The Isaiah Scroll – Part III

The portion of Isaiah’s prophecy offered here by Biblical Reproductions contains part of a historical description (Isaiah, Chapter 22) and part of a prophetic denunciation of the nations (Isaiah, Chapter 23) of the events in Judah in the late eighth century BCE. Other (later) parts of the book of Isaiah, however, are not related to the specific events of Isaiah’s day but contain the prophet’s vision of the future of God’s chosen country and people. One such later vision is of a suffering servant.

There are at least four songs of the Servant (or the Suffering Servant) of God in Deutero-Isaiah; in Chapters 42, 49, 50 and 52. The scholarly debate over whether these four songs are integral to the text or were added later is still underway. The more important point, also still subject to scholarly dispute, is exactly to whom the prophet was referring. This happens, in part, because the writer was not consistent in whom he was addressing. Thus there are four main possibilities:

1.  Sometimes the reference is to the people of Israel, the collective, as God’s servants who must suffer.

2.  Sometimes the reference is to a real contemporary person, perhaps even the prophet himself, who (like Jeremiah) certainly did suffer.

3.  More often, the reference seems to be to a king—as personification of the collective—or another ideal individual in Israel’s history; perhaps Moses, or David.

4.  And still other times the prophet seems to be telling of something that will happen in the times to come; of an idealized redeemer who would come to save Israel somewhere in the future..

It was the fourth interpretation which was so warmly embraced by the writers of the Gospels. These passages in Deutero-Isaiah created an image by which the writers of the Gospel could understand and appreciate the significance of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, Christian tradition always believed that Isaiah was prophesying the coming of Jesus. It is equally plausible to suggest that the writers of the Gospels used  Isaiah’s imagery of the Suffering Servant as a template with which to describe the remarkable influence of Jesus of Nazareth on those who heard and believed him. Either way, the influence of the prophet Isaiah on the New Testament was enormous.

An exquisite reproduction from Isaiah, chapter 22, is available on the website, Biblical Reproductions is licensed by the Israel Antiquitiess Authority.

Author: Walter Zanger