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Relevant Bible Verses: Isaiah 50:4-10; 52:13-53:12

Leading Question: “About whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”

If you know your New Testament you may recognize the leading question as coming from the Ethiopian eunuch in his encounter with Philip on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:23-26). Our lessons are based on the prophet Isaiah, but this week’s lesson takes us to the heart of Jesus’ mission as understood in the New Testament.

Question: Why is the eunuch’s question so significant, both in the setting of the New Testament and in today’s scholarly discussions of the suffering servant song in Isaiah 53?

Comment: The identity of the servant is one of the most highly discussed issues in modern scholarship. Critical scholarship is not inclined to take the Song as pointing forward to Jesus. But in Jesus’ day, the application to Jesus was apparently not made by anyone until after the resurrection. Why?

The Servant in Isaiah 50:4-10

Though the highpoint of the Servant’s task focuses on Isaiah 53, an important preamble comes in 50:4-10. And we must keep in mind the question of how much the Servant was a model for Israel, for Jesus, and for us:

Isaiah 50:4 The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
    the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
    wakens my ear
    to listen as those who are taught.
5 The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious,
    I did not turn backward.
6 I gave my back to those who struck me,
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
    from insult and spitting.
7 The Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
8     he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
    Let them confront me.
9 It is the Lord God who helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
    the moth will eat them up.
10 Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the voice of his servant,
who walks in darkness
    and has no light,
yet trusts in the name of the Lord
    and relies upon his God?

Question: To what extent was verse 10 fulfilled in Jesus?

Comment: Can it be said of Jesus’ followers that they fear the Lord, and obey the servant who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the Lord and relies upon his God?

One of the most significant indications of the Jewish idea of the role of the Messiah at the time of Christ is the translation of Isaiah 53 in the Jewish Targum (Targum Jonathan). A targum is an Aramaic paraphrase of the Old Testament. The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew, but in Jesus’ day, the language of the people was Aramaic. Jesus spoke Aramaic. In fact a couple of notable quotes from Jesus are given in Aramaic in the Gospels. In Mark 5:41 Jesus says to Jairus’ daughter: “Talitha cum” – and Mark interprets for us: “Little girl, get up” (NRSV).

On the cross, Mark records another Aramaic saying and gives the translation: “At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, NRSV).

In the lines that follow, the English translation of the original Hebrew is followed by the English translation of the Aramaic Targum. The Targum was no doubt written as polemic against the Christian interpretation. Note how it transforms the suffering servant into a conquering king:

53:3 Hebrew He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of torments and acquainted with infirmity and like one from whom one hides his face, he was despised and we esteemed him not.
Targum Then he shall be contemptuous of, and bring to an end, the glory of all the kingdoms; they shall become weak and afflicted, lo, like a man in pain and accustomed to illness, and like us, when the Shekinah had departed from us, leaving us despised and without esteem.
53:4 Hebrew Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our torments, but we considered him smitten with disease, stricken by God, and afflicted.
Targum Then he shall seek pardon for our sins, and our iniquities shall be forgiven for his sake; though we are considered stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
53:5 Hebrew And he was wounded by our transgressions, he was crushed by our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed.
Targum And he shall rebuild the Temple, which was profaned because of our sins, and which was surrendered because of our iniquities; through his instruction, his peace shall abound for us, and when we teach his words our sins shall be forgiven us.
53:6 Hebrew All of us like sheep have wandered, we have turned each in his own direction, but the Lord has inflicted upon him the iniquity of us all.
Targum All of us were scattered like sheep, we were exiled, each in his own direction, but it is the will of God to pardon the sins of all of us on his account.

Question: Why was it no one in Jesus’ day wanted to hear the message of the suffering servant? Why was it that even the disciples didn’t believe it until after the resurrection

Question: Is it difficult for believers today to admit that our sins wound our Savior?

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