A Brief Book Summary from Books at a Glance
About the Editors
Darrell L. Bock is Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Mitch Glaser is the president of Chosen People Ministries.
This work is a gem for all those interested in the exegesis of Isaiah 53, but more importantly in the use of Isaiah 53 for the evangelism of Jews. It is divided into three parts: (1) Christian and Jewish interpretations of Isaiah 53; (2) Isaiah 53 in biblical theology; (3) Isaiah 53 and practical theology.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53, by Richard E. Averbeck
Chapter 2: Jewish Interpretations of Isaiah 53, by Michael L. Brown
Chapter 3: The Identity and Mission of the “Servant of the Lord,” by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.
Chapter 4: Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Four Gospels, by Michael J. Wilkins
Chapter 5: Isaiah 53 in Acts 8, by Darrell L. Bock
Chapter 6: Isaiah 53 in the Letters of Peter, Paul, Hebrews, and John, by Craig A. Evans
Chapter 7: Substitutionary Atonement and Cultic Terminology in Isaiah 53, by David L. Allen
Chapter 8: Forgiveness and Salvation in Isaiah 53, by Robert B. Chisholm, Jr.
Chapter 9: Postmodern Themes from Isaiah 53, by John S. Feinberg
Chapter 10: Using Isaiah 53 in Jewish Evangelism, by Mitch Glaser
Chapter 11: Preaching Isaiah, by Donald R. Sunukjian
Chapter One: Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53
Christian interpretations are those that identify the Servant of Isaiah 53 in some way with Jesus. Some do this more indirectly, for example, in a typological manner. The Servant is not Jesus, but a figure in whom the eschatological work of God is completed. Thus, Jesus follows the same pattern. N. T. Wright connects Jesus’ understanding of himself as the Servant with expectations in Isaiah 40-66 of the end of exile. Some interpreters simply follow Acts 8 in identifying the Servant as Jesus (directly prophetic).
The Servant passages in Isa 40–66 were explained classically by Franz Delitzsch as a pyramid, with the elect nation as a whole at the bottom, the remnant on top of that, and at the very top a single servant who represents the nation as a whole and suffers vicariously for them. The passages about the Servant from Isaiah 40 on narrow from referring to the nation as a whole to the remnant to the individual in Isa 53.
However, not all want to see an individual in Isaiah 53. Some want to see all references to the servant as the same. Since it is clearly Israel as a whole in Isa 41:8, 9, some want to see the servant as always Israel. Another issue is that the servant is said to suffer on behalf of Israel, it could be referring to the remnant. On the other hand, there are some who see an individual in Isaiah 53, but one in the time of Isaiah. John Walton argued for a Babylonian background for Isaiah 53 in the substitute king ritual. Other individuals suggested are Jehoiachin, Cyrus, or the prophet himself. These interpreters see a historical reference with a final, ultimate reference to Jesus Christ.
One other important debate is whether Isaiah 53 envisions substitutionary atonement. The Servant is said to be an asham (Hebrew for “guilt offering”) in Isaiah 53:10. Jacob Milgrom has argued well that the purpose of the guilt offering was to atone for the desecration of sacred things. They were used when a person sins unintentionally against the Lord’s holy things (Lev 5:15). A violation against another person’s property amounted to a violation against the Lord, because Israel were God’s holy things too (Lev 6:1-7).
We can now see how the Servant would be a guilt offering for Israel. The exile envisioned in Isa 40–66 was a result of the desecration of Israel, who were supposed to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod 19:6). The Servant of Isa 53 would offer himself as a guilt offering to make atonement for Israel because of its sin and corruption that desecrated them. This would restore them to the “servant” status accorded to Israel in the other servant passages.
Chapter 2: Jewish Interpretations of Isaiah 53
There are at least nine Jewish sources which interpret Isaiah 53 Messianically. Yet, especially since Rabbis Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Radak (eleventh and twelfth century), the corporate interpretation of Isaiah 53 has dominated Jewish interpretations. This interpretation understands the Gentiles to be speaking throughout Isaiah 53 about Israel, particularly the (relatively) righteous remnant in exile, who is vicariously bearing the sins of the nations while dispersed among the nations. The first-person singulars later in the chapter are interpreted as individual Gentile kings speaking of their own people.
Multiple problems exist with this view. Many points are forced, for example, taking לָמוֹ in 53:8 as a plural, referring to a corporate Servant, and taking the first-person singulars as spoken by individual Gentile kings (the last first-person plural reference is 53:6). The word לָמוֹ in 53:8 should be taken as a singular, as it is in 44:15, “and he falls down before it” (so also, BDB, s.v. לְ). Also, it is much more natural to take Isaiah and his fellow (or school of) prophets as the speakers of 53:1, and either Isaiah or God as the narrator of 53:2-12 (or Isaiah speaking/relaying the words of God).
Secondly, how would the Gentiles know that Israel in exile was suffering for their sins? How would they come to know that Israel’s punishment was to heal them? They are pagan nations who do not worship Yahweh, and they are not seen through the exile to be brought to worship Yahweh through Israel’s punishment. “It is somewhat ludicrous to put one of the loftiest theological statements in the Bible into the mouths of pagan, idol-worshipping kings. This is not only illogical; it is without biblical precedent” (76).
Thirdly, according to Jeremiah 30:11, Israel would suffer for their own sins through exile, usually through their enemies like Assyria or Babylon. But Isaiah 53 says a sinless Servant will suffer for the sins of sinful people, who are healed by his stripes, which is the opposite scenario.
A bridge between Jewish and Christian interpreters, however, is that Rashi understood Isaiah 53 to be speaking of vicarious suffering—Israel suffers for the sins of the nations, through which suffering the nations are healed. “In my judgment, having looked at this text now for close to four decades, I cannot see any legitimate reading of Isaiah 53 that denies the effectual, vicarious nature of the Servant’s sufferings” (78). Thus, we can agree, if they would allow it, that Isaiah 53 speaks of one suffering on behalf of another so that the latter may be healed. We may also note how alike Jesus and the Jews truly are. Especially in a post-haulocaust world, we understand that the Jews have been despised, rejected, persecuted, and even slaughtered. Jesus is one very well fit to sympathize with his people and understand their sufferings, since he underwent the same rejection, persecution, and slaughter, and did so to vicariously pay for their sins and heal them (and all of us).
Chapter 3: The Identity and Mission of the “Servant of the Lord”
The phrase “Servant of the Lord” is used in the four or five “Servant Songs” in Isaiah (42: 1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12; possibly also 61:1–3). However, the phrase is used elsewhere…[To continue reading this summary, please see below....]
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The Gospel According to Isaiah 53