We’re in the middle of a series about the Mashiach – the Messiah of the world. We’ve been looking at the probability of one person fulfilling all the prophecies about His arrival, life and death. We’ve looked at the meaning of His name and the characteristics of His nature and behaviour as well as the works He’d do when He got here.
We looked at two of the three places in the Old Covenant that state He would be executed by crucifixion, a method of capital punishment that didn’t exist in Israel at the time those prophecies were given and this time we’re going to look into a chapter in the Bible that is considered forbidden by some within the Jewish community. It’s a really well-known chapter to most Christians, and it doesn’t just indicate that Mashiach would be crucified, but it gives a lot more detail about what would happen to Him and what He’d achieve. Again, as I have before, I want to use the research and expertise of Dr Eitan Bar from the ministry of One For Israel, and an article he wrote called ‘Isaiah 53 – The Forbidden Chapter.’
Dr Bar begins his article by sharing about a Jewish historian from the 17th century.
His name was Raphael Levi, and he admitted that at that time, the rabbis were encountering quite a conundrum with regard to Isaiah 53. In synagogues all over the world since Jews gathered in synagogues, they all read the same Torah portions and sections of the historical, prophetic and poetry books each Shabbat. So you can go back in history to any given week and know what portions of the Bible any given synagogue congregation was reading and learning about. It continues to this day, and Jewish congregations make their way through the entire Bible – together – in the space of each calendar year. It’s a great thing.
However, every time the congregations got to the section in Isaiah that described the suffering servant in chapter 53, actually the description begins in chapter 52, “arguments and great confusion” would break out amongst the congregants. What or who was Isaiah talking about…it sounds very, very, very much like the description of the Christians describing Jesus.
So, the rabbis felt the best way to deal with this issue was to simply remove the offending passage from the synagogue readings altogether. Starting in the middle of Isaiah 52 and all of Isaiah 53, those portions were completely removed. No more problem!
I mentioned before that Rabbi Rashi from the 12th century, worked hard at debating against Christians regarding prophecies about Mashiach and he especially liked to focus on Isaiah 53. His interpretation was that Isaiah was prophesying that Israel as a people was the suffering servant who would pay for the redemption of the world. If you look at the history of the people of Israel, they have indeed suffered and been treated badly, they’ve been persecuted and if you look at how the Jewish people were slaughtered wholesale during the holocaust, they really were led like lambs to the slaughter, you could be forgiven to thinking he might be right in his interpretation. In fact, his interpretation was welcomed by many Jews because it helped them deal with the conundrum of Isaiah 53 seemingly describing Jesus as their Mashiach.
As I mentioned before however, Israel couldn’t possibly be the identity of the Suffering Servant. Firstly, the Suffering Servant is identified as a singular individual, not a collective. Secondly, the Suffering Servant is described as being utterly righteous, without sin or fault and therefore able to atone for the sins of the people. There is no way that one can make the argument that this is true of Israel. The Bible is a historical diary of sorts of the people of Israel from their inception through to the end of all human history on earth, and it reveals in graphic detail every sin and abomination they’ve committed, every judgment God promised to mete out on them, as well as God’s promise to keep His promises and covenants with them, IN SPITE of their sin and rebellion. So, there’s absolutely no way that the Suffering Servant mentioned in Isaiah 53 can be the national nation of the Jews, the nation of Israel.
I want to take some time to do a bit of a comparison, portion by portion of the 2nd half of Isaiah 52 and all Isaiah 53, but before we start, I want to add that when the Jewish historian we mentioned first up – Raphael Levi – lived in the 17th century, he was a German Jewish mathematician and astronomer. He confirmed the decision to remove Isaiah 53 from the readings in the synagogues, but that decision took place long before him. Rabbi Rashi lived in the 12th century, and he was already interpreting Isaiah 53 as being about Israel not Mashiach. So this treatment of Isaiah 53 was a very long-standing one.
However, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1946, one of the most extraordinary discoveries in all antiquity, every book of the Bible was discovered among the scrolls. In fact the scroll of Isaiah was found completely in tact…the whole thing. There are 66 chapters in Isaiah, of course the chapter and verse divisions were added long after the scrolls were written, but in the scroll itself, is the section of Scripture that we know today as Isaiah 52 and 53. So while the rabbis may have removed those offending chapters from their synagogue readings (not the Bible itself), the text remains in Scripture.
Next time we’ll begin to look at the verses themselves, beginning in Isaiah 52 and begin our comparison of what Isaiah described and what the New Covenant documents from the life of Jesus.