My daily exploration of the Bible, taking it one chapter at a time. If I do it everyday, it'll take 1189 days.



Monday, November 20, 2006

Isaiah 55

Berit Olam

Summary:
Come and get free food and drink, those who want it! Why pay for second best? Listen to me. I'm making an eternal covenant with you. Like David, he will be a leader. The nations will come follow.

God will pardon the wicked who comes to him. His ways surpass ours. We may not always understand them though. Everything will be awesome.

Key verses:
1. Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
3. I will make an everlasting covenant with you
9. As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
11. so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

My thoughts:
I just love this part of the Old Testament. It's just awesome!

You can read this and think that God is making an eternal covenant with Israel, reestating the Mosaic one. However, this cannot be the case, as the Mosaic covenant is not eternal, as the one in this chapter is. I believe that these chapters refer to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ which was yet to happen when this passage was written.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Dean said...

Pete wrote:
You can read this and think that God is making an eternal covenant with Israel, reestating the Mosaic one. However, this cannot be the case, as the Mosaic covenant is not eternal, as the one in this chapter is. I believe that these chapters refer to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ which was yet to happen when this passage was written.

Happy New Year, Pete!

That's a whimsical interpretation of Deutero-Isaiah you've offered up there. Are you still in holiday mode?

1. The Mosaic covenant WAS eternal: "My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17.13).

2. There is nothing in Isaiah 40-55 that relates in any way to Jesus. I have no idea how anybody could apply passages like Isaiah 53 to Jesus, and not - as is clearly correct - to Israel.

3. The passage does indeed refer to a new and eternal covenant. But it refers to one that was to be made when Israel returned from Babylon, some 2,500 years ago.

4. While these chapters do not "refer" to Jesus, it is quite possible (as Christians have done for 2000 years) to apply them to Jesus in a non-literal application. As Walt Bruggemann says:

"There is no doubt that the poem is to be understood in the context of the Isaiah tradition. Insofar as the servant is Israel - a common assumption of Jewish interpretation - we see that the theme of humiliation and exaltation serves the Isaiah rendering of Israel, for Israel in this literature is exactly the humiliated (exiled) people who by the powerful intervention of Yahweh is about to become the exalted (restored) people of Zion. Thus the drama is the drama of Israel and more specifically of Jerusalem, the characteristic subject of this poetry.

Second, although it is clear that this poetry does not have in any first instance have Jesus on its horizon, it is equally clear that the church, from the outset, has found the poetry a poignant and generative way to consider Jesus, wherein humiliation equals crucifixion and exaltation equals resurrection and ascension."

6:26 am

 
Blogger Pete W said...

Why have an argument once, when you can have it twice!

1. Your quote for your first point is for the Abrahamic covenant, not the Mosaic one. Christian tradition and scripture often points of Abraham's covenant over and above the Mosaic one.

2. If this point is right, then Jesus is clearly lying in Luke 4:18ff.

Though I accept that passages such as Is 53 can be seen in other lights than Jesus, as well as Jesus, I'm not sure if it quite fits the images of Israel given elsewhere in these parts of Isaiah.

3. I recognise that much of Deutero-Isaiah makes a lot of sense to an Israel in exile, or just leaving it. For me this significance does not exclude a greater significance in the light of Jesus.

4. As I've already said, I fully recognise that the author may have had Israel in mind when writing such poetry. I think seeing Israel in these passages has great significance, a significance which is superceeded, however, by God's purpose for this scripture (beyond the author's purpose).

I'm not pretending that my views come purely from a close and theological reading of the Hebrew passage. Perhaps this is where you struggle to understand the validity of my views. If you believe that the only valid view is the one that comes from scholarship and reason, then you will not appreciate my view.

My view, though I don't believe disproved by a close reading, is formed by faith in Jesus and the Apostles. I don't hold my own ability to reason above the reason of God revealed to us through Jesus and his scripture. I trust the author of Matthew in Matt 8:17 more than I might trust anything I come up with. Not because "Matthew" was more educated or smarter, but because I trust God's Word in Scripture the same way that Jesus did.

