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30 ). The humility of Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, is unmistakably seen in Philippians 2:7–8: “He gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (NLT).
While Jesus the Messiah is the ultimate fulfillment of prophecies concerning the Servant of the Lord, the Bible also applies the title to others. In the Old Testament, God describes about fifteen different individuals as “My servant” or “the servant of the Lord.”
The patriarchs are often named as servants of the Lord: “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever’” (Exodus 32:13; see also Genesis 18:3; 32:10; Deuteronomy 9:27; 1 Chronicles 16:13; Psalm 105:6). God called Job His servant: “Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job?’” (Job 1:8; cf. 2:3 and 42:7–8).
Moses is repeatedly called the servant of the Lord: “And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said” (Deuteronomy 34:5; see also Exodus 14:31; Numbers 12:7–8; Joshua 1:1–2; Nehemiah 1:7–8; Malachi 4:4). Significantly, Moses told the people that “the LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15). This messianic prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus, who, like Moses, was “the servant of the Lord” but in an even greater way (see Acts 3:22 and Hebrews 3:3).
The Bible describes leaders like Caleb, Joshua, and Samson as servants of the Lord (Numbers 14:24; Joshua 5:14; 24:29; Judges 2:8; 15:18). David, Solomon, and Hezekiah are kings referred to as the Lord’s servants (Psalm 89:20; 1 Samuel 23:11; 2 Samuel 7:5; 1 Chronicles 17:4; 1 Kings 3:7–9; 14:8; 2 Chronicles 32:16). Prophets such as Ahijah, Elijah, Jonah, and Isaiah are also called servants of the Lord (1 Kings 14:18; 18:36; 2 Kings 14:25; Isaiah 20:3).
Samuel’s mother, Hannah, describes herself as a servant of the Lord in 1 Samuel 1:11. Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, is described as a servant of the Lord in Haggai 2:23. Even the pagan kings Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus are named among the servants of the Lord in that they fulfilled the purposes of God (Jeremiah 25:9; 43:10; Isaiah 45:1).
Groups referred to as servants of the Lord in the Bible are the people of Israel (Isaiah 41:8–9; 43:10; Leviticus 25:42,55; Nehemiah 1:6,10; Jeremiah 30:10–11; 46:27–28; Luke 1:54), the priests (Exodus 28:1, 41; Leviticus 7:35; Numbers 18:7), the Levites (Deuteronomy 18:7; 1 Chronicles 23:28–31; Ezra 6:18; Ezekiel 44:11), and the prophets (Jeremiah 7:25; 29:19; 44:4; Ezekiel 38:17; Daniel 9:6; Amos 3:7; Zechariah 1:6; Matthew 21:34–36; Mark 12:2–5; Luke 20:10–12; Revelation 10:7). Other nations are also called the Lord’s servants on occasion (Psalm 72:11; Isaiah 56:6; Zephaniah 3:9).
In the New Testament, several believers define themselves or are named by God as servants of the Lord. They include Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:38, 48), Simeon (Luke 2:29), Paul (Acts 27:2; Romans 1:1; Ephesians 3:1), James (James 1:1), Simon Peter (2 Peter 1:1), Jude (Jude 1), and John (Revelation 1:1). All of these servants are simply following the example of the ultimate Servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ.