|What is this about?|
Christians count this chapter of the book of Isaiah as the most important
proof that Joshua ben Joseph (Jesus) would be the Messiah according to the
Jewish bible. That they are wrong, is based on false interpretation (and
partly even translation) of the text by Christian exegets, as Rabbi
Moshe Shulman shows with his following
R' Shulman kindly granted me permission to spread the original text as well as the German translation made by me - so enjoy!
Due to the many requests that I have received regarding Isaiah 53 and what I think it means, I have collected all the information that I have available and compiled the following summery. I hope that the readers will look at it from beginning to end and judge it favorably.
The Prophecy in Isaiah 53 is considered by many Christians the most important prophecy there is. It is so important that some Christian missionaries think that all they have to do to convince a Jew that J. is the promised Messiah is to read Isaiah 53. Yet it is by far the prophecy most misunderstood by Christians of all the prophecies in the Tenach. The reason for it's importance is obvious. From it they feel they have their needed 'proof' that their Messiah was to die. They feel this way even though the Messiah is not ever mentioned in this passage, and that this belief of a dying Messiah is contrary to ALL the other clearly Messianic prophecies, which show that the Messiah will appear and succeed, all within a short amount of time.
As most people know, the chapter and verse divisions that appear now in the Tenach were not in the original. They were created by the Church and are not based on the original ancient sectional divisions. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Isaiah scroll, which is now in Jerusalem has it divided not at verse 1 of chapter 53 but at verse 13 of chapter 52. Which indicates that 52:13 is the real starting point of this prophecy. This is, in fact, the Jewish division until this day. So in this prophecy as with many others, the chapter divisions do not indicate subject divisions. Now, please read through the full prophecy of Isaiah 52:13-53:12
[Pausing for read]
Now that you have read it (carefully I hope). Let me ask a simple question. Who is speaking? That's right. Who is speaking? Not who is it speaking about, but who is (are) the speaker(s)? If you don't know who is the speaker of the prophecy, you can never figure out what the true meaning is. It is a basic principle, that any Biblical scholar will tell you, that to really understand the prophet's words you must know who is the speaker. Well let's see, is it G-d? No. Can't be. Why? Did he have transgressions as the verses indicate? How about the prophet, Isaiah? No, the person speaking in verses 1 - 9 is definatly in the plural. Don't be confused here. Just because it is Isaiah's book does not mean he is always speaking. Well read it again, try this time to figure out who is speaking. Try to observe the changes in speakers (they are there very clearly). Note them, they are important to the correct understanding of this prophecy. When we know who is speaking, we will know who it is speaking about.
[Pausing for read]
Did you notice that the speaker of 52:13 is not the speaker of 53:1? Did you see the change from the singular of 52:13 to the plural of 53:1? Do you notice that verses 10, 11 and 12 do not appear to be spoken by the same persons as 1-9?
Who is the speaker? Well, how do we find out? The answer is simple, we must check the ideas here and see where they appear in other verses in the Tenach (and, of course, if they are in Isaiah in the chapters near to this they are even more significant). If the same ideas exist somewhere else that would tell us.
To find the speaker we must consider what is being said by this speaker. The first thing we notice from the beginning is that the speaker is clearly very emotional. He is in a state of utter bewilderment, confusion and wonder. (Observe verse 52:15 and 53:1). The speaker has just heard news that has blown him away. Something he would never have imagined. He is confused, he covers his mouth with wonder. He asks, 'What is going on here?'. He wonders, 'Who would have believed it'. Who is the speaker? Who is going to be confused and hold their hands over their mouths when the Messiah finally comes? Look at Micah 7:15-16:
'Just as in the days of your coming out of Egypt, will I show him marvelous things (lit. wonders). The nations shall see and be put to shame for all their might, they shall put their hands on their mouths, their ears shall be deaf.'
Who is bewildered? Who covers his mouth in wonder? The nations of the world. Isaiah 41:11 'All those who incensed against you shall be ashamed and confounded...' Who is confounded? Who is ashamed? The nations of the world. Yes, the nations, the gentiles (and specifically their leaders) are the ones speaking here. They have just seen something they would never have imagined.
To understand let's consider what is going on here. This prophecy (Is 53) refers to the time after the Messiah has come. The nations have seen that the Messiah is not who they thought it would be. (See Jer. 16:19-20 where he describes how the nations will realize their errors). They are in a state of amazement. Who would have believed that this despised and hated people, the Jews, would have been right? How could such a thing ever happen? For all these years they were so sure that they were right.
But you will ask, listen Moshe, how do you know it is Israel the verse is talking about. How do you know that the nations are amazed with what G-d did for Israel and not about J.? Well that is really quite simple. If you want to know who a book is talking about, where do you look? In the book itself. Now everyone knows that Is 53 does not say who it means. It does not say who the main character is. It is somewhat unclear. Certainly the Messiah is not mentioned, but on the other hand neither is Israel. But, there is a clue. Let's examine the first verse and see. We can see clearly that the first is G-d talking:
Is. 52:13: "Behold, my servant shall prosper (lit. be successful), he shall be exalted and raised up and be very high."
In verse 52:13 and again in 53:11 the subject is called 'my servant'. Now, the $64,000 question is: who is this servant? Let's look at the prophet's own words. Who does Isaiah call the servant of G-d? Let us look at Isaiah 41:8-9:
"But you, ISRAEL, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the SEED of Abraham My friend. Whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and from the nobles I called you, and I said to you, 'You are my servant', I chose you and I did not despise you."
Israel is the servant of G-d! This is repeated time after time in Isaiah from chapter 40 on. For example: 43:10; 44:1-2; 44:21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3. The servant here in Isaiah means Israel. In fact it is well known that this passage Isaiah 53, is called the fourth of the servant songs. These are songs of praise and comfort for G-d's servant Israel in her exile. Throughout the Tenach Israel is called G-d's servant.
But you will ask how can that possibly be true? The passage is in the SINGULAR and not the plural. How can it refer to Israel in the singular? (Actually, as we shall see, verses 8 and 9 have plural references so this is not such a strong question, but let us examine it anyway). Look at Is. 43:10: 'You are my witnesses (plural) says the L-rd, and My servant (singular) whom I have chosen...' Here we see that Isaiah refers to the witnesses, Israel, both in the singular and the plural in the same verse. In the passage just prior to Is. 53 (52:1-2) and just after Is. 53 (54:1) Israel is also referred to in the singular. The truth is that throughout the Tenach Israel is referred to more often in the singular than the plural. In fact the Ten Commandments themselves, were spoken to Israel in the singular!!! This is no problem at all!!
Isaiah 52:14: 'As many wondered about you, "How marred his appearance from that of man, and his features from that of people."
"The scholar Darwin said in 1859 that man is descended from the ape. Whether this is correct or not, we do not wish to decide. Perhaps the reader will take the trouble to compare the features of the ape from the New York Zoo and the face of the Jewish old-clothes dealer from the New York ghetto and draw his own conclusions." Der Struermer Dec. 29, 1942 (with pictures).
"How marred his appearance from that of man, and his features from that of people." Isn't the prophet talking that? The Islamic Jihad put out a pamphlet in Oct. 1988 that stated the Jews were 'the brothers of monkeys.' Arafat on Jan 30, 1992 called Jew, 'The dogs. Filth and Dirt.' Yes "How married his appearance from man and his features from that of people." In every generation anti-semites picture Jews in a sub-human form.
Isaiah 52:15: "So shall he cast down (see Is. 63.3 KJV sprinkle) many nations; Kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told to them they shall now see; and that which they had not heard they shall consider."
The first part, regarding the kings, we have seen from Micah 7:14-15. The last part of the prophecy, parallels Jer. 16:19-20:
"O Lord, my strength and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction. The nations shall come to you from the ends of the earth and shall say, 'Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherin there is no benefit. Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods?"
The nations will come to recognize that for all these years they have made a mistake. All of what they have been taught was only lies.
This ends the words of G-d, the next verse goes to the plural and the nations start to speak.
Isaiah 53:1: "Who has believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"
Now, what does it mean the 'arm of the Lord'? If you examine Scripture you will find that it always means a great salvation or victory for the Jewish people. Look back a few verses to Is. 52:9-12 (Just before this passage starts, the introductory verses to Isaiah 53).
"Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of the nations and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvations of Israel."
What is the 'arm of the Lord'? The prophet tells us it is the redeeming of Israel from Exile. Who sees it? The nations of the world. Two verses later it starts, 'Behold My Servant shall prosper....' The 'arm of the Lord' always refers to the redemption of Israel from physical troubles. See also Ex. 14:31, 15:6 and Deut 7:19 for other examples. In this verse we see the reaction of the nations, G-d has redeemed His people from the exile and the Nations are shocked beyond belief. They just don't know how to handle it.
Isaiah 53:2: "And he came up (KJV he shall grow up) like a sapling before it, and like a root from dry ground, he had neither form nor comeliness; and we saw him that he had no appearance that we should have desired him."
Who is to sprout as a tree from dry land where it was never expected to? Israel. Hosea 14:6-7:
"I will be as dew for Israel; he shall grow as a lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree and his smell as Lebanon."
But what have the nations said about Israel while she was in the exile? Voltaire said "the most imbecile people on the face of the earth", "most obtuse , cruel and absurd", "disgusting and abominable". As the prophet said: "he had neither form nor comeliness". Kant said:
"The euthanasia of Judaism can only be achieved by means of a pure and moral religion, and the abandonment of all its old legal regulations."
Again the words of the prophet, "we saw him that he had no appearance that we should have desired him" St. Gregory of Nyssa referred to the Jews as,
"haters of grace, enemies of their fathers religion, advocates of the devil, brood of vipers, slanderers, scoffers, men of darkened minds, leaven of the Pharisees, congregation of demons, sinners, wicked men, stoners, and haters of goodness."
As the prophet said "he had no appearance that we should have desired him." That is the testimony of the Nations. "Who would have believed it?"
Isaiah 53:3: "Despised and forsaken by men, a man of pains and accustomed to illness: and as one who hides his face from us; despised, and we esteemed him not."
Who is the one who has been ashamed and despised? Is 54:4-17:
4. Fear not, for you shall not be ashamed and not embarassed, for you shall not be put to shame; for the shame of your mouth you shall forget; and for the humiliation of your widowhood you shall no longer remember. For your maker is your husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name... 6. For like a wife who was forsaken and afflicted in spirit has the Lord called you, and a wife of one's youth who was rejected, said you G-d. 11. Oh thou afflicted who was not consoled... 14. With righteousness shall you be established, for you will be far from oppression... 17. No weapon that is formed against you will prosper, and any tongue that raises against you in judgement, you shall not condemn; this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their righteousness is from me, says the Lord.
St. John Chrysostam referred to the Jews as: "most miserable of all men." "debauchery and drunkenness have given them the manners of the pig and the lusty goat." "They have surpassed the ferocity of wild beasts, for they murder their offspring and immolate them to the devil." As the prophet says "despised and we esteemed him not." Again from Isaiah 49:7-15:
7. For so said the Lord, the redeemer of Israel, his Holy One about him who is despised of men, about him whom the nations abhors, about a slave of rulers. 'Kings shall see and rise, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, (see Micah 7:15-17), for the sake of the Lord who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, and He chose you. 13. Sing O Heavens and rejoice O earth, and mountains burst out in song for the Lord has consoled His people, and he shall have mercy on His afflicted. 14. But Zion said 'The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.' 15. "Shall a women forget her suckling child, from having mercy on the child of her womb? These too shall forget, but I will not forget you."
Look at this beautiful parable from G-d. A mother will forget her baby who she nurses. The most precious thing that she has, she will forget. But G-d will not forget Israel!!! (see also Is. 60:14-15, and 62:2-4). St. Thomas Aquinas:
'It would be licit, according to custom, to hold Jews, because of their crime, in perpetual servitude, and the princes may regard the possessions of Jews as belonging to the State.'
As Isaiah said, "a slave of rulers" and "despised and we esteemed him not."
If you ask a Christian, and he was being honest, why are the Jews suffering some much in their exile? What would he answer? He would say, 'the Jews are punished because they rejected their Messiah'. This has been the theology of the Church from the start, but this caused a big problem to the early Church. True, the Jews were in exile, but they should really be wiped out off the face of the earth, just like Babylon or any other wicked nation. Why are they still here? They should really disappear for their sins. To this there was developed the doctrine of the 'witness-people'. Israel's existence and subservience to Christians was a 'proof' of the truth of Christianity. As I quoted above from Thomas Aquinas, it was the reason that Jews could be kept as serfs of the state, and all their possessions held by the crown. Because of their crime, all of the persecution was justified. But now when Messiah comes and he is not J. but the real descendant of David, and the Jewish people are returned to their kingdom. When all the nations see that the Jews got it right in rejecting J, what are the nations going to say about their persecution of the Jews? What are they going to say about all the suffering they caused Israel? Well let's consider, if J. isn't the Messiah, what would you call the actions of the nations toward the Jews? Sins. What is going to happen is the nations are going to see they blew it, and all these years the Jews suffered from their sins.
Look at Genesis 31:36, after Laban had persecuted Jacob, Jacob asked him, "What is my trespass, what is my sin". He asked , 'how have I sinned against you?' When a person treats another incorrectly it is called sinning against him. The nations are going to say 'we have sinned against Israel by persecuting them all these years'.
"We realize now that many, many centuries of blindness have dimmed our eyes, so that we no longer see the beauty of Thy Chosen People and no longer recognize in their faces the features of our firstborn brother. We realize that our brows are branded with mark of Cain..." Pope John XXIII.
The mark of Cain. The Jews have had to bare these sins of the nations for all the years of the exile.
Isaiah 53:4-5: "Indeed he bore our illnesses, and our pains he carried them, yet we accounted him as plagued, smitten by G-d and oppressed. But he was pained because of our iniquities; the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his wounds we were healed."
The nations will look at what they have done to the Jews and say, they have suffered because we have sinned in not recognizing who they really were. We have sinned and acted shamefully. Israel have born the shameful and sinful actions of the nations. Ezekiel 36 6-15 :
6. [...] In My jealousy and in my anger I have spoken, because the shame of the nations you have borne. 7. Therefore, thus says my Lord, G-d: I have lifted My hand in an oath. Surely the nations which surround you will bear their shame. 15. And I shall no longer cause the ridicule of nations to be heard about you, and the shame of the nations you shall no longer bear. [...]
The nations will admit their sin. How have the nations acted toward Israel? Look what it says in the Koran:
"And humiliation and wretchedness were stamped upon them and they were visited with wrath from Allah. That was because they disbelieved in Allah's revelations and slew the prophets wrongfully. That was for their disobedience and transgression."
As the prophet says, 'we accounted him as plagued, smitten by G-d'. Luther asked, "What shall we do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews". His program included: Burning synagogues and houses, confiscating Jewish Holy books, forbidding Rabbis to teach, Jews to travel or give loans at interest, forcing Jews to do hard labor, and expelling them from Christian countries. 'He was pained because of OUR transgression, crushed because of OUR iniquities.'
In the fall of 1944 when the deportations from Slovakia to Auschwitz were going on, Rabbi Weissmandel approached the papal nuncio on a Sunday and asked him to intervene with President Tiso (a Catholic priest). He was told, "This, being a Sunday, is a holy day for us. Neither I nor Father Tiso occupy ourselves with profane matters on this day". When the Rabbi reminded him that there were innocent women and children being sent to Auschwitz, he replied, "There is no innocent blood of Jewish children in the world. All Jewish blood is guilty. You have to die. This is the punishment that has been awaiting you because of that sin (the death of J)." "we accounted him plagued, smitten of G-d and oppressed. ...crushed because of OUR iniquities..."
Isaiah 53:6-7: "We all went astray like sheep, we have turned, each one his own way, and the Lord has made light upon him our iniquities." (alt. Heb. the Lord accepted his prayer for our iniquities. The Hebrew word Hifgiah the root of which means also to entreat or intercede as in verse 12) He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he would not open his mouth; like a lamb to the slaughter he would be brought, and like a sheep that is mute before her shearers, and he would not open his mouth."
We have already seen from Jeremiah 16:19 how the nations will admit that they have been going in a false way. Psalms 44:12-22:
12. You have delivered us like sheep to the slaughter, and among the gentiles you have scattered us. 14. You have made us a disgrace to our neighbors, the mockery and scorn of those around us. 22. Because for your sake we are killed all day long, we are considered as sheep for the slaughter.
The Jewish people are slaughtered in every generation, quietly going to their deaths, for the sake of G-d's name.
Isaiah 53:8: "From imprisonment and from judgement he is taken, and his generation who shall tell? For he was cut off from the land of the living (lit. the living land); because of the transgression of my people, a plague befell THEM" (Heb. Lawmo. KJV mistranslates 'was HE stricken', instead of the correct THEY).
Before explaining this, let me show the mistranslation. The Hebrew word is Lawmo and in it's other appearances in Tenach the KJV is correctly translated to 'them'. For example in Isaiah 48:12 (for them), 44:7 (unto them) 16:4 (to them). (There are no examples of exceptions where a plural prepositional pronoun is used referring to other than a plural noun). The translation is just made to distort the true meaning. Next the verse uses the expression 'the land of the living' (Heb. Eretz Chaim). This always denotes the land of Israel. The words cut off from the land of the living refers to the exile from Israel. (See Ez. 32:23-27 where the prophet describes the punishment for those who terrorized Israel and calls the land of Israel 'the land of the living'). This verse tells us that the Jewish people are being sent into exile (as everyone knows).
Isaiah 53:9: "And he gave his grave to the wicked, and to the wealthy in his deaths (Heb. BeMosav 'in his deaths' plural and not BeMoso 'in his death' singular) because he committed no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth."
Here again we see that the KJV used singular where there is a plural in the Hebrew. This prophecy parallels Zeph. 3:12-20
12. And I will leave over in your midst a humble and poor people, and they shall take shelter in the name of the Lord. 13. The remnant of Israel shall neither commit injustice nor speak lies, neither shall deceitful speech be found in their mouth... 15. The Lord has removed your afflictions; He has cast out your enemy... 19 Behold, I wreak destruction upon all those who have afflicted you at that time. And I will save the one who limps, and I will gather the stray one, and I will make them a praise and a name throughout all the land where they suffered shame. 20. At that time I will bring them, and at that time I will gather you, for I will make you a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your captivities before your eyes, said the Lord.
Isaiah 53:10: "And the Lord wished to crush him, He made him ill; if (Heb. Im means 'if' not 'when' as the KJV translates) his soul makes itself restitution, he shall see seed (Heb. zarah), he shall prolong his days, and G-d's purpose shall prosper in his hand."
Here we see the speaker changing again. The prophet is continuing and saying what the purpose is of the exile. Everything was done so that Israel should be able to have her reward. The promises here are a restatement of the promises in the Torah. Deut 30:19-20:
19. I call Heaven and earth as witnesses. Before you I have placed life and death, the blessing and the curse. You must choose life, so that you and your seed will survive. 20. If you choose to love the lord your G-d, to obey Him, and to attach yourself to Him. That is your life and the length of your days, that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.
