Thoughts on Isaiah 41-60, Day 24, Lent 2013

I have the same excuses for not getting as much reading done as yesterday, time change and new puppy. I listened to most of today's reading. It's pretty familiar territory to this guy. Isaiah 53 is one of the major go-to passages for Jesus' followers to find a prophecy about him centuries before his birth. As I listened to it again, I realized that we don't always take everything literally. It strikes me as somewhat arbitrary when we take things literally and when we don't. None of this diminishes how amazing this prophecy is, but it reflects how not hard and fast are the rules of conservative Bible interpretation.

Isaiah 53:1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
jpu- The Gospel writers had very little to say about Jesus' appearance.

Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
jpu- Jewish interpreters see this person as Israel personified. Some also see this is Messianic as well, while rejecting Jesus as the Christ, and waiting still for the Messiah.

Isaiah 53:4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
jpu- This does not seem to be about a country though. Jesus though was pierced, with nails and a spear. He wasn't crushed though. Somehow his punishment brings us peace and his wounds heal us. Matthew 8:17 says Jesus physically fulfilled this prophecy of healing via his wounds, though he wasn't wounded at this point in Matthew's gospel. Many Pentecostals will claim this verse as a promise for physical healing. Peter enlarges this concept to spiritual healing, 1 Peter 2:24. The end of 1 Peter 2 meditates on a few of these verses here in Isaiah.

Isaiah 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
jpu- Isaiah obliquely compares our self-directed wandering to sinful lives, lives that do not follow the good shepherd. Jesus calls himself a good shepherd in John 10:11. The gospel writers report that Jesus did not try to defend himself at his trial. In John 1:29, the last prophet, John the Baptist, the 2nd Elijah, proclaims Jesus the Lamb of God.

Isaiah 53:8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
jpu- Although he was non-violent, except for cleansing the temple with a whip, he suffered capital punishment. He was buried in a new grave, affordable only to a wealthy person.

Isaiah 53:10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
jpu- God takes the blame for the unjust judgment. Like a lamb, he makes the servant into an offering. Here comes the figurative section. Jesus did not have any offspring. Hence, the Jewish interpreter can say, "See, the Messiah Isaiah describes has not come yet." But the Christian can say, "Well, I'm an offspring, in a non-material, spiritual, metaphorical way." Ok, but, what was the clue that Isaiah was switching into the spiritual mode? There isn't any. His days are prolonged, he is alive forever. I'm not saying this move from physical to spiritual is wrong, but it's not taking the Bible "literally." It's an "accommodating to the story" interpretation of prophetic fulfillment.

Isaiah 53:11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
jpu- According to the New Testament, Jesus fulfilled all of this. He resurrected from death, after being crucified between two criminals, and he is interceding for us to God, see 1 Timothy 2:5.

Much of Isaiah has to do with the nation of Israel and her allies and enemies in Isaiah's time. However, there are a few passages like this one, that speak of something and someone greater. I start Jeremiah tomorrow. I'm not sure if his focus is like Isaiah's and mostly in his time about his neighbors or if there is a shift to the future and the Messiah. I'll let you know tomorrow.
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