Monday, March 10, 2014

Analysis of The Gospel According to Isaiah 53

There are many different topics that can be discussed in dealing with this work; it is my hope to cover several of them as best as I can. This may not be exactly what is expected, but it is the best of what I can offer. So without further ado, let us take a look at the Gospel According to Isaiah 53.
Israel as Servant
            One thing that has to be understood about this work is how it was understood in regards to its original audience. When the LORD spoke of a suffering servant, who/what was he actually referring to? Was he referring to the people of Israel as a whole? Or was he pointing to a specific person at a specific time? This book helps us to take a look at these questions and answer them objectively.  When answering the question about the people of Israel we get one point of view that says, “…the Lord refers to them as “witnesses” (plural) and then goes on to identify them as “my servant” (singular). So from this we know that the singular “my servant” can indeed refer to the nation of Israel as a whole.”[1]
            According to this work and its chapter on Jewish interpretations of Isaiah 53, when taking a closer look at the disparity between how many times the servant is referred to as the nation verses an individual, there is a major difference. A closer look at the Bock text reveals that, “On a larger contextual level, it should be noted that the servant of the Lord is mentioned a total of nineteen times in Isaiah 40-51, sometimes with reference to the nation as a whole (41:8-9, 42:19 [2x]; 43:10; 44:21 [2x]; 45:4; 48:20), and sometimes with reference to a righteous individual within the nation (49:3, 5-7; 50:10).”[2]
            While there may appear to be so many different verses that seem to support the understanding of the servant being Israel itself, that is not the case. “God, speaking in the first person singular and describing the sufferings of the Servant in the third person singular. And this means that the only legitimate, exegetically consistent interpretation of Isaiah 53:8 is that the Servant of the Lord suffered for the people of Israel, not that the servant actually was the people of Israel.”[3]  If that were not enough Bock explains, “Isaiah 53 indisputably features the vicarious sufferings of the righteous Servant as a central theme, and that righteous Servant cannot be Israel, whose sufferings have not brought atonement and forgiveness to the nations.”[4]
            What we can come to understand is that positionally Israel was not in the place to be the Servant because it lacked the righteousness required.  And it is with that lacking we find the more easily understood truth, that Israel incapable of saving herself. Bock further details this by saying, “The Servant has a mission to all Israel to see that they are restored back into the land, so this usage of the term “servant” cannot be a reference to the nation Israel, for in that case, they would be acting on themselves rather than receiving the deliverance promised to them.”[5] As can be seen by this argument, this author does not believe that the servant of the Lord is in reference to Israel, but instead it is a messianic reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Messianic Servant
            If you stop for a moment and take a look at all of the evidence offered up by Isaiah, and then you examine the evidence found in the NT, it becomes much easier to see how Jesus (Yeshua) meets the criteria for the Servant of the Lord. To be certain that Jesus is the messiah,
There are four expressions of what God did to the Servant, Yeshua: (1) “he was pierced” with the nails that went in to his hands and feet. (2) “he was crushed” or “bruised” by the thrust of the spear in his side, the slap on  his face, and the effort of dragging the cross, (3) he took “the punishment that brought us peace” as he faced his crucifixion alone,  and (4) he took the welts and stripes we should have received, as Pilate had him scourged and the soldiers smote him on his head with a reed. But all of this was for “our transgressions”, “our iniquities,” our peace,” and our “heal[ing].”

