Category Archives: My Work From Seminary

Isaiah 53:10-12.

The pericope for consideration continues the identity and mission of Isaiah’s servant. We find in the mysterious individual further paradoxes concerning the purpose of the individual’s life and actions. This servant has a difference about them that makes life appear in a world where sin and death reign. The servant surprisingly bears the crimes of the guilty making them right with the offended party (God). This part of the poem speaks about the result of a future victory and the hope of the servant standing in the end in triumph. It is in the ultimate task of absorbing death that the servant has changed the course of the rebels’ destiny.

            Often, we look to the New Testament writers to form our theology regarding salvation. For the Christian, it would be wise to look back to the Old Testament to get a better grasp at the foundations of such theological formations. In this passage (and the previous verses) we have important clues on how to think about what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean. Isaiah’s vision regarding the servant grounds itself in sacrificial language from Leviticus. The servant’s actions give writers like Paul in the NT the ability to put forth considerable conclusions regarding the sinner’s response to the actions of Jesus’ (arguably saving) actions.

            Obviously, the Christian is indebted to these passages in Isaiah (both in their own context and via the NT) for their formation of soteriology. It is eye opening to go back and read Isaiah without assuming Jesus as the fulfillment of this vision. Oswalt notes that Isaiah’s goal was not to produce a literal future prediction of Jesus’ entire ministry. However, the congruence with which the NT writers match up Jesus with the servant described by Isaiah is remarkable (408). The identity of the servant should be considered within Isaiah’s contexts before jumping to the NT’s illumination. Most of us must attempt to honestly approach this task in a backwards manner because of our Christian upbringing. It might need to be noted that I am not arguing that it is wrong to come to our soteriology “backwards”. In my opinion, it is very striking however, that when one studies Isaiah for its own sake, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are enhanced for their salvific significance rather than diminished.

            The human dilemma has become God’s priority in the biblical narrative (404). God’s solution, according to Isaiah, is a sacrificial human. This human has a servant role that is misunderstood completely. The important religious concepts such as holy and righteous are totally flipped upside down within Isaiah’s servant. The servant takes on the iniquities of the non-innocent. Oswalt highlights that this is not just symbolic but something that happens in reality. The righteous one makes others righteous by absorbing the world’s sins. This priest type figure offers themselves for the people’s sin. Unlike animals, this God-like human steps into the active place of substitution to make relationship with God wholly possible again (405).

            One’s future thinking about resurrection is hinted at in verse 10. As Oswalt points out, this does not necessarily speak of resurrection but that the servant’s life and death will not be in vain (402-403). I think that the bigger idea of death being dealt a “death-blow” is an appropriate image regarding the servant’s actions. God’s servant not only has a message, but the servant’s action accomplishes what no religion could (even Israel’s sacrificial system). Isaiah plants within this part of the poem further imagination regarding God’s heart and plan to deal with sin and its consequences. God does this through God’s servant in a powerfully absurd way that ends up victorious in the end. One’s theology regarding sin and redemption are given much ground to reflect on within these few verses. The servant further reveals God and the important fact that death loses when God gets actively involved. These thoughts should shape each of us as we ponder the Bible’s ultimate message regarding redemption and restoration.

Servant Cont… Isaiah 53:4-9

The passage for study this week highlights the irony regarding God’s ways of working in the world that seem contrary to expectation. The servant that is mentioned is further under scrutiny for the actions that this person makes. Sinful humanity gets a surprise healing from the pain inflicted upon the servant. This poem continues to challenge the assumptions regarding Israel’s saving God. God supposedly is going to send remedy through an unlikely source.

            It was typical in the ancient understanding to think that when something bad was happening to an individual it was a result of their wickedness (386, 389). It would seem surely that this absurd character that was appearing weak and sick was getting what they deserved providentially. What the reader discovers, however, is that the sickness, shame, and punishment upon the servant is due to humanity’s sin. This is not the servant’s fault, but the servant bears the entire barrage of insults and are in place of the sinner’s sickness (397).

            A large portion of the poem is painting the picture that there is a contrast between humanity and the servant. This is true even despite the reality that the servant is just like humanity and comes from among humanity. This is interesting since this servant is described as innocent, perfect, and undeserving of any harm. The theology of substitution is highlighted by Oswalt on numerous points and as he highlights is connected to the sacrificial system known by Israel (385). Sinful humans, as Israel would have known and argued, needed a mediator between them and God’s righteousness. The sacrificing of unblemished animals to atone for their sins was at the heart of their holiness understanding. It is further striking how Isaiah’s picture combines this language of humanity and a perfect sacrifice to mediate between God and humanity.

            The use of the image of a sheep in the poem suggests humanity’s dilemma and the servant’s destiny. It symbolizes humanity’s flaws with sin and missing the point of creation when they have no awareness regarding consequences for actions (389). Humanity needs a God as much as sheep need the guidance and love of a good shepherd. A good shepherd will rescue their sheep at great cost. Oswalt points out the contrast between the people who have gone astray being like a flock of sheep and the servant being a submissive lamb on the way to death. This comparison is a powerful picture of how the servant is like the lamb in a different way than the lost unaware sheep (389-391).

The absurdity of the poem is further complicated when one thinks that God is the one who supposedly does this to the servant (Isaiah 53:6b). This tension should stand when we think about God’s radical dealing with the life destroying force of sin. God is really dealing with God in a profound way. Oswalt notes the many connections here between Jesus and this servant (385, 391, 392). Jesus is described in the New Testament by John the Baptist as the lamb that takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:9). Jesus also is the one making the decision to follow through with the mission of embracing death to satisfy God’s mission of salvation (Luke 9:51).

This servant/messiah being described by Isaiah is one that is truly unique. The one who never committed sins or violence is embracing sin and violence within themselves. Oswalt sees that Isaiah is writing about an individual the world had never seen. He rightly notes that there has never been such a person known to have been fully innocent and always have spoken truth (396-397). The entire pericope tells of a contrast between humanity and the servant. It ultimately speaks about God’s character and how God works with the problem of sin. For Israel, it should have prompted them to see things in a different light and be on the lookout for one who would be innocently led like a lamb to the slaughter and in whose mouth, there was found no deceit. Isaiah pointed to the kind of servant that would save people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Servant… Isaiah 52:13–53:3

 

Isaiah 52:13–53:3.

              This well-known section of scripture is one that reveals the character of God. The mystery of the identity of the servant in the poem is something worthy of exploring. The role of this servant in God’s purposes in the world is also important to the theological purpose of the message Isaiah is trying to convey regarding God and humanity’s sin problem. Humanity (including/specifically God’s people) often miss God due to their assumptions and alienation from the creator.

 

            Everything in the poem flips the expectations of the hearers. It gets the reader to think in regards to what people would expect from God’s action and power bursting forth into the world. God’s power (“the arm of the Lord”) is not as destructive as much as it is constructive to the those who have been victims of abused power (375). Certainly, Israel had played both roles of oppressed and oppressor in her history. The irony of this periscope (as with most of the Bible) is shown in God’s ability to work despite apparent weaknesses. It begs the question when talking about God’s power and God’s ability when it is assumed YHWH is the creator of it all. Maybe this is another theme that is sarcastically picked up throughout Isaiah. God’s people have amnesia regarding God and therefore forget their own role in the created order (and call to the world).

 

            Oswalt points out that despite the amount of study done on this pericope details of the interpretation remains not perfectly nailed down (377). The identity of the servant is the one who will restore covenant and, as Oswalt notes, the servant is not Israel (378). The most important impact of the message of these verses deals with suffering and humiliation regarding the servant. It is ridiculous, from humanity’s vantage point, that power is going to come through weakness. It is absurd to place the event of mockery with a conclusion event of exaltation. This seems to be the point Isaiah is trying to make (Isa 55:8).

 

            It is easy for the New Testament writers to attribute the servant to Jesus. When we focus on the passage in its Old Testament context, however, we also see a theme of God’s character coming through in the very idea that God’s name as revealed in Exodus 3 means deliverer. Jesus’ story starts in a humble place and before resurrection (exaltation) he experiences the crushing of power from both the political and religious establishment (382).

 

            It is further revealed in this passage concerning the theology of substitution. Others have argued that this cannot be found due to the servant’s participation in suffering rather than standing in the sinner’s place (not to mention Israel suffering already for their sins). Oswalt makes a case for the idea of substitution that is convincing (385-386). While substitution theology can be found here, it is worth noting that it is not the all-encompassing passage to deal with atonement. It is simply a very important one when developing a robust understanding of God’s dealing with sin and death.

Throughout the section everything points to the idea that God’s servant will not be given the time of day (but surprisingly will in the end). In the parade of power expectations, God’s people and the rest of the watching world will miss it. Oswalt highlights and interprets 53:2-3 as point of avoidance. He compares it to when a sick person is often avoided because of another person’s uncertain feelings regarding the situation. This ends up avoiding the person in need altogether with nobody winning (383-384). This section that was chosen for review highlights God’s character of suffering through God’s appointed servant. God is impacted by sin and deals with it directly at great painful cost. The poem testifies to Israel’s rejection of God due to their obtuse alienated expectations. The servant’s role, however, is the very thing Israel/the world needs and ironically wants.

Chapter 6 of Isaiah

Chapter six of Isaiah is a popular and central text in the whole of the book. Oswalt notes that it functions as a hinge between the chapters preceding and following it (173-175). This text is about response to an encounter with a holy God. This God emerges throughout the vision as one who has power and royalty. This God is actually the king of all reality in which Isaiah gets a glimpse. Isaiah’s response has wide spreading implications for God’s work in the world.

Many thoughts and questions arise when reading this chapter several times in a row. Isaiah’s vision, as Oswalt notes, is rooted in real time (176). Is the text highlighting a struggle for trust in earthly kings verses a reliance on God? An important king has died and the text immediately moves one’s mind from an earthy king to thinking about the King of all of the earth. The image of a temple filled with God’s presence reminds me of Genesis one and two where God’s inauguration is taking place. The earth is YHWH’s temple and full of God’s revelation.

