A Face Like Flint

September 13, 2015
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Isaiah 50:5-9a

We see it every Saturday – men standing up under pressure, not letting the taunts of a crowd get to them, performing in the moment, and even overcoming the opposition in face of terrible odds. It takes nerve not to let angry, taunting crowds get your goat. It is a display of true manliness to hold firm in the face of such pressure. Crowds even hope to “unman” their opponents by insulting them, booing them, and getting them to “lose their cool.” When a team goes onto the opposition’s home turf and beats them, the victory is that much sweeter, since they not only defeated a team of athletes, but thousands of foes engaged in psychological combat.

The Suffering Servant

In this Sunday’s reading from Isaiah 50, we find the Suffering Servant stand up under the downpour of psychological warfare from the surrounding crowd. This passage is from the third of the four Servant Songs in Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13–53:12). We hear the voice of the Suffering Servant speaking out his confidence in God in the midst of the harshest persecutions and insults. The crowd swarms around him, spitting, beating, and even plucking his beard. Ouch! Yet he does not back down or allow himself to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of vitriol. Instead, he stands firm and trusts in God, “who vindicates me” (Isa 50:8 RSV).

Trusting the Lord

“Trust in the Lord” might sound ethereal or like a mamby-pamby religious phrase to comfort weak people, but the Suffering Servant reveals the real mettle of those who trust in the Lord. He trusts in the Lord to end—to the point of persecution, to the point of death. Trust in the Lord is manifested by not giving up, by not “turning back,” by not “rebelling” (see 50:5). Instead of walking away from the Lord’s calling and the challenges it entails, the Servant willingly embraces the path of suffering for the sake of others. He does not “turn back,” but “gives his back” to those wanting to beat him up. He is willing to undergo suffering for the sake of others.

Whose Honor?

The Suffering Servant’s plight reveals an honor/shame showdown. In the ancient world, people took their personal honor very seriously. Those insulting the servant and abusing him think that they are shaming him. (Elsewhere in the Bible we see examples of beardlessness as a shameful state – 2 Sam 10:5. Spitting at someone or in front of someone was also a visceral way of shaming that person – Job 17:6; 30:10.) They are trying to destroy his honor, to disgrace him publicly, to humiliate him. Yet the Suffering Servant’s view is the opposite of theirs. Despite the external shame that the crowds are raining down on him, he is not ashamed (Isa 50:7). Why is he not disgraced by all this abuse? Because the source of his honor is not men, but God. He says “For the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Isa 50:7 RSV).

It takes serious courage to stand in front of a taunting, angry crowd and not break down in tears, run away in disgrace, or lose your cool. But the Suffering Servant does not lose it. Instead, he puts all his trust in the Lord that in the end, he will be vindicated and the mockers will be shamed. He wins the honor/shame game by refusing to let his honor derive from popular approval. His honor does not have its source in man, but in God. Like Peter will tell the Jewish authorities when under arrest, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), so the Servant does not find his source of honor in the support of men, but the endorsement of God.

Face Like Flint

The servant says “I have set my face like flint” (Isa 50:7). Flint is very hard sedimentary rock that occurs as nodules in limestone deposits. It was used in Paleolithic times for making stone tools via the technique known as “knapping.” It can be used as a firestarter when struck with steel. In the Revolutionary War era, it was used in “flintlock” firearms to ignite gun powder. Flint works as a good metaphor here for the firmness of the Suffering Servant’s resolve. His face is so firmly set, it might as well be described as “flint,” one of the hardest substances around in ancient Israel.

Taunting Back

Rather than giving in to taunts, the Suffering Servant actually taunts the taunters. He tells the abusive crowd:

Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me.
Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? (Isa 50:8-9 RSV)

Though the mob is arrayed against him and is abusing him, the Servant trusts in the Lord and speaks to them with confidence. He knows that he will be justified. His right will be upheld. the Lord will stand with him, endorse him, confirm him in righteousness. So he can “taunt” those who abuse him, knowing that in the end, God will honor and vindicate him.

Now of course, in the Christian reading, the Suffering Servant is identified with Jesus. He is the one who speaks for God. He is the one who is abused by the crowds. He is the one who suffers for the sake of others. He is the one who is vindicated by God when he is raised from the dead on Easter morning. Learning to live like the Suffering Servant is not easy. He trusts in God, stands up in the face of opposition, speaks out against injustice, puts up with persecution, and retains utter confidence in the Lord’s support. When the mob is raging against us, it is easy to get discouraged, to lose heart, to hide or run away. But if we are truly conformed to the Suffering Servant, if we have really embraced our own crosses, then we will stand with him, confident in the midst of opposition. Our faces can be like flint too.


Avatar photo


Mark Giszczak (“geese-check”) was born and raised in Ann Arbor, MI. He studied philosophy and theology at Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, MI and Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute of Denver, CO. He recently received his Ph. D. in Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America. He currently teaches courses in Scripture at the Augustine Institute, where he has been on faculty since 2010. Dr. Giszczak has participated in many evangelization projects and is the author of the CatholicBibleStudent.com blog. He has written introductions to every book of the Bible that are hosted at CatholicNewsAgency.com. Dr. Giszczak, his wife and their daughter, live in Colorado where they enjoy camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage