The Religious A priori


Suffering Servant

is Messiah

Argument: There is a dialogue pattern in the book which reflects the interchange between Messiah and Israel, to disrupt the patter would underine the whole message of the book; according to the patter, and in keeping with the roles, the Messiah has to be the object of focuss and thus, the Suffering Servant.
Despite all the evidence presented so for, skeptical Jewish thinkers are not willing to just accept Jesus as Their Messiah. This is largley understandable. After all, for centuries, Jews were presecuted at the hands of Christians who should have known better. There is ample reason for bitterness.The nature of the passage in Isaiah 53 is crucial, becasue it is the best and clearest, although by no means the only strong passage, fortelling the Messiah's coming in terms that Christians find strikingly those of Jesus of Nazerath. Of course Jews argue that the Suffering Servant is an alegory of Israel.

Skeptical argument: skeptics argue that the suffering servant is Israel. They argue that Israel is "despised and we esteemed it not." The protitiatory aspects of the passage are exaplained as follows: Israel will atone for its own sins and those of all humanity thourgh its suffering since everyone will eventually see that Israel is the chosen one of God and God is real. Humanity will eventually come to God through the example of Israel.

The major crux of this argument is that Israel is always described as the "servant of God" throughout Isiah. An overwhealming number of times Israel is called the Servant of God, so why shouldn't it also be the suffering servant?

This page will deal with that argument exclucievely. I will argue that to read in Israel as the suffering servant goes against the grain of the entire message of Isaiah, and that this can be demonstrated clearly through the sourrounding contexts of the passage.

There is a dialectic between God, the prophet, and the Messiah which continues throughout the whole book. It does evolve around Israel. Israel is God's servant, and granted is called such far more often than anyone else in Isaiah. But that's becasue the message of the book is to call God's people back to fatihfulness and trust in him.The point of the overall work is to exhort Israel and even though now you are cowering and in fear, fallen into depravity and defeated by enemies, when you turn back to God you will be rehabilitated and will rise up to a level of triumph. The crucial center peice, however, upon which this process of redeemption pivots is the Messiah! That is the fucntion of chapter 53, to demonstrate the Messiah's redeemptive work in bringing Israel back to God, and without that there is no real point to the book.

The thesis of this argument, then, is that reading the Suffering Servant of 53 as Israel is counter to the whole dialectical structure and dialogue structure of the book, Reading it as the Messiah is natural and works because that is the crux of the message. IF we follow the logic of the work, and espeically that of the dialouge we can see easily who the Suffering Servant is.

I. The basic Themes of the book and the dialogue structure.

A. The Dialectic of the dialogue structure.

This theme can be seen throughout the book up the point where the Messiah does his work in 53 and after that it subtally changes to the triumphalism of the end times

1) Immediate context the need to trust God.

The immediate context of the book: Ahas king of Judah, the King of Israel Marched to fight agaisnt Jerusalem. Ahaz was discouraged and feared defeat. Israel was allied with Gentiles and arrayed against Judah, Isaiah was sent to Ahaz to tell him to be strong, to trust in the Lord do not fear the enemy. God's message to Ahaz was that Irael's attack would not succeed and he should trust in the Lord. This is the reason for the brith of the Child in chapter 7, as a sign to Ahaz that by the time the child is about the age of accountability the enemy will be disarayed. The Lord will use Assyrian as his instrument to destroy Israela nd its allies and save Judah. The larger context is that of reneual, calling Judah and Israel back to trust in God.

2) The overall structure of the Book

The thesis of the book is stated in the opening paragraph: "The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amos saw during the Reigns of Ussiah, Jotham Ahaz and Hesekiah, Kings of Judah. The books spans serveral years, and takes a braod panarama of history, moving form the immediate situation to a description of the future Messianic Kingdom in the last chapters. In all of that a dalectic is not as visible until about the middle of the book. Now at this point it must be recognized that many scholars see who works here which have been redacted into one.The first section deals with Israel, Judah, and the gentiles. But thoughout the book we see the Messiah poping up and we watch as he moves from infancy (chapter 9) to his atoneing workin 53, which forms a pivet between the immediate themes of the book and the ultimate resteration of Israel in the millinial Kingdom.

B. The dialectical Themes

The dialectic is really seen throughout but may be more pronounced in latter chapters. Below I follow it from chapter 50 to 53 to demonstrates. But breaf overview also brings home the pont.

The dialectic is seen in the structure of the dialogue. The prophet speaks, than quotes God to reiterate his point. The focuss shifts back and forth between God and Israel, punctuated by the appearences of and allusions to the Messiah.The structure appears immediately as the Prophet says "Hear O Heavens! Listen O earth! For the Lord has spoken 'I reared children and bourht them up but they have reveled agaisnt me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's meanger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.'" The prophet comes in again, "ah sinful nation a people loaded with guilt., a brood of evilddores, children given to corruption they have forsaken the Lord, tey have spurned the Holy one of Israel and turned their backs on him...your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire, your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you..." (1: 1-4,6)

Than to reitorate the message the prophet speaks the words of God himself, "Hear the word of the Lord ..." [calls them people of sodom and Gomorrah to emphasize their depravity] than God speaks, "The multitude of your sacrafices what are they to me?" "I have more than enough burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals I have no pleasure...stop bringing meaningless offerings...stop doing wrong and learn to do right!" (from verses 8-16)

God "Come now let us reason together" says the Lord, "Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as shie as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel you will bedevoured by the sword" (v18-19).

So we have basic theme put in place that Israel is unfaithful and this theme is followed all the way through the book.

1) The interjection of end times and millenial Kingdom*

Chapter two begins with a vision of the last days. "In the last days the moutian of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the moutnains; it will be raised above the hills and all nations will stream to it." (2:1-2). But after this vision of hope and triumph there is a pronouncment of doom, of "shaking," "The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exatled (and theyw ill be humbled) for all the cedars of Lebanon [symbol of might and power] tall and lofty...when the Lord rises to shake the earth..." (v12-19) The upshot, to Israel (v22) "stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrails. Of what account is he?"

So the dialectic is not merely the structure of dialogue but of the Message as well, first the faults of Israel, than the fortelling of doom and judgement for not only Israel but he Gentiles as well, and then the hopeful vision of a Triumphant people of God living in a peaceful and holy kingdom.Now this is repated in complex fashion and is too invovled to follow throghout the book, but it does appear throughout the book.

2) The Role of the Gentiles

The role of the Gentiles in Isaiah, is basically that of canon fodder. They are the evil force that mocks God and oppresses God's people. Doom is predicted for them on a massive scale many times thougout the book. Clealry these are references to the Genitle forces arrayed against Ahaz and the people of Judah. But it expands to a much larger view of all geniles.

a) Destruction of Gentiles not gratuitus.

b) Subtext: the Light to the gentiles.

The message to the Gentiles however, is not merely one of doom, although Edersheim documents that for the Rabbinical authorities it is. The Messiah will smite the Gentiles and beat up on them something firece. They will except him and submit to God and live in the fture kingdom, but only as conquared subjected having had the stuffing beating out of them in God's wrath. But the book of Isaiah, though it does deptict doom for the oppressors of Israel, expands the message to a much more global one than merely the conquest of the Gentiles for the glory of Israel. Many times thoughout the book we see the Messiah poping up as "a light to the geniles."The redeeming message is thus enlarged and the favor of God moves beyond Israel alone to encumpass all of humanity. Most notably in 49: 6 He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." And in chapter 52 where the positive affects of the mission as "light to the gentiles" is seen.

C. Role of Messiah in Dialectic.

In the dialogue Messiah punctuates the dialectical structure with contrasts to Unfaithful Israel. Messiah is the faithful servant who is constantly being brought in as a promise of redemption, destruction for the oppressors, salvation for Israel, and enlargement of the Mission to encumpass all the world in God's plan.

We first see him appear in true dialetical fashion, after the warings agaisnt Israel and the encouragement to stick with God. In 4: 2 "in that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorieous, and the fruit of the land will be be the pride and glor of the savivors in Israel. Those wo are left in Zion, who reamin in the Jerusalem will be called holy." This designation "Branch" is a Messianich epithet and refurs to Messaih himself, this is documented on "Jesus Christ King Messiah I." chapters 4-5 provide a beautiful scene of the delights of the triumphant kingdom, which, in the dialectical fashion, has come after the warning of despair and is contngent upon Messiah's activity. This pattern in repeate din various coplexity thoughout the book. Chapters 6-7 are grounded in the reality of Isaiah's own day, giving details of his commision and the immediate sitauation.

The major role of the Messiah in the overall dialectical structure is to be the pivit, the synthesis which brings together the doom of unfaithful Isarel, and the encouragement to return to God and unites them by bringing about the redeemption and actually returning Israel to God. Along the way we see various other activities.

In terms of the literary structure he is wedged in in places where the dialectic of the Message is brought to a point of synthesis. But the relationship of Messiah to Israel is itself dialectical. There is a sub-dialectic in this relationship.

a) Dialectial relationship to Israel

b)Dialectical relationship to Gentiles.

10: 27 Messaih and Destruction of Gentiles."is in the Targum applied to the desruction of the Gentiles befroe the Messiah. (Edersheim 723)

D. The Apperance of Messiah traces his brith to his major work.

The point here is that Messiah is born in Chapter 9, described in his mjaor work in chapter 11 and continues to be seen in contrast to Israel and as its redeemer thoughout the book. Thus the basic relationship between Messiah and Israel is that he comes out of the people, produced from their suffering and situation of oppression, he is included in servant Israel because he is part of Israel, but he also stands in contrast to it. He is fatihful when they are not, he is the stumbling block that will nevertheless redeem them.

1) Isaiah 9:6 Messiah's Birth Heralded.

"For to us a child is born, for to us a son is given. And the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called 'wonderful,' 'counselor' Almight God' 'everlasting father' 'prince of peace.' 9:6 is "expressly applied to the Messiah in the Targum, and there is a very curious comment in Debarim R. 1 (ed. Wash. p 4a) in connection with a Hagadic discussion of Gen. 43:14 which however fanciful makes a Messianich application of this passage--also in Bemidbar R. 11." (Edersheim 723)

He will rule Israel and the whole world in peace and righteousness. Clealry this passage is speaking of the Messiah. "He will reign on David's thorone and over his kingdom establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from the time on and forever." (9:7)

2) 10:34 Messiah's Birth connected with destruction of Temple

"Isaiah 10:34 is quoted on the Midrash in Lamentations 1:16 in evidence that somehow the birth of the Messiah wa to to be connected with the destruction of the Temple." (Edersheim p. 723)

3) Messiah seen in chapter 11 distinct from but emerging out of Israel.

"AS will readily be believed is Messianically interprited in Jewish writtings. Thus to begin with, in the Targum v1-6, in hte Talmud (Jer. Berach 5a and Sanh 93b): and in a number of passages in the Midrashim. Thus v1 in Bereshith R. 85 on Gen. xxxviii 18 where alos ex 2 is quoted.And in Ber R 99 in Yalkut (vol. i p. 247) near the top) when it is described how God had showen Moses all the spirits of the rulers and prophets in Israel, form that time forward to the Resurrection, it is said that all these had one knowlege and one spirit, but that the Messiah had one spirit wich was equal to all the others put ttogether, accorint ot Is xi.1.

the passage in chapter 11: 1-2 "A shoot will come form the stump of Jessey, form his roots a branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him--the Spirit of Wisdom and of understanding...." This is not Israel. Israel is not from the stump of Jesse, not a Branch from Daid, but these are well known epithets for Messiah.

4) 11: 3 Messiah suffers!

"On Is 11:3 the Talmud (San 93b lines 21 ect from the top) has a curious explaintion. AFter quoting chapter XI 2 as Messianich, it makes it makes a play on words "of quick understanding" or "scent" as it might be rendered,a nd suggests that...[this] is inteneded to teach us that God has laden him with commandments and sufferings like a millstone. Immediately afterwards, form the expresion 'He hsall not judge after the sight of His eyes, but reporve with equity from the meed of the earth,' it is inferred that the Messiah knew the toughts of the heart, and it is added that, as Bar Bokhabh was unable to do this, he was illed." (Edersheim 724) (see also the quotatin form Yalkut below under B1c "Meesiah suffers in every age fo the sins of that generation...")

*Since first writting this peice in 1999, I've come to the conclusion tha the final chapters are not about the end times, but about the return from exile. It was Deutero-Isaiah looking forward to the re-establishing of Israel. This does not change the argument, however, as it still means that Messiah's work is done by the time of these chapters, the relationship to Israel has changed and the dialoguical dialectic has been resolved. The argumens holds.

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The Religious A priori