Singing the Four ‘Spirit’ Songs in Isaiah 56–66


Perhaps you are familiar with the four Servant Songs in Isaiah. They are found in Isaiah 40, 49, 50, and 53. And I would contend, they are deeply important for understanding who Christ is and how God promised to save his people.

But do you know there are also four “Spirit” songs in Isaiah? Or better, as Alec Motyer puts it, there are four songs in Isaiah 56–66 that identify the Spirit-anointed Savior who will also come to be identified with Christ? Until, reading Alec Motyer’s commentary on Isaiah 56–66, I had not seen that.

Sure, I had often wondered why Christian tradition stops counting the Servant songs at Isaiah 53, when Isaiah 61 is clearly another song extolling the glories of a Spirit-anointed Servant. But until preparing for this current sermon series, I had not put together the reality of four songs in Isaiah 59, 60, 61, and 63. Nor did I make the connection of these chapters with the previous four Servant songs in any specific way.

But after reading Motyer’s observations, it’s hard to miss the way in which these four ‘songs’ balance and apply the previous four songs. In what follows, let me share Motyer’s illuminating insights. I’ll add a few (work in progress) observations at the end.

First, here are the four Spirit Songs (Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, 489).

Isaiah 59:15–60:22 Isaiah 61:1–9 Isaiah 61:10–62:12 Isaiah 63:1–6
The Anointed Servant

The promise of salvation and judgment, culminating in a Spirit-endowed covenant mediator (59:15–21)


The Anointed Servant

An Anointed One comes proclaiming salvation and justice (61:1–4)

The Anointed Servant

The work of salvation and judgment (61:10–62:7)

The Anointed Servant

The promise of judgment and salvation, culminating in the end of God’s enemies (63:1–6)

Glorious Zion:

The nations begin gathering from all the world (60:1–22)

Glorious Zion:

The Lord’s people are priests who have received joy (61:5–9)

Glorious Zion:

God’s people are gathered in security (62:8–12)


* This chart abbreviates and adapts Alec Motyer’s (p. 489).
** It’s worth noting that 59:15–21and 63:1–6 are parallel in the chiastic structure of Isaiah 56–66.

Next, here are Motyer’s illuminating observations (The Prophecy of Isaiah, 490):

The individual of 61:1, like the Servant, is endowed with the Spirit (42:1; 59:21; 61:1), and both have a priority ministry of the word (42:1-4; 59:21; 61:1) and specifically a word of comfort (50:4; 61:2-3). Further points of identity will emerge below. In addition, the four Songs of the Anointed One have the same pattern as the Servant Songs.

a. In each case the first and fourth Songs are reports, and the second and third are testimonies.

b. In each case the first Song is about status and task, the second about ministry and objective, the third about personal commitment and the fourth about the completion of the work undertaken.

c. In each case the anonymity of the individual in the third Song is the same; only in the context of the whole is the place of the third Song fully recognized.

d. Even the unobtrusiveness of the individual’s entrance on the scene in the first Song in each series is the same; we find ourselves suddenly thinking in “Servant’ or ‘Anointed One’ terms.

e. Each Servant Song was followed by a ‘tailpiece’ appropriate to the Song; here, the first three Songs are followed by oracles on the glory of Zion, the particular sort of confirmation of the Anointed One’s task and message suited to chapters 56-66, where the wonder of the coming Zion is the ‘story-line’. It could even be that 63:7- 66:24 is an extended tailpiece to the final Song (63:1-6), bringing, as it does, the ‘glorious Zion’ theme to a grand climax.

In all, matching the King in chapters 1-37 and the Servant in chapters 38-55, there is the Anointed Conqueror to provide the Messianic focus of the concluding chapters of Isaiah. A consistent picture emerges. The first two Songs are linked by the theme of Spirit and word; the second, third and fourth by vengeance, salvation and favour, and this in turn integrates them into the total section. In 59:15c-20 the Lord himself dons garments appropriate to the task of salvation and vengeance. Then the Anointed One appears, endowed with Spirit and word (59:21), and his coming dates the advent of the day of favour and vengeance (61:2). It is on him that the Lord puts the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness (61:10) so that he may make righteousness sprout for the nations (61:11) and salvation for Zion (62:1). Finally, the wearer of the robes announces the completion of the work of vengeance and redemption (63:1-6). (490)

Finally, here is my own attempt to get a handle on the interplay between the anointed one and the people of Zion, which seems to alternate in Isaiah 59–63. The Anointed One passages are marked out by first person language (“I”); the Zion passages are marked out by third person language (“they”).

The Anointed One – Isaiah 59:15–21

Zion – Isaiah 60:1–22

The Anointed One – Isaiah 61:1–4

Zion – Isaiah 61:5–9

The Anointed One – Isaiah 61:10–62:7

Zion – Isaiah 62:8–12

The Anointed One – Isaiah 63:1–6                                                               I

From this chiastic, it would appear that the Anointed One is the mediating figure by whom God’s people (Zion) are blessed and secured. Literarily, Zion is centered inside the four Spirit songs. Moreover, there may be greater specificity in Isaiah 61:5–9, where the central verse reads: “Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy” (Isaiah 61:7).

If this reading has any merit, it would center the whole section on the joy that God is securing for his people in Zion, through the work of the Servant and the Spirit. Certainly, this has tremendous theological support. And there seems to be great exegetical support for this reading as well.

One counter-argument however is that the length of Zion #1 is too long for the chiastic structure. Similarly, there is also Isaiah 60 a chiastic structure. What follows is a simplified version of Motyer’s five-ring chiasm (pp. 493–94), tucked into the framework of Isaiah 59–63.

[1] The Anointed One – Isaiah 59:15–21

Isaiah 60:1­–5 – The LIGHT of Zion

Isaiah 60:6–9 – The wealth of the nations . . . Yahweh

[1] Zion –                Isaiah 60:10–14 ­– The nations in Zion

Isaiah 60:15–18 – Yahweh . . . the wealth of the nations

Isaiah 60:19–22 – The LIGHT of Zion

[2] The Anointed One – Isaiah 61:1–4

[2] Zion – Isaiah 61:5–9

[3] The Anointed One – Isaiah 61:10–62:7

[3] Zion – Isaiah 62:8–12

[4] The Anointed One – Isaiah 63:1–6

All in all, these literary structures are (for me) a work in progress. But clearly, something is going on between the work of the Spirit-anointed servant and the blessedness of Zion. If you have further insights, I’d love to hear them. For now, I will continue to press into these glorious chapters.

Reading Isaiah to See God’s Glory

Isaiah is a bottomless well from which a myriad of living water flow. And these reflections on Isaiah 56–66 are just one more proof of Isaiah’s glorious vision. Even more specifically, reading these four songs in conjunction with the Servant’s work in Isaiah 40–55 helps explain how the Suffering Servant’s work is applied to us. Indeed, it is not by divine fiat that his suffering became our glory; rather, as Isaiah 56–66 explains, it is by the Spirit that the Servant (the Son) shares his glory with us.

Motyer’s observations help us to read Isaiah. And thankfully, he also helps us to understand the salvation which Isaiah portends. Therefore, with this glorious vision before us in Isaiah, may we continue to give ourselves to this glorious book and better understand our great God and his gracious salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

3 thoughts on “Singing the Four ‘Spirit’ Songs in Isaiah 56–66

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