My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins! (Isaiah 53:2–4 NLT)
When the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? was released in 2000, it quickly garnered attention from both film and music critics. The soundtrack released with the movie was such a crucial component of the film that all of the songs were recorded before shooting even began on the movie. Though it was full of memorable bluegrass, blues, and folk songs, the soundtrack’s most catchy and award-winning tune was “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” The lyrics tell the story of a man who has suffered many a trial and tribulation and who will soon depart on a train, leaving behind his home, friends, and wife, with the expectation of never being reunited with any of them this side of the grave. Quite a few versions of this song have been recorded since it was first published more than a hundred years ago, and because we can all associate with the sorrows of life that permeate the lyrics, this melancholic tune continues to strike a chord with many even today.
The description of the narrator of the song as a “man of constant sorrow” is loosely borrowed from Isaiah 53, a passage that has often been referred to as a description of the suffering servant. This depiction of Jesus paints a picture of a God who took on humanity and became a man “acquainted with deepest grief.” Yet it was not His own grief He carried, but ours; it was not His burden that weighed Him down, but the burden of sin and death that previously rested on our shoulders. He took on our suffering so we could know freedom and life and resurrection; He chose to put on an earthly body so that we might one day put on heavenly bodies.