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Questions for Sohail on the article "The Lamb of God"

Reader comment on item: A Christian Boom
in response to reader comment: The Lamb of God

Submitted by Hal Smith (United States), Jan 25, 2010 at 22:10

Dear Sohail,

In your comment "Lamb of God," you pointed out that descriptions of Israel in Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Nahun parallel the description of God's servant in Isaiah 53. Do any of those books explicitly say that Isaiah 53 is about the tribe of Israel? If a Messianic individual were to lead and suffer for Israel, wouldn't it be natural if his story paralleled his people's?

Isaiah 52 ends by saying the servant will make many kings speechless. The next chapter begins by saying "Who will believe our report?" How could the foreign kings be talking if they are speechless? Would it be unusual for an entire chapter, where the speaker knows and reveals God's desires, to be the words of gentile kings?

If Isaiah 41-45 refer to "Jacob, my servant, Israel," does that mean everywhere else "my servant" means Jacob or Israel? Is the name of a person, Jacob, used for a tribe, Israel? Or is "Israel" somtimes the name given to a person like Jacob or the Messiah?

If Jesus was rejected and stoned by his people, does that mean he could not have later been raised and lifted up? Just because Jesus' rejected certain praise doesn't mean that nobody ever praised him.

Lamentations 1-2 says God cut off Israel's horns and its splendor. But that doesn't mean it was marred beyond human likeness. Horns aren't human. Doesn't the description of a man's disfigurement relate closer to a person than to a tribe?

Isaiah 53 begins in the past tense and Jesus was born later, but Isaiah 53 ends in the future tense. Weren't some Old Testament prophesies written in the past tense?

Psalm 20:6 says: "We will shout for joy in thy victory." Couldn't the Messiah be killed and then God make him victorious through resurrection?

Isaiah 62 says gentile kings will see Jerusalem's glory, and gentiles will see its righteousness. ("thou shalt be called Sought out, a city not forsaken" Isaiah 62:12). If the Old Testament sometimes says gentiles will see Israel's glory, and other times says they will see Jerusalem's glory, why can't it say elsewhere they will see the servant's glory?

If Jesus was the Messiah, and many nations received baptism in his name, would Isaiah be poetically correct in saying that he sprinkled many nations?

Couldn't Jesus be "despised, and forsaken of men," beaten, and not given much attention by the best known historians of the time, while people later marveled at Jesus for being resurrected?

Why can't the Lord's arm be a poetic expression for the part of God that acts, just like a person's arm? If people thought of God in anthropomorphic terms, can God's arm be what he uses to act? Isaiah 63 calls it God's "arm of power." Could Isaiah 53 really be asking "to whom has the 'power' of the LORD been revealed?" Doesn't it sound redundant to interpret "With your mighty arm you redeemed your people" as "With Israel's redemption you redeemed Israel?" (Psalm 77:15) On the other hand, doesn't God's servant serve God, like his arm does, and if the Trinity was an accurate description of God, couldn't God's arm refer to his son in some places?

According to the Masoretic translation at (http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt1060.htm), which puts the Hebrew on the left and English on the right, Isaiah 60:21 says: "Thy people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever; the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, wherein I glory." The King James Version is very close. They describe God's servant in Isaiah 53 as a sapling, tender, plant, or root, while according to Isaiah 60, Israel shall inherit "the branch," not actually be the branch.

You said Israel grew up like a tender shoot and pointed to Isaiah 37:26, where the prophet says that God destroyed fortified cities like scorched tender shoots. Aren't the destroyed cities in Isaiah 37 enemies like Assyria, not Israel?

You are right that there was a time when Israel was despised and rejected by other nations, but not always, since at one time they had allies (Jeremiah 30:14). Likewise, there could have been a time when everyone praised Jesus, but wasn't there also a time when the Jews rejected him, like the crowds shouting at pilate "crucify him!"

You are right that in Ezekial, Deuteronomy, and Micah the Bible ordered Jews to stop their practice of fathers sacrificing children for the father's sins. And in Psalms 40 and 51 it says God didn't require or take pleasure in guilt offerings. I can infer that God didn't order Israel to kill his son for his own sins, nor did he require Israel to kill his son or take pleasure in it. But could a sacrifice still serve a beneficial purpose without God requiring the sacrifice? If not, why did God order Jews to make animal sacrifices in their temple over the Ark of the Covenant? Why does Isaiah 53:10 say: "it pleased the LORD... to see if his soul would offer itself in restitution" if sacrificing a soul could not serve as a restitution?

