By E. B. Pusey, Regius Professor of Hebrew, Oxford
A suffering messiah? The belief that the messiah was to be an object of contempt survives in the prayers of the German Jews for the first day of the Passover ( c. 1876). It survived also in the belief of a Messiah ben Joseph, to whom were allotted the sufferings foretold of the messiah. Those who date the mystical books [about this Messiah ben Joseph] to a later time must also bring down to a later date the period during which belief in such a messiah continued.
But a suffering messiah, and a messiah who should deliver them from their enemies, were humanly incompatible in the same person. Before the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews looked for the coming of a messiah to save it; afterwards, to restore it. Every token of increasing evil made Rabbi Akiva expect the more the messiah, whom he later found in Bar Kochba. In the rebellion against Antoninus Pius, Shimon ben Yohai said, in expectation of a Parthian invasion, "When you see a Persian (Parthian) horse fastened at the gravestones in the land of Israel, then hope for the messiah".
Yet even in the controversy with Christians, the belief that the messiah should die was not extinct even in the second century. In Justin's time, Trypho is still alleged to declare in the name of his people, "That the scriptures do say that the messiah should suffer, is plain, but we wish to learn if you can prove also, that it should be by a kind of suffering which is cursed in the Law." (Dialogue 89) "That he should suffer and be led as a sheep to the slaughter, we know; but if he was to be crucified, and die so shamefully and dishonorably by a death which is cursed in the Law, prove to us, for we cannot bring ourselves to conceive this." (Dialogue 90)
The Jews at this time explained Isaiah 9 as referring to Hezekiah; they offered no solution of Isaiah 53. The Jews, of whom Tertullian reports, also limit their objections to this: "Concerning the last step of his passion, you [the Jews] raise a doubt, insisting the passion of the cross was not predicted with reference to the messiah; and urging besides that it is not credible, that God should have exposed His own Son to that kind of death; because He Himself said, 'Cursed is every one who is hung on a tree.' " But they do not appear to have set up any kind of counter-explanation.
The first counter-explanation which we hear of is that so often quoted from Origen: "I remember once having used these prophecies in a discussion with those called wise among the Jews, whereon the Jew said, that these things were prophesied of the whole people as one, which was both dispersed abroad and smitten, that there might be many proselytes; and on that ground Jews were scattered in many nations." (Contra Celsus 1.55) The stress here is laid on their scattering, not on their suffering (for Christians at this time were also objects of persecution, as much as Jews). The Jew anticipated that his nation, not the Christians, were to be the converters of the world.
But there was no fixed opinion as to the meaning of Isaiah 53. Athanasius, bishop of a city where the Jews, even after the mutual massacres of Jews and Romans under Hadrian remained in considerable numbers, says that the Jews interpreted Isaiah 7:14 as being about one of themselves, and Deut. 18:18 as referring to one of the prophets; and as for "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter", conjectured them to be spoken of Isaiah or some other one of the prophets. ("Against Arians" 1:55)
In the dialogue between Gregentius, bishop of Taphar in Arabia Felix, and Herban, "a teacher of the Law", about 542 A.D., Hebran is reported to have expressed himself as perplexed between the declaration of God (though Moses) of His unity, and what "David and Isaiah speaking in truth [say] about him who is called messiah". Benjamin of Nehawend, a philosophic Karaite of much reputation (c. 800 A.D.), still believed that Isaiah 53 referred to the messiah (according to Yepheth ben Ali). "Many," Ibn Ezra says, in the middle of the twelfth century, "explained it as being of the messiah", on the authority of a traditional saying of the rabbis. Saadiah Gaon interpreted the whole section as being about Jeremiah. Judah ben Balaam thinks this possible, and ridicules Moses ben Gecatalia's opinion that it might refer to Hezekiah.
The interpretation which survived the longest allowed that the messiah might be referred to in the first three verses of the great passage (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) about the suffering servant. Then this also came to be objected to.
The traditional gloss on the words of Isaiah 52:13, "The messiah shall be 'higher' than Abraham, 'lifted up' above Moses, 'loftier' than the ministering angels", seemed too great to be interpreted of a mere man. The Christians alleged them only fulfilled in Jesus. So the following explanations of the gloss were made:
(1) Perhaps the words did not mean "greater than", but only "great from", that is, the person spoken of derived his greatness from Abraham, Moses, and the ministering angels. The chief writer who adapted this view added that otherwise the words gave an opportunity for error, because the heretics (Christians) used them to point to the Godhead of the messiah.
(2) Perhaps the words, "ministering angels" really referred to the rabbis.
(3) Or perhaps the words really were explained by the earlier rabbis as referring to the messiah, but, as Abarbanel says, the rabbis were only stating the traditions which they had received; without, however, agreeing that this was their true meaning. Or alternately, as others suggested, the words were only allegorical.
(4) Ibn Kaspi (1280-1340 A.D.), an ardent admirer of Maimonides, and "a gifted fanatic for philosophic thought" (Gratz vii, 340-345), wanted to abandon the gloss altogether, and said "that those who expounded the section of the messiah gave occasion to the heretics to interpret it of Jesus." Passani objected to bringing the messiah into the text; and says that "Scripture never bears any meaning other than the simple and natural meaning; a different supposition would not allow us to reply to the Epicureans (i.e., the Christians).
A few, however, still continued to explain the whole of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as referring to the messiah. But these were met by the great paradox: How can the same one both be put to death and yet also prolong his days and reign? Hence Moses ben Nachman supposed only a readiness to die. Ibn Crispin, only a nearness to death. Some rabbis explained the last verse of Moses, although (as Moses Elsheikh hints) they thereby had a difficulty in connecting it with what preceded. Moses Elsheikh himself followed the "unanimous opinion of the rabbis" that the section referred to the messiah; but so great was the difficulty of admitting the death of the messiah, that he also interpreted all the verses which spoke of death as referring to Moses.
From this difficulty, however, they could be freed as soon as they could satisfy themselves that the prophecy might refer to any group of men, some of whom had died, or even of any one man, except Jesus. The expected exhalation of the figure could be relegated to the future. And out of the many explanations suggested, it was only natural that the one most flattering to national feeling was extensively adopted. It might have in effect become universal, except for its unsatisfactoriness.
This new interpretation, emphasizing Israel's suffering, began with Rashi. Rashi's authority is put forward by some who followed him, with Ibn Ezra, J. and D. Kimchi, who were later than he; but no one before him. His great Talmudical studies, which seem to have been his earliest occupation, did not suggest it. On the contrary, in his notes on the Talmud he followed the older tradition. In the graphic story in which Joshua ben Levi is reported to have made diverse inquiries of Elisha and Shimon ben Yohai as to the coming of the messiah, and was told that he would find the messiah sitting at the gates of Rome among the poor who bare sicknesses, Rashi explains the words "bearers of sicknesses" by reference to this section of Isaiah. "' Bearers of sicknesses', in other words, stricken; and he too is stricken, as it is written, 'And he was wounded for our iniquities,' and it is written, 'And our sicknesses he bare'."
But if Rashi's later commentary was written after 1096 A.D.--after the hideous massacre of Jews in Spire, Worms, Maintz, and Cologne, by the wild swarm which gathered in the wake of the first Crusaders--then these deeds may have been the cause for his change of mind. Before then, according to Gratz (who is careful in noting any disparity of condition between them and any people among whom they sojourned), Jews "were neither in a condition of oppression nor contempt, nor were shut out from holding property". Afterwards, though, according to Milman ("History of the Jews"), scenes were far too common in which the Jews suffered as innocent victims.
Rashi's interpretation that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 referred to Israel as a nation, with stress on her suffering (instead of her dispersion) was accepted by most subsequent commentators. But it would have been a strange exception to the language of the prophets, and of Isaiah himself, who upbraids his people for their wickedness, their neglect of God, their dullness and blindness, hypocrisy, idolatries and disobedience, and who tells them, "Your iniquities have separated you and your God"--it would have been a strange contradiction had he, in the midst of this, described them as God's righteous servant, who should bear the sins of the world. And that we, the gentiles, when converted, after the arrival of the messiah, should admit that they suffered in our stead, the just for the unjust, and atoned for us.
It is also strangely contrary to their own solution of other prophecies, which point to an expected earlier coming of the messiah during the period of the Second Temple, and their explanation that his coming has been delayed by their sins (but that he would come if they would repent).
However, this new interpretation enabled them to overcome most of the difficulties. They could interpret of the Christians a disbelief in their mission. They put in our mouths the confession, that they bore the sufferings which we deserved, while we thought them afflicted by God; that the sufferer described (i.e., themselves) grew up in the presence of God, as a root out of the dry ground; that he was despised and rejected; that his countenance was so marred as scarce to retain the human form; that he (i.e., some Israelites) actually suffered as martyrs; that he (i.e., therefore, these who died) actually suffered death, and was buried with the rich; that kings (when the messiah came) would acknowledge him (Israel); and that he should intercede for the transgressors.
What is meant by "vicarious suffering"--the just suffering for the unust--however, is a matter of comment. The Jews cannot accept the belief that One suffered for us as the propitiation for our sins. But then how can they suppose that their own sufferings can serve as that same propitiation? Or that their own sufferings will produce in the watchers a feeling of remorse sufficient to lead to repentence; and thus, having repented, the perpetrators will need not to be punished for their deeds?
But that interpretation being accepted (that the passage refers to Israel in the collective sense), then the criticisms of the Christian position on this passage center mainly on four points of language: (1) That the word rendered "grief" is only used in the scripture of a physical ailment, and is not used metaphorically; (2) That the word rendered "on him" is plural; and, being plural, proves that the subject--even though spoken of throughout the rest of the passage in the singular--must in fact be a plural, and not an individual; (3) That the same inference can be drawn from the seemingly plural form of the word "deaths"; and (4) That the word "seed" is never used metaphorically, but always only of the physical descendants of a person.
Objection 1: "You will not find in your New Testament that your messiah ever had a pain, even a headache, up to the day of his death. The very terms employed here, 'pain' and 'sickness', were not realized in his person, and so cannot apply to him."
Answer: Yet the very same people who make this argument assert that the "pains and sickness" refer to the suffering of the people in their exile; thus they, too, interpret these expressions in a way that is metaphorical rather than literal. Further, Isaiah himself opens his book (1:5,6) with a description of the people as suffering from the "sickness" and stripe-wounds of sin; and here presented is the one who, through his own stripes, will bear away their sickness.
Objection 2: In 53:8, they say "lamo" ("to them") is a plural; and, being a plural, shows that the subject spoken of is also a plural (in other words, Israel), and not a single individual.
Answer: Kimchi, who originated the argument, at another time denied it. In his challenge to the Nazarenes he says, "Moreover, the prophet says, 'to them'; but then, (if this referred to Jesus), the prophet ought to have said, 'to him' ('lo')."
But in his Hebrew grammar he says, " 'Mo' [mem-vav] represents the third person singular, as in Job 20:23, 22:2." "For 'm' and 'o' ('mo') contains in itself the sign of the plural noun, and indicates the masculine singular also. For 'm' is the sign of the third person masculine plural, and the 'o' of the third person masculine singular. And therefore 'mo' is used both of many and of one." [And thus, "lamo" could mean either "to him" or "to they".]
Further demonstrating this point, both the Chaldee and Septuagint render Job 22:2 in the singular. Levi ben Gershom and Meri b. Aramah both render this form singular in Job 20. In Psalm 11:7, the Septuagint and the Chaldee both have it in the singular; In Isaiah 44:15 the Chaldee again uses the singular; in Job 27:23, Ibn Ezra and Levi ben Gershom both use the singular.
About this very passage (Isaiah 53:8), Abraham Farisol prefers the singular. " 'Lamo' will then be singular, as in Psalm 55:20 and elsewhere." Rabbi Judah ben Bala'm (eleventh century) says, "By 'lamo' he means 'lo', i..e., that his misfortune came to him from the sins of the people, not what he deserved himself." Rabbi Tanchum gives the choice of its being either singular (which he places first) or plural. Naphthali Altschuler has, "For the transgression of 'my people' had this 'stroke' come upon the messiah." In the Milchamoth Adonai, it is admitted as possible: "We certainly find 'lamo' used occasionally as a singular, as Psalm 11:7, but only as an anomaly." Gershom, while interpreting the passage as of Israel, explains it as a singular.
Of more modern critics, even Ewald, who would translate this verse as "For my people's sin, the plague for them. . . ", and says ," 'lamo' corresponds to 'amo' ('my people')", also remarks, "It cannot be denied that the very old ending 'mo' is sometimes used by poets in the sense of a singular, in very little words, as 'lamo' for 'lo' ('to him')." And in his earliest grammar he said, "Exceedingly probably it is singular in Job 20:23, 27:23, where the whole context of ten to twenty verses, in which the singular occurs throughout, speaks for it. But it is certain in Isaiah 53:8, in which the singular alone appears; Isaiah 44:15, where the plural does not at all suit the sense; and the poet himself explains 'lamo' in the same connection (verse 17) by 'lo'; Psalm 11:7, where 'his countenance' can only relate to God. Hab. 3:4 explains 'lamo', Deut. 33:2, by 'lo'." Various other scholars (Ewald, Movers, Meier, Schlottmann, Schroeder) have found similar uses in Phoenician.
(2) In fact, nothing turns on it. The rendering, "for the transgression of my people a blow came to them" is just as natural as "came to him".
If the word is rendered "to them" the obvious meaning would be that it refers to the people in the same clause. This makes a complete sense in itself, without introducing the anomaly, that whereas the one spoken of in this section of Isaiah is referred to some sixty times (in verbs and pronouns) in the singular (and three times in this very verse), he is to be spoken of once in this one verse in the plural. And "the kings", alleged to be speaking in the plurals "we", and "our", fourteen times previously, should in this one verse speak in the singular, "my" people, i.e., the people of each of them. And this double anomaly is to take place in four words, without any indication in the context. Those who were spoken of before in the singular are now to be spoken of in the plural; and those who were spoken of in the plural are now to be spoken of in the singular.
Yet though this suggestion found eleven adherents, among them Abarbanel, among the former scholars, nearly twice as many prefer one of the other interpretations (see below*). Thus this objection apparently became merely a traditional one, used without much thought. For Abarbanel, when interpreting this portion of Isaiah of an individual (Josiah), and Mordechai do not themselves consider the "to them" to refer to the one spoken of in the rest of the portion.
Objection 3: The argument that "his death" (53:9) should be rendered, "deaths", and so implies that the one spoken of is not one, but many, is used by Lipmann, among others:
* This argument, begun by Kimchi, found support from R. Jacob ben Rueben, Karaite; Ibn Shaprut; Mosheh Cohen; Abarbanel; Abraham of Cordova; Lopez; Mordechai; Manasseh ben Israel; and Orobio. It was not used by Lipmann nor by Meir b. Shimon; and Rashi apparently refers the "to them" to "the people" in the same verse: "for the transgression of his people, the stroke of exile had fallen upon the just who were among them."
On the other hand, Symmachus has, "He was cut off, and for the injustice of my people there was a plague upon them." Theodotion, "He was cut off, on account of the defection of my people he touched them." Saadiah Gaon, "He was cut off, and for the transgression of my people the stroke was upon them." Ibn Ezra (as the more correct), "For the transgression of my people the stroke will come upon them." Yepheth b. Ali, "All this trouble came upon him because of the transgression of my people, for whom this stroke was, i.e., who deserved it." Mosheh b. Nachman, "He has been cut off--for the transgression of my people--an event which will be a severe blow to them." Lanyado, "He was cut off, and slain, for the transgression of my people"--the stroke intended for them being borne by him instead (Messiah ben Joseph)". Alternative reading in Lanyado, "On account of the transgression of my people, for which the righteous was to be taken away." Passani, "The attribute of justice laid upon him the iniquity of them all, as the text says, 'for the transgression of my people', even the stroke which should have fallen upon them."
"Observe, that he does not say 'death', but 'deaths'."
Answer: There is no more reason for making the word used here into a plural than there is for turning "hayim" ("life") into a plural, even though it seems outwardly to have a plural form. Many nouns in Hebrew are used in the plural were we, Westerners, could hardly account for it. The plural is used of a condition, as a period of life, or a condition of the body. (For example, in the words for "age", "youth", "maidenhood", "bridehood" (Jer.2:2), "embalming" (Gen. 50:3), "blindness". ) There is then no reason why "deaths" should not mean "the state of death", as "hayim" means "the state of life". And this agrees better with the usual use of "b' ", "in", or "at". In the only other case in which the plural occurs, Ezekiel 28:10, it is used of an individual, the prince of Tyre.
In addition, the earliest interpreters of the Isaiah passage rendered this as a singular. (For example, all the Greek versions have a singular. Saadiah has "in his dying"; the Persian and Tataric versions, "how the messiah will resign himself to die"; Yepheth b. Ali, "in his death"; Joseph b. Nathan; Abarbanel--using it of Josiah; Marini; Lopez; Mosheh of Salerno; Passani; and Tanchum.)
Objection 4: "If the disciples of Jesus were meant (53:10), then it should be written, "sons", not "seed"; for the word "seed" only refers to physical descendents."
Answer: This objection is actually founded upon a mistake, for the text does not have "his seed", but "a seed". This corresponds exactly with the use of "a seed shall serve him" in Psalm 22:30, which contains a similar prophecy to this one, that "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him. . . A seed shall serve him; it shall be counted to the Lord for a generation; they shall come and shall declare his righteousness to a generation yet unborn, that he has done this." (Psalm 22:27-31)
Further, "seed" is eslewhere used in a sense other than the physical. For example, in Genesis 3:15, "seed of the serpent" surely does not mean to refer to literal physical descendents of a serpent. And Isaiah uses "seed" in the tradition of "sons of", when he says, "seed of evil-doers" (1:4).
I have not included under this head the objection, that "he was cut off from the land of the living" means only that he was exiled from the land of Israel (i.e., the "land of the living"). "Land of the living" is used elsewhere, for example, by the same prophet, in Is. 38:11 to refer to Hezekiah's expectation of dying young; in Jer. 11:19 about a plot to kill Jeremiah; and in Job 28:13, where it is stated that wisdom cannot be found in the "land of the living". From these contexts it seems clear that this expression means literally what it says, and does not refer to the land of Israel. This is so obviously an applied meaning that only Lipmann and one other have chosen it to swell the list of objections.
But the chiefmost answer to all of the above objections, and to the very conception that the one spoken of in Isaiah 53 must be the people of Israel, instead of the messiah, is that the sufferer must be righteous; without sin; and suffering innocently. And yet never is Israel's exile said to be without cause, or wanton; but rather, as the punishment for sins. And the principal reason provided for the delay in the messiah's arrival is the continuance of sin among them. Thus, they cannot be both innocent and suffering without cause, yet at the same time be guilty of such sins as warrant their exile and the delay of the messiah.
Ibn Crispin complains of "the forced and far-fetched interpretations, of which others have been guilty. . . [those who would interpret this passage collectively of Israel] distort the passage from its natural sense, [since] the singular is used throughout"; and whereas the prophet calls the people, "Israel, my servant" previously, in this passage he says only, "My servant". [And this is also the only place in scripture where the express phrase, "My righteous servant", is to be found.] Further, he says, "These expositors shut the doors of the literal interpretation against themselves, and wearied themselves to find the entrance." He himself goes back to "the teachings of our rabbis, [who affirm that it speaks of] the King Messiah."
Rabbi Isaac b. Eliyyah Cohen, while speaking strongly against the Christian interpretation, says, "I have never in my life seen or heard an interpretation by a clear or fluent commentator, with which my own judgement, and that of others who have pondered the question, might completely concur." Saadiah Ibn Danan (a contemporary of Abarbanel), says, "I set before myself the notes of those who had commented upon this chapter. . . and pondered over them, and examined the opinions they contained. But all alike, I found, lacked solidity and soundness." (For example, the Karaites interpreted the section of their own sages, on the grounds that they were persecuted. Some rabbinic Jews applied it to the righteous among themselves. Others thought it might refer to Isaiah himself, or Jeremiah, or Hezekiah, or Job; some, to the seed of David in exile.)
Abraham Farissoll apologizes for those who interpreted it of the messiah. "Whatever justice there may be in the expressions of our sages, who applied the prophecy to the messiah [note, therefore, that some sages did in fact apply this passage to the messiah], it should be borne in mind that although they themselves and their words are both truthful, yet their object was [only] allegorical."
Moses Elsheikh says, "The verses in the chapter are difficult to fix or arrange in a literal manner, so that the various parts, from the beginning to the end, may be combined and connected closely together.I see commentators going up and down among them, and yet neither agreeing on the subject to which the whole is to be referred, nor disentangling the words with any simple plan." He himself then plans, in "all humility", to set himself to "apply to it a straightforward method, according to the literal sense of the text, such as should be adopted by one who would rightly unite the several words and periods, and determine what view is legitimate, and what not." He then interprets it of the Messiah; yet, when he comes to verses 9-12, all of which speak of the death, he says, "These verses are all of them hard, though we shall not touch on everything which might be noticed."
Shlomo Levi says, "Throughout this prophecy, all the commentators exert their utmost on its interpretation, and are at no small variance as to its import." Even in later times, R. Napthali Altschuler expresses his surprise that "Rashi and David Kimchi have not, with the Targum, applied them to the Messiah likewise."
Passani expresses his surprise at former commentators, and says, "Not one of the explanations is in complete accord with the language of the text, or succeeds in satisfying us--still less the [Christians]." He thinks that, like all other prophecies, most of Isaiah's also point to the latter days, when the Messiah shall have appeared, but exhorts caution how it should be interpreted. "Take heed, O wise man, in your words, even though the language be meant to be metaphorical and indirect."
Rabbi Tanchum seems to be carefully ambiguous. He uses the phrase, "any person or nation", but speaks of the subject as being "one of the generation in exile", who had died, yet "a guide and a deliverer", who "rescues them from captivity and their enemies generally", and speaks of "his hidden nature, the mystery connected with him not being revealed to them." He concludes with a protest against there being anything allegorical, and seems to think that the intention of the prophet was, not to be understood.
Ibn Amran says, "As relates to the Jews, there is no little difficulty in giving a sense to these most obscure words of Isaiah at the present; they manifestly need a prophetic spirit; thus our older and more abstruse masters went apart from one another to different explanations. But," he satisfies himself, "each very far removed from the exposition of the Christians."
For error is manifold, truth but one.
Isaiah 52:13 The verses in this parashah are difficult to fix or arrange in a literal manner, so that the various parts, from the beginning to the end, may be combined and connected closely together. . . I see the commentators going up and down these parts, yet neither agreeing about the subject to which the whole is to be referred, nor disentangling the words in any simple plan.
I, therefore, in my humility, am come after them; not with any sense of the wisdom that I am about to utter, but merely with the object of applying to its elucidation a straightforward method, in accordance with the literal sense of the text, such as ought to be chosen by one who would rightly unite the several words and periods, and determine what view is legitimate and what not.
I may remark, then, that our rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah, and we shall ourselves also adhere to the same view; for the Messiah is of course David, who, as is well known, was "anointed", and there is a verse in which the prophet, speaking in the name of the Lord, says expressly, "My servant David shall be king over them" (Ezekiel 37:24). The expression My servant, therefore, can justly be referred to David; for from what is explicit in one place we can discover what is hidden or obscure in another.
Our rabbis say that of all the suffering which entered into the world, one third was for David and the fathers, one for the generation in exile, and one for the King Messiah. If we examine the meaning of this saying, we shall see that there are punishments for iniquity, and also punishments of love, the latter being endured by the righteous for the wickedness of his own generation. Now those who do not know how far the reward of the righteous really extends feel surprised at this. . . wondering whether it can be true that He will be wroth with a just and perfect man who never sinned, and heap on him the iniquities of wrong-doers, in order that they may rejoice, and he, the just man, be pained; that they may be 'stalwart in strength' while he is stricken and smitten; that they may exult at his calamity, and mock during their feasts at his distress, while he is smitten for their sakes.
In order to put an end to the "fear from this thing", God declares in these verses how far the merits of those who suffer for the sins of their own age extend their effects, adducing a proof from the case of the Messiah who bore the iniquities of the children of Israel, "and behold his reward is with him" The Almighty argues with Israel, saying, ". . . look and learn how great is the power of the man who suffers for a whole generation; you shall see then from the exaltation which I shall confer upon the King Messiah how vast are the benefits of the chastisements of love to him that endures them."
Behold my servant (i.e., the Messiah) will prosper--this prosperity of his will extend through four worlds, viz., the lower world; the world of angels; the world of stars; and the highest world of all; in each of which the same prosperity will attend him. He will be high in this world; exalted in the world of the stars; and lofty in the world of angels; exceedingly because prosperity will accompany him in the uppermost world as well, in the presence of God, according to the saying of the rabbis on Psalm 2:8, that he will be 'like a dear son, delighting himself before the Creator'; He says therefore, Ask of me, etc. [Psalm 2:8] , because of the good fortune which is to be his in each of the four worlds.
Our rabbis further say, "He shall be higher than Abraham . . . lifted up above Moses. . . and loftier than the ministering angels." As Moses ruled even in the world of the stars--for the rabbis say that for this reason the hail, the locusts, and the grasshoppers were sent through his instrumentality--so, even more fully, will the Messiah hold sway over these likewise. This does not imply that he will be superior to Moses in wisdom or in prophecy, nor again, that at the time alluded to Moses will not in every respect be the greater (indeed anything different from this will not be credited by those who have real knowledge), but only that he will be more exalted than Moses was previously, in his own lifetime.
And he is to be loftier than the angels, according to the text (Ezek. 1:18), for these had "loftiness and fear", i.e., in spite of their high position, they still stood in awe of the Almighty, not venturing, like the righteous one who "played before him, as a son before his father", to make request of their Creator.
Isaiah 53 The Almighty, however, says that there is no need for surprise at their attitude of incredulity in the presence of these marvels [of the restoration of Israel], for who believed our report--the report, namely, which we made known to you from heaven, but which the kings had not heard of? So fearful was it, that in the eyes of everyone who did hear it [of the restoration of Israel], it was too wondrous to behold; and upon whom was the arm of the Lord revealed as it was upon the King Messiah? The sum of the whole is that he obtained this honor for himself owing to his merits in enduring for Israel (as has been said) chastisements of love. The contents of this and the following verses show unmistakably that they are the words of the prophet, instructing or guiding the people, and not the words of God. From the fact that the rabbis expounded the previous verses of the Messiah, it may be seen that these speak of the righteous who endures in the present world the chastisements of love; and therefore I maintain that up to this point we have had the words of God announcing the greatness of the Messiah in return for his sufferings.
Here, however, the prophet seems to set before us the words of Israel endorsing the Divine declaration, and affirming in their own persons its entire truth. "The 'triedsaying of the Lord' " , they exclaim, "which He has made known to us concerning the King Messiah, has opened our ears and removed the blindness of our eyes; we beheld a man, just and perfect, bruised and degraded by suffering, despised in our eyes, and plundered verily before God and man, while all cried, 'God has forsaken him!' ; he must surely, therefore, we thought, be 'despised' likewise in the eyes of the Almighty, and this is why He has made him 'an offscouring and refuse' (Lam. 3:45). But now the Lord has awakened our ear, and taught us that the chastisements of love are infinitely great; henceforth, then, will 'his strength be magnified', when we see him just, and humble in spirit, stricken, and smitten; for them we shall all agree in concluding that what we had seen before meant nothing except that he was carrying our sicknesses; and that his sufferings were for the protection of his generation."
Such is the substance of what the prophet puts into the people's mouth. And first of all they say, "He came up as a tender shoot", etc. ; i.e., we see one who was as tender shoot with water for it to absorb, and growing great and tall; he was like this, however, only in the upper world; for though this just and perfect sufferer flourished and grew great before God in the upper world, yet in the earth which we see below, he was as a root coming forth out of the dry earth, where there was no water for him. Being lowly, therefore, in the sight of our eyes, he was without form and comeliness in the world; his form was "darkened" by the blackness of his sufferings (cf Lam. 4:8), and "his own leanness bore witness in his face"; neither had he any beauty that we could desire him on account of his righteousness, but, on the contrary, he was rejected in our eyes.
But besides this, he was despised, also, in is own eyes; it is not stated that he was humbled for his pride, since in reality men hid their faces from him, nor from any fault of his own, but for the iniquity of his generation; though he himself looked upon the matter differently, imagining in his goodness that he must be guilty, and thus was punished for his sins. Accordingly he was both despised in his own eyes, and we esteemed him not. Yet in truth the cause of this "face-hiding" lay not in him, but in the people, for, as we learn from the expression used in the preceding verses, he carried our sicknesses, that he was ready to carry them of his own accord.
We, however, thought that he was not bearing them of his own accord, but that he was stricken and smitten of God, by a judgement of retaliation for his own iniquities, and not out of love. Yet it was because he was wounded for our transgressions that he was "broken by sickness"; and because he was bruised for our iniquities that he became "a man of pains"; and he was "afflicted" with poverty, because the chastisement of our peace was upon him. His being wounded and bruised for our iniquities had merely the negative effect of rescuing us from our punishment; in order for us to enjoy positive peace and prosperity, further sufferings were needed, and these consisted in his being "afflicted" with poverty. For while the direct consequences of our sins had been averted by his sickness and stripes, something still was needed in order to confer peace upon us.
All we like sheep had gone astray--like sheep which all follow after their leader, so that if the leader strays, they all stray with him, because of the unity of the whole flock; as the rabbis say, "When the shepherd is angry with his flock, he makes their leader blind." (Baba Kama 52a) But in this case, we learn from also that "each turned to his own way", showing that with us this was not so, but that it resulted from the separate action of each individual. Had it indeed been otherwise, our guilt would not have been so great. But see now the mercy of God: after we had individually gone astray, he might have been expected to punish us individually likewise; yet the Lord did not look to this, but counted us as one man, reckoning up the iniquity of us all together, and causing it to light upon this just one, who was accordingly sufficient to bear the whole of it, which would not have been the case had each one's iniquity been reckoned up against himself.
As for his generation, would that someone would declare to them how it was cut off from the land of life for the iniquity which the just one had before averted, because they did not repent. Hitherto, he means to say, this just one had been stricken for the people's transgression; but henceforward the stroke would be upon themselves, for there would be no one else to be smitten for them. It is possible, from his use of the singular "transgression", that Isaiah means to allude to their sin in supposing that he had died for his own iniquity, and in not having brought themselves by his death to repentance.
And he made his grave with the wicked. I will show you an instance of this in the chief of all the prophets [Moses], who, by still suffering after his death, endured a heavier penalty than others who had suffered for their generation. Moses was buried away from the Promised Land, together with the wicked ones who died in the wilderness. For these were unworthy to enter the world to come, had not Moses borne the disgrace of being buried at their side, in order that he might bring them into it with himself. [A story--found in Deuteronomy Rabba 2.9-- illustrates this belief, by telling of a man who dropped some pennies and a single gold piece on the floor of a darkened room. He had a light brought and collected up all the coins. Had he dropped only pennies, however, he would not have bothered to fetch the light and search for them. So for the sake of the gold piece, the rest were also collected.]
Moses was not, however, buried solely with these. In the wilderness also rested Korah, who was "rich", along with all those who perished with him (Num. 17:6). With all these Moses made his grave, in order to bring them likewise into the future world. For it is well known that even Korah and his deaths, i.e., those who died in his cause, will all rise up with him. The prophet thus appeals to a known case: he, Moses, made his grave with the wicked, for he was buried in profane ground in order to bring them in with him into the future world.
Because he afterwards died for the iniquities of his generation, therefore with the mighty, the patriarchs and those like them, he will divide spoil, because he poured out his soul to die for the sake of Israel, and also because he was numbered with the transgressors; for people said when they saw his sufferings that he was smitten of God for his sins, and classed him with the transgressors. This he knew, yet went on enduring, and carried this sin of many, not caring to be vexed with them, but, on the contrary, interceding with the Holy One for--that is, on behalf of--the transgressors; the ones, namely, who spoke thus of him; not, like some, from ignorance, but from actual malice. And therefore by his knowledge, i.e., in accordance with his will, the just one, my servant, will justify many and bear all their iniquities without solicitude, and without inquiring whether it is not a strange thing to endure distress for the sake of others after death. (For if this be the case, why did Moses our master endure, for the sake of those who perished in the wilderness, to be buried with the wicked in a foreign land?)
And do not wonder, if this is an excessive reward for him to receive. Had it not been for him, they would never have entered into the world: did not Moses [likewise]"pour out his soul to die" when he "put his soul into his hand", saying, "But if not,--blot me, I pay you, out of the book you have written." (Exodus 32:32), where he expresses his willingness to die in their stead? Moses was also on their account "numbered with transgressors"; Accordingly it is said that "he was numbered with them", i. e. he felt no anxiety at having given his soul for them, and, besides this, that "he carried the sins of many", as God said to him, "Go, get you down" (Exodus 32:7), as though to say, Descend from all your greatness, because Israel has sinned; but still, in spite of this, "he made intercession for the transgressors", because in every place that Israel sinned he interceded for them. And this is the prophet's meaning when he writes, "And he carried the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
YEPHETH BEN ALI
Isaiah 52:13 The commentators differ concerning this section. The Fayyumi [Sa'adyah Gaon of Fayyum] lost his senses in applying it to the prophets generally, or, according to some authorities, in supposing that it referred to Jeremiah. Some of the learned Karaites apply the prophecy to the pious of their own sect. Others think that the subject of it is David and the Messiah, saying that all the expressions of contempt, such as "many were desolated at you", refer to the seed of David who are in exile; and all the glorious things refer to the Messiah. As to myself, I am inclined, with Benjamin of Nehawend, to regard it as alluding to the Messiah, and as opening with a description of his condition in exile, from the time of his birth to his accession to the throne.
The expression "My servant" is applied to the Messiah as it is applied to his ancestor in the verse, "I have sworn to David My servant" (Psalm 89:4).
"As many were desolated at him" (verse 14) His condition is described as being such that anyone seeing him would be desolated at him, on account of the sicknesses which had befallen him. The prophet explains the cause of their desolation concerning him by saying, "His countenance was marred beyond any man", in other words, the complexion of his face was so changed as to become like that of a corpse. He adds further, "And his form beyond the sons of Adam". In other words, he was so altered in form as to resemble a corpse; and alluding to the same fact, he says, towards the end of the section, "For he was cut off out of the land of the living."
"At him the kings shall shut their mouths". (verse 15) This means that the kings of the world will close their mouth when he lays a command or prohibition upon them.
Isaiah 53 Here begins Israel's words; they ask, in their amazement, Which of the nations believed the report that was among us? Not one of them; for they all agreed that there would be for Israel no recovery. "Upon whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?", in other words, through which nation has the might of God revealed itself?
Israel now (verse 2) turns back to describe the manner of the Messiah's birth, comparing him to a young twig or shoot because he is one of the children of David, and to a root because he will become a root like his father David. "And . . . out of the dry earth" means that he resembles a root emerging, sickly and weak, out of the arid soil. This comparison relates to the beginning of his career; and the same is the case with the words, "he had no form or comeliness".
By the words, "surely he has carried our sicknesses", they mean that the pains and sicknesses which he fell into were merited by them, but that he bore them instead. The next words, "yet we did not esteem him", intimate that they thought him afflicted by God for his own sins, as they distinctly say, "smitten of God and afflicted".
And here I think it is necessary to pause for a few moments, in order to explain why God caused these sicknesses to attach themselves to the Messiah for the sake of Israel. We say that God makes known to the people of their own time the excellence of the prophets who intercede for a period of adversity in two ways. First, while Israel's empire lasted, it was shown in prayer and intercession, as in the cases of Moses, Aaron, Samuel, David, Elijah, and Elisha, whose prayers for the nation were accepted by God. Second, in a time of captivity and extreme wickedness, though their intercession showed no such traces as these, yet the burden of the nation's sins was lightened; such was the case with Ezekiel when God obliged him to sleep 390 days on his left side and forty on his right (Ezekiel 4:4). He carried on the first occasion the iniquity of Israel, and on the second the weight of that of Judah. The nation deserved from God greater punishment than that which actually came upon them, but not being strong enough to bear it (as Amos says, "O Lord, forgive, I beseech you; how can Jacob endure, for he is small?") the prophet had to alleviate it.
Inasmuch as now at the end of the captivity there will be no prophet to intercede at the time of distress, the time of the Lord's anger and of his fury, God appoints His Servant to carry their sins, and by doing so lighten their punishment in order that Israel might not be completely exterminated. Thus, from the words, "he was wounded for our transgressions", we learn two things: first, that Israel had committed many sins and transgressions, for which they deserved the indignation of God; and second, that by the Messiah bearing them they would be delivered from the wrath which rested upon them, and be enabled to endure it, as it is said, "And by associating with him we are healed."
The expression "smitten of God" signifies that these sicknesses attacked him by the will of God; they did not arise from natural causes. And the word "afflicted" corresponds to "despised" in verse 3, the meaning being that he was afflicted with poverty.
Verse 6 exhibits Israel's wickedness in not awaking to repentance after God had punished them with his plagues. They are compared in this respect to sheep without a shepherd, wandering from the way, and torn by wild beasts, going astray among the mountains without any to lead them back,. In like manner Israel in captivity has no one to call him, and lead him back to the right way, and if a guide rises up to them, desiring to bring them back, they hasten to kill him, and so cause their captivity to be prolonged. By the words "we have turned every one to his own way", they mean that each is occupied with the necessities of life and with establishing his fortune. And while God looks upon their work, and they do not think of their sicknesses, their guilt is thrown upon this guide, as it is said, "And the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all." The prophet does not mean literally "the iniquity", but rather the punishment for this iniquity.
Verse 9 says, "And he made his grave with the wicked." This means that he sometimes despaired so much of his life as either to dig for himself a grave among the wicked (i.e., the wicked Israelites), or at least desire to be buried among them. The general sense is that he resigned himself to die in exile.
It was said, "The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all", and the prophet repeats the same thought here, saying that God was pleased to bruise and sicken him, though not in consequence of sin. The prophet next says, "When his soulmakes a trespass offering", indicating thereby that his soul was compelled to take Israel's guilt upon itself, as it is said, "And he bore the sin of many".
I must here give a compendious
account of the whole of the Messiah's career. It is as follows: his first
advent will be from the north, as we have explained upon Isaiah 41:25
"I have raised one up from the north and he came". Then with his arrival in the land of Israel the period of affliction and violence will cease from Jacob, and at the same time all the things mentioned in the present section will happen to him. Every good quality will be united in him, but in spite of all this the people will not recognize in him the will of God. For his sake, however, God will deliver Israel from all her afflictions.
And when the season of redemption comes, our lord Elijah will appear to the people and anoint him, and from that moment he will begin to be prosperous, as it is said, "Behold My servant shall prosper". His forces will then spread in every direction and be victorious; and then at last Israel will dwell in safety. When news of this reaches Gog, they will rush forth and "gather themselves together against the Lord and his Anointed" (Psalm 2:2); but when he prays to God in the midst of his people, God will come to him with deliverance, as his forefather prophesied, "The Lord will answer you in the day of trouble", etc. (Psalm 20). And then he will be "high and exalted and lofty exceedingly".
MYSTERIES OF RABBI SHIMON BEN YOHAI
And Armilus [i.e., the devil] will join battle with the Messiah, the son of Ephraim, in the East gate. . . and Messiah, the son of Ephraim, will die there, and Israel will mourn for him. And afterwards the Holy One will reveal to them Messiah, the son of David, whom Israel will desire to stone, saying, You speak falsely; already is the Messiah slain, and there is none other Messiah to stand up (after him). And so they will despise him, as it is written, "Despised and forlorn of men"; but he will turn and hide himself from them, according to the words, "Like one hiding his face from us".
The souls which are in the Garden of Eden below go to and from every new moon and Sabbath, in order to ascend to the place that is called the Walls of Jerusalem. . . After that they journey on and contemplate all those that are possessed of pains and sicknesses and those that are martyrs for the unity of their Lord, and then return and announce it to the Messiah.
And as they tell him of the misery of Israel in their captivity, and of those wicked ones among them who are not attentive to know their Lord, he lifts up his voice and weeps for their wickedness, as it is written, "He was wounded for our transgressions", etc.
There is in the Garden of Eden a palace called the Palace of the sons of sickness. This palace the Messiah enters ,and summons every sickness, every pain, and every chastisement of Israel; they all come and rest upon him. And were it not that he had thus lightened them off Israel and taken them upon himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel's chastisements for transgression of the Law; and this is that which is written, "Surely our sicknesses he has carried."
The children of the world are members of one another. When the Holy One desires to give healing to the world ,he smites one just man among them, and for his sake heals all the rest. From were do we learn this? From the saying, "He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities", i. e. , by the letting of his blood--as when a man bleeds his arm--there was healing for us--for all the members of the body. In general a just person is only smitten in order to procure healing and atonement for a whole generation.
At the time when the Holy One desires to atone for the sins of the world, like a physician who to save the other limbs, bleeds the arm, he smites their arm and heals their whole person, as it is written, "He was wounded for our iniquities", etc.
DON YITZCHAK ABARBANEL
The first question is to ascertain to whom [this passage] refers; for the learned among the Nazarenes expound it of the man who was crucified in Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple, and who, according to them, was the Son of God, and took flesh in the virgin's womb, as stated in their writings. But Yonathan ben 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, although one of the verses (verse 12) is referred to Moses our master.
In the same way I see in the exposition of Rabbi Mosheh ben Nachman that he explains the prophecy [as being about] the King Messiah. The Gaon Rabbi Sa'adyah, however, interprets it entirely of Jeremiah. And Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, and also Rabbi Menachem [ben Shlomoh] Meiri speaks of this interpretation as "excellent", though what may be the goodness or excellence that they see in it, I do not understand.
Rashi, however, and Rabbi Joseph Qamchi, and his son, the great Rabbi David Qamchi, all with one voice explain the entire prophecy of Israel.
The opinion held by the learned among the Nazarenes is that the prophecy refers to Jesus of Nazareth, who was put to death at the end of the Second Temple. . . However, the simple sense of the words themselves will not bear the interpretation put on them. And this for several reasons.
1) First, how could the prophet say of God, "He will become wise" (verse 52:13)? If the word here means "to acquire knowledge", then God, just because He is God, knows all from eternity. How then can the prophet testify of him, "He will be intelligent", as though he were devoid of intelligence now? And if this word is taken to mean, "prosperity" or "success", what was the success which came to him as something new? Was it in things carnal or in things spiritual? For "successful" and "not successful" are terms which cannot rightly be used of the First Cause. Moreover, so far as the manhood [of Jesus] is concerned, it is evident from the history of his last moments, that he did not have "success".
2) He is called "My servant". Now how could God call one who was the self-same substance with Himself, His "servant"? Because "master" and "servant" are two distinct terms, each exclusive of the other. And it cannot be replied that the word is used relative to his manhood, because both the "prosperity" named previously and the "exaltation" are attributes applicable to him only in so far as he is (as the Christians think) God; the expression, "My servant", therefore, which stands between the two, must perforce be understood in the same sense. An object is, moreover, not defined or described except by its "form". A "man", for example, is so called not on account of his material body, but because of his rational soul. Even, therefore, from the point of view of those who assert that God became incarnate, He could never be termed a servant.
[But see Isaiah 43:24, "You
have caused Me to serve"--reduced Me to servitude--"by your sins".
Thus the redemption was effected by One who, "being in the form of God",
"took upon Himself the form of a servant" (Phil. 2: 6,7)--ed.]
3) Isaiah says, he will be "high and exalted", the verbs being, as you know, all future. I wish I could learn whether this "exaltation" was to show itself in things pertaining to the body (relative to his manhood) or in those things pertaining to his Godhead. For, insofar as his manhood was concerned, he enjoyed no exaltation or dignity, but rather suffered humiliation and death. While if, on the other hand, the words relate to his Godhead, then the announcement is an idle one, for God is forever "high and exalted". How then can a period be predicted when he will become high and exalted afresh?
4) He says that "his countenance was marred beyond man"; and again, that "he had no form or comeliness", etc. Such phrases show that he was troubled naturally by melancholy ,and was also of weak constitution, and a feeble frame. This account of him, however, is not in accordance with fact: for Jesus was young and handsome--even their own teachers saying that his constitution was of a normal state. And if the words have reference to his death, everyone 's countenance is altered when he is dead. He could not, then, on this account alone, be spoken of as "marred beyond men".
5) He says, "He has borne our sicknesses and carried our pains". These expressions cannot be understood of the sufferings borne by the souls of the just for sin, from which Jesus released them; because a spiritual penalty is never called "sickness". [But see Isaiah 1:4-6; 9:12/13; 33:24, etc.--ed.] The natural sense of the words is that he took upon himself the sicknesses which he removed from them; accordingly, it is said, "We thought him smitten, stricken of God, and afflicted"--he was not stricken and smitten himself. If again, the words be understood of the sufferings inflicted upon Jesus at the time of his death, then the terms themselves present a difficulty, for the death did not consist of "sicknesses" or "pains".
6) He says, "And he made his grave with the wicked." This is referred by the Christians to Jesus of Nazareth, whose death was accomplished by the hands of the wicked; but according to their view, it ought to have been, "made his death with the wicked", not his grave. The following words, "And the rich in his death", have plainly nothing to do with him.
7) "The Lord was pleased to bruise him." Now, if he had been God, and had consented to endure these sufferings in order (as the Christians hold) to rescue the souls of the righteous from the pit, how could it be said to be God's pleasure thus to bruise and sicken him? Moreover, what is done without any assignable cause is attributed to "pleasure", and not what is done for some definite purpose.
8) "He shall see seed, shall lengthen days". Yet, according to what is related of his life, Jesus died in youth, and had neither son nor daughter. Or, if "seed" be explained of those who follow his doctrine, then such as these are never in the whole of scripture so named. [But see Gen. 3:15; Isaiah 1:4--ed.] And, if it be supposed to refer to God, it is well known that God sees and observes both future and past; how, then, can it be said that he "will see seed", as though such "seeing" were something new for him? And if Jesus died in his youth, when not more than thirty-two years old, where are his "long days"?
It will be clear now from these considerations that, in accordance with its simple and straightforward sense, and as rightly understood, this prophecy cannot possibly be interpreted as is done by Christian expositors.
As regards the course taken by Yonathan ben Uzziel and our other wise men, who interpret it of Messiah our righteousness, I do not know whether in saying this they mean Messiah ben Joseph, who they believe is to come at the commencement of the deliverance, or whether they intend Messiah son of David, who is to arrive afterwards. In either case, however, the sense of the words will not admit of such an explanation. Of Messiah, son of Joseph, it could not be said that he would be "high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly". And how could it be said he was to "lengthen his days" when he was to die at the beginning of his career?
If, on the other hand, our rabbis have in view Messiah the son of David, then a difficulty arises from the words "marred beyond man", "without form or comeliness", for Isaiah himself, so far from calling him "despised" or "forlorn of men", describes him as God's "chosen one, in whom his soul delights" (42:1). Then again, how could he be said to have "borne our pains", or to be "stricken and smitten"? Rather, he is to be a righteous king--not "stricken and smitten", but "righteous and victorious" (Zech. 9:9). And if this is the case, what can be the sense of the verses which teach how he will bear sufferings and death for Israel's sake?
In a word, the interpretation of Yonathan, and of those who follow him in the same opinion, can never be considered to be the true one, in a literal sense, because the character and drift of the passage as a whole will not bear it. These learned men were concerned only with allegorical or adventitious expositions, and hence merely applied the traditions they had received respecting the Messiah to the present passage, without in the least imagining it to be its actual meaning.
MOSHE KOHEN IBN CRISPIN
This Parashah the commentators agree in explaining of the captivity of Israel, although the singular number is used throughout. The expression My Servant they compare rashly with Isaiah 41:8, "you Israel are My servant"; here, however, he does not mention Israel, but simply says, My servant; we cannot therefore understand the word in the same sense. Again in verse 41:8 he addresses the whole nation by the name of their father Israel (or Jacob, as he continues, "Jacob whom I have chosen"), but here he says Myservant alone, and uniformly employs the singular, and as there is no cause restraining us to do so, why should we here interpret the word collectively, and thereby distort the passage from its natural sense?
Others have supposed it to mean the just in this present world; but these, too, for the same reason, by altering the number, distort the verses from their natural meaning. As then it seemed to me that the doors of the literal interpretation of the Parashah were shut in their face, and that "they wearied themselves to find the entrance", having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined after the "stubbornness of their own hearts", 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.
My servant. I may begin by remarking that we find this term used in scripture of an individual prophet, as Moses; of all the prophets generally (Amos 3:7), and of the whole of Israel (Lev. 35:42). But we do not find it used of angels, known clearly to be such, because it is only applicable to one who enslaves himself assiduously to the service of God, and directs both his person and his thoughts "to serve Him with all his heart and with all his soul". This service is implanted in the heart; it cannot, therefore, be said of an angel, for [this service] has its seat in a bodily organ, in the heart, and nowhere else, and an angel has no body. As obviously, then, the expression cannot possibly be applied to the substance of the Creator Himself, as is done by our opponents in their theory of the Trinity (according to which this man was of the substance of the Creator). Yet even granting all this, which, though it is impossible to speak about, still less to conceive, how could he describe himself as "My servant", since for a man to be called his own servant is a palpable absurdity.
He shall be high, etc. These words likewise afford an answer to our opponents, for they refer exclusively to the future. And this language clearly cannot be applied to God. For how could it be said of Him that, like a mortal man, He will at some future time be high and exalted, as though he had not been so before? The prophet says that he is to be "high and exalted"; but during the whole time that he [Jesus] is reported to have been incarnate, we do not find that exaltation or supremacy ever fell to his lot, even to the day of his death.
He shall be high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly. He will be more exalted than Moses; for when he gathers together our scattered ones from the four corners of the earth, he will be exalted in the eyes of all the kings in the whole world, and all of them will serve him, as Daniel prophesies concerning him, "All nations, peoples, tongues shall serve him." (Dan. 7:14). He will be loftier than Solomon, whose dignity was so lofty that he is said to have "sat on the throne of the Lord" (I Chron. 29:23), and our rabbis say that he was king over both the upper and the nether world. (Sanhedrin 20b) But the King Messiah, in his all-comprehending intelligence, will be loftier than Solomon. Exceedingly above the ministering angels, because that same comprehensive intelligence will approach God more nearly than theirs.
And when this "servant of the Lord" is born, from the day when he comes to years of discretion, he will continue to be marked by the possession of intelligence enabling him to acquire from God what it is impossible for any to acquire until he reaches that height wither none of the sons of men, except him, have ever ascended; from that day he will be counted with his people Israel, and will share their subjugation and distress; "in all their affliction" (Is. 53:9) he will be exceedingly afflicted; and because of their being outcasts and scattered to the ends of the earth, his grief will be such that the color of his countenance will be changed from that of a man and pangs and sicknesses will seize upon him, and all the chastisements which come upon him in consequence of his grief will be for our sakes, and not from any deficiency or sin on his part which might bring punishment in their train, because he is perfect, in the completeness of perfection, as Isaiah says (11:2ff) .
Truly all his pains and sufferings will be for us; continually he will be prostrating himself, and stretching out his hands to God on our behalf, and praying to him to hasten the time of our redemption, until in compassion upon him, and in order to shorten the intense grief felt by him for us, the Creator "speeds" the time of our deliverance.
And so great will be his grief and pain endured thus on our behalf, that those who see him will despise him, thinking that in consequence of his many deficiencies and sins God brought all those chastisements upon him; for they will never believe that such sufferings could be caused merely by grief. And because of their attributing them to these deficiencies and sins, he will be despised in their eyes, and they will count him as nothing, not perceiving the great perfection that is in him, who will be a compassionate father to have compassion on us, even more than Moses our master, and in the multitude of his compassion for us will draw to himself all those sicknesses and chastisements, until the Creator hears his prayer, and looks upon all his pain, and has compassion on us for his sake, and speeds our redemption, and sends him to redeem us.
So will he sprinkle many nations. As his countenance is marred beyond man when he comes to redeem us, so he will scatter many nations and disperse them to the ends of the earth, like one who sprinkles, i.e., who scatters blood. The expression sprinkle means that he will scatter them without difficulty, like one who sprinkles blood.
Who has believed our report? Who was able to believe the report which we heard of him, when they said to us that , as the prophets had announced, he had at last come to redeem Israel ,"with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm", until we saw the matter with our own eyes?
Verse 53:2 states how the servant of the Lord grew up, like a branching tree which had sprung up out of the dry earth. The King, thus, through the grief and sorrow which he bore on our account from the time of his coming to years of discretion, and which clung to him until it left him no form or comeliness, resembles either the branching tree coming up out of a root planted in the dry earth, or both the branches and the root together, which sprang up out of the dry soil.
A man of pains and known to sickness, i.e., possessed of pains and destined to sickness; so all that see him will say (murmur) of him. They will also, it continues, on account of his loathsome appearance, be like men hiding their facesfrom him; they will not be able to look at him, because of his disfigurement.And we, when we see what he is like, shall despise him till we no longer esteem him. We shall cease to think of him as a Redeemer able to redeem us and fight our battles because of all the effects which we see produced by his weakness.
Surely our sickness he has carried. These words explain the cause of his sufferings; they will all come upon him on account of the grief and sorrow which he will feel for the sickness caused by our iniquities. It will be as though he had borne all the sicknesses and chastisements which fall upon us. Or, perhaps, "carry" may mean take away, forgive, as in Exodus 10:17; from his pity and his prayers for us he will atone for our transgressions. And our pains he has borne, as a burden upon himself; all the weight of our pains he will carry, being himself exceedingly pained by them. And we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. We shall not believe that there could be any man ready to endure such pain and grief as would disfigure his countenance, even for his children, much less for his people. It will seem a certain truth to us that such terrible sufferings must have come upon him as a penalty for his own many shortcomings and errors; and therefore we shall account him "smitten of God". But it is not so; they are not a penalty sent from God, but hewas panged for our transgressions--pangs, as of labor, will seize him for the distress that has come upon us for our transgressions. And by union with him we are healed. Although he is in the utmost distress from pain and sickness, yet by union and nearness to him, we are healed from all the diseases to which our afflictions give rise. God will have mercy upon him and, by sparing him fro the sake of his sufferings endured on our account, heal us.
Like sheep which have no shepherd, and which wander hither and thither on the plain, so we were wandering in our own works and ways, each going after his own business, and none caring for the service of God. Our iniquity was "too great to be forgiven", and because in our exile we had incurred the most extreme penalty, behold it was as though this penalty, which was deserved by all of us, had been laid by God upon him.
For he, is cut off, etc. The nature of this Messiah is truly wondrous. He soul is "cut off from the land of the living", in other words, it is derived from the living angels who exist forever, from these abstract intelligences. These form the source from which his own intelligence emanates, and gradually, in virtue of its comprehensive wisdom, ascends to an elevation which, as we have already explained, none else has ever attained.
His body, on the other hand, is composed of griefs and pains and sicknesses--of grief for the transgression and affliction of his people (which was so great as to disfigure his appearance), and of pains and sicknesses greater than those of other men. And it is an indication of his perfection that he does not care for the pain of his own body, for he recognizes its proper rank, and its deficiencies, in this nether world--a world which has no permanence. And therefore, all that hear of him, or know him, will marvel at him exceedingly, because never in the world had a prophet or wise man been heard of who was compounded of two natures such as these.
This prophecy was delivered by Isaiah at the divine command for the express purpose of making known to us something about the nature of the future Messiah, who is to come an deliver Israel, and his life from the day he arrives at the age of discretion until his advent as a redeemer, in order that if anyone should arise claiming to be himself the Messiah, we may reflect, and look to see whether we can observe in him any resemblance to the traits described here. If there is any such resemblance, then we may believe that he is the Messiah our righteousness; but if not, we cannot do so.
RABBI SHLOMOH ASTRUC
My servant shall prosper, or be truly intelligent, because by intelligence man is really man--it is intelligence which makes a man what he is. And the prophet calls the King Messiah My servant, speaking as the One who sent him. Or he may call the whole people My servant, as he says above Mypeople (52:6). When he speaks of the people, the King Messiah is included in it. And when he speaks of the King Messiah, the people is comprehended with him. What he says then, is that My servant the King Messiah will prosper.
Our rabbis declare that he will be higher than Abraham; more exalted than Moses; and loftier than the angels. Lofty through the angels, in that he will depend upon the intelligent powers which belong to him and are his ministers, and which tend to attach themselves to God, so that he will be like the Angel of the Lord of Hosts. Of him also, it is said, that "His angels He will appoint for you, to keep you in all your ways." (Psalm 91:11).
In verse 52:14, the prophet, speaking of Israel as a whole, says, Just as all who saw you were amazed at the greatness of your distress, and said, What is the heat of this fierce anger (Deut. 29:24) that is upon this people more than any other people? and, Is this the city which men used to call the perfection of beauty (Lam. 2:15)? [so will they now be amazed at your glory]. For as before the Lord gave full measure in smiting you, so now he will give you full measure of prosperity, so that the dignity of this Annointed One, when he is annointed, will surpass that of all others who are annointed, by the radiancy of his countenance which will shine like that of Moses (Ex. 34:30).
[Normally this verse is translated, "he was marred beyond any other man"; but with a slight change in the spelling of one word it could read, "he was annointed beyond any other man". Apparently this is how the verse is being interepreted in the above passage. It is interesting to note that one of the versions of Isaiah found among the Dead Sea Scrolls also has this alternate reading--ed.]
Chapter 53: A continuation of the words spoken by the gentiles and their kings. Who, at the time when our [gentiles'] exaltation and prosperity seemed secure to us, would have believed this report brought to us? Such a wondrous change could have been anticipated by no one. And upon whom wasthe arm of the Lord ever revealed to raise him to such dignity as this Messiah? For when we looked at him, and gazed upon his countenance, it had no beauty, and we did not desire him. (The prophet means to say here that there was nothing in him to cause us--the gentiles-- to desire him. Or, the meaning may be, "and now we desire him", on account of the many desirable qualities which he possesses.
He was despised and forlorn of men. He was not permitted to enter the society of men, because he was a man of pains, and broken by sickness. Or perhaps this denotes that he was so well known generally for the sicknesses which he endured that in imprecation men would say, "May such a one be like him!"
The next words assign the reason why Israel was rejected and cast aloof and hated in their [gentile] eyes. They say, "When we saw the face-hiding, the manner in which God hid His face from him [i.e., from Israel], and carried him [Israel] far away captive among the gentiles, he [Israel] was then despised and cast aloof by us [i.e., the gentiles], and we esteemed him [Israel]not--he had no value in our eyes". Or, "We did not think of him [Israel] that God would again open his eyes and have mercy upon him, after having thus rejected and removed him far from his own place."
SA'ADYAH IBN DANAN
I was perusing the book of the prophet Isaiah, and when I came to the Parashah Behold My servant, I set before myself the notes of those who had commented upon it, and pondered over them and examined the opinions they contained. But all alike, I found, lacked solidity and soundness; as was the more palpable, since each differed from the rest in the subject to whom he supposed it to refer, some expounding the Parashah of the congregation of Israel as a whole, and others, in one way or another, of the King Messiah, who will speedily be revealed in our days. This, in fact, is done by our rabbis, who , in the section Heleq (Sanhedrin 94a), on the words To the increase of his government (Isaiah 9:7), expound as follows: The Holy One sought to make Hezekiah the Messiah, and [to make] Sanacherib, Gog and Magog.
And the heretics explain it of their messiah, by their method of interpretation, discovering in its arguments relating to his passion and death, and their false belief in him, which, however, have been refuted oftentimes with unequivocal proofs by learned Jews. One of these, Rabbi Joseph ben Kaspi, was led so far as to say that those who expounded it of the Messiah, who is shortly to be revealed, gave occasion to the heretics to interpret it of Jesus.
May God, however, forgive him for not having spoken the truth! Our rabbis, the doctors of the Talmud, deliver their opinions by the power of prophecy, possessing a tradition concerning the principles of interpretation, so that their words are the truth. The principle which every expositor ought to rest upon is never to shrink from declaring the truth. And now I will make known what has been communicated to me from heaven, namely, the Parashah was originally uttered with a reference to Hezekiah, king of Judah and Israel, but being "a word deftly spoken" (Prov. 25:11), nevertheless alludes covertly to the King Messiah. . .
Says the author: Behold, we have explained the several parts of this Parashah in an elegant and plausible manner; and the interpretation here given is the one that is revealed and open to all, but there is a secret one, sealed and treasured up in its midst, which sees throughout allusions to the King Messiah (who is assuredly to be speedily revealed in our own days). And in the same sense it is expounded by our rabbis.
We cannot, however, interpret each individual detail in it of the Messiah, because we do not know all the incidents of his advent, or the precise manner of the redemption which he will then accomplish for Israel. Still, what our rabbis teach in this respect, we must accept, for, like all their other opinions, it will be true and right; but anyone who imagines himself able to apply every single particular in the Parashah to the Messiah is in error, and feeling after darkness rather than light, as is the case with the heretics who struggle vainly to refer it to their messiah in detail. We see then their error and delusion, which has already more than once been sufficiently replied to by our wise men. May God, for His Name's sake, lighten our eyes with the illumination of his Law, and bring us forth out of darkness into light, and redeem us with a perfect redemption!
MOSHEH BEN MAIMON (MAIMONIDES)
What is to be the manner of Messiah's advent, and where will be the place of his first appearance? He will make his first appearance in the land of Israel, as it is written, "The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple" (Mal. 3:1); but as to the manner of his appearance, until it has taken place, you cannot know this, not so that you could say he is the son of a specific person, or to be from the family of that person. There shall rise up one whom none have known before, and the signs and wonders which they shall see performed by him will be the proofs of his true origin. For the Almighty, when he declares to us his mind upon this matter, says, "Behold a man whose name is the Branch, and he shall branch forth from his place." (Zech. 6:12) And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he will appear, without his father or his mother or family being known, He came up as a shoot before him, and as a root out of dry earth, etc. But the unique phenomenon attending his manifestation is, that all the kings of the earth will be thrown into terror at the fame of him---their kingdoms will be in consternation, and they themselves will be devising whether to oppose him with arms, or to adopt some different course, confessing, in fact, their inability to contend with him or ignore his presence, and so confounded at the wonders which they will see him work, that they will lay hands upon their mouth; 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.
MEIR BEN SHIMON
Behold My servant, etc. This Parashah is applied by the Nazarenes to Jesus; such an explanation, however, is untenable even on the ground of their own allegations. For example, they assert Jesus to be the Son of God, and to be himself God, but if so, how is he called my servant? Almighty God is not a servant; on the contrary, all are His servants. If to this it be replied that Jesus is termed servant, as being a servant of the Godhead, do not the Christians assert that he is God? How, then, can one who is the Creator of all and the Lord of all receive such a title?
Again, how can it be said that he should prosper? In what did his prosperity consist? Were not his misfortunes and general ill-success clear to all, when the Pharisees and the doctors condemned him to death (as is related in their own book), and he was slain with his disciples? And how can it be said that he should be high and exalted and lofty exceedingly? Jesus in his lifetime was only thus exalted at the time of his crucifixion.
Sometimes, too, misfortunes light upon the righteous not as a punishment, but for the sake of a whole nation, that atonement might be made for it. This is because the Almighty takes pleasure in the preservation of the world, and knows that the righteous will bear his sufferings cheerfully, without quarreling with any of his attributes. He therefore brings sufferings upon the just, as a satisfaction for the evil [otherwise] destined to afflict a whole people, in order that it may be thus averted. This is what our rabbis mean by their saying (Moed Katan 28a), "The death of the righteous works atonement".
We find the Law stated clearly in scripture. God says to Ezekiel (4:4-6), "Lie on your left side, and I will place upon it the iniquity of the house of Israel", etc., and you will bear it; and when you have finished these things, then you shall lie again on your right side, and shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah." In accordance with the same principal, the statements found in the Parashah, Behold My servant shall prosper, are all to be referred to Israel (who is here called My servant, as in Isaiah 44:2, 41:8). When the prophet says, Surely he carried our sicknesses, etc., but we thought him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted, he means to say that when men see sufferings falling upon the righteous, they think they fall on them of their own account, and are hence naturally surprised. It is not so in fact, however; they do not fall upon them for any sin they may have committed, but as an atonement, whether for all the world, or for the entire people, or for some single city.
RABBI SHMUEL LANYADO
My servant, i.e., the King Messiah, shall be high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly--he shall be higher than Abraham; lifted up above Moses; and loftier than the ministering angels. Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel was unable to comprehend how the Messiah could be lifted up above Moses, of whom it was said that "there arose no prophet in Israel like him". (Deut. 34:10); and still more how he was to be greater than the angels, who are spiritual beings, whereas the Messiah is born of a woman. It is, in fact, upon that expression that the idolators [Christians] rest the chief article of their faith, the divinity of the Messiah. Abarbanel rejects also the opinion of the learned En Bonet, who explains it of the doctors, "for how", he asks, "could it enter into anyone's mind to speak of the doctors as exalted above Abraham or Moses?"
In my own humble opinion it seems that in this instance En Bonet is right; for in point of nobility the Messiah will excel even Abraham, and therefore it is promised that he shall be high. And in the ability to guide Israel he will be superior to Moses. For Moses, when he was a shepherd, had compassion on the kid which escaped from him in order to drink, and brought it to his bosom; and for that purpose the Almighty had chosen him (Shmoth Rabba)--how much more then that he might guide and tend Israel?
As regards En Bonet's explanation of "loftier than the angels", my judgement coincides with that of Rabbi Yitzchak Aramah and Rabbi Yitzchak Arbarbanel, who reject it on two grounds. I think that the words should be understood in their natural sense, but believe also that they involve a mystery which no mouth can utter.
It is, however, revealed in the Zohar, in the section on Deut. 22:6 ("When a bird's nest chances before you", etc.); so that we need not wonder if, as is the fact, he is to be loftier than the angels. The text appears to me to refer simply to the fear and dread which he will inspire into all flesh even more than the angels, who are yet so awe-inspiring that, as we know, when one appeared to Manoah and his wife, they exclaimed, "We have seen God; we shall surely die!" (Judges 13:22). Accordingly the Messiah is said to be loftier than the angels in respect of the terror which their presence creates, since everyone who beholds them, like Ezekiel, is "afraid and trembles".
And then, lastly, he is called "the great mountain, which is greater than the patriarchs", because each of the patriarchs in his turn helped to restore the world after it had been corrupted by the sin of our first parents. Isaac, for example, made atonement for bloodshed, inasmuch as, for the fear he felt, his own blood was as good as poured out on the altar. And Jacob averted the consequences of a forbidden marriage by preserving peace between two sisters, where anyone else would only have been a cause of rivalry and discord.
The opinions of our wise men on the interpretation of this verse have now been discussed. But we do not gather clearly from their language whether they are speaking of Messiah son of Ephraim or of Messiah son of David. The same doubt is suggested by Abarbanel, who thinks however that the former cannot be intended. For how, he asks, could it be said of him that he will be high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly? If, on the contrary, we refer the prophecy to Messiah son of David, there is a difficulty in the expression, marred beyond man; for Isaiah says, "Behold My servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one, in whom my soul delights." (42:1) How, too, can he say of him, Stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted, for Messiah son of David will be just and victorious (Zech. 9:9), and so far from being despised and forlorn of men, that unto him will the gentiles seek (Isaiah 11:10)? Nor are the other verses more applicable to him, which declare how he will endure sufferings and death for Israel's sake.
In a word, the explanation of the rabbis and of the Targum of Yonathan cannot possibly be conceived as being truthful in the sense of being literal; it is allegorical and adventitious, consisting, as it does, in the adaptation of one of their traditions to the language of the text. And a proof of this lies in the fact that the Targum itself refers the subsequent verses to Israel, and not to the Messiah, and that one verse , the last, is referred by our rabbis to Moses.
In my own humble opinion, I believe that they mean to assert that the verse speaks solely of Messiah son of David, to whom all the gorgeous language in it will apply. The prophet next addresses the people of Messiah son of Ephraim, and encourages them not to be afraid of the myriads which were against them; that even though the son of Ephraim were slain, the Almighty would avenge him by the hand of Messiah son of David, who would sprinkle the blood of many nations.
The words mean, then, As when you, O Messiah son of Ephraim, went forth into the world, many were astonished atyou, wondering how it could possibly be that his countenance was so marred beyond men, and his form beyond the sons of men, whether also such was the usual appearance of a conqueror--as they thus mocked you without measure, so will the Messiah son of David sprinkle the blood of many nations.
The Messiah, son of Ephraim, who will come up before him, and in comparison with Messiah son of David (who will follow after him) will be as a shoot or a root out of dry ground. He is to have no form, to be despised, forsaken of men , and afflicted with endless pains--as our rabbis relate of him, he will stand in the gate of Rome, binding up each wound separately by itself, lest the season of Deliverance arrive too suddenly; and his pains and sicknesses will make it seem as though the faces hidden from them were averted because of himself and his deeds, which had been the cause of our esteeming him not. Yet in truth it was otherwise. In all his sufferings he was guiltless. It would our sicknesses that he bore--the sicknesses and pains which were in readiness to come for our iniquities upon us were carried by him instead, and we were in error thinking him stricken and smitten of God, i.e., as Rashi explains, an object of his enmity.
After his advent, to use again the words of Rashi, the son of Ephraim, who for a while had held sovereignty and executed judgement over Israel and the gentiles, was taken away, because the gentiles resolved to slay him; and who then could tell of his generation and the travail which befell him? For he was cut off out of the land of the living, and slain for the transgression of my people, the stroke intended for them being borne by him instead. He was not to be put to death speedily, but tortured by every conceivable method of producing a severe and painful end; and hence it is that the prophet says not in his death but in his deaths. And all this happened not because he had done no wrong in word or deed, but because it was the Lord's good pleasure to bruise and sicken him.
