Transcript and Notes to: The Real Jewish Messiah Part 2
This presentation is a response to Dr. Brown’s video on the subject of the Real Jewish Messiah.
Dr. Brown begins his presentation by telling us that he accepts the roles assigned to the Messiah by traditional Judaism, namely; ingathering of Israel’s exile, building the Temple in Jerusalem, ushering in an era of universal peace and knowledge of God. But Dr. Brown argues that this is only half of the picture. According to Dr. Brown traditional Judaism has missed a crucial aspect of the Messiah’s mission. According to Dr. Brown the Messiah is first supposed to provide atonement for mankind with his vicarious death. Judaism does not accept this function as one of the roles of the Messiah.
But the difference between Judaism and Christianity does not stop there. This is not merely an argument about how many functions are assigned to the Messiah, is it 4 or is it 5, is the Messiah to come once or twice. It is a question of faith and devotion. Dr. Brown believes that all of humanity needs to put their faith and trust in the atoning sacrifice of his Messiah or else they remain unredeemed and unsaved. Let’s word this differently, from a Jewish perspective. Dr. Brown is telling us that our love for God is inadequate and that our trust in God is misplaced. According to Dr. Brown, now that his Messiah has died for your sins, your love for God is incomplete without faith in the sacrifice of his Messiah.
The rejection of Dr. Brown’s position is not a peripheral aspect of Judaism. It cuts to the very heart and soul of our standing as a covenant nation before God. Isaiah declares that we are God’s witnesses (Isaiah 43:10,12; 44:8) and our testimony to the world is that there is but One God, the Creator of heaven and earth. The God that we encountered through the exodus experience and the Sinai revelation is the only one that humanity needs to turn to. Every cause for trust, every reason for love and for worship resides with Him and with Him alone. We testify to the world that everyone and everything is but a subject of God, even the people that are deified by the nations around us. All of man’s worship, all of man’s trust and hope belong with our God, the God who the Jewish people pray to, and with Him alone. This is what Judaism stands for.
So this is not just a debate about the Messiah, this is an argument about Israel’s faith and trust in God. Is this trust inadequate and misplaced as Dr. Brown would have us believe, or is this trust adequate and true, as Judaism affirms.
The prophets have settled this argument a long time ago and they settled it decisively, with clarity and with force. The prophets declared that when the Messiah comes, it will be Israel’s trust in God that will be vindicated. The prophets actually took this one step further. The Scriptures tell us that it is precisely through the vindication of Israel’s trust in God that the nations will come to know God.
Micah 7 (verses 7-9) tells us that while Israel suffers for her sins, God is her light. Israel hopes to God from the midst of her suffering and that trust will be vindicated to the eyes of her enemies. (There are several Psalms which give voice to Israel’s hope to God from the midst of her suffering (Psalms 74, 79, 80 and 83). See also Isaiah 26:8,13,16; 33:2; Psalms 44:18; 102:18; 115:1,9,18; 123:2; 124:8; 130:7; Lamentations 3:24.)
Psalm 102 describes the process through which all the nations will come to knowledge of God. “The nations will fear the name of the Lord and all the kings of the earth His glory. Because the Lord has built Zion, He is seen in His glory. He has turned to the prayer of the destitute, and He has not despised their prayer.” It is when God answers the prayer of Israel that all the nations learn to fear Him. And you know exactly Who it is that Israel is praying to and you know who it is that they are not praying to.
This theme is repeated again and again throughout the Scriptures. Not once or twice, but dozens of times. When Israel is comforted and glorified, when God hears their prayer and when their enemies are put to shame, that is when the nations of the world come to know God. (See Isaiah 18:3; 30:26; 35:2; 40:5; 41:20; 42:6; 44:23; 45:6,14; 49:6,13,23; 52:9,10; 55:5; 60:3; 61:2; 62:2; 65:25; 66:18; Jeremiah 3:17; 31:6,9,10; 33;9; Ezekiel 20:41; 36:23,36; 37:28; 38:23; 39:7,27; Joel 4:16; Obadiah 1;21; Micah 4:1; 7:16; Zephaniah 2:11; 3:9; Zechariah 8:23; 13:2; 14:9; Psalm 9:9; 22:29; 46:11; 67:1,2; 69:35; 76:10; 83:19; 96:11; 97:8; 98:3; 108:6; 126:2.)
Because knowing God is not just a matter of knowing about the existence of God. Knowing God means knowing that God hears the prayer of all who turn to Him in sincerity. Knowing God means knowing that you could bring all of your troubles directly to Him, even your worst sins. Knowing God means realizing that you don’t need to trust in anyone or anything else because His mercy is all-encompassing. And knowing God means knowing that those who hope to Him, and to Him alone, will not be shamed (Isaiah 49:23).
The prophets made it abundantly clear that it is Israel’s trust in God that will be vindicated at the end of the age. Dr. Brown’s contention that Israel’s trust is inadequate and incomplete is openly refuted by the explicit word of God.
So how does Dr. Brown try to support his position? Where does he see this trust in a particular sacrifice in the pages of Scripture?
There is no explicit passage in Scripture, even according to Dr. Brown’s interpretation, that declares that we need to trust in the vicarious atonement of anyone in order to be accepted by God. Dr. Brown is pointing to gaps in the Scriptural narrative and he weaves a multi-stepped interpretation to fill in those gaps. He then presents this theological construct as the only valid interpretation of these ambiguous passages. But again, even according to Dr. Brown’s interpretation, there is no clear and unambiguous teaching in Scripture on this subject.
So here we have a clear and explicit teaching, the teaching of the vindication of Israel’s trust in God, pitted against a questionable interpretation of ambiguous passages. And Dr. Brown would have us reinterpret all the clear statements of the prophets on the basis of his tenuous interpretation. This is not reading Scripture. This is imposing theology on Scripture.
What are the passages that Dr. Brown is pointing to in his effort to support his theological construct? And what methods of interpretation is he using to justify his far-reaching conclusion?
Dr. Brown points to the suffering servant in Isaiah. Isaiah 52:13 thru 53:12 describes a suffering servant of God who shocks the kings of nations with his sudden exaltation. When the servant is exalted, the onlookers realize that this servant, whom they had despised, was actually bearing their sins. Dr. Brown argues that this servant is the Messiah who suffers for the sins of the world.
Before we point to the flaws in Dr. Brown’s interpretation, let us point out what the prophet left unsaid even according to Dr. Brown’s understanding of this passage. The prophet did not say that this servant is the Messiah. The prophet did not say that the servant’s suffering is the only valid form of atonement. And the prophet did not say that you need to put your faith in this servant in order to be accepted by God. If these teachings are so central to the salvation of humanity, why did the prophets leave them unsaid? Why did the prophets find the time and space to speak at length about the vindication of Israel’s trust with clarity and with force, but they couldn’t find the words to tell us about the need to have faith in the vicarious atonement of the servant?
Dr. Brown argues that the prophet is speaking of a servant who is perfectly sinless and in this way the prophet informs us of the identity of the servant. Because no one is sinless except for Dr. Brown’s Messiah, or so they claim. It is in place to note that it is impossible to know if anyone is sinless so this is an illogical way to identify someone.
Did the prophet really speak of sinlessness? Dr. Brown points to verse 9 where the servant is described as having done no violence and that no deception was found on his lips. And verse 11 uses the Hebrew word “tzaddik,” righteous one, to describe the servant. The argument is that this word cannot apply to anyone but to a perfectly righteous individual.
These two arguments have no basis in the reality of Scripture. Verse 9 is not speaking about sinless perfection, it is speaking about an unjust accusation. The verse tells us that the servant was persecuted for no violence that he had done and for no deception that was in his mouth. All the prophet is telling us is that the persecutors of the servant punished him for crimes that he did not commit. This has nothing to do with sinless perfection. And the Hebrew word “tzaddik” is actually used by Isaiah (26:2) to describe the nation of Israel, who is quite sinful, but is righteous to a degree as far as its trust in God goes. This is not the word the prophet would use to tell us the earthshattering news that the servant is perfectly sinless.
So who is this servant? Before I answer this question, I would like to share a thought with you. Did you notice? The prophet did not clearly identify the servant, but the prophet did tell us that the servant has a message for us. This same suffering servant appears in chapter 50 (verses 4 thru 11). The servant tells us that he is assured that he will be vindicated because of his own trust in God and the servant turns to his listeners and encourages them to put their trust in God as well. Whoever you believe the servant to be, his message to you is to trust in the same God that he prayed to. The servant isn’t pointing people to his own person, he is pointing his listeners to his steadfast trust in God and encouraging them to follow his example.
But who is the servant? The servant is Israel, not all of Israel, but those amongst Israel who are worthy of being called God’s servant, those who have put their trust in God.
But hold on. Didn’t Dr. Brown demonstrate that the servant is not Israel? Didn’t Dr. Brown show how the references to Israel and Jacob diminish in the chapters leading up to Isaiah 53?
Let me explain this one, because in this situation Dr. Brown is actually using a solid interpretative method. Dr. Brown pointed out that while Isaiah refers to Israel and Jacob many times in chapters 40-48, the references to Israel and Jacob fade away as we approach the suffering servant passage of Isaiah 53. This would be the Author’s way of showing us that He has shifted His focus from Israel, which was the center of attention in the earlier chapters, and He is directing our attention elsewhere.