Or you can listen to Bruggemann. He's pretty much Jesus.

10:44 pm

 
Anonymous Deane said...

Pete:
1. Your quote for your first point is for the Abrahamic covenant, not the Mosaic one. Christian tradition and scripture often points of Abraham's covenant over and above the Mosaic one.

Circumcision (the covenant in the flesh) was to be eternal, and this applied to both Abraham (Genesis) and Moses (Exodus). There is no distinction between the two covenants in the matter of circumcision. Circumcision is eternal.

Christian tradition does raise the Abrahamic promise above Mosaic law, but this is a later, spiritualising, interpretation of the command to Abraham for circumcision. Once again, you must distinguish between the original, Old Testament meaning of the text, and its later appropriation by Christianity. While Paul may treat Abraham as an example of faith rather than works in Romans 4, this is clearly contrary to any literal interpretation of Genesis. It is a later, spiritualising, figurative reinterpretation.



Pete:
2. If this point is right, then Jesus is clearly lying in Luke 4:18ff.

I don't think you can come to such a stark conclusion if you rightly distinguish between the original meaning of the text, and the reinterpretation that Jesus makes of it in Luke 4.18ff. The original meaning is about restoration of the downtrodden Israelites in Israel, after the Babylonian exile, in the fifth century BC. The interpretation that became popular from the second century BC onwards concerned an eschatological restoration, which was not intended in Isa 61. But people in the 2nd Century BC and in Jesus' time understood all of these passages as end-times prophecy, and considered that there was a "deeper meaning" to be fulfilled in their own time. So, Jesus was quite in line with earlier reinterpretations of Isa 61.1-2 which reinterpreted the passage as referring to the Messiah.

So Jesus did not "lie". His reinterpretation of the passage, and understanding of prophecy "fulfillment" were entirely consistent with his fellows.



Pete:
Though I accept that passages such as Is 53 can be seen in other lights than Jesus, as well as Jesus, I'm not sure if it quite fits the images of Israel given elsewhere in these parts of Isaiah.

Whatever part of the description of the 'servant' you look at, you will find consistency with the wider context which describes Israel's exile and restoration - demonstrating that the servant and Israel are the one and the same.

1. Election and creation of the servant / Israel

Both the servant and Israel are described as being chosen by Yahweh, and formed by Yahweh in the womb.

Israel is "chosen" (Isa 43:10, 44:1)... from the ends of the earth" (Isa 41:8-9), called by her name and surnamed (Isa 45:4). The servant Israel was also chosen (Is 42:1) by a faithful God who had not forgotten her in her servanthood in exile (49:7).

Israel is described in deeply individual terms as "formed in the womb" by Yahweh (Isa 44:2, 21, 24), a term also used when addressing Israel as God's servant (44:21). Likewise, the servant says "Yahweh called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me" (49:1). The servant Israel claims that God "formed me in the womb to be his servant" (49:5).

2. Comfort and protection of the servant / Israel

Both the servant and Israel are upheld and comforted by Yahweh (Isa 41:10, 42:1), and hidden in the shadow of Yahweh's hand (Isa 51:16, 49:2).

3. Endowment of the spirit on the servant / Israel

Both the servant and Israel are endowed with Yahweh's spirit. God promises Israel he will "pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring" (44:3). And God says in respect of the servant Israel: "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him."

4. Honour of the servant / Israel, thereby giving glory to God

Both Israel and the servant are honoured by Yahweh (Isa 43:4 & 49:5). God is glorified by the restoration of Israel, and by his servant alike. Isa 44:23 states "For Yahweh has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel." Likewise, "through him [the servant] the will of Yahweh shall prosper" (Isa 53:10c). God declares to his servant Israel: "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified."

The prophet predicts that Israel will gain a prominent place amongst the nations following her exile. So, the servant Israel is "exalted and lifted up" (Isa 52:13) and is given the riches of "the strong" (Isa 53:12). This matches the remainder of Isaiah 40-55, where Israel is promised "reward and recompense" (Isa 40:10), to be blessed (44:3-4), even with precious stones (Isa 54:11-12).

5. The servant / Israel transformed from slave-servant to slaveowner-master

In Isa 52:15, there is a startling role-reversal. Israel the slave / servant becomes Israel the slave-owner / master. Israel startles many nations and kings with her rise to glory, in stark contrast to her earlier "despised" beginnings. This is consistent with Isa 45:15 where the prophet promises that Israel's former slave-masters will come in chains to Israel and make supplications. And Isa 53 mirrors Isa 49:7, where there is a description of Israel's rise from slavery to slave-master: "Thus says Yahweh, the Redeemer of Israel his Holy One, who is deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of Yahweh, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you." Likewise, in Isa 49:22-23 there is a prediction of Israel's rise from servanthood to the nations to exaltation before the nations: "Thus says Yahweh God: I will soon lift up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their bosom, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders. Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet."

6. The servant / Israel to have many descendents

Isaiah 53 promises that the servant will "see his offspring, and shall prolong his days" (Isa 53:10). It is common in the Old Testament for this promise to be made to the righteous: that they shall live a long time and see many children and grandchildren. Likewise, Job "lived 140 years, and saw his children, and his children's children, four generations" (42:16). The phrases "seeing seed" or "seeing children" are idiomatic expressions in the Old Testament which describe the experience of seeing one's own family propagate for one or more generations. This is not applicable to Jesus, but is applicable to righteous Israel.

7. The mission of the servant / Israel to the nations

The mission of the servant is both to the Israelites captive in Babylon, and to the nations. This matches the description of Israel's mission, which is to be a light to the nations, and to give torah and justice to the nations. The servant is "given ... as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations (42:6). The servant is given "as a light to the nations, that [God's] salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Likewise, Yahweh says to his people Israel: "Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples" (51:4). The servant "will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching."

The exaltation of Israel, and her mission to the nations, is commented on in a speech by the kings of the nations in Isaiah 53:1ff. The "we" of Isa 53:1 refers to the 'nations' and 'kings' in 52:14-15. This should be compared with the other servant texts where the task of the servant Israel is described as being to the nations. When we come to Isa 53:1, the servant Israel has just been described as surprising the nations, because Israel has risen from its despised status to an exalted status (Isa 53:15). It is the figure of 'the nations' who is the speaker of Isaiah 53:1ff. As the Oxford Commentary on the Old Testament points out, "The nations and kings who were so amazed by what was referred to in 52:15 are now given voice." From the description of the amazement of the nations and kings as third parties in 52:15, Isaiah then has the nations speak in Isa 53:1ff.

In support of this interpretation, David Clines points out the smooth transition from 52:15 to 53:1. Clines then comments that "in 52:15 peoples and kings "see" and "ponder" a sight they have never seen before and a message never heard before, while in 53:1 "we" remark on how incredible is what "we" have heard and what has been seen." Clearly the same sentiment is being expressed: first in the third person in Isa 52:13-15, secondly in the first person in Isa 53:1ff.

As North points out:

"At the end of Ch 52 the amazement of the Gentiles is foretold. It is entirely natural, then, that what immediately follows should embody their judgement upon the Servant. Any other supposition disturbs the sequence of the passages, and destroys its artistic symmetry.

"from the beginning the Servant's primary commission was to the Gentiles, and it was to be successful (42:4, 49:6). We expect that the last word from the human side will be that of the Gentiles, as the final word of all is from Yahweh Himself (53:11f). It would be strange if the Gentiles had nothing to say, and that they have not, unless they are the speakers here."

Both Israel and the servant are portrayed in Isa 40-55 as having a mission to the Gentiles. The mission of Israel to the Gentiles is described in Isa 42:6-7: "I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness." Likewise, in Isa 49:6 and 51:4, YHWH intends to use his servant Israel to bring justice to the nations. And, in Isaiah 53:12, YHWH declares that his servant Israel "shall make many righteous." Israel's suffering has now been rewarded, by allowing God's chosen people to fulfill her original function of being a light to the nations.

