The Servant Songs of Isaiah – Chapters 52-53, pt.2

Tonight we are concluding our study of Isaiah’s Book of Consolation and will be reading through Isaiah 52-55 with an emphasis on the Fourth Suffering Servant Song of Isaiah 52:13-53:12.  Attached is Christopher North’s commentary on this Fourth Servant Song from his book The Suffering Servant – An Historical and Critical Study.

This Song is different than the prior three Songs that we have looked at before.   The prior Songs were written in the first person. There the Servant was empowered by God to act, and he does not suffer in silence.  As we saw last week in Isaiah 50:8-9, the Servant actively challenges those who oppose him.  And the Servant’s suffering is a direct result of his carrying God’s word.  He doesn’t suffer on behalf of others, but on because of others.  In this last Servant Song, however, the Servant is spoken of in the third person. The Servant suffers silently and he suffers vicariously on behalf of others.  He bears their griefs and sorrows, their transgressions and iniquities.  And, in this Song, the Servant’s death is spoken of.  But it is within this suffering and death, that the nations see and come to understand God.

Particularly, in this Fourth Servant Song, we, like the Ethiopian, must ask “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Acts 8:34.  Like before, the prophet may be speaking of himself.  The description of his death is not a literal death but describes the prophet as finally being cut off from his community.  The prophet sees in his suffering, his bearing of the sins of the community not unlike the scapegoat in Leviticus 16:10 who is likewise cast out.  Alternatively, the Servant could be Jerusalem herself who bears the sins of the world. Her exile is her death, and her return is the rebirth spoken about in Isaiah 54-55.  Finally, modern theologians, like Ignaz Maybaum, see this Suffering Servant as the Jewish people themselves whose suffering under men from Nebuchadnezzar to Hitler should be understood as the historical manifestation of the mission of Israel to bring about spiritual progress in the wider world.  The nations can only come to see and understand God when their sins are made manifest upon the Jewish people. 

In the Christian context, of course, this Servant Song necessarily points to Jesus. From the very earliest days of the Jesus Movement, the Church has seen this passage as describing Jesus. Acts 8:26-40.  As before, please read one of the Gospel Passion narratives and compare the same with this Suffering Servant Song.

SCHEDULE: Tuesday-week is our Seder Dinner. Reservations are required. Please sign up on Tuesday night or reply email to me.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is Cheeseburgers. Discussion about 6:45. Rob Donahue will be leading the discussions. Hope to see you here.

This one bears our sins and suffers pain for us,
   and we accounted him to be in trouble and calamity and ill-treatment.
But he was wounded because of our acts of lawlessness
   and has been weakened because of our sins;
upon him was the disciplined of our peace; 
   by his bruises we were healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; a man has strayed in his own way,
   and the Lord gave him over to our sins.
And the Lord desires to cleanse him from his blow.
   If you offer for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived offspring.

Isaiah 55:4-6, 10 (LXX)

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