These are but a few evidences that Jesus was/is the Servant of the Lord. He was the only person with the righteousness to be able to pay the cost of the sins of not only Israel, but  the entire world.  Further evidence comes from the arrest of Jesus, he was lead as a lamb to the slaughter, or a sheep before a sheerer. This corresponds to the arrest to the arrest of Jesus in the garden and the five (that’s right five) trials Jesus would undergo in this one night.[6]
            There is also mention of the Servant being submissive to the will of the father. Christ shows this submission in the garden when he prays, “…Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42, ESV).  Bock points out that, “The Servant’s submission to the will of the father is detailed in this fourth strophe (Is 53:7-9). We see his submission in his suffering (v.7), his death (v. 8), and his burial (v.9).”[7]Further evidence that Jesus the messiah is the Servant described in the final servant song can be found in chapter 53:10-12.
            In this final section, we can see that the servant receives exaltation. The Lord himself brings this fifth strophe to a close along with the fourth Servant Song.[8] It reaches its climax and conclusion all in one final verse, verse 12.  This verse speaks of so many different things; it speaks of two different gifts, and four divine reasons why God’s seal of approval is put upon the servant. The Bock text speaks about each set, first he speaks of the divine gifts when he says, “I will give him a portion among the great,” and “he will divide the spoils with the strong.”[9] I am not exactly sure how these gifts play out in the life of Christ, but they are to be received by him. Now on the other hand, it is easier to recognize the four seals “(1) “because he poured out his life unto death,” (2) he allowed himself to be “numbered with the transgressors,” (3) “he bore the sin of many,” and (4) he “made intercession for the transgressors.”’[10] We see all of this played out at the execution of Jesus, by giving himself up to death for the sins of many, he was hanging on the cross next to two criminals, and he prayed that the Father would forgive the people because they did not know what they were doing. Matt 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19 all give the account of Jesus’ death.
The Servant in the New Testament
            There are several questions we have to be asking ourselves, how does the NT reveal this servant, and does Jesus consider himself to fulfill this prophecy?  In an answer to the second question, “R.T. France declares, that “Isaiah’s Servant figure was a major factor in Jesus’ understanding of is own mission and the crucial basis on which his followers found it possible to make sense of his death as the fulfillment of Scripture.”’[11] There are a minimum of fifty allusions or direct quotations taken from Isaiah 53 found throughout the entire NT, and at least twenty-nine of those are located in the Gospels.[12] This author is going to focus primarily on it use in the Gospels.  Of the twenty-nine references made to Isaiah, eighteen of them are found in Matthew’s Gospel, which is more than any other. [13]
            In this section we will not be focusing on one Servant Song in particular, but several. Matthew 3:17 is from Isaiah 42:1, it deals with the baptism of Jesus and his anointing of the Holy Spirit. Bock says, “Jesus’ anointing by the Spirit is both the coronation of Israel’s Messiah and the commissioning of God’s righteous servant for the work that he will now carry out in the power and the presence of the Spirit.”[14] There have been questions raised as to whether or not first-century Jew would have interpreted Isaiah 53:4 in a messianic nature, while there was some skepticism we have reason to believe from later rabbinic text that it was possible.[15] These are just a few of the many numerous examples of how these text have been used all throughout the NT to explain much about Jesus and his ministry.
            We have been on a long journey together, and it is this author’s hope that you have gained a greater insight into whom the Servant of the Lord was in Isaiah’s Servant Songs. We have seen that while at points it may have been feasible to want to apply the servant terminology to the nation of Israel itself, upon closer inspection we realize that it was unable to fulfill the requirements to be its own savior. We were then able to take some of the prophecies made about the Servant and apply them to the messiah, which as a Christian this author believes to be Jesus Christ. And finally we took all we had learned and applied it to the use of these prophecies in NT books specifically the book of Matthew. So take what you have learned here and apply it to further study of the Servant for yourself, and hopefully you will come to the same conclusion; which is Jesus is the promised Messiah who fulfilled the role of the Servant of the Lord fully and completely in ways that Israel never could.

Darrell L.Bock, and Mitch Glaser. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2012)41.

            [2] Ibid.75.
            [3] Ibid., 77.
            [4] Ibid. 77.
            [5] Ibid., 89
            [6] Ibid., 102.
            [7] Ibid. 102.
            [8] Ibid., 104.
            [9] Ibid., 106.
            [10] Ibid., 106
            [11] Ibid., 109
            [12] Ibid., 112
            [13] Ibid., 115.
            [14] Ibid., 120.
            [15] Ibid., 122-23.

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