The Biblical text from the Hebrew Bible...
1 Who has believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he has no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace (shalom) was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people (Israel) was he stricken.
9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief: when thou shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my Righteous Servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities (sins).
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he has poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (Torah breakers).
Yeshua (Jesus) is this "Righteous Servant" of Isaiah
Read On...we only just begun!
|Isaiah 53: What Did the Rabbis Say?
Maybe you weren't told, but many ancient rabbinic sources understood Isaiah 53 as referring to the Messiah. Here are quotations from some of them:
Babylonian Talmud: "The Messiah --what is his name?...The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b)
Midrash Ruth Rabbah: "Another explanation (of Ruth ii.14): -- He is speaking of king Messiah; `Come hither,' draw near to the throne; `and eat of the bread,' that is, the bread of the kingdom; `and dip thy morsel in the vinegar,' this refers to his chastisements, as it is said, `But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities'"
Targum Jonathan: "Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high and increase and be exceedingly strong..."
Zohar: "`He was wounded for our transgressions,' etc....There is in the Garden of Eden a palace called the Palace of the Sons of Sickness; this palace the Messiah then enters, and summons every sickness, every pain, and every chastisement of Israel; they all come and rest upon him. And were it not that he had thus lightened them off Israel and taken them upon himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel's chastisements for the transgression of the law: and this is that which is written, `Surely our sicknesses he hath carried.'"
Rabbi Moses Maimonides: "What is the manner of Messiah's advent....there shall rise up one of whom none have known before, and signs and wonders which they shall see performed by him will be the proofs of his true origin; for the Almighty, where he declares to us his mind upon this matter, says, `Behold a man whose name is the Branch, and he shall branch forth out of his place' (Zech. 6:12). And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he shall appear, without father or mother or family being known, He came up as a sucker before him, and as a root out of dry earth, etc....in the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which kings will harken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived." (From the Letter to the South (Yemen), quoted in The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, 1969, Volume 2, pages 374-5)
Rabbi Mosheh Kohen Ibn Crispin: This rabbi described those who interpret Isaiah 53 as referring to Israel as those: "having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined after the `stubbornness of their own hearts,' and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it, in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah....This prophecy was delivered by Isaiah at the divine command for the purpose of making known to us something about the nature of the future Messiah, who is to come and deliver Israel, and his life from the day when he arrives at discretion until his advent as a redeemer, in order that if anyone should arise claiming to be himself the Messiah, we may reflect, and look to see whether we can observe in him any resemblance to the traits described here; if there is any such resemblance, then we may believe that he is the Messiah our righteousness; but if not, we cannot do so." (From his commentary on Isaiah, quoted in The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, 1969, Volume 2, pages 99-114.)
Many more rabbinic citations can be found in books listed in the resource list:
The Messiah Texts, by Raphael Patai, Avon Books
The Songs of the Servant, by Henri Blocher, InterVarsity Press
The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, 1969
The Book of Isaiah, a three-volume commentary by E.J. Young, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
The Messianic Hope, by Dr. Arthur Kac, Baker Book House
|1. The servant of Isaiah 53 is an innocent and guiltless sufferer.
Israel is never described as sinless. Isaiah 1:4 says of the nation: "Alas sinful nation, a people laden with
iniquity. A brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters!" He then goes on in the same chapter to characterize
Judah as Sodom, Jerusalem as a harlot, and the people as those whose hands are stained with blood (verses 10, 15,
and 21). What a far cry from the innocent and guiltless sufferer of Isaiah 53 who had "done no violence, nor
was any deceit in his mouth!"
2. The prophet said: "It pleased the LORD to bruise him." Has the awful treatment of the Jewish people (so contrary, by the way, to the teaching of Yeshua (Jesus) to love everyone) really been God's pleasure, as is said of the suffering of the servant in Isaiah 53:10 ? If, as some rabbis contend, Isaiah 53 refers to the holocaust, can we really say of Israel's suffering during that horrible period, "It pleased the LORD to bruise him?" Yet it makes perfect sense to say that God was pleased to have Messiah suffer and die as our sin offering to provide us forgiveness and atonement.
3. The person mentioned in this passage suffers silently and willingly. Yet all people, even Israelites, complain when they suffer! Brave Jewish men and women fought in resistance movements against Hitler. Remember the Vilna Ghetto Uprising? Remember the Jewish men who fought on the side of the allies? Can we really say Jewish suffering during the holocaust and during the preceding centuries was done silently and willingly?
4. The figure described in Isaiah 53 suffers, dies, and rises again to atone for his people's sins. The Hebrew word used in Isaiah 53:10 for "sin-offering" is "asham," which is a technical term meaning "sin-offering." See how it is used in Leviticus chapters 5 and 6. Isaiah 53 describes a sinless and perfect sacrificial lamb who takes upon himself the sins of others so that they might be forgiven. Can anyone really claim that the terrible suffering of the Jewish people, however undeserved and unjust, atones for the sins of the world? Whoever Isaiah 53 speaks of, the figure described suffers and dies in order to provide a legal payment for sin so that others can be forgiven. This cannot be true of the Jewish people as a whole, or of any other mere human.
5. It is the prophet who is speaking in this passage. He says: "who has believed our message." The term "message" usually refers to the prophetic message, as it does in Jeremiah 49:14. Also, when we understand the Hebrew parallelism of verse 1, we see "Who has believed our message" as parallel to "to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed." The "arm of the Lord" refers to God's powerful act of salvation. So the message of the speaker is the message of a prophet declaring what God has done to save his people.
6. The prophet speaking is Isaiah himself, who says the sufferer was punished for "the transgression of my people," according to verse 8. Who are the people of Isaiah? Israel. So the sufferer of Isaiah 53 suffered for Israel. So how could he be Israel?
7. The figure of Isaiah 53 dies and is buried according to verses 8 and 9. The people of Israel have never died as a whole. They have been out of the land on two occasions and have returned, but they have never ceased to be among the living. Yet Yeshua died, was buried, and rose again.
8. If Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Israel, how about Isaiah himself? But Isaiah said he was a sinful man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5-7). And Isaiah did not die as an atonement for our sins. Could it have been Jeremiah? Jeremiah 11:19 does echo the words of Isaiah 53. Judah rejected and despised the prophet for telling them the truth. Leaders of Judah sought to kill Jeremiah, and so the prophet describes himself in these terms. But they were not able to kill the prophet. Certainly Jeremiah did not die to atone for the sins of his people. What of Moses? Could the prophet have been speaking of him? But Moses wasn't sinless either. Moses sinned and was forbidden from entering the promised land (Numbers 20:12). Moses indeed attempted to offer himself as a sacrifice in place of the nation, but God did not allow him to do so (Exodus 32:30-35). Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah were all prophets who gave us a glimpse of what Messiah, the ultimate prophet, would be like, but none of them quite fit Isaiah 53.
So what can we conclude? Isaiah 53 cannot refer to the nation of Israel, nor to Isaiah, nor to Moses, nor another prophet. And if not to Moses, certainly not to any lesser man. Yet Messiah would be greater than Moses. As the rabbinic writing "Yalkut" said: "Who art thou, O great mountain? (Zech. iv.7) This refers to the King Messiah. And why does he call him` the great mountain?' because he is greater than the patriarchs, as it is said, `My servant shall be high, and lifted up, and lofty exceedingly' --he will be higher than Abraham...lifted up above Moses...loftier then the ministering angels..." (Quoted in The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, 1969, Volume 2, page 9.)
Of whom does Isaiah speak? He speaks of the Messiah, as many ancient rabbis concluded. The second verse of Isaiah 53 makes it crystal clear. The figure grows up as "a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground." The shoot springing up is beyond reasonable doubt a reference to the Messiah, and, in fact, it is a common Messianic reference in Isaiah and elsewhere. The Davidic dynasty was to be cut down in judgement like a felled tree, but it was promised to Israel that a new sprout would shoot up from the stump. The Messiah was to be that sprout. Several Hebrew words were used to refer to this undeniably Messianic image.
