Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why Isaiah and Jesus are Not a Perfect Fit

The objective of what follows will become immediately transparent. It is my attempt at showing that the Christian application of Isaiah chapter 53 as a proof-text for stating that Jesus was the long-expected Jewish messiah just doesn't wash.

I don't have a problem with someone trying to make a sound argument for that proposition, but to do so in such a blatantly errant way only makes any other such argument for the case that less acceptable. Let me explain, the best I am able, why Isaiah, the old Jewish prophet, never had a clue as to the identity of the messiah, at least not from this portion of the writings attributed to him - and to apply them to Jesus is just a real bad case of taking a preconceived bias and trying to make it fit one's own assumption. Sort of like trying to jam a square peg in a round hole. With a lot of effort and manipulation one can accomplish that feat, but the fit will be a very poor one.

All good students of textual interpretation understand that in order to come to the intended meaning of a particular author of a text, any passage can only be properly understood when it is viewed within the context as a whole and with at least a modicum of understanding for the language in which it was written. With that firmly in mind - to better understand Isaiah Chapter 53 we must look at the setting in which it is situated.

In the chapters preceeding Chapter 52 Israel's exile is being predicted by God through the prophet Isaiah. By the time we reach chapters 52 - 54 we find ourselves in the fourth and last of the "servant songs of Isaiah." i.e. Chapter 53, in which God is delivering a message of loving consolation to Its beloved people telling them of their future restoration. God indicates that among the nations, Israel, God's servant, will be raised by God to a place of prominence. God will at last vindicate Israel because the nations oppressed him without cause and forced him into exile. Chapter 54 continues with the future awaiting the Jewish people.

Those who study the Jewish Scriptures should know that there were no chapter and verse divisions in the Hebrew Scrolls. This was a Christian invention that was later followed by Judaism in our Bibles to its own discredit. However, when you row out an actual Torah scroll you will find no chapter/verse indications. What is now termed Chapter 53 is really a continuation of a conversation begun in what came to be known as Chapter 52 verse 13.

Isaiah 52:13 - "Behold my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and extolled and be very high, just as many were astonished at you, saying, 'Surely his visage is too marred to be that of a man and his form to be that of the son's of men,' so shall he startle many nations. Kings will shut their mouths; for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard they shall perceive."

At this juncture we must ask several questions:

1. Who is the servant?

2. Who are the nations?

3. Who are the kings?

4. Who is speaking in verses 13 and 15?

5. Who interjects in verse 14?

Israel in the singular-collective tense is always referred to by God throughout Isaiah's writings as "the servant."

"But you are my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendents of Abraham my friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and called from its farthest regions. And I said to you, 'you are my servant. I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.'" - Isaiah 41:8-10

"Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel whom I have chosen: thus says the Lord that made you, and formed you from the womb, who will help you; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and you, Yeshurun, whom I have chosen." - Isaiah 44:1-2

For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel my elect, I have even called you by your name." - Isaiah 45:4

".....the Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob." - Isaiah 48:20

"You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." - Isaiah 49:3 The nations are all the Gentile (non-Jewish) nations of the world and the kings are the governments and rulers of those nations.

The speaker in verses 13 and 15 is God. The speaker(s) in verse 14 and in Chapter 53 verses 1 through 11 1/2 are the kings (leaders/rulers) of the Gentile nations. The prophet picks up the dialogue in the last half of Chapter 53 and verse 11, and continues on into Chapter 54. This is the contextual setting of the verses found in Isaiah Chapter 53.

Please note other references to Israel as God's servant who has been regarded by the nations as having been cast out and forsaken by God. This notion is the Gentile nation's perception (as in Chapter 53 of Isaiah) not God's reality, however. God, even in chastisement of Israel never abandons or casts out Its servant Jacob (Israel).

"Therefore fear not, O my servant Jacob, says the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be quiet, and at ease, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with you, says the Lord, to save you: for I will make a full end of all the nations where I have scattered you, yet will I not make a full end of you: but I will correct you in due measure, and will not leave you altogether unpunished."

"For thus says the Lord, Your bruise is incurable, and your wound is grievous. There is none to take up your case, to bind up the wound; you have no healing medicines. All your lovers have forgotten you; they do not seek you out; for I have wounded you with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of your iniquity; your sins were increased. I have done these things to you. Therefore all they that devour you shall be devoured; and all your adversaries, every one of them, shall go into captivity; and they that spoil you shall be a spoil, and all that plunder you will I give for a prey. For I will restore health to you, and I will heal you of your wounds, says the Lord; because they called you an Outcast, saying, 'This is Zion, for whom no one cares. Thus says the Lord; Behold, I will bring back the captivity of Jacob's tents, and have mercy on his dwellingplaces; and the city shall be built upon her own tel, and the palace shall stand on its proper place. And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry: and I will multiply them, and they shall not be diminished; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small. Their children also shall be as before, and their congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all that oppress them. And their prince shall be of themselves,and their governor shall proceed from the midst of them; and I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach me; for who is that that engaged his heart to approach me? says the L-rd And you shall be my people, and I will be your God." - Jeremiah 30:10-21

In Isaiah Chapter 53 it is abundantly clear that the nations and their rulers are startled and speechless over what happens to Jacob (Israel), the servant of the Lord. They are so amazed that they exclaim, "Who could possibly believe our report?" This astonishment and shame experienced by the nations as they watch God restore Israel, God's servant, to prominence is paralled in the other prophets as well. For example in Micah 7:12-20 we read:

"But there shall be a day when they shall come to you Ashshur, and from the cities of Mazor, and from Mazor even to the river, and from the sea, and from mountain to mountain. And the land shall be desolate because of them that dwell in it, for the fruit of their doings. Tend your people with your staff, the flock of your heritage, who dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Karmel; let them feed in Bashan and Gil'ad, as in the days of old. As in the days of your coming out of the land of Egypt I will show him marvellous things. The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might: they shall lay their hands upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf. They shall lick the dust like a snake, they shall come trembling out of their holes like crawling things of the earth: they shall be afraid of the Lord our God, and shall fear because of you. Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity, and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He does not maintain his anger for ever, because he delights in mercy. He will again have compassion upon us; he will suppress our iniquities. And you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea; you will show truth to Jacob, love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from days of old."

Isaiah Chapter 53:1 speaks of "the arm of the Lord." This always refers to Israel's physical redemption from the oppression of the nations (Isaiah 58:7-12). "...the great trials which your eyes saw, and the signs, and the wonders, and the mighty hand, and the stretched out arm, whereby the Lord your God brought you out;" - Deuteronomy 7:19

"...how you did drive out nations with your hand, and did plant them; how you battered the peoples, and cast them out. For they did not get the land in possession by their own sword, nor did their own arm save them: but your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance, because you have favorably accepted them." - Psalms 44:3-4

Israel, as God's servant and chosen people, have a long history of being despised and rejected of men. (Psalms 44:13-22)

"Whereas you were forsaken and hated, so that no man went through you, I will make you an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations." - Isaiah 60:15

And the pains of adversity endured by Israel, God's servant (some self inflicted and some by the nations) is frequently compared by God to diseases, sickness and illness. (Isaiah 1:5-7; Jeremiah 10:17-20)

Remembering to keep in mind that the speakers in Chapter 53 of Isaiah are the ruling kings of the Gentile nations the strict translation from the Hebrew text should read, "For he was wounded because of our transgressions and bruised because of our iniquities." The Hebrew word for because may also be rendered as, "He was wounded from our transgressions, he was crushed from our iniquities." The word "for" in place of "because" or "from" is a later Christianized editing of the Hebrew text.

There are instances where Israel, the servant of God, is likened to sheep readied to be slaughtered:

"You make us to turn back from the enemy: and they who hate us take plunder for themselves"......"for he knows the secret of the heart. But for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are reckoned as sheep for the slaugher." - Psalms 44:11, 22

In Chapter 53 and verse 8 we see another example of Christian editing and why it is so important to know the Hebrew text, style and language. The Christianized version reads, "He was taken from prison and judgment and who will declare his generation." And, by the way, most Christian translations presume, so they capitalize the His. In Hebrew there is no such rendering or use of caps and punctuation, etc. The correct Hebrew text states: "From dominion and judgment he was taken away, and of his generation, who considered?"

Of utmost importance in verses 8 and 9 is the prophets use of the word l'amoh. This word is a beacon of light as it attests to the fact that the servant spoken of is not an individual "single he", but the "collective them", referring to the single-collective servant, Israel. Another example of this Hebrew term can be found in Psalms 99:7. This changes the meaning significantly from the forced intended meaning of the Christian editors.

In verse 10, which states; "He shall see his seed....": the Hebrew word here for seed is zerah which refers to the physical descendents and offspring created through the natural act of sexual intercourse. It has no spiritual connotation anywhere throughout the Jewish Scriptures.

The rest of verse 10 is self-explanatory. God created Its servant Israel over 4000 years ago and he continues, inspite of the world's hatred of Israel, their attempts to destroy him or assimilate him. God has and will continue to prolong his days as It promised.

In verse 11, once you get passed the Christian editors and to the Hebrew text, we find that, "With his knowledge the righteous one, my servant, will cause many to be just." NOTE: He will not "justify the many", as the Christian editors proclaim. How does this verse relate to Israel? God's appointed mission for Its people has always been to serve as a "light to the nations." Even when we fail by disobedience or as the result of the Gentile nation's refusal to heed, this is, nevertheless, still God's ordained mission for the Jewish people. Our sages of blessed memory called it "tikkun olam", "healing the world."

Verse 12 is also self-explanatory in light of Israel being God's servant. The Jewish people, as the collective Israel and servant of God, and by the very nature of God's call on their lives are righteously carrying upon themselves the sin's of the nations. And the collective faithful Israel shall be rewarded with prosperity, strength and a portion of the spoils. Why? Because, as a people we continue to pour out our soul to death and are numbered with the transgressors.

This view that I have put forth is the oldest Jewish view of Isaiah Chapter 53 that pre-dates Christianity. It stands on the firm foundation stones of sound doctrine, knowledge of Biblical Hebrew, contextual evidence, Scriptural reference corrolation, and thorough midrash.

The Jewish Bible in its Hebrew text stands on its own accord. The mistake the Christian editors made was to only edit their translations while leaving the Hebrew texts unadulterated. Thankfully, for our sakes, the Rabbis of old would not permit the Jewish texts to be altered from its original language and state; giving those of us living today who care about an author's original meaning and intent a sure footing as we are confronted with those with a religious point of view and missionary agenda to push.

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