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The Suffering Servant as Israel

Discussion in 'Judaism DIR' started by Shermana, Nov 24, 2013.

  1. Shermana

    Shermana Heretic

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    When discussing Messianic Prophecies, I often hear that Isaiah 53:10's Suffering Servant is a metaphor for Israel. I simply don't see it. And requests for clarification are not met.

    I'd like to hear how the Rabbinical opinion came to derive the events of Isaiah 53 as a metaphor for Israel, and what that means. I personally cannot see how the context is anywhere close to such a description, so I would like to see what the Rabbis said about it specifically, and when this idea developed, if it goes back to the earliest Talmud or is a later innovation.

    This is not meant to be debate or hostile exchange, so I am simply asking for an explanation on how such an interpretation is derived in Rabbinical thought.

    (*Note: If this issue is too debate-y, I will request for it to be moved to a debate thread).

    And if you feel a translation from the NIV is blatantly incorrect, feel free to demonstrate otherwise using other sources such as Complete Jewish Bible or a Hebrew site or whatnot.

    First off, the context begins at Isaiah 52:

    How was Israel's appearance disfigured? Is this a metaphor for how badly Israel was beaten by the gentiles when they disobeyed? Wouldn't that kind of defeat the point of being a "Suffering servant"?


    Wow, Israel was REALLY mauled to the point of its people not even being seen as human?

    And what does this mean? That the Jews will spread the message of Torah far and wide?

    What message? The message of the Torah itself?


    Who is this? Israel as a whole? Coming from Egypt when they are mostly poor? We are all ugly? Our message has no beauty or majesty? Israel has no majesty?




    What does this mean? That Israel is unfairly punished for the sins of others? That Israel has always been a righteous nation whose punishment is never justified?

    Same thing. Is this saying Israel is like a Whipping Boy?

    How is that possibly a reference to Israel? If the "we" is Israel who is gone astray, then who is the one being mentioned? So clearly we see here, that Isaiah is referring to Israel as the one who sinned, not the suffering servant.

    I highly doubt that it means to say that Israel did not complain or cry out when it was tormented. It seems that the concept is that the Suffering Servant was completely innocent.

    And is this supposed to be a reference to the Babylonian captivity?

    No one of his generation protested? Well then, is that saying that no one was complaining when the Babylonians were carted off? Seems more like it was talking about a person who was unfairly martyred.

    "Transgression of My people" "he was punished", explain this one. I have no idea how this is reconciled as the suffering servant being Israel. Unless someone is serving as a Guilt Offering, why is one man suffering for another's sins?

    Well obviously this can't be about Israel, since Israel is constantly getting punished for its deceit and violence.

    Okay, so what is this "offering for sin" exactly? Explain this verse.

    So it mentions his offspring being the ones who have gone on, but it still says he will see the light of life after suffering. I can possibly see how that's a reference to Israel itself, but it still doesn't make sense. If anything it seems like it's referring to the ressurrection.

    What knowledge will "israel" have that "justifies" many? What does it mean he will "bear their iniquities"?

    What does it mean to have a "Portion among the great" here? What spoils?

    So he was killed yet his offspring get the reward? Doesn't make sense. Why does it say he was "numbered with the transgressors"?

    Explain that one in terms of it being a metaphor for Israel. How does he bear the sins of many, how does he make intercession for the transgressors.

    Now again if this ends up being too argumentative, I will request it to be moved to the debate section.
     
    #1 Shermana, Nov 24, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2013
  2. punkdbass

    punkdbass I will be what I will be

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    You can read my rather old thoughts on the topic in a thread I created here.

    I remember I used to be very interested in this kind of stuff, and I remember finding evidence in the Talmud that the Rabbis thought the Suffering Servant was Israel.. and some thought it referred to the messiah.. unfortunately I don't have the desire to look up actual citations right now lol. I just know that shortly before Isaiah 53 we are specifically told that God's "servant" is Israel, and given the fact that the whole "Chapter system" is a rather late invention, I don't see any reason why the servant of Isaiah 53 is not the same servant mentioned a few chapters earlier - Israel.

