It’s a well establish fact of the universe that the ruling class prefers to hear the sound of their collective voice. They spend a great deal of their time making decrees, utterances, proclamations, and often appear in front of the camera telling you what to think or how to behave. But according to Isaiah, Israel’s messiah would inspire monarchs around the world to shut their mouth for once. And astonishingly, this prophecy actually came true! Think about that for a moment. Certainly, the sprinkling of the nations lies at the heart of Christ’s mission, but the fact that he also left kings around the world speechless is definitely something worth celebrating at this time of year. And, Lord willing, his story will continue to shut their mouths—and ours as well.
Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—so shall he sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. — ISAIAH 52:13-15
Because I was raised in a secular Jewish home, I was basically unfamiliar with the story of Jesus throughout my childhood. In fact, I even recall a time in high school when I wondered about the meaning of “Good Friday” which was printed on the calendar hanging right there on the wall in front of me. Then it struck me—Good Friday must be the opposite of Friday the 13th!
A year or two later, I stumbled on to various passages in the Old Testament that seemed to relate to the idea of a coming messiah who would suffer and die for the sins of his people. And of all the texts I studied, the one that stood out for me as the most significant was Isaiah’s famous “Song the Suffering Servant” recorded in Isaiah 53. In coming months I’ll devote a few episodes to this topic, but in this article I’d like to focus on the very beginning of this famous song, which actually starts in the last few verses of Isaiah 52.
When I first encountered this section of Isaiah’s famous prophecy, I immediately made the connection to Jesus. So I began to discuss it with various Rabbis, asking them about the identity of the suffering servant. That’s when I discovered that most contemporary Jews interpret this passage metaphorically (Isaiah essentially personified the suffering of the nation of Israel as a single individual). But as I later discovered, ancient Jews both before and after the time of Christ believed this passage spoke of Israel’s coming messiah.
In Isaiah 52:13, we read, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely…” but when Jews of the second century AD translated this verse into Aramaic, it was rendered, “Behold my servant, the Messiah…” Now, based on the way they continued to interpret that passage, it’s clear that these Aramaic translators were not Jewish Christians, nevertheless, they did end up affirming, not only that Isaiah’s Suffering Servant referred to the coming messiah, but also that “our iniquities will be forgiven on account of him,” and that in the process, he would hand “his life over to death.”
Among the treasures of the Dead Sea Scrolls are found a number of hymns and poems that reflect on various passages of the Hebrew Scriptures. And one hymn in particular is included in multiple scrolls, which is helpful because some of these scrolls are fragmentary, and that which is missing from one scroll can be replaced with the text from another.