"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

Abuse and Misquotes of the Hebrew Scriptures: Isaiah 53 – Who was the “Suffering Servant?”

May 23, 2011

in Christianity:,Judaism vs. Christianity,Judaism:,Noahide - The Ancient Path

by Bruce James (Baruch Gershom)
Isaiah 53. Who Was the “Suffering Servant”?

Missionaries commonly cite Isaiah 53 as proof that the Messiah will suffer for the people’s sins. E.g.:

“(3)He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with sickness; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not:
(4)Surely he has borne our sicknesses, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, struck by God, and afflicted:
(5)But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was bruised because of our iniquities; his sufferings were that we might have peace; and by his injury we are healed:
(6)All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all:
(7)He was oppressed, but he humbled himself and opened not his mouth; he was brought like a lamb to the slaughter, and like a sheep, that is dumb before its shearers, he did not open his mouth:
(8)By oppression and false judgment was he taken away; and of his generation who considered? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people:
(9)And they made his grave among the wicked, and his tomb among the rich; although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth:”

On its face it sounds convincing in retrospect knowing what we know about Jesus from the NT only. But, who is the “he” referred to in the verses? Let’s trace it back a few lines to the previous chapter (52), where the discussion of what “he” will do begins. At 52:13 it appears to begin with “Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.”

OK, so now we know that “he” is G-d’s “servant.” But who is G-d’s “servant”? Let’s trace our steps a little further. In Isaiah 41:8 the question is answered: “But Israel is my servant.” The next line, Isaiah 41:9, adds some more: “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you away.” Just so we shouldn’t miss the point, Isaiah quotes G-d saying: “Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.” (Is 44:2); “Remember these, O Jacob and Israel, for you are my servant. I have formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you shall not be forgotten by Me.” (Is 44:21);” “For the sake of My servant Jacob, Israel My chosen one.” (Is. 45:4); and “You are My servant, Israel in whom I glory.” (Is 49:3). Get it? Israel — not a person — is the servant whose suffering is predicted in Isaiah 53. Certainly we Jews have suffered through our years on this earth. G-d also promises that we will do well: See Isaiah 52:12-15 (“For you shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight; for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.”

In Chapters 52 and 53, Isaiah’s prophecy gives Jews today a good look at their history over the last 2500 years or so. We’ve had both good times and suffered like no one else. But we are still around, and it is the Jewish Torah and the other Hebrew Scriptures that three of the four major religions on earth are based upon. Isaiah would not have been surprised, except to hear that his prophecy has been misused by missionaries to apply to Jesus.

Another perspective regarding these chapters is that the Messiah will indeed suffer as do all righteous men and women in their generations. Why do they suffer? One view brought down in the Talmud is that some people in the world live lives of relative sin for which their punishments in this world would be great. But G-d understands that many people would not react to Divine punishment with greater faith in G-d; they might even lose faith. Accordingly, the rabbis believed that G-d lightened such people’s punishments but put them instead upon righteous Jews. These are called “afflictions of love” and are given to the righteous because it is assumed that they will understand that receiving punishment from G-d is an act of love, just as a punishment given by a father to a child is given with love so that the child will learn and grow. Righteous Jews in every generation have suffered greatly, either from external causes such as the Holocaust, or from grave and painful illnesses, lack of children, and more. The view along this line says that the Messiah would naturally suffer like any other righteous Jew. So even if we take this position that the Messiah will be a “suffering servant” by and of itself, suffering is no proof that one is the Messiah.

Next page > [Abuse and Misquotes of the Hebrew Bible – Isaiah 7:141]


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