We're making big changes. Please try out the beta site at beta.ccel.org and send us feedback. Thank you!
« Prev V Next »

V

THE SERVANT OF YAHWEH

IN turning from the subject of the Messianic Hope to that of the Servant of Yahweh we enter a different world. In Jewish teaching the Servant is not identified with the Messiah,11   In the Targum on Isa. xlii. 1, the rendering is given: 'Behold my Servant the Anointed (Messiah), I will draw him near, my Chosen in whom my word delights; I will put my holy spirit upon him, and he shall reveal my judgment to the nations.' Cf. G. F. Moore, Judaism, ii. 327. See later, p. 45f. and this identification is not the thought of the original writer. For our purpose it does not matter whether the Servant is an individual, or the nation,22   Cf. A. S. Peake, 'The Servant is not an ideal Israel, distinct from the empirical Israel, he is the empirical Israel regarded from an ideal point of view,' The Servant of Yahweh, 67. the righteous element in the nation, or the ideal Israel, or whether, in line with the doctrine of corporate personality expounded by H. Wheeler Robinson, he is sometimes one and sometimes another of these entities.33   The Cross of the Servant, 32-7; W. L. Wardle, London Quarterly and Holborn Review, Oct., 1935, p. 437. Robinson argues that on this view of the Songs of the Servant 'we are able to explain the perplexing variety of interpretations offered by modern scholarship,' op. cit., 36. The more important questions are the nature of the Servant-conception, the theology implicit in it, and its influence upon the mind of Jesus.

The Servant-passages include Isa. xlii. 1-4, xlix. 1-6, 1. 4-9 and lii. 13-liii. 12. In these poems the Servant is the chosen messenger of God. In the third poem the indignities and the suffering he has endured in the course of his mission are mentioned, but it is in the fourth poem 52 that this aspect of his work is presented fully. In lii. 13 - liii. 12 the Servant's suffering is not only his experience, but the achievement in which his supreme task consists. In this poem the Servant's figure stands out with such solitary grandeur that one may easily miss some of the most important features in the representation as a whole. It is necessary, for example, to observe the peculiar relation which exists between the Servant and those for whom his service is rendered, and also the distinctive attitude of Yahweh to the Servant's work. The attitude of the onlookers is first presented as one of amazement. Astonished at the promised exaltation of the Servant, they explain their failure to recognize the true facts. They had received no revelation from God, and the appearance of the Servant had in no way suggested the nature of his work.11   The translation followed is that of A. S. Peake, The Problem of Suffering, 51-9.

'For he grew up as a sapling before us,

And as a root out of a dry ground,

He had no form that we should look upon him,

No visage that we should desire him,

'Despised and forsaken of men,

A man of pains and familiar with sickness,

And as one from whom men hide the face,

Despised, and we regarded him not.'

Nevertheless, illumination has now come to them; they see that the Servant has suffered for their own sins.

'But it was our sickness that he bore,

And our pains, he carried them,

While we regarded him as stricken,

Smitten of God and afflicted.

'But he was pierced through our rebellions,

Crushed through our sins,

53

The chastisement to win our peace was upon him.

And by his stripes was healing wrought for us.

'We had all gone astray like sheep,

We had turned each his own way.

And Yahweh made to light on him

The sin of us all.'

This confession of sin and recognition of the redemptive character of the Servant's suffering is followed by a further description of his innocence and the indifference of his contemporaries. Then follows a statement concerning the judgment of Yahweh Himself:11   Peake says that liii. 10f. are justly regarded by many scholars as almost incurably corrupt, op. cit., 58. He omits the familiar phrase: 'when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.' The term 'Asham' ('guilt-offering'), while post-Exilic, may have been current before the Exile, and, in any case, is implied in liii. 10 by the LXX. Cf. G. B. Gray, Sacrifice in the Old Testament, 67. If the text has been interpolated, the interpolation is pre-Christian. The term also appears in 1 Sam. vi. 3, 4, 8, 17, where the Philistines send a 'trespass-offering' of golden mice to compensate for the wrong done to the Ark. Cf. also 2 Sam. xiv. 13.

'But Yahweh was pleased to justify him,

And rescued his soul from trouble,

Caused him to see light and be satisfied,

A posterity that prolonged its life.'

Finally, Yahweh declares the future exaltation and glory of the Servant:

'Righteous shall my Servant appear to many,

Since he bears their iniquities;

Therefore shall he inherit among the many,

And with the strong he shall divide the spoil.

'Inasmuch as he poured out his soul unto death,

And was numbered with the rebellious,

Though he bore the sin of many,

And interceded for the rebellious'.

The theology implicit in this splendid conception is a 54 doctrine of representative suffering. The ideas are not those of crude substitution; for it is not by the simple transference of punishment that healing comes to the recipients of divine grace. There is, however, a substitutionary element in the delineation, in the sense that the Servant bears the consequences of the sins of others. This view is implied, not only in the fact that he is pierced through the rebellions and crushed through the sins of others, but especially in the statement: 'Yahweh made to light on him the sins of us all,' and the declaration: 'He bore the sin of many.' This representation, however, is only part of the poet's conception. It is a point of cardinal importance to his view, not only that the Servant bears what others ought to suffer, but that these perceive this fact, and so recognize and confess their own sin. In this sense, they participate in the Servant's oblation and make it their own, and it is the complete act, including the Servant's offering and the onlooker's response, which constitutes the sacrifice presented to God. This inference is confirmed by the fact that it is only at the end, when both aspects have been described, that the poet declares that 'Yahweh was pleased to justify' His Servant, and puts into His mouth the cry: 'Righteous shall my Servant appear to many'. The picture is clearly a poetical representation in which ancient Hebrew ideas of sacrifice are refined and sublimated.

It is obviously a question of first importance, how far Jesus was influenced by the Servant-conception and what effect it had upon His view of His suffering and death. Before, however, this question can be rightly answered, it is desirable to consider analogous ideas in the Old Testament and later Jewish Literature.

The story of the death of Achan (Jos. vii. 16-26) belongs to a different realm of ideas, for Achan dies for his 55 own sins, and the destruction of his family and his possessions simply illustrates the solidarity of the Israelitish clan. In the story of the sacrifice of the eldest son of the king of Moab (2 Kings iii. 27) there is, for all its revolting features, at least the idea of an offering which avails for others; but the predominant conception is that of averting the wrath of Chemosh in order to bring about the destruction of Israel. A nobler spirit breathes in the prayer of Moses in Ex. xxxii. 31f.: 'Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written'; and also in the words of David in 2 Sam. xxiv. 17: 'Lo, I have sinned, and I have done perversely: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father's house.' But, great as they are, these passages only illustrate the spirit of self-sacrifice which is willing to bear the sins of others, and throw into relief the solitary grandeur of the Servant's achievement.

The nearest parallel to the ideas of Isa. liii. is found in the life and sufferings of Jeremiah. It is possible that the words: 'I was like a gentle lamb that is led to the slaughter' (Jer, xi. 19), have suggested thoughts which are developed in the description of the Servant, although the context does not suggest vicarious suffering but the murderous intentions of Jeremiah's enemies. More to the point are passages which express Jeremiah's sorrow for the sins of his people and his self-identification with them in their sin: 'For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt: I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me... Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!' (viii. 21-ix. 1). There is good reason to accept the claim of A. S. Peake that, while 56 Jeremiah is not to be identified with the Servant, 'some features in this delineation of Israel were drawn from his career.'11   Jeremiah, i. 28.

If anticipations of the Servant-conception are few, later echoes are more surprisingly faint. Possible examples are Psa. xxii, Zech. ix. 9f and xii. 9-14. Psa. xxii. contains the same contrast between suffering (vv. 1-21) and exaltation (vv. 22-31), and there are parallel phrases in the Psalmist's description of the sufferer as 'a reproach of men, and despised of the people' (v. 6), and in his affirmation that Yahweh 'hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him' (v. 24). There are also verbal similarities in Zech. xii. 10: 'And they shall look unto him whom they have pierced: and they shall mourn for him...'22   Cf. R. S. Cripps, The Prophets and the Atonement, 29-32. Cripps points out that the common reading, though strongly attested, can hardly be correct, op. cit., 31. But the most interesting possibility is that the picture of the Messianic King in Zech. ix. 9f. may have been influenced in the use of the terms 'just' (or 'righteous' ; cf. Isa. liii. 11) and 'lowly' (or 'afflicted'), and in the description of the 'unostentatious royalty' of the King. 33   Cf. Cripps, op. cit., 31. If this inference is justified, we are afforded a pre-Christian example of the modification of the traditional picture of the Messiah by means of ideas derived from the Servant-conception. The inference, however, is far from being certain, and in no sense is the King a vicarious sufferer. There is more to be said for the suggestion that Zech. ix. 9f. and Psa. xxii. may have influenced the mind of Jesus in identifying the Son of Man with the Suffering Servant.44   Cf. Mk. xi. 1-10, xv. 34.

57

In later Jewish thought the idea of the propitiatory value of the sufferings of the righteous appears. In 2 Macc. vii. 37f. the youngest of the martyr-brothers prays that with him and his brothers 'the wrath of the Almighty may cease', which, he says, 'has justly fallen upon our race'; and in 4 Macc. vi. 27-9 Eleazar prays that his blood may be a sacrifice for the purification of the people, and that his life may be taken 'as a substitute (antiksuhon, Greek) for theirs'; while in 4 Macc, xvii, 22 the sufferings of the martyrs are characterized as a vicarious expiation.11   Note what is said of the sacrifice of Isaac in the Jewish Prayers, some of which are ancient. Cf. Josephus, Ant., i. xiii. 3. The ideas of these passages transcend those of Isa. liii, inasmuch as they introduce the thought of a God whose wrath is appeased by suffering. This conception is absent from the Servant-poems; for the words: Yahweh made to light on him the sin of us all,' express no more than the characteristic Hebrew tendency to trace events to their ultimate cause in the purpose of God.

High ethical importance is ascribed to suffering in the teaching of Rabbinical Judaism, but in the time of Jesus no suffering Messiah was expected.22   'The old synagogue knows a suffering Messiah, to whom, however, death is not allotted; that is the Messiah ben David: and it knows a dying Messiah, but of whom no suffering is asserted; that is the Messiah ben Joseph,' Strack-Billerbeck, Kommentar, ii. 273f. Suffering, it is held, leads men to repentance and is a means of expiation; it is the chastisement of love, intended to increase man's deserts and, in consequence, his reward. Where, in the case of the righteous, it is undeserved, it atones for the sin of the people. Billerbeck explains the fact that the Messiah is not thought of in this connexion by the expectation that the Messianic time would bring in complete blessedness.33   Op. cit., ii. 282. The Messiah strikes down all the enemies 58 of Israel with his word, brings all peoples under Israel's yoke, and from his throne rules the kings and powers of the earth. Such conceptions ruled out the thought of a suffering Messiah.11   0p. cit., ii. 282. Only very gradually in later times did a few Rabbinical teachers pass over to the idea of bringing the Messiah into connexion with this and that suffering, and most teachers held fast to the older conceptions.22   0p. cit., ii. 284. It is notable that, while the Targum Jonathan understands Isa. lii. 13 -- liii. Messianically, everything which could have relation to the suffering and death of the Messiah is artificially explained away. 'The idea that the Messiah bears the sin of the world, and so also that of non-Israelites, nowhere meets us in the old Rabbinical Literature.'33   0p. cit., ii. 292.

