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Letters to Ya'acov

Letter 10: From Mike

9th September 1987


Dear Ya’acov,

Many thanks for your letter of 2nd September. I note your answers and will try to respond to them.

Regarding Jesus being the "prophet like Moses", you quote Acts 3:22-24 as New Testament evidence against this. If one reads the verses immediately preceding and following those three verses, it is evident that the apostle Peter is stating that Samuel and all the prophets gave witness to Jesus as the prophet like Moses. In fact, the unanimous consent of the New Testament writers is that Jesus is that prophet (see John 1:45; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 7:37-52).

There are a number of similarities between Jesus and Moses. The writer H.L. Hastings once listed 24 analogies but I will point out the four most outstanding:

  • The Office of Mediator (Deuteronomy 18:15-17 compare 1 Timothy 2:5). As Moses was the mediator of the Covenant at Sinai, so Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25,26; Hebrews 9:11-15). Moreover, in heaven he mediates between God and those he has redeemed (Hebrews 4:15; 2:14-18; 7:25).
  • Prophetic utterances (Deuteronomy 18:18,19; 28 cf. Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 22)
  • Intimacy with God (Deuteronomy 34:10 cf. John 12:27-32; 14:9-20; 17; Matthew 17:1-7)
  • Signs and Wonders (Deuteronomy 34:11-12 cf. the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles - too many to mention).

Christ certainly said that not one yod of the Law would pass until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:18) but I am astonished that you should suggest Paul abolished the Law. This is another example of your argument suffering from your not having read the New Testament for yourself. If you read Paul’s writings you would see that such a view is untenable (e.g.: Romans 7:7-25; 3:31)

As for Isaiah 53 predicting the holocaust, perhaps you should consider the following quotes from some of the most eminent rabbis concerning that chapter:

  • Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper. (Targum Jonathan, Rabbi Jonathan ben Uzziel
  • Jonathan ban Uzziel interprets it in the Targum of the future Messiah; and this is also the opinion of our own learned men in the majority of their Midrashim. (Rabbi don Yitzhak Abarbanel)
  • Forthwith the Holy One began to make a covenant with the Messiah: O Messiah, my righteousness, said he, the iniquities of those who are hidden beside thee will cause thee to enter into a hard yoke... said the Messiah, Lord of the world I accept it joyfully, and will endure these chastisements... Messiah accepted the chastisement of love, as it is written; He was oppressed, and he was afflicted. (Midrash on Bereshit, Rabbi Moshe Ha-Darshan)
  • When the Messiah hears of the great suffering of Israel in their dispersion, and of the wicked amongst them who seek not to know their master, he weeps aloud on account of those wicked ones amongst them, as it is written: ‘But he was wounded because of our transgression, he was crushed because of our iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:5). The souls then return to their place. The Messiah, on his part, enters a certain hall in the Garden of Eden, called the Hall of the Afflicted. There he calls for all the diseases and pains and sufferings of Israel, bidding then settle on himself, which they do. And were it not that he thus ease* the burden from Israel, taking it on himself, no one could endure the sufferings mated out to Israel in expiation an account of their neglect of the Torah. And this Is that which was written; ‘Surely our diseases he did bear’ (Isaiah 53:4). (The Zohar on Exodus, 212A)
  • The Messiah - what is his name? - The rabbis said: His name is the Leper Scholar as It is written ‘surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted’. (Sanhedrin 98b)
  • As for myself, I am inclined with Benjamin of Nehavend to regard it as alluding to the Messiah. (Rabbi Yepheth ben ‘Ali)
  • I.... In the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which the kings will hearken to him, ‘at him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard, they have perceived’. (Maimonides).
  • The expression My Servant’ they [certain contemporary commentators] compare rashly with Isaiah 41:8 ‘thou Israel art my servant’, where the prophet is speaking of the people of Israel (which would be singular): here, however, he does not mention Israel, but simply says ‘My Servant’: we cannot therefore understand the word in the same sense...
  • I am pleased to interpret it In accordance with the teaching of our rabbis of the King Messiah, and will be careful, so far as I am able, to adhere to the literal sense: thus, possibly, I shall be free from the forced and far-fetched interpretations of which others have been guilty. (Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin)
  • Our rabbis of blessed memory with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet Is speaking of the King Messiah, and we ourselves shall also adhere to the same view. (Commentaries on the Earlier Prophets, Rabbi Moshe El-Sheikh of Safed; a disciple of Joseph Caro the author of the Shulchan Arukh)
  • I will now proceed to explain these verses of our own Messiah, who God willing, will come speedily in our days! I air surprised that Rashi and David Kimchi have not, with the Targum, applied them to the Messiah likewise. (Rabbi Naphtali ben Asher Altshuler)
  • Messiah our righteousness is departed from us; horror hath seized us, and we have none to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of iniquities and our transgression and is wounded because of our transgressions. He beareth our sins on his shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wound at the time that the Eternal will create him [the Messiah] as a new creature. Oh, bring him up from the circle of the earth, raise him up from Seir, to assemble us the second time, on Mount Lebanon, by the hand of Yinnon. (Corban Aharon; Prayer Book for Yom Kippur, p105b; published by Lewin Epstein Bros., Jerusalem)

From the above quotes it is evident that today’s rabbis are out of step with their eminent predecessors. Rabbi Shmuel Arkush, for example, in his Operation Judaism Factpack refers Isaiah 53 to the sufferings of the Jewish people in Babylon or even Auschwitz. Such an interpretation was regarded by Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin as "quite fanciful".

Let’s look at the chapter itself to see what it says about this Suffering Servant of the Lord. He is represented as:

AN INNOCENT SUFFERER (vv 8,9)

"For the transgression of my people was he stricken" is the verdict of the prophet concerning the suffering servant. His sufferings were due not to any wrongdoing on his part. The nation of Israel, rather than being represented as innocent, are from the commencement of the book denounced as a "sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger, they are gone away backward". Such a description is nothing if not comprehensive. The major section of the book in which the fifty-third chapter is contained commences with the pronouncement of comfort to Israel whose "iniquity is pardoned" having received the "double for all her sins" (40:l, 2). Something has been done to turn away the divine wrath. These are not words addressed to an innocent party but to one who has been gratuitously forgiven. Whoever the sufferer is, he is not the nation of Israel for; "He had done no violence, neither was there any deceit in his mouth’.

A VOLUNTARY SUFFERER (v7)

In the historical portions of the Scriptures are contained the accounts of two exiles experienced by the nation, under the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Did either the northern or the southern kingdoms go into captivity voluntarily? Did they go meekly as lambs to the slaughter or remain as sheep dumb before their shearers? Each exile was the result of a crushing and humiliating national defeat. There has been no suffering voluntarily undertaken by the Jewish nation. One thinks of the anguish of the Holocaust when many Jews could not accept that God would allow the horrors they were experiencing to continue. They called upon God to deliver them and so devastating was the silence from heaven that many prominent Jews today deny the existence of God. The servant of Isaiah 53 accepts all the sufferings that come on him willingly that "the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper".

A VICARIOUS SUFFERER (vv4-10, 12)

The message of comfort at the beginning of chapter 40 affirms that the sufferings of Israel were for "for all her sins". The servant of the fifty-third chapter also suffers for Israel’s sins while not being a partaker of her iniquities. In fact, the clear indication is that he suffers at the hands of Israel (vv2, 3)! Never in the whole history of the people of Israel have they ever seen themselves as bearing the punishment due to the nations. Whatever sufferings they experienced were always a consequence of disobedience to their God. Throughout Isaiah woes are pronounced on the nations for their sins. No indication is given that Israel will in any measure suffer in the place of any nation other than herself. When she suffers, she pays the penalty for her own ungodliness.

HIS SUFFERINGS ARE REDEMPTIVE (vv 11,12)

The suffering of this servant leads to the justification of many (v11). The just suffers in the place of the unjust so that he may lead them to God. In The Challenge of the Ages, Frederick Aston makes the point that "Israel’s sufferings not only failed to justify her oppressors, but, as history well attests, led to their punishment". Where is Assyria; where is the great Babylon built by Nebuchadnezzar; where is the grandeur that was Rome or the Reich that would last for a thousand years? They are gone. None were redeemed by the atrocities they perpetrated against the Jews. As a result of their crimes and extreme cruelty, even though they were instruments in the hands of the Lord, they were punished. In the tenth chapter of Isaiah the Lord pronounced that though Assyria was his rod to chastise Israel He would destroy them so that Israel need be afraid of then no longer.

I could go on to point out that in this chapter the sufferings of the servant are an act of obedience; that they are experienced out of love for sinners; that they end in death which is followed by resurrection and, ultimately, glory. The plain fact is that by no stretch of the imagination can the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 be regarded as Israel.

There is adequate reason to see why the ancient rabbis recognised the messianic nature of this prophecy. The view that the prophecy refers to the nation of Israel originated from reasons other than strict exegesis of the text. No one would wish to minimise the tribulations of the Jewish nation throughout the centuries but there is no similarity between their sufferings and those of the Lord’s Servant as delineated in Isaiah 53. When all the facts are carefully weighed there can be only one conclusion regarding the identity of this servant. That is the conclusion reached by Philip the evangelist in Acts 8, and maintained by the church in all ages: he is Jesus the Messiah.

I think I will have to leave it there. If I answered all your other points I would be at this word-processor all day. Please consider these points. It saddens me that you so quickly reply when it is evident you have not fully considered everything I have said. I know this, because in my last letter I mistakenly said that Psalm 2 (when in fact it is Psalm 110) referred to Messiah as "a priest after the order of Melchizedek" and you did not pick that up. This correspondence is not a personal feud. We are discussing truth upon which our eternal destinies depend.

Perhaps in your next letter you would deal with the above matters and let me know what you think.

With every good wish, especially as we approach Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year].

Mike


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