Saturday, September 10, 2016

Two messages of Isaiah II: Consolation and the suffering Servant


1.   Bible experts note that the 2nd Isaiah may have been written during the exile but with the growing presence of the Persians under the rule of King Cyrus. The Persians seem to be winning against the Babylonians. In this historical context the prophet Isaiah-II needs to keep the flames of hope alive among the people of Israel. Let us look at Chapter 40.
2.   Chapter 40 starts with a prologue, vv.1-11, and later a question is raised. Who is like God? Can the idols oppose him?
3.   In the prologue, vv.1-11, we see that the God of Israel is a speaking God. In spite of the infidelity of the people God speaks to them. God has chosen his people and will restore them, he will re-establish them and he will re-establish Jerusalem. Thus, the people must see that never does God abandon them. Even in their exile God has been with them.
4.   Note that four sections can be seen in vv.1-11,namely, vv.1-2, vv.3-5, vv.6-8 and vv.9-11. Let us look at them in a general perspective.

• v. 1-2. A cry is launched. Comfort the people! It is an urgent cry. To comfort or console is to allow to “exhale”, like a big exhalation given when pain is relieved. The people of Israel must be able to “exhale”. Isaiah-II is known to be the “book of consolation”. It is about the people able to “exhale” finally. They do not have to always hold their breath. They can breathe freely. The exile has ended, (or is about to end). The sin of the people is expiated, the people can be rewarded double!  
• v. 3-5. Here we read that a voice proclaims. God will let the people return to their land. The return to the land is like a new Exodus and God will lead the way. The land will be “level”, no “ups” and “downs”. The glory of God will be revealed in this liberation. Others will see that glory. 
• v. 6-8. Here we see the recognition of the fragility of the exiled people. Indeed they are fragile like grass. Grass and flower wilt away, but not the word of God. So we see the opposition: fragility and permanence. This is a fact of human life, a fact of human existence. Being in exile or being in the land, human existence is “grass” and “flowers”.
• v. 9-11. Jerusalem is here mentioned; it is the city that will be restored. Jerusalem with Mt. Sion is messenger of good news. Be happy to announce the coming of the Lord, the true master of history. He is like a shepherd of sheep. He will care for his flock.
5.   The prologue is written during the time of the exile but it is already looking forward, ahead. Pull away now from the past, pull away now from the condition of being stuck. Look ahead to new times.
6.   In verse 5, note the verbs “too see” and “to speak”. “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (v.5). The people will see that the Lord has spoken. There seems to be no intermediary. Each one can see the effectiveness of God’s word! 
7.   In verse 8 we read that “the word of our God stands forever”. The word of the lord stands and can thus intervene radically. It has energy.

Suffering Servant
1.   Who is this servant? It can be Jacob/Israel. But is some verses we cannot be sure who, see  42/1; 44/26; 50/10; 52/13 and 53/11. The term can have many meanings.
2.   Perhaps the servant is an individual.
3.   In 44/26  to 45/13, it is the Persian King Cyrus. This King is, at times, called a “shepherd” or even “savior”! This is such a big surprise because the tiles are offered to a pagan king.
4.   Look at 49/5-6. This is about a person with a mission. He has a mission to both the people of Israel and the other nations. Who could it be? Is he a representative of the people, like the exiled King Jehoiachin? Could it be Isaiah-II himself?  But 49/3 mentions Israel. So could this be the people of Israel? Maybe the servant is the nation!
5.   Look at 50/4-11. We see mentions of face and cheeks and garments. Who could this be? Could it be the prophet Isaiah-II? Maybe it is him who went through difficulties in announcing the word of God.
6.   The servant as group
7.   We can note two words, “servant” and “elected”. These can mean the elected people of Israel. See for example 41/8-9; 43/10; 49/3.
8.   The Servant can represent the whole nation, the people of Israel. They are the elected people. They have a mission for the other nations. See 42/6; 49/6 and 49/8. Maybe it is a small group within the people of Israel, the “remnant”. They remain faithful to the Lord God in spite of the infidelity of the people.
9.   If we look at chapters 50-53 the Servant can be all the people of Israel. They are considered faithful. They suffer and yet they stay faithful to God. This can be an interpretation. With the suffering of the people a universal mission is opened. Other nations can be called to the Lord God. Chapter 53 looks like a summit of the Old Testament.
10.       How about Jesus as the Suffering Servant? Around after the time of Jesus some Christians did a retrospect back to the book of Isaiah. This may look simple to us, but actually it was daring. The early Christians dared to be different. They did not strictly follow the line of their Jewish counterparts. New Testament authors applied Isaiah 42 and 53 to Jesus himself. The texts of Isaiah allowed the authors to interpret the crucifixion of Jesus. That death could be best understood in the light of God’s plan expressed in the phrase, “in accordance to the Scriptures”. Of course we can always read the texts of Isaiah without necessarily applying them to Jesus, but the early Christians did it. They saw Jesus in those texts. They felt that Jesus was already announced in Isaiah.

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