Tag Archives: Prophets

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.

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.