The method that Dr. Brown has used is a good method, but Dr. Brown has applied it incorrectly. The prophet has many ways of referring to the nation of Israel aside from using the words “Israel” and “Jacob.” (As an aside, in these chapters of Isaiah these names are often not being used to identify Israel, but rather they are used to identify God; i.e. “the God of Israel.”) Zion, Jerusalem, the nation with My teaching in their hearts, seekers of God and followers of justice are all nouns and metaphors that the prophet uses to identify Israel. There are also pronouns that the prophet uses that give us to understand that he is referring to Israel such as a female “you,” a plural “you” or “them.” In chapters 49 through 52 there are over 150 nouns, metaphors and pronouns referring to Israel. So, according to Dr. Brown’s own method of Scriptural interpretation, we see that the prophet is not shifting his focus away from Israel, he is actually zooming in on Israel.
There are other ways that the prophet tells us that he is talking about Israel. The suffering servant passage opens up with the kings of the nations being astonished that the arm of the Lord is revealed upon this servant (53:1). Merely 3 verses before this passage, the prophet tells us that the arm of the Lord is revealed on behalf of Israel to the eyes of all the nations and all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God (52:10 – compare to Psalm 98:3). A straightforward reading of Scripture tells us that these two revelations of the arm of the Lord are one and the same.
Yet another way that the prophet helps us see that he is talking of Israel is his use of the word “report.” When the kings of the nations see the servant’s exaltation, they exclaim, “Who would have believed our report” (53:1). In chapter 48:20 we learn that the report that goes to the ends of the earth is the report of the redemption of God’s servant, Jacob.
Another way the prophet helps us see that this suffering servant is Israel is the very last description of Israel before the passage in question. In Isaiah 52:11 Isaiah describes Israel as the armor bearers of God, or as the bearers of God’s vessels. The prophet is clearly telling us that the nation of Israel plays an active role in God’s plan for the world. This description is used nowhere else in Scripture except for this passage, in the verses that lead up to Isaiah 53. This brings us to the suffering servant passage, where the prophet tells us that the purpose of God is achieved through the servant’s hand (53:10).
The overwhelming weight of the textual cues that the prophet gives us to help identify the servant point to Israel. Christians cannot dispute the national interpretation of Isaiah 53 on textual grounds. They object to the national interpretation on theological grounds. They cannot fathom how it is that Israel suffers for the sins of others. This is a theological problem, not a textual problem.
The interpretation that Dr. Brown is proposing comes with a slew of theological problems that are far more serious than the arguments that challenge the Jewish position. There is no textual or theological advantage in Dr. Brown’s interpretation.
If you go to the notes on this presentation you will find an interpretation of Isaiah 53 that explains the theological aspect of this passage in a way that harmonizes with the text and with the theology of Scripture. I suggest that you read it.
Let’s move on to another one of Dr. Brown’s arguments. Dr. Brown argued that the Messiah is supposed to be a priestly king and as such he is to provide atonement for all mankind.
I actually accept that the Messiah is supposed to serve in a priestly role. I differ with Dr. Brown on the question of how does the Messiah fulfill this priestly function?
How do I know that the Messiah plays a priestly role? Well, we have Psalm 110 which tells us that the Messiah (or perhaps David) will be a priest forever. But even if I wouldn’t have that Psalm I would know that the Messiah is some sort of priest. After all, as a king of a priestly nation, he would have to be a priest as well. Twice do the Scriptures declare that Israel is a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6). If the Jewish people are priests, it would follow that their king, the Messiah, is also a priest.
The fact is that the priests served in many roles. If I would follow Dr. Brown’s method of Scriptural interpretation, I could technically pick any one of those roles out of the hat and assign it to the Messiah and to Israel. But this is not a responsible way to read Scripture. It would be best to allow Scripture to tell us which particular priestly function is performed by the people of Israel rather than dictate to Scripture what we want to believe.
The prophet Malachi describes the role of the priest with the words, “the lips of the priest guard knowledge and teaching is sought from his mouth.” One of the functions of the priest is to serve as a repository for the knowledge of God. The Scriptures declare openly and unequivocally that this is one of Israel’s functions as a nation before God (Deuteronomy 33:4; Psalm 78:5; 147:19,20; Zechariah 8:23).
As Israel’s king, David carries the knowledge of God through the corridors of history. David and all of his righteous descendants that sit on his throne, including the Messiah, represent trust in God and they bear the responsibility of carrying this knowledge and holding its banner.
Dr. Brown’s primary message is that Israel’s trust is inadequate. The trust that David had for God is not enough for Dr. Brown. Dr. Brown contends that if we limit ourselves to the trust that David articulated in his Psalms we will remain unsaved. The Message of David, the message of Israel and the message of the Messiah refutes Dr. Brown’s argument. The God of Israel is all the trust that your heart needs.
And when you taste this truth you will join our king in declaring, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). You will realize that you are missing nothing.
As per Dr. Michael Brown’s request, all additional notes were removed.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal