By Sam Shamoun
We continue from where we left off.
In this section we are going to deal with the texts that Singer uses to prove that the Servant of Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel. We will try to quote from the very chapter that Singer himself cites from in order to show from the context itself that Israel CANNOT possibly be the Servant that suffers for the sins of the world so as to bring about the salvation of all the nations. However, it is important for the readers to have first read Singer’s article since, instead of quoting the verses themselves, we will simply post the references that Singer employs.
1. Isaiah 41:8-9.
"Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing AND SHALL PERISH. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all." Isaiah 41:11-12
Far from being saved by Israel's afflictions, those nations that wage war against her shall actually be destroyed, a point made in other prophetic writings:
“For I am with you to save you, says the Lord; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will chasten you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished.” Jeremiah 30:11
“‘Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant, for I am with you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only in due measure; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’” Jeremiah 46:28
This next one expressly says that God will force the nations to drink from the cup of his wrath as punishment for all of their wickedness:
“Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword which I am sending among them.’ So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and princes, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, as at this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his princes, all his people, and all the foreign folk among them; all the kings of the land of Uz and all the kings of the land of the Philistines (Ash′kelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod); Edom, Moab, and the sons of Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastland across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who cut the corners of their hair; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mixed tribes that dwell in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, far and near, one after another, and all the kingdoms of the world which are on the face of the earth. And after them the king of Babylon shall drink. Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword which I am sending among you.’ And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: YOU MUST DRINK! For behold, I begin to work evil at the city which is called by my name, AND SHALL YOU GO UNPUNISHED? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, says the Lord of hosts.’ You, therefore, shall prophesy against them all these words, and say to them: ‘The Lord will roar from on high, and from his holy habitation utter his voice; he will roar mightily against his fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against the nations; he is entering into judgment with all flesh, and the wicked he will put to the sword, says the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, evil is going forth from nation to nation, and a great tempest is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth! And those slain by the Lord on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall be dung on the surface of the ground.’” Jeremiah 25:15-33
2. Isaiah 44:1, 21.
"Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you, you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. I have swept away YOUR TRANSGRESSIONS like a cloud, and YOUR SINS like mist; return to me, for I have REDEEMED you. Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has REDEEMED Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel." Isaiah 44:21-23
Instead of atoning for the sins of the nations, Israel itself needs to be saved for its own transgressions and sins. This in itself proves that the Servant of Isaiah 53 cannot be the nation, just as the following verse shows:
"And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done NO VIOLENCE, and there was NO DECEIT IN HIS MOUTH… he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall THE RIGHTEOUS ONE, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities." Isaiah 53:9, 11
Here are other texts which speak of Israel suffering because of its own sins, not because of the sins of the other nations:
"Hear, YOU DEAF; and look, YOU BLIND, that you may see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the LORD? He sees many things, BUT DOES NOT OBSERVE THEM; his ears are open, BUT HE DOES NOT HEAR. The LORD was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious. But this is a people robbed and plundered, they are all of them trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become a prey with none to rescue, a spoil with none to say, 'Restore!' Who among you will give ear to this, will attend and listen for the time to come? Who gave up Jacob to the spoiler, and Israel to the robbers? Was it not the LORD, AGAINST WHOM WE HAVE SINNED, IN WHOSE WAYS THEY WOULD NOT WALK, AND WHOSE LAW THEY WOULD NOT OBEY? So he poured upon him the heat of his anger and the might of battle; it set him on fire round about, BUT HE DID NOT UNDERSTAND; it burned him, BUT HE DID NOT TAKE IT TO HEART." Isaiah 42:18-25
"Rouse yourself, rouse yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, YOU HAVE DRUNK AT THE HAND OF THE LORD THE CUP OF HIS WRATH, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl of staggering. There is none to guide her among all the sons she has borne; there is none to take her by the hand among all the sons she has brought up. These two things have befallen you—who will condole with you?— devastation and destruction, famine and sword; who will comfort you? Your sons have fainted, they lie at the head of every street like an antelope in a net; THEY ARE FULL OF THE WRATH OF THE LORD, THE REBUKE OF YOUR GOD. Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted, who are drunk, but not with wine: Thus says your Lord, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people: 'Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more; and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, who have said to you, "Bow down, that we may pass over"; and you have made your back like the ground and like the street for them to pass over.'" Isaiah 51:17-23
"Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; BUT YOUR INIQUITIES HAVE MADE A SEPARATION BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR GOD, AND YOUR SINS HAVE HID HIS FACE FROM YOU so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness. No one enters suit justly, no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity. They hatch adders’ eggs, they weave the spider’s web; he who eats their eggs dies, and from one which is crushed a viper is hatched. Their webs will not serve as clothing; men will not cover themselves with what they make. Their works are works of iniquity, and deeds of violence are in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they know not, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked, no one who goes in them knows peace. Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we look for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind, we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. We all growl like bears, we moan and moan like doves; we look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: transgressing, and denying the LORD, and turning away from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words. Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth has fallen in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey." Isaiah 59:1-15
Ironically, Singer references Isaiah 54:6-11 but fails to see how this very passage backfires against him since it proves that Israel is anything but righteous or sinless!
"For the LORD has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I FORSOOK YOU, but with great compassion I will gather you. IN OVERFLOWING WRATH FOR A MOMENT I HID MY FACE FROM YOU, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the LORD, your Redeemer. For this is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you. O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires."
Isaiah further testified that Israel had become so wicked in God’s sight that he told them to stop observing the very commandments that he himself had prescribed for them in the Law of Moses, such as praying, sacrifices etc., since their wickedness had reached a level comparable to that of Sodom and Gomorrah!
“The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzzi′ah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezeki′ah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: ‘Sons have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand.’ Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. Why will you still be smitten, that you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they are not pressed out, or bound up, or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by aliens. And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomor′rah. Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomor′rah! ‘What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ How the faithful city has become a harlot, she that was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Every one loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them. Therefore the Lord says, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: ‘Ah, I will vent my wrath on my enemies, and avenge myself on my foes. I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.’ Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. For you shall be ashamed of the oaks in which you delighted; and you shall blush for the gardens which you have chosen. For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. And the strong shall become tow, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them.” Isaiah 1:1-31
In fact, the prophets themselves were far from being absolutely righteous or sinless, which is why they too needed to receive God’s forgiveness and salvation, just as we find in the case of Isaiah himself:
"In the year that King Uzzi′ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: 'Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst OF A PEOPLE OF UNCLEAN LIPS; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!' Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.’ And he said, 'Go, and say to this people: "Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive." Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.' Then I said, 'How long, O Lord?' And he said: 'Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land is utterly desolate, and the LORD removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains standing when it is felled.' The holy seed is its stump." Isaiah 6:1-13
This is why Isaiah stated that Yahweh was forced to work out salvation and judgment by himself, using his own Arm to do so, since he was unable find anyone worthy enough to do it for him:
“Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was NO MAN, and wondered that there was NO ONE to intervene; then HIS OWN ARM brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as a mantle. According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render requital. So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the Lord drives. AND HE [THE LORD] WILL COME TO ZION AS REDEEMER, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the lord.” Isaiah 59:15b-20
“Who is this that comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, he that is glorious in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? ‘It is I, announcing vindication, mighty to save.’ Why is thy apparel red, and thy garments like his that treads in the wine press? I have trodden the wine press ALONE, and from the peoples NO ONE WAS WITH ME; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my raiment. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption has come. I looked, but there was NO ONE to help; I was appalled, but there was NO ONE to uphold; so MY OWN ARM brought me victory, and my wrath upheld me. I trod down the peoples in my anger, I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.’” Isaiah 63:1-6
In light of such explicit passages how could anyone seriously think that the Servant of Isaiah 53 could possibly be the nation of Israel?(1)
3. Isaiah 45:4.
"But Israel is saved by the LORD with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity... Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other." Isaiah 45:17, 21-22
Israel is no different and no better than the nations since it also needs to be saved by God.
4. Isaiah 48:20.
"Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came forth from the loins[a] of Judah; who swear by the name of the Lord, and confess the God of Israel, BUT NOT IN TRUTH OR RIGHT… Because I know that you are OBSTINATE, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass... You have NEVER HEARD, you have NEVER KNOWN, from of old your ear HAS NOT BEEN OPENED. For I knew that you would deal VERY TREACHEROUSLY, AND THAT FROM BIRTH YOU WERE CALLED A REBEL. For my name’s sake I DEFER MY ANGER, for the sake of my praise I RESTRAIN IT FOR YOU, THAT I MAY NOT CUTT YOU OFF." Isaiah 48:1, 4, 8-9
5. Isaiah 49:3.
"Listen to me, O coastlands, and hearken, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, 'You are MY SERVANT, ISRAEL, in whom I will be glorified. But I said, 'I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.' And now the LORD says, who formed me from the womb to be HIS SERVANT, TO BRING JACOB BACK TO HIM, AND THAT ISRAEL MIGHT BE GATHERED TO HIM, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength—he says: 'It is too light a thing that you should be MY SERVANT to raise up THE TRIBES OF JACOB AND TO RESTORE THE PRESERVED OF ISRAEL; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Isaiah 49:1-6
Isaiah clearly mentions two Israels here, not one! There is the Servant whom God named Israel, and then there is the nation of Israel whom the Servant gathers and saves!
Thus, what else did the prophet need to say in order to prove that the Servant whom God raises up to save the world by offering his life as a vicarious sacrifice is not a nation of people, but a specific individual?
Here is the final point which I will address:
Therefore, Isaiah 53:8 concludes with their stunning confession, “for the transgressions of my people [the gentile nations] they [the Jews]were stricken.” The fact that the servant is spoken of in the third person, plural לָמוֹ (lamo) illustrates beyond doubt that the servant is a nation rather than a single individual.
This again illustrates how desperate the arguments of the rabbis happen to be. To begin with, these rabbis are most certainly aware that the word lamo can also be singular, since it is used elsewhere in contexts where it clearly refers to a single individual:
"Then it becomes fuel for a man; he takes a part of it and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread; also he makes a god and worships it, he makes it a graven image and falls down before it (lamo)." Isaiah 44:15
"Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be HIS (lamo) slave. God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be HIS (lamo) slave." Genesis 9:26-27
Furthermore, both the Jews that translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek (known as the Septuagint [LXX]), and the scholars of the English translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contains the oldest copies of Isaiah to date, treat this as singular:
“In [his] humiliation his judgment was taken away: who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken away from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people HE was led to death.” LXX
“From the detention and judgment he was taken away, and who can even think about his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living, HE was stricken for the transgression of my people.” (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible – The Oldest Known Bible Translated For The First Time Into English, translated and with commentary by Martin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint & Eugene Ulrich [HarperOne; First edition, November 17, 1999], p. 360; bold and italicized emphasis ours)
More importantly, even if we take lamo to be plural here that still wouldn’t prove that Isaiah is referring to the nation. This would only establish that that the Servant is receiving the punishment that Israel deserved, i.e., he received the death stroke that was due to them (the nation), an interpretation adopted by the following Jewish translation:
“By oppression and judgment he was taken away, and with his generation who did reason? for he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due.” Jewish Publication Society 1917 (JPS)
Therefore, the use of the plural does not prove that the Servant is the nation, but an individual who dies on behalf and because of the sins of the nation.(2)
So much for Paul Williams’ appeal to Tovia Singer to refute the truth of the glorious Gospel of the majesty and beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son and Savior of the world.
Unless noted otherwise, all biblical references taken from the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Holy Bible.
(1) Amazingly, the assertion of Isaiah that God himself comes forth to save and judge by his own Arm, i.e. by his own power and strength, since there was no one qualified to do it for him, indicates that the Servant cannot be a mere human creature, but must be fully God in essence. After all, the Servant would not be able to redeem anyone if he were a mere human being.
That the Servant is actually God in essence is further brought out by Isaiah identifying him as the very Arm of the Lord that grows up under the watchful eye of the Lord himself:
“The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God… Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has THE ARM OF THE Lord been revealed? For HE grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; HE had no form or comeliness that we should look at HIM, and no beauty that we should desire HIM.” Isaiah 52:10, 53:1-2
As the pronouns clearly show, the Arm of the Lord that was to be revealed to the nations is none other than Yahweh’s righteous Servant whom God sent to redeem the world by his atoning death.
This provides further confirmation that Isaiah 53 cannot possibly be speaking of the nation of Israel, since no one from that nation could ever be associated with the very Arm of Yahweh God Almighty. To even suggest such would be blasphemy since Yahweh’s Arm is absolutely perfect, righteous and holy, whereas the nation of Israel was anything but sinless and pure, just as the verses that we cited from Isaiah conclusively demonstrated.
(2) The following note from renowned Old Testament scholar Dr. Walter C. Kaiser Jr.’s discussion of Isaiah 53 highlights the fact that even rabbinic scholars of the past acknowledged that lamo can have a singular sense:
5. David Baron, The Servant of Jehovah: The Sufferings of the Messiah and the Glory That Should Follow (1922; repr., grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 109n2 comments: "No little controversy has centered round the last line of this verse [Isa. 53:8]. It is contended by Jewish controversialists that lamo … has a plural suffix and ought to be translated 'upon them,' and this is adduced by some in proof that it is a collective subject that the prophet speaks of in this chapter, namely, Israel. But [in the] first [place,] Kimchi, who originated this argument, himself denied it. In his commentary he says: 'I should like to ask the Nazarenes who explain the Parashah of Jesus, how the prophet could have said to them (lamo…) when he ought to have said 'to him' (lo…), for lamo… , is plural, being equivalent to la-hem…' But in his grammar he says: 'Lo… occurs as the affix of the 3rd person singular, as in Job 20:23; 22:2.' And again, 'mo… is used both of many and of one'…. But even if it be admitted that lamo… is here a plural, there would be no ground for the assertion that the subject is a collective one. The translation would be: 'For He was cut off from the land of the living. For the transgression of my people–the stroke or punishment that should have fallen on them. This is admitted in the New American Jewish translation of the Bible, which renders [it]: 'For the transgression of My people, to whom the stroke was due'" (emphasis his). (The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, [Kregel Academic & Professional, Grand Rapids, MI 2012], Chapter 3. The Identity and Mission of “The Servant of the LORD,” pp. 90-91)