The creatures in the vision have a unique description and fascinating job. They move about in attributing worth to King YHWH through unison covering and apparent repetitious praise chants. It is unique that in this vision Isaiah experiences the physical surroundings in tangible ways. The very building structure is being impacted by this encounter and the air has changed by the result of fire. The place where Isaiah finds himself has been radically changed by the one who is in the loud and smoky place.

The result of this scene is that Isaiah becomes acutely aware of his needy identity. Individually he recognizes with humble clarity that he is in need of grace. A mission from this moment is being born out of his own confession. He moves with further understanding to the idea that corporately the need is beyond just himself. The confession is a result of an evolving understanding that YHWH is king.

One of the creatures engages Isaiah’s response further by placing a hot coal against his lips. If this is an angelic being, why does the creature have to use tongs to grab a hot coal? Is this a further connection that the spiritual and material are closely intertwined? One must keep in mind the nature of the event happening is a vision. One cannot help but ponder the significance of these details. A theological suggestion is that it is not only “live” but it is consecrated to YHWH and therefore sacred.

The coal is pressed against Isaiah’s lips with a message of guilt removal and forgiveness of sins. I see an element of prevenient grace that Isaiah was able to confess at all. Does the seraph place it against his lips out of grace to simply point out that such a confession requires something sacred from a place of sacrifice? The next voice is a question from King YHWH. Isaiah’s response is one we would expect from such a spectacular meeting.

The message of sacrifice, I think, is encrypted in the imperatives given to Isaiah. It was from Isaiah’s own encounter that he must go and share a truth that will likely fall on deaf ears. Isaiah, like the people of God (and all humanity), have forgotten YHWH. Isaiah is called to give a hard message to a hard hearted people. However, it is in their familiarity that they have become blind. God encounter in the long run will always produce hope in those called to tell important news. Once sin has had its destructive day, God will continue his redemptive drama. 

Praise to this kind of King… The God-King of sacrifice. The God-Man (Jesus) of Resurrection is worthy of praise!

Works Cited:

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

On Isaiah

The content of the book of Isaiah is best/only understood in the historical context in which its message is seated. The section for summary is over the years 739-701 B.C. As Oswalt notes, these years correspond with Isaiah’s life and chapters 1-39 (4). It is in this period that the Hebrew people continue to struggle with remembering God. The test to trust God is apparent throughout the account of ruthless Assyrian emperors and the real threat they posed toward their enemies. Isaiah’s message is one that highlights the contrast of trusting the fickleness of foreign powers with the true reliability of the Hebrew God. Trusting foreign powers with other gods might bring short provision, but not trusting the only true powerful God leads to destruction (5).

The period that the text covers could be called “Assyria’s moment of glory”. Prior to strong capable leaders, Assyria had been fairly weak in its force. Those who had felt Assyria’s might in the past found a time of rest. This led to Israel and Judah’s complacency which assumed God’s favor resting on them (5). With the rise of Tiglath-pileser III things strongly changed. The days of peace were over if you were in Assyria’s path. It quickly became known that when Pul flexed his muscle the entire world feared it (6). The book of 2 Kings provides much background for a proper understanding of Isaiah.

Judah was torn on which way to turn regarding Assyria. They eventually sided with Assyria in hopes that they would be protected and find favor with the main power. Looking for help from a bigger protector seems to be the theme for Judah throughout this period. Isaiah rightly perceives that striving to survive by linking to a foreign power is useless and harmful in the end. Conquering kings often take what is freely handed over and then forcefully taken when it is not. For the Hebrews apostasy often comes about due to amnesia of God (6-7).

Pul died in 727 B.C. who was then succeeded by Shalmaneser (7). This king too maintained a sweeping power hold on any Assyrian opponent. The next king that followed was Sargon. He continued the domination that had become expected by the Assyrian military strength (8). It is in this time period that a somewhat decent king named Hezekiah reigned over Judah. He tried to rid the land and temple of worship to false gods. One time he even tried (unsuccessfully) to unite Northern Israel with the South through celebration of Passover (9). Another time Judah chose to rely on Egypt for protection which did not prove to be any more successful than the trustworthiness of Ahaz’s confidence in Assyria. Sargon maintained a world dominance posture that had been built on the wins of his predecessors. He, however, died disgracefully on the battlefield and is forever remembered as an example of pride coming before a fall (Isa. 14).

Babylon hoped to gain some ground, but was soon met with defeat by the consistent supremacy of Assyria led by Sennacherib. It was not long before Assyria was strong as ever and as Isaiah had predicted, was knocking on Judah’s door (10). With the increased threat close to home, Hezekiah tried to pay off Sennacherib with a tribute. There is also a possible account of a plague that took out the Assyrian army saving Jerusalem. Due to pride, Assyrian history probably would not have recorded such an event or allowed the city to remain. Mystery surrounds the details of how it happened, but Jerusalem was spared from the crushing sweep of Sennacherib. Hezekiah, however, was faithful to God due to Isaiah’s message (12-13).

Despite Circumstances of any Empire…May we not forget God. May we put full trust in YHWH.

Works Cited:

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.