Monday, 6 September 2010

Of whom speaketh the prophet?

It was a masterpiece of divine providence ensuring that Philip reached the chariot of the Ethiopian official just at the time he was reading what we call Isaiah 53.  The Ethiopian wanted to know who he was reading about, and Philip had no hesitation - he told him about Jesus.  However, Jews obviously don't believe Jesus is in the passage, so who do they see there, and could they be right?

The usual view for Jews to take nowadays is that the passage is speaking about either the Nation of Israel or the righteous remnant of the Nation.  After all, some of the previous servant passages in Isaiah clearly identify the servant as Israel, but could that be the case here?  The answer is no:
It is clear that the sufferer is righteous and this eliminates the Nation as a whole because God promised blessing for righteousness.

But can it be a righteous remnant within the Nation? No it can’t be for a number of reasons: the sufferer suffered voluntarily – He poured out His soul unto death. He was silent in His suffering – He did not complain or resist (unlike the Jewish wars and the resistance that took place to the Babylonians and Romans etc). He suffered vicariously – He actually bore the punishment due to others – in what sense did the remnant ever bear the punishment due to others so that they go free? In what sense was it the Lord’s will to punish the righteous remnant and put them to grief? God actually punished the nations for overdoing the discipline on His people. The Servant's suffering brought blessing, peace and healing to others. When the nations overdid the punishment on the nation of Israel they incurred the most severe punishment from God, so the suffering of the righteous remnant did not bring healing to the nations but rather brought judgment. The Babylonians and Assyrians are examples of this – even nations up to the present day have experienced the reality that causing Israel to suffer does not bring healing and peace. The Germans were not healed as a result of the sufferings of the Jews (who did not suffer willingly, silently or substitutionally), they underwent huge devastation and destruction, and how could the Germans be healed but the men who instigated the suffering (Hitler etc.) not be? If the passage is speaking about how the servant’s suffering received from men will bring those oppressors healing then it has to be the people morally responsible for causing the suffering who get the healing. This servant dies and is buried and then His days are prolonged, but when has Israel’s remnant died? Has there ever been a time when Israel did not have a remnant? In looking at the Servant of Isaiah 52.13-53.12 it is clear that this marred person, this person who grew up, this person who voluntarily, silently and vicariously died, then was buried and rose again, can only refer to the Lord Jesus Christ.