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Friday, January 16, 2015

More than a Prediction

[Isaiah 42] "This is my Servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one, in whom I delight."

The Hebrew word "ebed" occurs 800 in 714 verses of the Jewish Bible according to the Strong's reference in the Blue Letter Bible. It means a slave or servant, and is used in a derivative sense of those who submit to the authority of another, frequently God.

The servant canticles in Isaiah (of which this is one) are significant in Christian circles because they are frequently associated with Jesus in the New Testament. As such, the verses (or partial verses) are assumed to be "predictions about Jesus." Such a view is compounded by never reading anything except the verse (and ignoring its Biblical context). While Jesus fills up the deepest meaning of these canticles, I think it helpful to understand there is more here.

First of all, interpreting the Bible goes back to the Midrash of ancient rabbis and the first Christians. Remember, for them the truest meaning of the text was HIDDEN. Who is the servant? In the Jewish Study Bible (p867) the following figures are identified as possible: Cyrus (cf Is 45:1), the author of Isaiah 42, the Messiah, and the Israelite nation as a whole.

It is the latter interpretation which seems to be implied by what follows in Is 42:18ff!

Who is so blind as my servant, so deaf as my messenger I send? Who is so blind as he chosen one, so blind as the servant of the Lord? 

No one ever applies those verses to Jesus! SO what then to think?

The word servant, probably here in Isaiah, is the nation Israel (hence the blind and deaf reference). However, within Israel there are some who are faithful, in a sense they are the "real" servant [how often do we differentiate between "true" and "false" versions of something?]. So while the servant (all) is blind, the servant (all should, some will) is also going to bring justice. However, in looking at this text, later generations will go on to say, the Messiah is the perfect fulfillment of this text (v 1-4), while leaving v18ff out of the discussion because one would not apply those verses to Messiah. In conclusion, Jesus is the fulfillment (completion, perfection) of the mission of Israel. What applies to Israel applies to Jesus. Remember, in fulfillment of the Scriptures means, first, the whole of the Biblical revelation (God's plan of salvation). Jesus fills up all of it. 

This is why we Christians call ourselves the children of Abraham or the new Israel. We apply the text in a way which goes beyond what it originally meant. The Bible is read as a past referent, a present application, and a future promise. Salvation and revelation have occurred, are occurring and will occur. The multi-dimensional nature of time and human existence are present in God's word. We must read with all the angles and options in mind. Reality is bigger than our simple efforts to grasp and explain it.

The church, as the Body of Christ, must now continue to fill up the words of the Scripture. We, today, are the servant--too often blind and deaf, yet in a mission of justice and reconciliation in service of our God and His Word.

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