Such is the sense of these verses, according to the opinion of those among our wise men who apply them to Messiah son of David, and to Messiah son of Joseph, who is of the tribe of Ephraim.
But in my own humble opinion, the verses must be supposed to describe the righteous worshipper of God. Israel now asks, Who believed the glad tidings which they heard of our future exaltation? And upon whom were revealed the prophecies of vengeance about to be executed by the arm of the Lord upon them that hate him? Were they not revealed solely to us Israelites? And the gentiles, when they heard that we were to attain security and prosperity, would not believe; so that when they do perceive our successes, they will be seeing things which had never been told them. All this will happen on account of the one righteous who is here called My servant. But before the sons of men he will appear simply as a root devoid of moisture, rising out of the dry earth, without form or bodily beauty.
He himself carried our sicknesses, and bore our pains, and by saying he himself, the prophet indicates that the righteous, of his own free will, was pleased to carry them for Israel. We however thought him stricken of God for his own sins, whereas in reality he was stricken for ours, being himself just and perfect. The view here taken obviates the surprise felt by Abarbanel, as to how one man could possibly suffer for another, if even "the son shall not die for the iniquity of the father, nor the father for the iniquity of the son" (Ezekiel 18:20); for the righteous voluntarily and of his own accord bears the sicknesses of his generation, in order to merit the never-ending pleasure of making atonement for them.
THE MIDRASH KONEN
The fifth mansion in Paradise is built of onyx and jasper, and set stones, and silver and gold. . . there dwells Messiah son of David, and Elijah, and Messiah son of Ephraim. There is also the "litter of the wood of Lebanon" , like the tabernacle which Moses made in the wilderness; all the furniture thereof and "the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom of gold, the seat of purple", and within it, Messiah son of David who loves Jerusalem. Elijah takes him by his head, and lays him down in his bosom, holds him, and says, "Bear the sufferings and wounds with which the Almighty does chastise you for Israel's sake"; and so it is written, He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, until the time when the end should come.
The Messiah, in order to atone for them both [for Adam and David] will make his soul a trespass-offering, as it is written next to this, in the Parashah Behold My servant. And what is written after it? He shall see seed, shall have long days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
YAKOV YOSEPH MORDECHAI CHAYIM PASSANI
I am much surprised at those commentators who have applied themselves to investigate the meaning of this Parashah. One, for example, maintains that it was the intention of the prophet to allude to Moses; another, that he referred to the Israelitish people; a third applies it to king Josiah; a fourth dwells much upon the King Messiah, and so brings the Midrash into the text. For ourselves, however, we know with certainty that scripture never bears any other than the simple and literal meaning.
Moreover, not one of the explanations mentioned is in complete accordance with the language of the text, or succeeds in satisfying us, still less does the opinion of the disbelievers who make these verses the foundation of their faith.
Thus the words had no form or comeliness cannot possibly be interpreted of Moses, for everyone is well aware that Moses had a fine form and the strength of a lion. And if (as is indeed the case) the words, For the transgression of mypeople were they smitten allude to Israel, then the person described as suffering for the nation cannot be the nation itself.
And as regards the explanation which refers it to the Messiah, we may say, Take heed, O wise men, in your words, even though the language be meant to be metaphorical and indirect.
I have therefore been led to the conviction that the Parashah may after all be referred intelligibly and naturally to Hezekiah.
RABBI NAPHTHALI BEN ASHER ALTSCHULER
Behold my servant. Since I see that unfortunately the gentiles have built upon this Parashah a heap of vanity, I have undertaken the task of refuting their errors by a true and convincing method in accordance with the teaching of my relation, the great and illustrious Rabbi, Nachman of Belsitz. If the opinion of the Christians is correct, why is he [Jesus] called My servant? Is he not by their own arguments God? And if it be replied that he is called servant in reference to the time during which he was still a man, why does Isaiah say he will be high and exalted? For even, by their own accounts, Jesus was never during his whole life in any position of authority. If again it be supposed that the expression relates to what will take place after the Resurrection, even then there is a difficulty; for even the gentiles say that at that time he will be altogether God; how then could he be called a servant?
I will now proceed to explain these verses of our own Messiah, who, God willing, will come speedily in our days. I am surprised that Rashi and Rabbi David Kimchi have not, with the Targum, applied them to the Messiah likewise.
He was despised in our eyes, and the most insignificant of men (or, forlorn of men, because they would not associate with him); a man of pains, who passed all his days in anxious dread lest the gentiles should appear suddenly and attack them; andtaught of sickness, being accustomed to have the yoke pass over him. The prophet uses the singular, referring to the Messiah who is their king. Thus the Messiah is termed despised as representing Israel.
And he was as though we hid our faces from him, for we would not look at him because of the loathing which we felt for him; and we accounted him, i.e., Israel, for nought. But now we see that this was not a consequence of his depression, but that he suffered in order that by his sufferings atonement might be made for the whole of Israel, as it is said of the prophet Micah, that the blood issuing from him made atonement for all Israel. The sickness which ought to have fallen upon us was borne by him. The prophet means to say here, that when Messiah son of Joseph shall die between the gates, and be a marvel in the eyes of creation, why must the penalty he bears be so severe? What is his sin, and what his transgression, except that he will bear the chastisements of Israel, according to the words smitten of God?
Others consider that the passage speaks of the Messiah who is smitten now with the pains of the world to come (as it stands in the Gemara), and so endures the suffering of Israel. And yet we--it is Israel who are speaking--thought he had been hated of God. But it was not so. He was wounded for ourtransgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement which was afterwards to secure our peace was upon him.
Like sheep, i.e., like sheep without a shepherd so long as the Messiah had not arrived, we all went astray. Yet the Lord let himself be entreated by him and propitiated for the iniquity of us all, in that he refrained from destroying us.
From the confinement in which he was kept by them, and from the judgement or sentence of punishment, he was taken; and who said or suspected that his generation would ever attain such greatness that it has attained now? For at first it was cut off from the land of the living, that is, the land of Israel. Because for the transgression of my people had this stroke come upon the Messiah. He resigned himself to be buried in whatever manner the wicked might decree, who were always condemning Israel to be murdered; and was ready for any form of death (or deaths), according to the decision of therich, that is, of the [wealthy] magistrate.
Why, however, should he have been thus punished although he had done no violence, except that the Almighty was trying him? The words allude to Israel who are now in exile; though others hold that they allude to the Messiah.
By his knowledge he will justify the just. The King Messiah will mete out right judgement to all who come to be tried before him; and My servant will also become a prince over many--the word ebed [i.e., servant] being used as in the Gemara, When I make you a prince, I make you also a slave.
(It may be remarked that Rashi explained this Parashah of the righteous who are in exile, and who endure there suffering and affliction.)
From this verse (Isaiah 52:13) as also from Isaiah 53, the Nazarenes argue to prove that Isaiah predicted of Jesus of Nazareth. Of him, they affirm, he says He shall be high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly, for the language here employed is applicable to him alone and none besides. In the same way they suppose him to be referred to in the words, He carried our sicknesses, etc. And, He was wounded for our transgressions.
In reply it may be shown that their argument is not valid. For whereas the text says, Behold My servant, how can they apply this to Jesus of Nazareth, since they themselves, according to their own absurd tenants, assign to him deity? And how could God in any prophecy be called a servant?
It must in addition be remembered that the words, He shall be high, etc., were not fulfilled in him; since he was condemned to death like any other common man among the people. Similarly, we do not find that he had long life, for he was put to death when thirty-three years old.
The truth is, the whole Parashah, down to verse 53:12, was spoken prophetically to Isaiah with reference to the people of Israel, who were enduring the yoke of exile, and who are called My servant in the singular here, as frequently elsewhere.
The general design, then, of the prophecy contained in this Parashah is to confirm and encourage us in the assurance that although by our exile we are exceedingly depressed and brought down, that through the Lord's compassion on us we may again be high and exalted. And that from the time of redemption onwards our position may rise until the nations of the world and even their kings, when they see the salvation of Israel and their elevation to the highest possible pitch of dignity and greatness, become astonished and awe-struck at the spectacle. For just as before they had marveled at our depression in exile, so now they will then marvel in like manner at our exaltation, saying one to another, Lo, now we perceive clearly, that all we likesheep without a shepherd have gone astray, we have turned each after his own way; "our fathers have inherited lies and vanity, wherein there is no profit" (Jer. 16:19) ; neither is there any divine law, or true religion, in any nation of the world except Israel. From this we [the gentiles] see further that the chastisements and calamities borne by Israel during their captivity did not fall upon them for their own iniquity; it was we [the gentiles] who for the multitude of our sins had rendered them liable to endure them, but the sickness and pain which ought to have been ours came upon them, in order to make atonement for our guilt in treating them as our slaves.
LEVI BEN GERSHOM
It follows necessarily from this verse (Deut. 34:10) that no prophet whose office was restricted to Israel alone could ever arise again like Moses; but it is still quite possible that a prophet like Moses might arise among the gentile nations. In fact the Messiah is such a prophet, as it is stated in the Midrash on the verse, Behold My servant, etc. , that he will be "greater than Moses", which is explained to mean that his miracles will be more wonderful than those of Moses. Moses, by the miracles he wrought, drew but a single nation to the worship of God, but the Messiah will draw all nations to the worship of God. And this will be effected by means of a marvelous sign, to be seen by all the nations even to the ends of the earth, that is, the resurrection of the dead.
RABBI LIWA OF PRAGUE
The Messiah, who is the perfection of the world, will be high and lofty and exalted. Now, inasmuch as he is the perfection, he is also the consummation, and the consummation is above all things; and this is why it is said of this Messiah that he will be high and exalted and lofty.
A star shall proceed out of Jacob, and there shall arise a scepter in Israel. (Numbers 24:17) The King Messiah is here spoken of as a star, for (as we have explained above), his position and dignity will be of the highest, since it is said of him, He will be high andexalted and lofty exceedingly. He is here, therefore, compared to a star, because a star is elevated over all things.