"The new understanding of the nations is elaborated in the second strope (53:1-3), in which the rulers of the nations are represented as speaking for their peoples. The kings express their astonishment at what they finally see and hear. To them the whole thing is fantastic and unbelievable. The Servant had grown up before Yahweh (or perhaps "before us" - the nations) like a young sapling, like a root in dry, unpromising ground. Some interpreters find here an allusion to the Messiah, who elsewhere is called a "branch" or a root from the stock of Jesse (see Isa 11:1, 10; Jer 23:5), but more likely the kings are describing Israel's unpromising career. Possibly with the figure of leprosy in mind, the poet portrays the Servant's "form" (Isa 52:14) as so marred that people hide their faces from him (compare Lev 13:45). The kings are utterly amazed that such an unlovely, despised, and revolting figure is actually the one to whom "the arm of Yahweh" - the victorious power of the Divine Warrior - has been revealed. They had not recognized the Servant in his humiliation."

The nation of Israel, once despised by the nations and put into servanthood by Babylon, is now being restored in accordance with God's original plans for Israel, and is predicted to lord it over the nations it once served, as well as to bring God's justice to the nations.

"First of all, the new age will bring the restoration of Israel from exile, followed by the people's reconstitution as a community in the land of their ancient heritage (49:8-19). This reversal of their present destiny is imagined as an exchange of positions with the ruling nations of the present oppressive age. Proud, prosperous kings and their retinues will pay homage to Israel (49:7, 22-23), and the tyrranical oppressors will be utterly humbled (49:26). Here as elsewhere, the writer has drawn heavily upon forms of expression familiar to his audience from the liturgies of the Judean community.

The ultimate goal of the reversal of fortunes among the nations is to produce knowledge of God - God's justice, righteousness, and liberating power - and praised of God (49:13, cf 42:10ff; 44:23), both in Israel (49:23) and among the nations (49:26). The nations will come to know God as Israel performs its service as teacher; and in teaching, Israel will come to know God more fully."

8. Past sickness of the servant / Israel

Isaiah 53, which describes the servant's afflictions as a "sickness," is consistent with other descriptions of Israel as being "sick." Isa 1:5-6 speaks of Israel when it narrates: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they have not been drained, or bound up, or softened with oil." In Jer 10.19 Israel compains, "Woe is me because of my hurt! My wound is severe." And in Jer 30:17, Yahweh says about Zion: "For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal ... because they have called you an outcast: "It is Zion; no one cares for her!""

The servant of Isa 53 grew up despised by others, and subject to sicknesses. This fits perfectly the Jewish persecutions and exile - which is the explicit background to Isa 53. By contrast, Jesus is not portrayed as having any sickness in his life that caused others to despise him - it is only in his final week that he is portrayed as being rejected by the Jews and Roman authorities.

"As Whybray (1978:58) has noted, the words translated 'infirmities' and 'diseases' are 'eminently suitable to express the broken state of the nation after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC'. Indeed, as he points out, the word holi here 'infirmities', was already found in 1:3 in the description of the ravaged state of the community: 'the whole head is sick (holi)'."
- Oxford Commentary on the Old Testament

Much of the language used here is found in Psalms of Thanksgiving as a means of expressing the desperate plight of the sufferer before God's saving action became apparent. In the Psalms the portrayal of a servant going down to the pit is not meant literally death, but the depths of despair: e.g. Ps 30:3, 88:4, 143:7. The same is intended in Isa 53 concerning the plight of Israel in exile, which is not a literal death of any person, but a metaphorical 'death' of the nation.

9. The past slaughter and death of the servant / Israel

The symbolism of Israel slaughtered like sheep is also common in the Bible.

Zech 11:6-7: "So, on behalf of the sheep merchants, I became the shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter."

Psalm 44:11, 22: "You have made us like sheep for slaughter, and have scattered us among the nations… Because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter."