All the terms are related in meaning and connected in the Messianic texts where they were used. Isaiah 11, which virtually all rabbis agreed refers to the Messiah, used the words "shoot" (hoter) and branch (netser) to describe the Messianic King. Isaiah 11:10 called Messiah the "Root (shoresh) of Jesse," Jesse being David's father. Isaiah 53 described the suffering servant as a root (shoresh) from dry ground, using the very same metaphor and the very same word as Isaiah 11. We also see other terms used for the same concept, such as branch (tsemach) in Jeremiah 23:5, in Isaiah 4:2 and also in the startling prophecies of Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12.
Beyond doubt, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 refers to Messiah Yeshua. He is the one highly exalted before whom kings shut their mouths. Messiah is the shoot who sprung up from the fallen Davidic dynasty. He became the King of Kings. He provided the ultimate atonement.
Isaiah 52:13 states that it would be the Messiah who will "sprinkle" many nations. What does that mean? What was Messiah's ministry to be toward the nations? The word translated "sprinkle" or sometimes "startle" is found several other places in the OT. The Hebrew word is found in Leviticus 4:6; 8:11; 14:7, and Numbers 8:7, 19:18-19. The references cited all pertain to priestly sprinklings of the blood of atonement, the anointing oil of consecration, and the ceremonial water used to cleanse the unclean. Is Isaiah 52:13 telling us that the Messiah will act as a priest who applies atonement, anoints to consecrate, sprinkles to make clean? (This vision of the Messiah as both priest and king is also found in Zechariah 6:12-13). But, priests were to come from the tribe of Levi and Kings from the tribe of Judah! What kind of priest is he? David told us Messiah would be a priest of the order of Melchizedek (see Psalm 110 and Hebrews chapters 7-9).
Isaiah 53 must be understood as referring to the coming Davidic King, the Messiah. King Messiah was prophesied to suffer and die to pay for our sins and then rise again. He would serve as a priest to the nations of the world and apply the blood of atonement to cleanse those who believe. There is one alone who this can refer to, Yeshua, whom millions refer to as Christ, which is from the Greek word for Messiah. Those who confess him are his children, his promised offspring, the spoils of his victory. According to the testimony of the Jewish Apostles, Yeshua died for our sins, rose again, ascended to the right hand of God, and he now serves as our great High Priest who cleanses us of sin and our King. Yeshua rules over his people and is in the process of conquering the Gentiles. The first century Jewish disciples were willing to die rather than deny they had seen the risen Messiah. Only if one has presupposed Yeshua cannot have been the Messiah can one deny that which is obvious. Israel's greatest son, Yeshua, is the one Isaiah foresaw. 1997 Fred Klett (C)
*****The Curious Idea of the "Leper Messiah" *****
When one studies rabbinic ideas of the Messiah one comes upon a very curious idea: Messiah is a Leper! Where does this idea come from? We'll tell you below, but first consider some of the rabbinic references.
"The Messiah --what is his name?...The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b)
The Talmud also "records" a supposed discourse between the great Rabbi Joshua ben Levi and the prophet Elijah. The rabbi asks "When will the Messiah come?" And "By what sign may I recognize him?" Elijah tells the rabbi to go to the gate of the city where he will find the Messiah sitting among the poor lepers. The Messiah, says the prophet, sits bandaging his leprous sores one at a time, unlike the rest of the sufferers, who bandage them all at once. Why? Because he might be needed at any time and would not want to be delayed. Elijah says he will come "Today, if you will listen to his voice." (Sanhedrin 98a)
There is also a strange story about the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidic movement. One day the rabbi was riding with a young student. He stopped his wagon at the hut of an old leper, horribly affected by the disease. The rabbi climbed down and spent a great deal of time with the poor man. When he returned to the wagon and recommenced his journey, the puzzled student asked the rabbi who it was that the rabbi had visited with. The rabbi replied that in every generation there is a Messiah who will reveal himself if the generation is worthy. The leper he had been meeting with was that Messiah, but the generation was not worthy, so the Messiah would depart. (Quoted in The Messiah Texts, by Raphael Patai, page 31.)