The chose is given to Israel, if they accept then they will have long life and many descendants. In this verse we see again how it can not be, as the Christians claim, a reference to J. First, it says 'IF' his soul makes. Do they believe that it was only conditional, and that maybe it wouldn't have happened? J. could will to do something other than G-d wanted? There is a clear choice here. Second and most importantly the prophecy refers to physical children, and he had none. Many Christians try to counter and say that it refers to disciples, and not physical children, but that is not the case. The word zarah (seed) always refers to physical children while the word banim (children) refers to disciples or followers and the Tenach has a perfect proof of it. Remember the story with Abraham. For a long time he had no children, and G-d came to him and said he would reward him. Abraham said of what value is it since he has no son to inherit, only the head of his household Eliezer. Genesis 15:2-4:
And Abram said, 'My Lord, G-d, what can you give me seeing that I am childless and the son (ben) of my house is the Damascene Eliezer? 3. Then Abram said, 'See, to me you have given no seed (zarah - physical child), and see the son (ben - son referring to follower) of my house is my heir." (Abraham was complaining of what value is it to him the reward as he has no zarah, no physical children only a ben, a member of his household to inherit) 4. Suddenly, the word of G-d came to him, saying: That one will not inherit you. None but him that shall come forth from within your bowels shall be your heir.
(So G-d answered him, not the ben, not the non physical member of his house, but a real physical child, a zarah, will inherit from him). Clearly zarah means a physical child and if the verse had wanted to say followers than it would have used the word ben, as is used in other places in the Tenach.
Isaiah 53:11-12: "From the toil of his soul he would see, he would be satisfied; with his knowledge My servant would vindicate the just for many, and their iniquities he would bear. Therefore I will allot him a portion in public, and with the strong he shall share plunder, because he poured out his soul to death, and with the transgressors he was counted; and he bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors."
Here we see that G-d has again started to speak about His servant, and his reward. Much of this has been mentioned before let me just add those things not previously cited. First is the point of Israel's purpose in the world, to spread righteousness. Is 60:3 "And the nations shall go by your light and kings by the brilliance of you shine." (The same is 42:6 and 49:6). Zechariah 8:13,23 13.
And it shall come to pass that as you were a curse among the gentiles, O house of Judah and House of Israel, so will I save you and you shall be a blessing. 23. So said the Lord of Hosts: In those days, ten men of all the languages of the gentiles shall take hold of the skirt of a Jewish man saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you."
(The same idea is in Is. 2:2-5 among many other places.) What is the meaning of 'their iniquities he would bear'? Examine Is. 61:6-9. 6. And you shall be called 'The Priests of the Lord', 'Servants of Our G-d' shall be said of you.... This is like what we see in Exodus 19:5-6 "You will be a kingdom of priests". Now if the Jews are the priests, who are the laity? The gentile nations who we have seen will eventually join the Jews in worshipping the true G-d. Now look at Numbers 18:1 what it says about the role of the priests:
And G-d said to Aaron, "You and your sons, and your father's house with you, you must bear the iniquity against the sanctuary, and you and your sons must bear the iniquity against you priesthood."
That is the role of the priesthood - to bear iniquity. Next the idea of interceding for the nations (mentioned above in verse 6) appears openly in a prophecy by Jeremiah 29:7:
"And seek the peace of the city where I have exiled you and pray for it to the lord, for in its peace you shall have peace."
A clear indication that Israel intercedes for the nations while in exile. In fact. there is a prayer said in many synagogues, to this day, for the well being of the government. The strangest part about this prophecy is the last verse 12. Here the prophet talks about sharing portions and plunder. What is this plunder. This certainly could not apply to J. Did he claim that he was going to pass out wealth to his followers? The word here, 'shalal' means physical wealth wherever it is used. What does it refer to? It is a promise that G-d has made to HIS people of what will happen in the end of days after the great war of Gog and Magog. Zechariah 14:14
"And the wealth of all the nations round about shall be gathered together, gold and silver and apparel in great abundance."