If the Messiah was killed and God brought him back to life, could you say that God saved him? 2 Chronicles 6:42 tells God not to reject His anointed, but it doesn't say that he won't. On the other hand, if Israel's leaders rejected and struck down the Messiah, does that necessarily mean God did? Psalm 18:50 says God "shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David... forever," but David did undergo oppression by his enemies. So doesn't it simply mean that the salvation he gives won't fail, not that God will constantly give every single kindness possible when the person is on earth?

You interpreted Isaiah 53:5 to mean that "Israel will atone for the Gentiles, and carry their transgressions as a "sin offering." Do you believe that Israel's destruction by the Romans somehow cleansed the rest of the world and served as a sin offering? You said Christian translators might have distorted the text, but Jews translate it very similar: "But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed."

If the "we" in Isaiah 53 means the gentiles, then you are right that it says the gentiles went astray. Assuming that "thee" in Isaiah 60 is Israel, Isaiah 60 does say gentiles will come to their light. That doesn't mean, however, that the Messiah's guilt offering in Isaiah 53 couldn't serve to bring the gentiles into the light that God shared with Israel.

The sheep in Psalm 44 seems to refer to Israel or David's followers. Jeremiah 50:17 uses sheep as a metaphor for Israel. Zechariah 11:6-7 says God will not pity the land's inhabitants, and not deliver them, and instead he will feed the "flock of slaughter, verily the poor of the flock." Here, the flock is not the land's inhabitants, Israel, but "the poor of the flock that gave heed unto me" (Zechariah 11:11) So I don't think the sheep metaphor always refers to Israel.

You said "Israel did not open his mouth" and pointed to Psalms 135:16-17. But Psalm 135:15-17 is referring to idols, not to Israel: "The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not."

Lambs led to slaughter open and close their mouths like any animal, but not in a predatory way that merits slaughter, and Isaiah 53:7 says he didn't open his mouth just as a lamb led to slaughter doesn't. Could the word "though" in Isaiah 53:7 ("He was oppressed, though he humbled himself and opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter."), mean that he was oppressed though he didn't open his mouth in a way that would merit slaughter?

Isaiah 53:8 says "By oppression and judgment he was taken away." You are right that Israel was taken away by oppression, but was it taken away by a "judgment" too?

You wrote: "The Israelites were "taken away" into captivity, but Jesus was never taken away, he was rather "taken away" to Heaven! (Psalms 20:6)." When a king orders "Take him away," that means to put him in jail, like Jesus. Doesn't crucifixion also take someone away from the land of the living?

Isn't the question "who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living" a rhetorical way of saying that the person did not have descendants that one could speak of?

You wrote: "Needless to say, Jesus was buried alone, he hated rich people (Matt. 19:24), so obviously he wasn't buried beside them." Couldn't the rich pharisee Joseph of Arithmea make the funeral arrangements and put Jesus in his family grave?

How do you know that "The grave refers to Babylon"? Do the scriptures ever call Babylon a grave? Psalm 49 says that "They that trust in their wealth" are "destined for the grave," not Israel in particular.

You're right that the servant is honest and Zephaniah 3:13 says: "The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth." Doesn't the honest "remnant" refer to what remains of Israel after the captivity? So when Isaiah 48 calls Israel untruthful, he must mean Israel before the capitivity. So unlike Israel, the servant is honest even before the oppression.

You wrote: "The Hebrew word for "seed" is zerah, and it always refers to physical descendants." But Psalm 22:28,30 says: "For the kingdom is the LORD's : and he is the governor among the nations... A seed (zera) shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation." The ancient Jewish scholar Rashi commented that Israel is God's seed in this verse.

You commented: "Jesus did not 'prolong his days'; his ministry lasted only three years, he departed at the age of 33." If Jesus lived on earth for 40 days after dying and then his days were eternal on heaven, and on earth in spirit form, would that mean God prolonged his deaths after the crucifixion?

You are right that Jeremiah says that God will heal Israel and bring it back from captivity. You quoted Isaiah 53:11 as saying: "he will see the light of life." Does this suggest that the servant was without life?


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