Skip to comments.The "Passion" According to Isaiah
Posted on 03/16/2004 5:02:53 PM PST by missyme
"One Jewish scholar, Claude Montefiore, explained: 'Because of the christological interpretation given to the chapter [Isaiah 53] by Christians it is omitted from the series of prophetical lessons for the Deuteronomy Sabbaths the omission is deliberate and striking.' Why is the omission so striking? We've left out a portion from our own prophets, ostensibly because of what Christians think about it."
Isaiah 53 is a well-known passage of Scripture to the avid student of the Bible. But most people are not avid Bible students and have not read this controversial passage. A recent informal survey illustrates this point.(1) One hundred Jews on the streets of Tel Aviv were asked, "Who do you think the 53rd chapter of Isaiah describes?" Most were unfamiliar with the passage and were asked to read it before answering. After doing so, many conceded that they did not know to whom it referred.
Some thought it was Jesus, but when it sunk in that the passage was a citation from the Tenach, they were put off. Others shrugged off the passage as too difficult to understand.
Some repeated what they had heard from Jews more religious than themselves: that it referred to the Jewish people or perhaps even the gentile nations. All seemed to think that whomever it referred to, it wouldn't make much difference in their daily lives.
Israel is unique inasmuch as it is probably the only place on earth where you can spend a couple of hours on a public street and be assured of getting one hundred Jewish opinions. (Not that our people outside of Israel are adverse to giving opinions, it's just difficult to find such a high concentration of us in any one place.) But Israel is not unique when it comes to the Jewish response to Isaiah 53. There is really no consensus based on personal knowledge of the passage. People either have not read it or they have accepted a status quo interpretation, or both.
One might think the passage is obscure and irrelevant based on the fact that so many people are unfamiliar with it. That unfamiliarity in part stems from the fact that Isaiah 53 does not appear in the regular synagogue calendar readings. Yet it could be argued that the very fact that it is left out shouts out the importance of this passage. Even the reasons for omitting it point to the uniqueness of this passage. For example, one Jewish scholar, Claude Montefiore, explained: "Because of the christological interpretation given to the chapter by Christians it is omitted from the series of prophetical lessons for the Deuteronomy Sabbaths the omission is deliberate and striking."(2)
Why is the omission so striking? Because when we finish the cycle of readings for the year, we haven't really finished it. We've left out a portion from our own prophets, ostensibly because of what Christians think about it. Since when does the Christian interpretation of Jewish Scripture have a bearing on what is or is not read in synagogues all over the world?
The omission is striking because of what Montefiore does not quite say. It is not simply because of the Christian interpretation that the Isaiah passage is omitted. After all, the services from which it is omitted are not for Christian ears. They are for Jews. What does that imply? The problem is not what Christians think of the passage. The problem (according to those who omitted the passage) is what Jews might think.
This portion of Scripture is highly controversial. Because contrary to what those surveyed felt, many people have looked into the questions this passage poses and have found that the answers are extremely relevant to their own lives. Are you ready to know why?
If you are willing to explore this "obscure" passage, see the inset below.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment, he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will jusitfy many, and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
Those words were written over 2700 years ago. Yet many people who read them today find that the words seem to jump off the page. If nothing else, the chapter is packed with incredible drama, heroics and pathos. But many people find a personal challenge in these words that is interwoven with the questions: who is this person and what in the world was he doing?
They are questions worth considering for oneself, but it may also be helpful to see the progression of opinions given by our rabbis.
What do the early rabbis say?
Some of the first written interpretations or targums (ancient paraphrases on biblical texts) see this passage as referring to an individual servant, the Messiah, who would suffer. Messianic Jewish talmudist, Rachmiel Frydland, recounts those early views:(3)
"Our ancient commentators with one accord noted that the context clearly speaks of God's Anointed One, the Messiah. The Aramaic translation of this chapter, ascribed to Rabbi Jonathan ben Uzziel, a disciple of Hillel who lived early in the second century c.e., begins with the simple and worthy words:
'Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men (Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 53, ad locum).'"
"We find the same interpretation in the Babylonian Talmud:
What is his [the Messiah's] name? The Rabbis said: His name is "the leper scholar," as it is written, "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted." (Sanhedrin 98b)
"Similarly, in an explanation of Ruth 2:14 in the Midrash Rabbah it states:
He is speaking of the King Messiah: "Come hither" draw near to the throne "and dip thy morsel in the vinegar," this refers to the chastisements, as it is said, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities."
"The Zohar, in its interpretation of Isaiah 53, points to the Messiah as well:
There is in the Garden of Eden a palace named the Palace of the Sons of Sickness. This palace the Messiah enters, and He summons every pain and every chastisement of Israel. All of these come and rest upon Him. And had He not thus lightened them upon Himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel's chastisements for the trangression of the law; as it is written, "Surely our sicknesses he has carried." (Zohar II, 212a)
The early sages expected a personal Messiah to fulfill the Isaiah prophecy. No alternative interpretation was applied to this passage until the Middle Ages. And then, a completely different view was presented. This view was popularized by Jewish commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki), who lived one thousand years after Jesus.
Views on Isaiah 53 in the Middle Ages
Rashi held the position that the servant passages of Isaiah referred to the collective fate of the nation of Israel rather than a personal Messiah. Some rabbis, such as Ibn Ezra and Kimchi, agreed. However, many other rabbinic sages during this same period and laterincluding Maimonidesrealized the inconsistencies of Rashi's views and would not abandon the original messianic interpretations.
The objections these rabbis put forth to Rashi's view were threefold: First, they showed the consensus of ancient opinion. Second, they pointed out that the text is grammatically in the singular tense throughout. For example, "He was despised and rejected he was pierced for our transgressions he was led like a lamb to the slaughter," and so on.
Third, they noted verse 8 of chapter 53. This verse presents some difficulty to those who interpret this passage as referring to Israel. It reads:
By oppression and judgment, he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
Were the Jewish people, God forbid, ever "cut off from the land of the living"? No! God promises that Israel will live forever:
"Only if these decrees [the sun to shine by day, the moon and stars to shine by night, etc.] vanish from my sight," declares the Lord, "will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me." (Jeremiah 31:36)
Likewise, it is impossible to say that "for the transgression of my people he was stricken" since "my people" clearly means the Jewish people. If verse 8 refers to Israel, then are we to read that Israel is stricken for Israel because of Israel's sin? How can the sin-bearer and the sinner be the same? Likewise, how can Israel be the servant, the one who "had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth" (Isaiah 53:9)? Israel is not now, nor ever has been, without sinthe Scriptures are replete with examples of Israel's disobedience.
All of these inconsistencies troubled many rabbis and they expressed their opinions of Rashi's view in no uncertain terms. Rabbi Moshe Kohen Iben Crispin of Cordova, who lived in the fourteenth century, said of the Israel as servant interpretation, it "distorts the passage from its natural meaning" and that Isaiah 53 "was given of God as a description of the Messiah, whereby, when any should claim to be the Messiah, to judge by the resemblance or non-resemblance to it whether he were the Messiah or not." (4)
People have said that the case for Jesus can't be made logically, but that's exactly what does it for me. The impossible, mind blowing logic.
I remember some scientific study was done regarding Christ actually fulfilling all of the prophecy regarding him, the odds were astronomical. Numerically impossible in fact.
The prophesy continued and continues:
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all nations: and then shall the consummation come.
Christians the world over adore their Messiah, the one who changed everything, including how we count time. That in itself is miraculous.
It's enough to make you sing His praises and lift His blessed name to the highest.
Since the men writing the New Testament already had the benefit of knowing the prophecies of the Tanakh, it isn't surprising that their chosen Messiah is written to have fulfilled the prophecies.
You believe that the NT was the inspired word of God, not of men simply making things up as they went along. That's a matter of Faith, not logic.
While I believe this, it still does not help me understand the logic behind the Plan of Salvation. And it's not because it hasn't been explained to me. I went to private, parochial schools until I began post-graduate studies.
You've tried to give me a better explanation, but it either doesn't make sense or hasn't sunk into my thick head.
Let me make an analogy that I hope you don't think is sacreligious or flippant, because that's not how I intend it in the slightest.
I'm the Grandad and my grandkids do some bad stuff. I'm willing to forgive them, but in order for me to really forgive them, they have to round up some animals and stab them. Then, my own son has to be tortured to death.
After that, being sorry is enough.
I can certainly understand the wisdom of God in the form of Jesus coming to earth to lead an example and to teach, but transferred bloodshed, where you can put your sins on an animal or another human, or why you'd even have to, are still puzzle to me.
And I hope you don't say that it's because I've never had a real zeal for religion or a personal relationship with Christ or God. I started college as a theology major, but I couldn't get my questions answered.
I had the exact same questions. Here's how I visualize it:
God (the father) lies outside of our physical universe. The nature of God, the essence of God, is that we lose our ability to communicate with him when our thoughts turn to what has been defined as "sin" (i.e. the ten commandments).
In order to re-establish communications, God (the father) had to engineer a solution where he could commune with us.
The solution was that he manfiested in the flesh a part of the Godhead, Christ, the logos in which he *could* have constant commune provided that the logos in the flesh never sinned.
While Christ was alive, this channel of communication stayed open. When Christ died, this channel remained open because there was no longer any sin or possibility that any sin could close it because it was no longer attached to flesh. Instead it is attached to the spirt of Christ, which cannot sin.
(Joh 10:9 "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out, and find pasture. )
When we accept the indwelling of God's spirit, the spirit of Christ, then we have access to this channel through the spirit of Christ. Note that we can still "block" it with sin, or we can reject the spirit, but it can never be closed by us because it is not of us.
(Joh 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you have the power to do nothing. )
That is WHY Jesus the man had to live and die.
The concept of sacrifice is of course related. God set up a system that emphasized sacrifice so that when the time came to accept God's spirit, we would understand what was involved. What is involved is sacrificing our own selves, our own thoughts, ideas and sins, and embracing the mind of God which we have access to thorugh Christ.
The sacrifice of animals also foretold of course the sacrifice of the physical Christ.
Being sorry isn't enough. Repentence is what is required. When we attempt to live our lives (which invariably is sin) then we need to repent and remember that the channel to God thorugh Christ is only open as long as we are letting Christ lead our lives. In response, our very naturei is transformed day by day to become more like the nature of Christ.
This may just sound like senseless ranting, but I think the problem with theology is that they never try to relate it to real world scenarios...it always seems so distant and ethereral.
You have no idea what I believe.
So take your anti-10 Commandments attitude and just buzz off!