Friday 25 March 2016

Bible Book:

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 Friday 25 March 2016

Psalm: Psalm 22


Through Holy Week, we have considered the theme of Jesus theservant. Three of them have come from Isaiah, and have included thepassages known collectively as Isaiah's 'servant songs' (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-7; 50: 4-11), andtoday's passage is the fourth and final of these songs. It is alsoarguably the climax of the songs, seen as a collection. It focuseson the servant as one who suffers, and the redemption that thissuffering brings.

As with the previous servant songs, we might look for ahistorical context to explain what it must originally have meant.But precisely who or what was the servant when the prophecy wasfirst spoken and written down, is hard to know. It may refer tokings and emperors, to the prophet himself, or perhaps to Israel.What seems much clearer, however, is the influence that thisprophecy has had on Christian thought. From the early Church, thispassage has helped us to find words for what it is that Christ hasdone for us.

The reference to sacrifice in the passage (verse 7) reminds usthat the idea of one life paying for the sins of many is built intothe worship of Israel. Animals were offered to make amends, tobring about ritual purity and, at Yom Kippur, to make atonement forthe sins of the nation. In this final example, the High Priestwould confess the sins of Israel, symbolically placing them onto agoat by laying hands on it. The animal would then be sent out intothe desert, bearing the sins on behalf of the Israelites.

The prophet uses this sacrificial idea to suggest that theservant's suffering is redemptive. One person is despised, treatedbrutally, even killed. And by this treatment, he is exalted andshown to be righteous. Not only that, but he will also "make manyrighteous, and he shall bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11).

To Ponder

  • If you have time, look at Romans 5:6-21.Might today's passage have helped to shape Paul's thinking here? Oris that to read too much into it?
  • This passage is perhaps best known and loved because of its useby Handel in Messiah (especially Part 2 of the work). Do you know of any otherexamples of it being used in art or music? Why might it inspireartists in this way?
  • The idea of suffering as redemptive has been hugely comfortingto struggling individuals or oppressed communities. Why might thisbe? Are there dangers in this idea?
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