    I guess the reason why the topic interests me less now is that I no longer look at the Bible as a "list of prophecies that were mysteriously fulfilled hundreds of years after it being written" as many Christians or fundamentalists tend to do so. The brain has this interesting ability to project patterns, for example of something you currently believe, into almost anything. Thus it's very easy for people to look at modern events and project these events into the Bible, for example. But correlation does not prove causation. Given a text with over a thousand pages, and you'll be able to argue for "correlations" with just about anything.

    Since you are a messianic Jew, I know why you're interested in Isaiah 53. I most certainly don't think this was a prophecy of Jesus, I agree with liberal Christian scholar John Shelby Spong's idea that Jesus did many great things that produced profound feelings and experiences in his followers, and his followers turned to the only "god language" they had at the time, to try and make sense out of these experiences - the Hebrew Bible. Thus they used many of the stories of the Tanakh to try and describe exactly what it was they felt or experienced in Jesus - full well knowing that these stories did not literally point to Jesus - something many modern Christians fail to realize.

    I think the idea of the Suffering Servant was written to introduce new ideas to the Jews at the time, namely to help them make sense out of their suffering - but also to introduce ideas that would later support concepts such as "love your enemies."
     
  3. CMike

    CMike Well-Known Member

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    Isaiah was a jew writing for jews.

    The suffering servant was Israel.

    I don't feel like typing in detail so I am going to use the copy and paste option instead.

    Isaiah 53 – The Jewish Perspective « Jewish Isaiah 53

    A. PRELIMINARY ISSUES

    Before engaging in an examination of Isaiah 53 itself, some preliminary issues must be considered. First is the issue of circular reasoning. Even if we interpret the chapter as the Christians do (forgetting for a minute the mistranslations and distortions of context which will be noted below), the most that could be said is this: Isaiah 53 is about someone who dies for the sins of others.

    People may have seen Jesus die, but did anyone see him die as an atonement for the sins of others? Of course not; this is simply the meaning which the New Testament gives to his death. Only if you already accept the New Testament teaching that his death had a non-visible, spiritual significance can you than go back to Isaiah and say, “see – the Prophet predicted what I already believe.” Isaiah 53, then, is in reality no “proof” at all, but rather a contrived confirmation for someone who has already chosen Christianity.

    Second (and consistent with all Jewish teaching at the time), Jesus’ own disciples didn’t view Isaiah 53 as a messianic prophecy. For example, after Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah (Matt. 16:16), he is informed that Jesus will be killed (Matt. 16:21). His response: “God forbid it, lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matt. 16:22). See, also, Mk. 9:31-32; Mk. 16:10-11; Jn. 20:9.

    Even Jesus didn’t see Isaiah 53 as crucial to his messianic claims – why else did he call the Jews children of the devil for not believing in him before the alleged resurrection (Jn. 8:39-47)? And why did he later request that God “remove this cup from me” (Mk. 14:36) – didn’t he know that a “removal of the cup” would violate the gentile understanding of Isaiah 53?

    And third, even if we accept the gentile Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53, where is it indicated (either in Isaiah 53 or anywhere else in our Jewish Scriptures) that you must believe in this “Messiah” to get the benefits?

    B. CONTEXT

    Since any portion of Scripture is only understood properly when viewed in the context of God’s revelation as a whole, some additional study will be helpful before you “tackle” Isaiah 53.

    Look at the setting in which Isaiah 53 occurs. Earlier on in Isaiah, God had predicted exile and calamity for the Jewish people. Chapter 53, however, occurs in the midst of Isaiah’s “Messages of Consolation”, which tell of the restoration of Israel to a position of prominence and a vindication of their status as God’s chosen people. In chapter 52, for example, Israel is described as “oppressed without cause” (v.4) and “taken away” (v.5), yet God promises a brighter future ahead, one in which Israel will again prosper and be redeemed in the sight of all the nations (v.1-3, 8-12).
    Chapter 54 further elaborates upon the redemption which awaits the nation of Israel.

    Following immediately after chapter 53′s promise of a reward for God’s servant in return for all of its suffering (53:10-12), chapter 54 describes an unequivocally joyous fate for the Jewish people. Speaking clearly of the Jewish people and their exalted status (even according to all Christian commentaries), chapter 54 ends as follows: “`This is the heritage of the servants of the L-rd and their vindication is from Me,’ declares the L-rd.”

    C. ISAIAH 53

    In the original Hebrew texts, there are no chapter divisions, and Jew and Christian alike agree that chapter 53 is actually a continuation of the prophecy which begins at 52:13. Accordingly, our analysis must begin at that verse.

    52:13 “Behold, My servant will prosper.” Israel in the singular is called God’s servant throughout Isaiah, both explicitly (Isa. 41:8-9; 44:1-2; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3) and implicitly (Isa. 42:19-20; 43:10) – the Messiah is not. Other references to Israel as God’s servant include Jer. 30:10 (note that in Jer. 30:17, the servant Israel is regarded by the nations as an outcast, forsaken by God, as in Isa. 53:4); Jer. 46:27-

    28; Ps. 136:22; Lk. 1:54. ALSO: Given the Christian view that Jesus is God, is God His own servant?

    52:15 – 53:1 “So shall he (the servant) startle many nations, the kings will stand speechless; For that which had not been told them they shall see and that which they had not heard shall they ponder.

    Who would believe what we have heard?” Quite clearly, the nations and their kings will be amazed at what happens to the “servant of the L-rd,” and they will say “who would believe what we have heard?”. 52:15 tells us explicitly that it is the nations of the world, the gentiles, who are doing the talking in Isaiah 53. See, also, Micah 7:12-17, which speaks of the nations’ astonishment when the Jewish people again blossom in the Messianic age.

    53:1 “And to whom has the arm of the L-rd been revealed?” In Isaiah, and throughout our Scriptures, God’s “arm” refers to the physical redemption of the Jewish people from the oppression of other nations (see, e.g., Isa. 52:8-12; Isa.
     
  4. CMike

    CMike Well-Known Member

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    Once again, it's talking about Israel.

    Part 2

    63:12; Deut. 4:34; Deut. 7:19; Ps. 44:3).

    53:3 “Despised and rejected of men.” While this is clearly applicable to Israel (see

    Isa. 60:15; Ps. 44:13-14), it cannot be reconciled with the New Testament account of Jesus, a man who was supposedly “praised by all” (Lk. 4:14-15) and followed by multitudes (Matt. 4:25), who would later acclaim him as a prophet upon his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:9-11). Even as he was taken to be crucified, a multitude bemoaned his fate (Lk. 23:27). Jesus had to be taken by stealth, as the rulers feared “a riot of the people” (Mk. 14:1-2).

    53:3 “A man of pains and acquainted with disease.” Israel’s adversities are frequently likened to sickness – see, e.g., Isa. 1:5-6; Jer. 10:19; Jer 30:12.

    53:4 “Surely our diseases he carried and our pains he bore.” In Matt. 8:17, this is correctly translated, and said to be literally (not spiritually) fulfilled in Jesus’ healing of the sick, a reading inconsistent with the Christian mistranslation of 53:4 itself.

    53:4 “Yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of G- D and afflicted.” See Jer. 30:17 – of God’s servant Israel (30:10), it is said by the nations, “It is Zion; no one cares for her.”

    53:5 “But he was wounded from (NOTE: not for) our transgressions, he was crushed from (AGAIN: not for) our iniquities.” Whereas the nations had thought the Servant (Israel) was undergoing Divine retribution for its sins (53:4), they now realize that the Servant’s sufferings stemmed from their actions and sinfulness. This theme is further developed throughout our Jewish Scriptures – see, e.g., Jer. 50:7; Jer. 10:25. ALSO: Note that the Messiah “shall not fail nor be crushed till he has set the right in the earth” (Isa. 42:4).

