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.

Obama - American President or Celebrity President ?

Today I learned some astonishing news that actually left me with my mouth hanging open as I heard it. President Obama has chosen to meet with the current head of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, while at the same time miffing America's number one stable ally in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The news of the snub comes from a source in the Israeli government who wished anonymity. “The White House has got back to us and said it appears a meeting is not possible. It said that the president’s schedule will not permit that”.

Netanyahu wanted to confer with President Obama over the growing hostility and unrest being thrown at Israel from the top two leaders of the Iranian government, Ayatolla Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This happens after Mr. Obama surprisingly announced that Egypt can no longer be considered an American ally. In an interview with NBC News Obama clearly stated, “I don’t think that we would consider (Egypt) an ally.” Yet, this same non-ally, now led by one of the most radical elements within Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood, known for its strong anti-American, anti-Israeli stance has been given an open door invite with the leader of the free world, while America's staunchest ally in the entire Middle East is told, No thanks, don't have time for you; even though that very same ally is now under missile threat from a nuclear hungry Iran.

One other little item came across my desk this morning and it too is related to why Obama cannot find the time to meet with the leader of an ally. It would seem, as related by the statement from the unnamed Israeli official, that the President's schedule is just too full. With the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood given an invitation for a nice chat, and now -- What's that? Oh, President Obama has an engagement to appear on David Letterman's The Late Show. Oh, I see. Well, why didn't you say so from the very beginning. Now I fully understand why the President of the United States cannot possibly have time to talk with an ally about a problem in the Middle East that will likely drag the entire world into a nuclear war. He HAS to go on Letterman!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Religious Intolerance Posing As Prayerful Concern

Younger Christians might be marching to a different tune these days with the advent of video gaming. Their new battle hymn might well be "Onward Christian Gamers Marching off to 'Culture Wars.'"

A so-called Christian game causing a lot of hooplah is called "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" and is based on the popular "Left Behind" series of books and movies from Timothy LaHaye. It is a teen rated strategy game that critics accuse of fostering a message of violence, hatred and religious intolerance, while those in favor of it are sporting that it promotes a prayerful lifestyle.

An advocacy group "Campaign to Defend the Constitution," which monitors right-wing religious activities, says the game is violently pro-Christian and has petitioned retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to pull it from its shelves, according to Reuters. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company will be selling the game in its stores because demand for it within the Christian community has been very high and hard to keep on the shelves. With millions of professing Evangelical Christians in America alone, this should come as no surprise to retailers. So, step right up and make a buck on Jeeeeeesus!

The premise of the game charges players to persuade, recruit and convert as many people as possible to a certain segment of Christian theological belief in order to build up an army that can engage in warfare of the physical and spiritual variety against the anti-christ and his legion of evil human followers.

All of this reportedly takes place after millions of "Christians" have been miraculously transported to heaven in the twinkling of an eye; an event commonly called "The Rapture" by adherents to that belief.

The critics of the game describe it as "a violent video game in which 'born-again Christians' aim to convert or kill those who don't adhere to their extreme ideology."

"After you kill somebody you need to recharge your soul points and to do that you need to bend down in prayer. I think the message is extremely clear," said Clark Stevens, co-director of Campaign to Defend the Constitution.

To no one's surprise the game's designers have called the critics into question.

"The reality is that our game perpetuates prayer and worship and that there is no killing in the name of God. There is killing of course, it is a video game. But the basis of the game is spiritual welfare," said Troy Lyndon, CEO of Left Behind Games Inc. "The anti-christ is the main bad guy and so you are dealing with his henchmen. Both sides are trying to win the hearts and the minds of people who are not on either side," Lyndon told Reuters.

Not all who profess to believe in Jesus agree with the pundits pushing the game. Many mainstream Christians are accusing some of the more ultra-conservative elements within the Evangelical movement of using these types of games and other forms of entertainment to play to human nature's natural inclination toward intolerance toward the faith and belief of others outside their own clan or narrow view of the world. They believe this is especially important since the target audience for this type of material are young impressionable minds.

The Rev. Timothy F. Simpson, a minister and member of the Christian Alliance for Progress countered the Evangelical applause to this kind of game with a call to tolerance, saying - "We are trying to tell families that this game is faith-based violence and is not suitable for families."

I personally don't understand all the concern. Video games can be violent, whether they are secular in nature or spring from a religious faith-based foundation. I think it is a blast of fresh air that this particular game is finally owning up to the basic intolerant and violent nature of not only a large contingency within the Christian religion, but organized religion as a whole. What bothers me, however, is the desire to cover up that fact with statements about it being all about prayer, as given above. Don't be fooled by the religious spin, this one is about killing those not like you or your group.

So, in a world gone haywire, how can one tell the true from the false expression of faithful concern for the welfare of others? Well, one thing is for sure, it is a little hard to actually go out and kill the infidel in a religious frenzy of self-righteousness when one is in the vulnerable prostate position of actual humble selfless prayer.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Dangers of 'isms'

Today's radical Islam will die...eventually. History has proven that any ideology that is built upon a foundation of hate will eventually turn on itself and decay from within. It will destroy itself or be relegated to the background of ineffectiveness, a footnote in human history. The sad thing is, it can take years and years sometime for this to occur and many lives are ruined and many die needlessly along the way.

We have seen the radicalism of Racism, Nazism, Fascism, Soviet-style communism all come and go. Today we are witnessing the decline of European socialism in its failed experiment. At one time or another they have all proclaimed themselves to be the savior of humankind only to nearly destroy it.

The next 'ism' that came quietly on the scene during the Woodrow Wilson era and has ever so slowly been making inroads into the American culture is a little something called Progressivism. It comes in direct competition with the prevaling 'ism' of the day, which is Capitalism, and they both too have and will continue to destroy many with the false hope of humanity's deliverance from all that causes its ills. They, however, like all that have come before them will eventually turn in on themselves. Why? Because they are already showing signs of the first hints of decay from within, hate, divisiveness, indulgence, self importance and self-centeredness. This course of action has no other final outcome but to turn inward on itself because a strange mixture of class warfare, selfishness and self-loathing are at the root of all these factious 'isms'.

The idea of a true democracy, one that honestly offers the dream of indiviual thought and freedom has been a part of the stream of consciousness that has run through the thread of humanity like a beacon of light since before the early days of the founding of the Grecian enlightenment period, and it still burns brightly within every heart and mind today, crying to come out and be made manifest as the world's true ideology of salvation.

One day, as in Gene Roddenberry's and Arthur C. Clarke's visions for a better tomorrow, it may be the force that rules our lives, but, until then we probably have several more destructive 'isms' to confront, put down and evolve out of.