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Thus saith the Lord: It is a great thing for thee to be called my servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob, and to recover the dispersion of Israel: behold, I have given thee for the covenant of a race, for a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation to the end of the earth. 7 Thus saith the Lord that delivered thee, the God of Israel, Sanctify him that despises his life, him that is abhorred by the nations that are the servants of princes: kings shall behold him, and princes shall arise, and shall worship him, for the Lord’s sake: for the Holy One of Israel is faithful, and I have chosen thee. 8 Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I succored thee: and I have formed thee, and given thee for a covenant of the nations, to establish the earth, and to cause to inherit the desert heritages: 9 saying to them that are in bonds, Go forth; and bidding them that are in darkness shew themselves. They shall be fed in all the ways, and in all the paths shall be their pasture. 10 They shall not hunger, neither shall they thirst; neither shall the heat nor the sun smite them; but he that has mercy on them shall comfort them, and by fountains of waters shall he lead them.
Today’s reading is one of many specifically Christological passages in the Prophet Esaias, that is, the passages which speak directly of the person of Christ and the Economy of the Incarnation: His divinity and humanity, and His messianic mission of the salvation of mankind through His suffering and glorification. Here God the Father is addressing His Son, revealing several aspects of His mission: He will be the New Covenant with God for both the Israelites and the Gentiles; He will “despise his life”, i.e., He will freely give Himself over to death; though “abhorred by the nations,” the kings and princes of the nations converted to Christ will one day worship Him; He will say to those in bonds and in darkness, that is, those enslaved to the death, devil, and hell, “Go forth,” when He descends into Hades and looses the captives there; He shall feed them as a Good Shepherd in all the paths of this life, with His Precious Body and Blood; and, finally, He shall establish them forever in the eternal Kingdom, where “neither shall the heat nor the sun smite them,” and they will rest forever by the “fountains of waters” of Paradise.
Words from the verse immediately before the beginning of today’s reading, verse five, “thus saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his own servant,” were among the passages that the Arians misinterpreted in order to argue that the eternal Word was not truly God but a creature. The language of this verse, they claimed, was figurative, the “womb” spoken of being not the womb of the Virgin but the abyss of the Godhead. Saying that He was “formed,” they said, meant that the pre-eternal Word was not truly eternal but came into being in time. Other verses in the Old Testament were similarly twisted by them to support their heresy. St. Gregory of Nyssa disposes of their false teaching with his customary insight and ease of expression, explaining that all the verses in the Old Testament that refer to the Son being “made” do not refer to His eternal Godhead but to His Incarnate economy, in which He was made man. His humanity is created; His divinity is uncreated, being the divine nature He shares with the Father and the Spirit.
In response to those who quote the passage from Proverbs, “the Lord created me (Proverbs 8:22), and claim that it makes a strong case that the Creator and Maker of all things was created, one should say that the only-begotten God was made many things for us. For he was the Word and was made flesh; he was God and was made man; he was without a body and was made a body. Further, he was made sin (II Corinthians 5:21) and a curse (II Cor. 5:21), and a stone (Acts 4:11), and an axe (Matt. 3:10), and bread (John 6:32-33), and a lamb (John 1:29), and a way (John 14:6), and a door (John 10:7), and a rock (I Cor. 10:4). He was none of these things by nature, but he became them for us during his sojourn among us.
Just as he is the Word who was made flesh for our sake and God who was made man, so he is the Creator who was made a creature for our sake. As he said through the prophet: “Thus saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his own servant (Is. 49:5).” And through Solomon he also said: “The Lord created me the beginning of his ways, for his works (Proverbs 8:22”….the one who was “created the beginning of his ways” is not God but the man in whom God was revealed in order to renew for mankind the way of salvation which had been corrupted. Since we recognize two things in Christ, the one divine, the other human…we attribute that which is eternal to the godhead, and that which is created we ascribe to his human nature. As he was “formed in the womb as a servant” according to the prophet [Esaias], so according to Solomon he was revealed in the flesh by means of this servile creation. So, when some [i.e., the Arians] contend, “If he always was, he was not begotten, and if he was begotten there was a time when he was not,” they should learn that one should not ascribe to his divine nature those attributes that belong to his birth in the flesh. – St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Faith, to Simplicius
Concerning the words from verse nine, “…saying to them that are in bonds, Go forth; and bidding them that are in darkness shew themselves,” St. Cyril of Alexandria says the following:
That which had resisted being conquered – Death! – was conquered, corruption was made into something new, the seemingly invincible evil routed. The relentless and insatiable desire of Hades for yet more dead had no one to welcome, and learned – much to its regret – what it had never had to learn before. For now Hades no longer had the power to snatch those who are yet dying, it had to vomit forth those whom it had already caught, and by the power of our Savior it was left to endure splendid isolation. For Christ came saying to those in bonds, “Come out,” and to those in darkness, “see the light of day.” And after he preached to the spirits in prison (I Peter 3:19), he mounted up victorious, raising his own “temple” (John 2:19-21) as a kind of “first fruits” (I Cor. 15:20) of our hope. He led the way for our nature to rise from the dead and for us to be showered with other good gifts. – St. Cyril of Alexandria, Festal Letter V.
Next week we shall behold both the humiliation and death of the God-Man according his human nature, as well as the triumph of that same nature that He voluntarily shared with us, in His glorious resurrection. Let us use this week well, preparing our hearts, through attentiveness, for this annual renewal of our pledge of eternal life.
O Lord Who endured all things for us, and Who glorified us by Thy Resurrection, glory be to Thee.