From this summary survey of later Jewish thought, it is clear that a high ethical and religious conception of Messianic suffering lay waiting to be appropriated by any one who could approach the Servant-poems with insight and understanding, and with a mind free from the bondage of nationalistic and apocalyptic expectations. Such a mind was that of Jesus Himself. Antecedently, it is much more likely that it was He who first made use of the Servant-conception rather than the later Christian community. This opinion is contrary to that held by many modern New Testament critics who explain its presence in the Gospels by the beliefs of Hellenistic Christianity.44   Cf. Bousset, Kyrios Christos 2 , 69-72; Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition, 303f.; the Editors of The Beginnings of Christianity, i. 383f.; Burkitt, Christian Beginnings, 35-9. On the other side see Rawlinson, St. Mark, 255f., The New Testament Doctrine of the Christ, 238-41; Otto, Reich Gottes und Menschensohn, 203-14. There is no doubt that Luke,55   Cf. Lk. xxiv. 26f.; Acts iii. 13, 26, iv. 27, 30, viii, 32-5. Matthew,66   Cf. Mt. viii. 17, xii. 18-21. and the authors 59 of 1 Peter11   Cf. 1 Pet. ii. 22. and Hebrews22   Cf. Heb. ix. 28. read the story of Jesus in the light of Isa. liii., and that the ideas of this chapter rarely appear in Paul's letters,33   But see Rom. iv. 25; 1 Cor. xv. 3, and Phil. ii. 5-8. in the Fourth Gospel,44   Cf. Jn. i. 29, 36, xii. 38. and in the Apocalypse of John.55   Cf. Apoc. v. 6, xiii. 8, xiv. 5. It is this distribution of the evidence which led Burkitt to trace the application of the Servant-conception to the work of Gentile Christians.66   Christian Beginnings, 38f. Rawlinson, however, is better justified in describing the process as 'pre-Pauline', and in thinking that 'behind the ambiguous passages in the Acts there lurks an original Aramaic tradition (whether written or oral), in which the Messiah was described unambiguously as the "Servant" of the Lord'.^7]

The question turns in the end upon the opinion we form concerning several sayings of Jesus which, as they stand in the Gospels, reflect the ideas of the Servant-conception. Only once, in Lk. xxii. 37, is Isa. liii. expressly quoted, but its echoes are unmistakable in the prophecies of suffering and death, in Mk. viii. 31, ix. 31, x. 33f.; in Mk. ix. 12b; in the 'ransom-passage', Mk. x. 45, and the prophecy of the Betrayal, Mk. xiv. 21. There are also traces of Isa. xlii. 1 in Mk. i. 11. With the exception of Mk. i. 11, all these passages are Passion-sayings, and they must be examined in detail in Part II. Such an examination, I believe, leads to a belief in their genuineness, and thus to the conclusion that Jesus was profoundly influenced by the Servant-conception. Apart from questions of detail, the broad fact that the passages are 60 allusions rather than quotations is significant. When later writers read back their own ideas into an earlier time, they are not, as a rule, content with echoes; and it is probable that the Servant-conception would be much more obvious in the Gospel tradition if it were not an authentic element which goes back to Jesus Himself.

The conclusion that Jesus interpreted His suffering and death in the light of the ideas of Isa. lii. 13 -- liii. is of the utmost importance, and especially if the conception of representative suffering which it contains is based ultimately on beliefs which are implicit in the Old Testament sacrifices. If to our Western eyes this is the character of the Servant-conception, how much more must its nature have been evident to the mind of Jesus! The conclusion is suggested that, if He reinterpreted the doctrine of the Son of Man in terms of Isa. liii., and saw His own destiny in the light of this perception, He must have thought of His suffering as a sacrificial offering in which men might participate. This is a conclusion of such moment, and is exposed to so many misconceptions, that it is essential to examine closely the Hebrew idea of sacrifice and the the attitude of Jesus thereto.

61
« Prev V Next »



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |