"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
Question: 

My question pertains to an objection you raised in your tape series regarding the christological reading of Isaiah 53, specifically verse 10.  This verse says that the Servant’s days will be prolonged.  Jesus, however, died young.  However, if we were to believe in the resurrection, that Jesus rose in the flesh, why can we not say that his life has been prolonged?  The human side of him would now be about 2,000 years old.  One would think that this could be called having a prolonged life.  Is there a fault in this reasoning?

Answer:

Before answering your question, we should begin with a brief overview of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah1 for our readers who are unfamiliar with this section of the Bible.

The 53rd chapter of Isaiah is the last song of the four celebrated “ServantSongs”2 at the end of the Book of Isaiah.  These four “Servant Songs,” which are found in Isaiah 41-53, are so called because throughout these soothing chapters, the prophet foretells the glorious redemption of the righteous remnant of Israel who is repeatedly identified as God’s servant.  Isaiah 53 is the culmination of Isaiah’s narrative which describes the Almighty’s servant-nation who, after a brutal and seemingly endless exile, is elevated and redeemed in the eyes of her former oppressors — the gentile nations.The 53rd chapter of Isaiah begins with an extraordinary biblical text in which the prophet vividly describes the surprised reaction of the gentile kings of nations at the end of days as they finally behold the righteous remnant of the Jewish people raised up and glorified.  The astonished reaction of the gentiles to the messianic age is a common theme in the prophets and is emphasized in this chapter.  What has caused these leaders of the world’s nations to be so startled?  Why are they so amazed?  Everything that they have ever heard or considered is in stark contrast to what they are finally witnessing in the messianic age.  They will place their hands over their mouths in numbed bewilderment as they behold the glory of the remnant of the Jewish people, finally vindicated and redeemed by the arm of the Lord.  Let’s examine Isaiah 52:15-53:1, which are the introductory verses to Isaiah 53.

So shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.  Who has believed what we have heard?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

In verses two through eight, the kings of nations continue to speak as they sorrowfully express their heartfelt confession.  They finally understand that as a result of the sins of their peoples, the nation of Israel had suffered brutally throughout their long and bitter exile.  In the past, these world leaders surmised that because the Jewish people stubbornly refused to embrace the ways of their nations the Jews were stricken and smitten by God.  But now, as they bear witness to the glorious messianic redemption, they finally understand that Israel suffered as a result of the destructive arrogance and devastating recklessness of their own peoples.

By Isaiah 53:9, however, the speakers are no longer the gentile kings, but rather the Almighty Himself.  In 53:10, the verse about which you were asking, God is enumerating the blessings that are bestowed on those who have chosen the path of devotion and “have made their souls a restitution.”  These manifold blessings mirror the promised blessings to the faithful at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy.  In these last chapters of the Pentateuch, the Almighty promises prolonged life and children to those who are devoted to the life-giving teachings of the Torah.

And now we come to your question.  In an effort to support their christological position, missionaries often try to argue that Isaiah 53 is speaking about Jesus.  In fact, Isaiah 53 stands out as the biblical text most used by missionaries.  There are, however, countless ways to prove from this chapter and the chapters that surround it that Isaiah 53 is referring to the faithful remnant of Israel and not to the Christian messiah.

In Isaiah 53:10, the verse about which you were asking, the servant is promised long life and seed.  Let’s read Isaiah 53:10.

And the Lord wished to crush him, He made him ill; if his soul makes itself restitution, he shall see seed, He shall prolong his days, and God’s purpose shall prosper in his hand.

For the church, this verse presents numerous problems.  To begin with, Jesus did not have any biological children.  The Hebrew word zerah (seed) used in Isaiah 53:10 can only refer to biological offspring when used in connection with a person’s children, never metaphoric children, such as disciples.  The Hebrew word that can refer to metaphoric children is ben.  Moreover, according to church teachings, Jesus died when he was approximately 30-40 years old, only about half the lifespan of a man as declared by King David in Psalm 90:10.  Obviously, neither the blessing of seed, nor the blessing of long life has been fulfilled in Jesus’ case.

Missionaries attempt to ameliorate this serious problem by explaining that Jesus had long life in the resurrection where he lives forever.  Therefore, they would argue, as you have pointed out, that Jesus indeed lived a very long life.

This response, however, does little to relieve their problem.  To begin with, the Hebrew words ya’arich yamim (long life) in this
verse do not mean or refer to an eternal life which has no end, but rather a lengthening of days which eventually come to an end.  These Hebrew words are therefore never applied in Tanach to anyone who is to live forever.  In fact, the words ya’arich yamim appear in a number of places throughout Jewish scriptures, including Deuteronomy 17:20, Deuteronomy 25:15, Proverbs 28:16, and Ecclesiastes 8:13.  In each and every verse where this phrase appears, these words refer to an extended mortal life, not an eternal one.  When the Jewish scriptures speak of an eternal resurrected life, as in Daniel 12:2, the Hebrew words used are l’chayai olam.

There are other serious problems with which missionaries have to contend regarding this verse.  Bear in mind that virtually all missionaries zealously defend and espouse the doctrine of the Trinity.  This tenet holds that Jesus was not just a man, but actually God manifested in the flesh and the second person in the triune godhead.  This is no small matter in Christian theology.  I have met many Hebrew-Christians who were asked to leave a Messianic conference or denied membership in a Messianic congregation because they called into question this fervently held Christian teaching.

In order to have a better understanding of this doctrine, we need to go back to the Council of Nicea where it all began.  This council, put together by the Emperor Constantine in 325 C.E., was the most important one in church history with regard to both its scope and focus.  Luther called it “the most sacred of all councils.”3 At the Council of Nicea it was declared that Jesus was of the same substance (Greek: homousios) as the Father.  In essence, according to this Christian belief, Jesus shared one being with the Father and in full deity.  This doctrine does not hold that Jesus was half God and half man.  Rather, in the original language of this foundational Christian creed, he is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . .”

Bearing all this in mind, how can God be promised long life?  Even if missionaries would argue that this blessing in Isaiah 53:10 is referring to that time after Jesus’ supposed resurrection, how can God promise Himself, or give Himself anything for that matter?  Moreover, how can God be promised longevity when He is eternal?  The promise of long life is never bestowed on a divine being anywhere in the Jewish scriptures, only on a mortal.  Furthermore, why is God talking to Himself?

Finally, it is essential for those interested in possessing a clear understanding of Isaiah 53 to carefully read the surrounding chapters.  The context of Isaiah 53 immediately reveals that the prophet is speaking of the nation of Israel in the singular.  It is unfortunate that few missionaries are as familiar with the 52nd and 54th chapters of Isaiah as they are with the 53rd.  The consequences of this sort of unbalanced knowledge are great.

Isaiah 52 and 54 both serve as an indictment against the Christianization of Isaiah 53.  The continuous relationship between Isaiah 52 through 54 is evident because the theme, poetic structure, and motif of Isaiah 53 closely mimics the illustrative language of Isaiah 52 and 54.  As in Isaiah 53, Isaiah 52 and 54 clearly identify Israel in the singular, suffering innocently as a result of the vile wickedness of the gentile nations.  In addition, all three of these exhilarating chapters vividly describe the glorious redemption of Israel in full view of the gentiles, her former persecutors.

For example, in Isaiah 52:4 the prophet recounts that “Assyria oppressed him [Israel] without cause.”  This concept, in Isaiah 52, that the nation of Israel innocently suffered as a single individual at the hands of the gentiles, is precisely the same underlying theme of Isaiah 53.  In Isaiah 54, the prophet recounts how Israel, in the singular, is “despised,” “forsaken,” and “afflicted.”  These are the identical descriptions of the nation of Israel found in the previous chapter, Isaiah 53.  In fact, it is so manifestly evident from these chapters that Isaiah 53 is speaking of the righteous remnant of Israel, that a great many Christian commentators unhesitatingly agree that this chapter speaks of no one else but the Almighty’s Chosen People.  If Hebrew-Christians would pore over the entire Book of Isaiah with the same zeal as they do Isaiah 53, few of them would have abandoned the faith of their ancestors.

Over the years, so many Hebrew-Christians have turned to me and pondered aloud as they finally decided to leave the church, “Why weren’t you there with the answers 11 years ago when I first got involved?”  My response is always the same, “The answers to your questions were always there.  I just teach the Bible.”

Sincerely yours,
Rabbi Tovia Singer

 


Footnotes:

Click on the footnote to return to the article

1Although this text is most commonly referred to as Isaiah 53, in actuality it refers to the 15 verses beginning with Isaiah 52:13 and ending with 53:12.The chapter break at the end of 52:15 is artificial.

2 These verses in the Servant Songs include:

Isaiah 41:8-9

But thou, Israel, art My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My friend.  Whom I grasped from the ends of the earth, and from it nobles I called you, and I said to you, “You are My servant”; I chose you and I did not despise you.

Isaiah 44:1-2

Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant and Israel, whom I have chosen.  So said the Lord your Maker, and He who formed you from the womb shall aid you.  Fear not, My servant Jacob, and Jeshurun whom I have chosen.

Isaiah 44:21

Remember these, O Jacob and Israel, for thou art My servant; I have formed thee; thou art My servant, O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me.

Isaiah 45:4

For the sake of My servant Jacob, and Israel My chosen one, and I called to you by your name . . . .

Isaiah 48:20

Leave Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans; with a voice of singing declare, tell this, publicize it to the end of the earth; say, “The Lord has redeemed His servant Jacob.”

Isaiah 49:3

And said to me, thou art My servant, O Israel in whom I will be glorified!
3 Gordon Rupp, Luther’s Progress to the Diet of Worms (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1964), pp.  66.

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add your own }

Rana Stadden May 31, 2011 at 3:56 am

Hi, I’ve been a lurker around your blog for a few weeks now. I love this article and your entire site! Looking forward to reading more!

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Dave & Yvonne June 23, 2011 at 6:21 am

Hi there Rana, Keep lurking lol – and thank you for your comments. Keep them coming and tell me if there is anything you would like to see on the webpage please?

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