Who can believe what we have heard?
Upon whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he has grown, by His favour
Like a tree crown
Like a tree trunk out of arid ground.
He had no form or beauty
That we should look at him:
No charm, that we should find him pleasing.
He was despised, shunned by men
A man of suffering, familiar with disease.
As one who hid his face from us
He was despised, we held him of no account.
Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing,
Our suffering that he endured.
We accounted him plagued,
Smitten and afflicted by God;
But he was wounded because of our sins
Crushed because of our iniquities.
He bore the chastisement that made us whole
And by his bruises we were healed.
We all went astray like sheep
Each going his own way
And the Lord visited upon him
The guilt of all of us.
He was maltreated, yet he was submissive
He did not open his mouth
Like a sheep being led to slaughter
Like a ewe, dumb before those who her
He did not open his mouth.
By oppressive judgment he was taken away
Who could describe his abode?
For he was cut off from the land of the living
Through the sin of my people
Who deserved punishment.
And his grave was set among the wicked
And with the rich, in his death –
Though he had done no injustice
And had spoken no falsehood.
But the Lord chose to crush him by disease
That, if he made himself an offering for guilt
He might see offspring and have long life
And that through him the Lord’s purpose might prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see it
He shall enjoy it to the full through his devotion.
My righteous servant makes the many righteous
It is their punishment that he bears
Assuredly, I will give him the many as his portion
He shall receive the multitude as his spoil.
For he exposed himself to death
And was numbered among the sinners
Whereas he bore the guilt of the many
And made intercession for sinners.
-Isaiah 53 (Jewish Study Bible)
Jewish interpretation of this much debated passage has itself diverse opinions:
• The servant symbolizes all Jewish people;
• The servant symbolizes a pious minority within the sinful nation Israel;
• The servant symbolizes the Messiah;
• The servant symbolizes Jeremiah;
• The servant symbolizes Moses;
• The servant is a symbol to the nations of Israel, “an insignificant and lowly group [who] turns out to have been so important to the divine plan” (JSB 2004:891);
• The death/resurrection of the servant stands for the death of the nation sent into exile and its resurrection at the end of exile (as in Ezekiel 37).
Christian interpretation of this passage is that it describes the Messiah, Jesus – His coming, suffering, death, resurrection and vindication.
Rabbi Yecheil Eckstein (How Firm a Foundation: a gift of Jewish Wisdom for Christians and Jews, 1997:7, 23-24, 30) has well pointed out a problem between Jewish and Christian approaches to prophecy and its interpretation:
(pp. 23-24) Since the Torah is not the sole source of authority for Jews but rather is understood through the eyes of the far more elaborate oral tradition, traditional Jews would be inclined to study scriptures along with the many commentaries that were written over the centuries . . . . And while Jews may offer their own insights into the biblical text (provided they do not conflict with the Talmud or traditional principles of Jewish exegesis), they would be inclined to ground them in the rabbinic commentaries. Christians, on the other hand, and Evangelicals in particular, believe that their reading of the Bible is guided by the Holy Spirit. They, therefore, tend to read the biblical text directly, in and of itself, rather than through the lens of a vast body of earlier commentary literature.
There are Christians . . . who speak ‘prophetically’ on issues of major significance, claiming, for example, to have had a divine revelation informing them when the next Mideast war or global catastrophe might occur. … Usually such Christians preface the divulgence of their private revelation with the phrase: ‘God told me. . . .’ … Jews invariably cringe when they hear such statements and instinctively ask where are the checks and balances that might prevent one from abusing and manipulating the word of God. … To believe that they can discern God’s will today directly, without recourse to Torah, Talmud, tradition, and other such factors, is to rely too much upon human nature, which is heavily influenced by the evil inclination toward sin.
Judaism maintains that there is a diminution of religious authority with each successive generation, as we get further and further away from the Sinai revelation. The Torah is, therefore, more authoritative than the Prophets, which is more authoritative than the Mishnah, which is more authoritative than the Gemara, and so on.