    53:7 “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so he did not open his mouth.” Note that in the prior chapter (Isa. 52), Israel is said to have been oppressed and taken away without cause (52:4-5).

    A similar theme is developed in Psalm 44, wherein King David speaks of Israel’s faithfulness even in the face of gentile oppression (44:17- 18) and describes Israel as “sheep to be slaughtered” in the midst of the unfaithful gentile nations (44:22,11).
    Regarding the claim that Jesus “did not open his mouth” when faced with oppression and affliction, see Matt. 27:46, Jn. 18:23, 36-37.

    53:8 “From dominion and judgement he was taken away.” Note the correct translation of the Hebrew. The Christians are forced to mistranslate, since – by Jesus’ own testimony – he never had any rights to rulership or judgement, at least not on the “first coming.” See, e.g., Jn. 3:17; Jn. 8:15; Jn. 12:47; Jn. 18:36.
    53:8 “He was cut off out of the land of the living.”


    53:9 “His grave was assigned with wicked men.” See Ez. 37:11-14, wherein Israelis described as “cut off” and God promises to open its “graves” and bring Israel back into its own land. Other examples of figurative deaths include Ex. 10:17; 2 Sam.

    9:8; 2 Sam. 16:9.

    53:8 “From my peoples’ sins, there was injury to them.” Here the Prophet makes absolutely clear, to anyone familiar with Biblical Hebrew, that the oppressed Servant is a collective Servant, not a single individual. The Hebrew word “lamoh”, when used in our Scriptures, always means “to them” never “to him” and may be found, for example, in Psalm 99:7 – “They kept his testimonies, and the statute that He gave to them.”

    53:9 “And with the rich in his deaths.” Perhaps King James should have changed the original Hebrew, which again makes clear that we are dealing with a collective Servant, i.e., Israel, which will “come to life” when the exile ends (Ez. 37:14).

    53:9 “He had done no violence.” See Matt. 21:12; Mk. 11:15-16; Lk. 19:45; Lk. 19:27; Matt. 10:34 and Lk. 12:51; then judge for yourself whether this passage is truly consistent with the New Testament account of Jesus.

    53:10 “He shall see his seed.” The Hebrew word for “seed”, used in this verse, always refers to physical descendants in our Jewish Scriptures. See, e.g., Gen. 12:7; Gen. 15:13; Gen. 46:6; Ex. 28:43. A different word, generally translated as “sons”, is used to refer to spiritual descendants (see Deut. 14:1, e.g.).

    53:10 “He will prolong his days.” Not only did Jesus die young, but how could the days be prolonged of someone who is alleged to be God?

    53:11 “With his knowledge the righteous one, my Servant, will cause many to be just.” Note again the correct translation: the Servant will cause many to be just, he will not “justify the many.” The Jewish mission is to serve as a “light to the nations” which will ultimately lead the world to a knowledge of the one true God, this both by example (Deut. 4:5-8; Zech. 8:23) and by instructing the nations in God’s Law (Isa. 2:3-4; Micah 4:2-3).

    53:12 “Therefore, I will divide a portion to him with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty.” If Jesus is God, does the idea of reward have any meaning? Is it not rather the Jewish people – who righteously bore the sins of the world and yet remained faithful to God (Ps. 44) – who will be rewarded, and this in the manner described more fully in Isaiah chapters 52 and 54?
     
  5. Shermana

    Shermana Heretic

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    So you're saying Isaiah directly contradicts with the account that Israel was oppressed and taken away because of it's many sins I see.
     
  6. CMike

    CMike Well-Known Member

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    Jewish scripture is about judaism. It has nothing to do with jesus.

    Christans try to twist it around to try and support your beliefs.