Where did this "Leper Messiah" idea come from? This odd concept must have arisen from the rabbis as they struggled with Isaiah 53. They either saw the Messiah's sufferings as leprosy or split the Messiah in two, one a sufferer and one a conqueror. (See the section on the "Two-Messiahs" theory.) The Hebrew words in Isaiah 53:4, stricken (nagua) and smitten (mukkay) are interpreted as referring to a leprous condition. Either word can refer to being stricken with a disease, yet they need not be understood in that way, much like our English work "stricken" can refer to stricken with disease or just simply stricken, as with a fist. Either way, Yeshua was stricken. He was certainly made sick by the Roman floggings and beatings and the tortuous ordeal of crucifixion. He was certainly stricken with the Roman lash. As a leper was despised and rejected of men, so also was the Messiah despised and rejected. And still today there are many who see Yeshua as being as repugnant as leprosy and his followers as those who should be isolated and shunned.
To the followers of the Suffering One, his afflictions, described in Isaiah 53, are the agonies of one dying to provide atonement. The lamb being led to slaughter envisioned by Isaiah is described as one punished in the place of his people. Yeshua, the true Messiah, came as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." His crucifixion provided a substitutionary sacrifice adequate to fulfill the punishment we all deserve. Let us praise the God of Israel, our Redeemer, who has provided his Messiah to take the just punishment for his people so that we might be forgiven our sins!
1997 Fred Klett (C)
*****The Two-Messiah Theory*****
When one studies rabbinic views of the Messiah one finds something very interesting. Many ancient rabbis spoke of two Messiahs, one who was the "Son of David" and another who was the "Son of Joseph." Though one can find the sufferings of Messiah attributed to the sufferings of the Davidic Messiah in many rabbinic writings, often a second Messiah is posited, the "Son of Joseph" or "Son of Ephraim," who is the one who suffers while the Davidic Messiah conquers. The rabbis struggled with Biblical portraits of a suffering Messiah, as found in Isaiah 53 and other places, and portraits of a conquering Messiah, also found in the Hebrew Bible. They posited two Messiahs, but could it not also be reasonable to believe there is just one Messiah but two aspects of his mission, a suffering aspect and a conquering aspect?
The eminent scholar Raphael Patai, who "taught Hebrew at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem" and served as Professor of Anthropology at Dropsie University,1said this of the two-messiah theory:
"When the death of the Messiah became an established tenet in Talmudic times, this was felt to be irreconcilable with the belief in the Messiah as Redeemer who would usher in the blissful millennium
of the Messianic Age. The dilemma was solved by splitting the person of the Messiah in two: one of them, called Messiah ben Joseph, was to raise the armies of Israel against their enemies, and, after many victories and miracles, would fall victim Gog and Magog. The other, Messiah ben David, will come after him (in some legends will bring him back to life, which psychologically hints at the identity of the two), and will lead Israel to the ultimate victory, the triumph, and the Messianic era of bliss."2
There is only one Messiah, but there are two comings and two aspects of his ministry. The Messiah came the first time to provide atonement for sin. He is now expanding his kingdom and conquering the Gentiles, not by the sword, but by preaching. (In this century alone over 50,000,000 Chinese have come to faith in the God of Israel through Yeshua, even while being persecuted.) Messiah's Kingdom is growing tremendously among the Koreans and in Africa and South America. Many earthly rulers bow down before Messiah Yeshua. One day he will return to judge the earth and to bring in his Kingdom in all its fullness. Know him now as your sin-bearer and bow before him today as your King, and when he returns you will not need to fear the judgement, because he came to receive the judgement in the place of those who trust him. 1997 Fred Klett (C)
1. Patai, Raphael, The Messiah Texts, Avon Books, © 1979, p. vii
2. Ibid., p. 166
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