The death and burial of the servant corresponds to the deportation of the Israelites into exile. This should be contrasted with Ezekiel 37:1-14, where corresponding motifs are used for the deportation of the people into exile. In Ezekiel 37 Israel is described as dead dry bones, without any life. Israel is described as being "cut off" completely, just as in Isa 53:8 it it described as being "cut off from the land."

10. The past punishment of the servant / Israel

Isaiah 53:7 records that the servant "was oppressed, and ... was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth." Israel was led into exile after the fall of Jerusalem, without the ability to offer further resistance. She was emasculated, and made silent before her captors. This is the referent of these words. Israel was robbed and plundered, and "trapped in holes and hidden in prisons" (Isa 42:22). She was bowed over in submission so that her oppressors might walk over her (Isa 51:23).

And all of this punishment at the hands of the nations is described as being innocent: "without cause." Even though elsewhere the poet of Isaiah 40-55 describes the exile as a punishment from God, he also maintains that the nations had "no cause" to punish Israel. The Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians had taken Yahweh's servant Israel "without cause." Yahweh speaks that, "Long ago, my people went down into Egypt to reside there as aliens; the Assyrian, too, has oppressed them without cause. Now therefore what am I doing here, says YHWH, seeing that my people are taken away without cause?" (Isa 52:4-5). The description of the servant as not opening his mouth is mirrored in Isa 52:4-5 where the people are taken into exile without cause.



Pete:
3. I recognise that much of Deutero-Isaiah makes a lot of sense to an Israel in exile, or just leaving it. For me this significance does not exclude a greater significance in the light of Jesus.
4. As I've already said, I fully recognise that the author may have had Israel in mind when writing such poetry. I think seeing Israel in these passages has great significance, a significance which is superceeded, however, by God's purpose for this scripture (beyond the author's purpose).


I don't disagree. But this is reinterpretation, not meaning.



Pete:
I trust the author of Matthew in Matt 8:17 more than I might trust anything I come up with. Not because "Matthew" was more educated or smarter, but because I trust God's Word in Scripture the same way that Jesus did.

But are you really "trusting" the Bible over yourself? Or are you merely trusting your own interpretation of the Bible over more accurate and reliable interpretations of the Bible?

You thought that the absence of any reference to Jesus in Isaiah made Jesus out to be a liar in the Gospels. But I don't think this is the case at all. Rather, a proper understanding of the original context (not necessarily a "scholarly" one, just a deep and full appreciation of its meaning), together with a proper understanding of what Jesus meant by 'prophecy' and 'fulfillment', means that you don't have to choose between trusting Jesus or interpreting the Bible accurately. You can, and should, do both.

9:58 am

 
Blogger Pete W said...

Ok, I will make an appropriate length (read: short) response to this.

There's lots of little things which I won't bother picking at.

I'll restate my overall view.

Obviously none of the Old Testament was written with a specific knowledge of Jesus, and most, or all, passages now quoted in reference to Jesus weren't written in specific reference to Jesus. Many interpretations of many passages have arisen, and many of these are perfectly valid. I believe, however, that the ones that Jesus assumes, or the Christian ones are the highest interpretations. When I say "This passage means this about Jesus", that is a statement by me that scripture reaches fulfilment in Jesus and is best viewed in light of Jesus. Other 'original' contexts and interpretations are also valid.

This is not taking somebody else's scripture and misinterpreting it to fit my 'religion'. This is just a recognition that scripture is fulfilled in light of Jesus.

Finally, I'll respond to the more personal comments at the end of your thesis.

You accuse me of trusting my own interpretations over other people's more accurate and reliable ones. Of course, there is always an element of my personal views coming through, but what I am defending here is not just how I have interpreted these passages, but how Jesus and the apostles interpreted them. My goal is to align my views as much as possible with theirs. Interpretations of Jesus and the Apostles' interpretations are, of course, subjective. I try to avoid putting my bias into that subjectivity.

That'll do.

5:48 pm

 

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