    Jews have their scriptures, christians have their scriptures. They are mutually exclusive.
     
  7. CMike

    CMike Well-Known Member

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    No it's one lone prophesy.

    Israel will go down, then it will go up.

    That's Israel's history.

    In 52 it says Israel will go down, then in 53 it will go up again.
     
  8. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    May I ask what commentaries you've read on the matter?
     
  9. Avi1001

    Avi1001 reform Jew humanist liberal feminist entrepreneur

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    The interesting thing that strikes me first about Isaiah was his remarkable timing. Israel was just beginning what would be a terribly violent period of history. Here is a wiki section providing some context:

    -------
    In early youth, Isaiah may have been moved by the invasion of Israel by the Assyrian monarch Tiglath-Pileser III (2 Kings 15:19); and again, twenty years later, when he had already entered his office, by the invasion of Tiglath-Pileser and his career of conquest. Ahaz, king of Judah, at this crisis refused to co-operate with the kings of Israel and Syria in opposition to the Assyrians, and was on that account attacked and defeated by Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Israel (2 Kings 16:5; 2 Chronicles 28:5&#8211;6). Humbled, Ahaz sided with Assyria and sought the aid of Tiglath-Pileser against Israel and Syria. The consequence was that Rezin and Pekah were conquered and many of the people carried captive to Assyria (2 Kings 15:29, 16:9; 1 Chronicles 5:26).


    Isaiah receives his vision of the Lord's house. A stained glass window at St. Matthew's German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina
    Soon after this, Shalmaneser V determined to subdue the kingdom of Israel, Samaria was taken and destroyed (722 BC). So long as Ahaz reigned, the kingdom of Judah was unmolested by the Assyrian power; but on his accession to the throne, Hezekiah, who was encouraged to rebel "against the king of Assyria" (2 Kings 18:7), entered into an alliance with the king of Egypt (Isaiah 30:2&#8211;4). This led the king of Assyria to threaten the king of Judah, and at length to invade the land. Sennacherib (701 BC) led a powerful army into Judah. Hezekiah was reduced to despair, and submitted to the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:14&#8211;16). But after a brief interval war broke out again. Again Sennacherib led an army into Judah, one detachment of which threatened Jerusalem (Isaiah 36:2&#8211;22; 37:8). Isaiah on that occasion encouraged Hezekiah to resist the Assyrians (37:1&#8211;7), whereupon Sennacherib sent a threatening letter to Hezekiah, which he "spread before the Lord" (37:14).

    Ref - wiki: Isaiah - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    --------
     
    #9 Avi1001, Nov 25, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2013
  10. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    That's all very nice except for the fact that the "suffering servant" comes from Isaiah 53, widely assumed to be a later work and often referred to as "Proto-Isaiah."
     
  11. Avi1001

    Avi1001 reform Jew humanist liberal feminist entrepreneur

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  12. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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  13. TheKnight

    TheKnight Guardian of Life

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    While I am not aptly skilled enough to address how the components of Isaiah 53 apply analogously to Israel, I can say that within the context of the entire section (Isaiah 42ish-61ish) seems to be metaphorically speaking about Israel. Given that Isaiah 53 is within that section, it would seem to fit that it is also speaking of Israel as well.
     
  14. Rakovsky

    Rakovsky Active Member

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    Actually, it's one traditional view in Judaism that Isaiah 42 is about Messiah, as Maimonides writes. I discussed this in my thread here and welcome you to come in:
    Why should one believe that something the TaNaKh predicts would actually literally occur?
     
  15. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    To reprise a comment by @RabbiO, you seem to be willfully violating DIR guidelines. Please familiarize yourself with these guidelines and request that your 'TaNaKh' thread be moved to a more appropriate forum.
     
  16. Rakovsky

    Rakovsky Active Member

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    Thank you for clarifying.
    My preference is for the thread to stay here because I seek the answers and input of Jewish writers like yourself. I will try to avoid violating DIR guidelines.
    Shalom.
     
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