Thank you for your kind response.
What I would like to ask is how do you explain Isaiah 53? There are many references to a singular person in the Messiah by using "He" and "Him".
The oracle in Isaiah
53 does not explicitly mention “the Messiah
”; rather, it addresses a “servant” (q.v.
52:13, 53:11). On this point, it is worth examining the rest of Isaian literature, to see if there are parallels that might inform our understanding.
Here is a less-than-exhaustive list of potential parallels:
The nation of Israel is referred to as a servant (q.v.
41:8f., 44:1f., 44:21, 45:4, 48:20).
The prophet himself is referred to as a servant (q.v.
An individual, Eliakim ben Hilkiah, is referred to as a servant (q.v.
And so we may consider a number of possibilities:
(1) The “servant” in Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel.
This would be similar to a political cartoon featuring Uncle Sam as the personification of the United States. In the oracle, the suffering undergone by the nation is theologically requalified: out of the suffering, good will come. Onlookers will experience enlightenment, much as the onlookers at a sacrifice can have a moment of enlightenment as they experience the death of the victim.
One challenge to this possibility would be that, on a couple of occasions, the oracle speaks in positive terms that might seem out of place with reference to the fallen nation (q.v.
, 53:9 & 11). In verse 11, this might be attributed to the nation’s status after having themselves repented. In verse 9, this might be attributed to a sense that the nation was straightforward in dealings with their oppressor, and a sense that the nation had not fielded a military attack against the oppressor.
(2) The “servant” in Isaiah 53 is the prophet himself.
In the oracle, the prophet is encouraged by the prospect that his suffering may eventually lead to good. Though he has been swept along with the currents of history into a place of suffering, onlookers may come to experience enlightenment.
One challenge to this possibility would be that we are unaware of an occasion where this sort of scenario would apply to the prophet Isaiah. But our knowledge of his life is far from comprehensive. Then again, it has been hypothesized that Isaiah
is a composite work. If this were accurate, the prophet who gave this oracle might not be Isaiah ben Amoz, but somebody whose life we know even less about.
(3) The “servant” in Isaiah 53 is Eliakim ben Hilkiah.
As with the prophet(s), we lack comprehensive knowledge about the life of Eliakim. But there are a few interesting elements to note. On one hand, a previous oracle about Eliakim also touches upon a high-falutin’ burial place, exile, and death (q.v.
22:15-25). On another hand, this previous oracle characterizes Eliakim as a “peg,” and this term pops up directly on the heels of chapter 53. Such could be coincidental, but the Hebrew term is used only three times in Isaiah
, and it could mark a sense that the “servant” in question was that-previously-mentioned-peg-guy.
One objection to this possibility might be that the parallels of burial place, exile, and death in the previous oracle focus upon Eliakim’s predecessor, and not Eliakim. But we may imagine the great irony if Eliakim – apparently posed as a superior alternative to Shebnah – were to fall into circumstances reminiscent of those in the prophecy about his predecessor. In such a scenario, it might behoove the prophet to address the situation. The oracle in chapter 53, then, might be attempting to theologically mitigate this sort of awkward development.
We may also add a couple of further possibilities:
(4) The “servant” in Isaiah 53 is some other individual, with whom we are unfamiliar.
The prophet is ministering to an ancient audience, and we may lack the relevant background information to identify the intended subject for this oracle.
(5) The “servant” in Isaiah 53 is a generic righteous Israelite.
The theological issues, then, would be similar to those with the prophet in example (2)
Two examples: Verse 4 and 5: "Surely he took our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by G-d smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." To me this speaks of a person taking all the sins of man and by his dying he gave us redemption.
Here we enter into some theological difficulty. What is meant by “taking … the sins of man
Another prophet made a significant effort to establish that the sinner is the one who dies for their sins – not some other party – and that repentance is the pivot for escaping death (q.v.
One’s survival does not depend upon the death of somebody else, but upon the death of one’s sinful self, through repentance.
Now, if one understands the levitical sacrificial matrix as a didactic/therapeutic exercise – and not some form of blood-payment – then we might understand the thrust of the oracle to be that the “servant” will play the same sort of didactic/therapeutic role as the sacrificial-victim. When people observe the suffering of the servant, they may have the same sort of transformative experience as they might when observing the suffering and death of the animal sacrifice. This sort of experience could contribute to their repentance, and play an operative role in their enduring life.