(p. 30) . . . At Sinai the Jews had a revelatory experience wherein they encountered a commanding God who unfolded his will for man. That was itself sufficient reason to accept his word unquestioningly. Such is the Jewish love for God’s word and commitment to it. The Torah is a tree of life, an eternal heritage to be passed on from generation to generation. It is that which gives depth and meaning to the Jew’s life (Deut. 6:1-4). The Torah is God’s precious gift to Israel so that she might truly live (Deut. 5:30-33).
(p. 7) The study of the Torah is the Jew’s loftiest spiritual pursuit.
Just a few examples show that Yeshua, the Judean, was quite clear about the role of interpretation, and the pre-eminence and role of Torah, the Prophets (Neviim) and the writings (Ketuvim) – which is short-formed collectively as Tanakh:
Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete. Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah – not until everything that must happen has happened. So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvoth and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. (JNT, Matthew 5:17-19)
Now when he went to Natzeret, where he had been brought up, on Shabbat he went to the synagogue as usual. He stood up to read, and was given the scroll of the prophet Yesha’yahu. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me;
therefore he has anointed me to announce
Good News to the poor;
he has sent me to proclaim freedom
for the imprisoned
and renewed sight for the blind,
to release those who have been crushed,
to proclaim a year of the favour of Adonai.
After closing the scroll and returning it to the shammash, he sat down; and the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. He started to speak to them: “Today, as you heard it read, this passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled!” (JNT, Luke 4:16-21)
Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that sums up the teaching of the Torah and the Prophets. (JNT, Matthew 7:12)
Yeshua said to them, ‘This is what I meant when I was still with you and told you that everything written about me in the Torah of Moshe, the Prophets and Psalms had to be fulfilled.’ (JNT, Luke 24:44)
Interestingly, the council in Jerusalem (JNT, Acts 15:13-19) records the continuation of Yeshua’s way of interpretation through James:
Ya’akov . . . said, ‘hear what I have to say. Shim’on has told in detail what God did when he first began to show his concern for taking from among the Goyim a people to bear his name. And the words of the Prophets are in complete harmony with this – for it is written,
After this, I will return;
and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David.
I will rebuild its ruins,
I will restore it, so that the rest of mankind
may seek the Lord,
that is, all the Goyim
who have been called by my name,
says Adonai, who is doing these things. [JNT, Amos 9:11-12]
All this has been known for ages. Therefore, my opinion is that we should not put obstacles in the way of the Goyim who are turning to God. Instead, we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from what is strangled and from blood. For from the earliest times, Moshe has had in every city those who proclaim him, with his words being read in the synagogues every Shabbat.
James not only refers to the Tanakh but he also points out that beyond the things written in the letter, those Goyim turning to God can learn more through the synagogues which are located in every city and who teach the words of Moshe = Torah. In other words, give the Goyim (‘foreigner’) the basics and they can learn the details of Torah in their local synagogues.
So, imbued with the Holy Spirit, and not neglecting that which has gone before, I offer some food for thought. Who is the “foreigner” in Isaiah 55?
Thus said the Lord:
Observe what is right and do what is just;
For soon My salvation shall come,
And my deliverance be revealed.
Happy is the man who does this,
The man who holds fast to it:
Who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
And stays his hand from doing any evil.
Let not the foreigner say,
Who has attached himself to the Lord,
‘The Lord will keep me apart from His people’. . . .
As for the foreigners
Who attach themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him,
And to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants –
All who keep the Sabbath and do not profane it,
And who hold fast to My covenant –
I will bring them to My sacred mount
And let them rejoice in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
Shall be welcome on My altar;
For My House shall be called
A house of prayer for all peoples.
Thus declares the Lord God,
Who gathers the dispersed of Israel:
‘I will gather still more to those already gathered.’…
Is the ‘foreigner’ in Isaiah 56 just representative of those converts who returned to Jerusalem with the Judeans from exile as understood in Jewish interpretation (JSB)? Or can this text be read as prophecy?
And while pondering those questions, you may want to think about why Christians accept the moral validity of the ten commandments but reject the keeping of Shabbat, both a commandment (5th) as well as a “covenant for all time” (Exodus 31:16), both for Jews and the ‘foreigners who attach themselves to the Lord’?
Be sure you are not ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ when it comes to interpretation – do not neglect our Foundation’s foundation.
The Lord is coming!