What is to happen to this wealth that was gathered around Jerusalem? Ezekiel 39:10: '"And they shall spoil those that spoiled them, and rob those that robbed them," said the Lord'. All the wealth that was stolen from the Jewish people, by all the nations, all the special taxes, all the houses, all the land everything will be returned. This is the plunder of Is 53:12.
Now that I have finished explaining the passages, there remains two questions that are asked.
The answer to this is that it is an outright lie. First, the Zohar on Exodus, and the Midrash Rabbah on Numbers both ancient Rabbinic works bring that Is. 53 refers to Israel. Second, and more importantly than that, one of the oldest references to this chapter by a Christian source (in Contra Celsum), has Origin (late 2nd century) quoting the ancient Jewish understanding that this refers to the Jewish people and their sufferings.
"I remember that once in a discussion with some whom the Jews regard as learned I used these prophecies (Is 53). At this the Jew said that these prophecies referred to the whole people as though of a single individual..."
Even Origin in the second century knew that the Jews understood Isaiah 53 as referring to Israel. But even more than that, it can be shown that in the time of J. they never associated this with the Messiah. How do I know. Look at Matthew 16:16-20 where we see that according to the NT, Peter correctly understood that J. was the Messiah, and he is told not to reveal it. But let's see Matthew 16:21-22 (right after that)
"From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. (22) Then Peter took him and began to rebuke him saying, 'Be it far from thee, lord: This shall not be unto thee!'"
What's going on here? If it was true that the Jews knew that Is 53 referred to the Messiah, Peter should have said 'Yes Lord we understand, that is what it says in Is 53, the Messiah has to suffer and die.' But what does he do? He rebukes J. and tells him, are you crazy? The Messiah is not supposed to die. Peter never knew, and the Jews never knew, because it never meant the Messiah. In the time of J. nobody attached Is. 53 to the Messiah.
But that is not true. There are a number of Christian Bibles, that have been translated with commentaries from Christian sources. One of the most well known is called the New English Bible - Oxford Study Edition. And there we read:
"52:13-53:12. Fourth servant song. The suffering servant. See 42.1-4 n. Israel, the servant of G-d, has suffered as a humiliated individual. However, the servant endured without complaint because it is vicarious suffering (suffering for others). 13-15: Nations and kings will be surprised to see the servant exalted. 53.1: The crowds, pagan nations, among whom the servant (Israel) lived, speak here (through v.9) saying that the significance of Israel's humiliation and exaltation is hard to believe. 2: In traditional Hebrew though, the good man prospers like a tree by water but the wicked is like a plant growing in parched ground: see Ps. 1.3-6. 3: Turn away their eyes; lit. hide their faces, an expression used in relation to lepers, whose sickness, considered a sign of sin, made them despised. 4-5: The vicarious suffering expressed here is in contrast both to the traditional solidarity of guilt of Exod. 20.5 and to individual responsibility proposed by the prophets at the time of the Exile; see Jer. 31.30; Ezek. 18 5: Health for us: lit. "our peace" which means "general welfare" 6-7 The servant is led like a sheep in contrast to the peoples going their own way. 8: Although some legal process seems to be involved, the servant does not receive justice; see Jer 39:5-6. 9: The death probably refers to the destruction and Exile of Israel. Compare Ezek. ch 37. 10-12: The theme of 52:13 is resumed. Israel, which has suffered for all mankind, will now be granted her rightful place. 10: long life and childrens children are the signs of a final vindication before G-d; see Job 42:16-17. 11: Bathed in light; enjoying G-d's favor; Ps. 80.3.
There you have it, even the Christian scholars know who Isaiah 53 refers to. It is Israel, G-d's suffering servant.
|How to reach the author|
You can reach R' Shulman either by EMail or SnailMail:
1362 46th Street
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