Isaiah 40-52 – Continuation of the Discussion

(The following article is a continuation of the discussion that can be read here – https://judaismresources.net/2020/11/13/discussing-isaiah-40-52/ )

I thank you again for investing time and effort in this conversation. I
feel that every additional response brings greater clarity to the
questions that stand between us. However, in this most recent response
of yours I find a certain level of confusion. Please allow me to
articulate this with a few simple questions.

Contrasts

We have two sets of contrasts; “A” and ”B.” When presenting contrast “A”
the author explicitly contrasted the two entities by placing them side
by side and using opposite words to describe them. He does not do this
for contrast “B.” When presenting contrast “A” the author does not use
any words that would show us that the two entities are somehow one with
each other. But when he presents contrast “B” the author uses many
phrases that give us to understand that the two entities are united with
each other, in origin, in role and in future glory. When presenting
contrast “A” the author assigns clear and distinct names for the
entities that he is contrasting. When presenting contrast “B” the author
does not even assign different names to the two entities in question.

So is your position that the author is emphasizing contrast “B” to the
same or to a greater degree that he is emphasizing contrast “A”?

Literary Flourish

You wrote in a previous e-mail: “I feel it’s the opposite, that the
distinctions between individual and corporate servant are so stark they
need no literary flourish to underscore them.”

You also wrote; “that the greatest contrast is between God and the
idols; not a word I have written downplays that at all.”

Yet when the prophet presents the contrast between God and the idols, he
provides “literary flourish.” If the contrast is so stark, even greater
than the contrast between the individual and the corporate servants,
then why did the prophet find the need to provide the “literary flourish”?

In short is the “literary flourish” of the prophet a sign of a stronger
contrast or a weaker contrast?

Downplay or Deny

You accuse me of downplaying or denying the contrast between the
individual and corporate servants.

I merely pointed to literary evidence. I pointed to the fact that the
prophet presents the individual as someone who needs God’s help as does
Israel. I pointed to the fact that the prophet never calls the
individual “righteous.” I pointed to the fact that the prophet speaks
positively of the righteous remnant in precisely the chapters that your
literary scheme would need the contrast to be the sharpest.

Is my calling attention to these truths “downplaying or denying” the
contrast between the individual and corporate servant?

Would you rather that our audience not consider the full scope of the
Scriptural evidence?

How Could Isaiah Make the Distinction Clearer?

You had asked (in a previous communication); “How could Isaiah make the
distinction (between the individual and corporate servants) clearer?”

I responded by pointing out that the prophet could have made this
contrast clearer by avoiding this cluster of positive descriptions of
the remnant in the chapters immediately preceding chapter 53, the very
spot where your literary scheme would demand that the contrast be the
sharpest.

You responded with three arguments.

First you write that my response fails to explain why we need an
individual redeemer.

But my response was never meant to answer that question. This argument
of yours is irrelevant to the question at hand – How Could Isaiah Make
the Distinction Clearer?

Your second argument introduces the “rhythm argument” (which posits a
back and forth pattern alternating between the individual and corporate
servants) which I shall address separately. At this point I will merely
point out that this argument of yours is also irrelevant to the question
at hand. “How Could Isaiah Make the Distinction Clearer?”

Then you point out that the primary emphasis of the prophet in these
chapters (the lead up to 53) is on the saving work of the Lord and not
on the righteousness of the remnant.

Again, completely irrelevant to the question at hand – How Could Isaiah
Make the Distinction Clearer?

And besides, just to inform you, I never said that the primary focus of
these chapters was the righteousness of the remnant as opposed to the
work of God. Please do not waste your own energy and the energy of our
reading audience refuting straw man arguments that I never made.

The third point that you bring up in response to my response actually
addresses the subject at hand. You argue that the prophet mentions the
righteousness of the remnant to highlight the point that even this
remnant needs redemption. Sort of like your arguments about the prophet
speaking of the similarities to highlight the differences and the lack
of “literary flourish” serving as evidence for the emphasis of the prophet.

With this “up means down and black means white” approach you rob the
prophet of the tool of language. Had the prophet wanted to mitigate the
contrast between the individual and corporate servant what should he
have done?

Spending Literary Energy

In your zeal to highlight the contrasts between the individual and
corporate servants you tell us that the prophet spends his literary
energy presenting “the people as a whole rejecting him (the individual
servant).” You tell us that the prophet spends his literary energy
describing the (individual) servant’s brutal suffering “at the hand of
his very own people.”

There is one ambiguous phrase (49:7) that can perhaps be interpreted to
mean that the nation of Israel rejected the individual servant. This
interpretation is open to question and is far from clear. There is no
way you can say that the prophet spent his literary energy in these
chapters identifying Israel as rejecters and persecutors of the
individual servant.

How could you compare this to the explicit and unambiguous passages
where the prophet spends his literary energy contrasting God and the
idols, Israel and her enemies or the servants of God and the servants of
idols?

Not Guilty

You keep on bringing up 53:9 as if it said that the suffering servant is
not guilty of any violence or deception. I have repeatedly pointed out
that the verse simply says that the servant is not guilty of the crimes
that his enemies attribute to him to justify their persecution of him.
The grammar of the verse makes this clear. Please do not continue to
ignore this.

Glory and Shame

Isaiah 53 speaks about the exaltation of a given servant of God and the
shame and confusion of those who had despised him. You insist that it is
the people of Israel who are expressing their shame and confusion in
this passage and it is the Messiah who is exalted.

Yet when I wrote that the exaltation of the Messiah (in the world-view
of Targum and Alshich) does not exclude the glory of the nation/remnant,
you ask; “who said anything about seeing the Messiah’s glory being to
the exclusion of the nation/remnant?”

Isn’t the whole thrust of your interpretation of 53 that it is precisely
the exaltation of the Messiah that brings Israel shame?

Evaluating Scriptural Evidence and the Arm of the Lord

The very nature of our discussion has each of us presenting Scriptural
text as evidence for our respective positions. It seems however that we
are not playing with the same set of rules. I had assumed that we both
agree that the process of bringing Scriptural evidence to support one of
our positions would require that we follow these basic procedural steps.
1 – That we consider the two proposed interpretations of the passage in
question without misrepresenting either of them. 2 – That we examine the
Scriptural evidence for what it says without reading our interpretation
into the text. And 3 – that we then ask ourselves and our audience which
of the two proposed interpretations aligns more accurately with the
evidence at hand.

Let us try to apply these rules to our discussion about the prophetic
reference to the arm of the Lord. Here we have two references to a
revelation of the arm of the Lord merely 6 verses apart (52:10 – 53:1).
In one of the references there is no question that the prophet is
speaking of a sudden, dramatic and obvious revelation of God’s strength
on behalf of Israel to the shock of all the nations.

When we approach the second reference we are presented with two opposing
interpretations. One interpretation sees that revelation as a sudden,
dramatic and obvious revelation of God’s strength on behalf of Israel to
the shock of all the nations. The other interpretation sees it as a
mysterious and hidden process that brings shock to Israel and
vindication to the nations.

What set of rules did you follow that brought you to the conclusion that
the second interpretation is the one supported by the text?

Literary Parallels

In the past few communications both of us have presented parallel words
or concepts in order to demonstrate that the prophet was creating a
connection between two entities. This type of Scriptural evidence is far
from conclusive so I will comment on your usage of this type of evidence
in a separate article.

A Syllable

In this past communication you wrote: “In fact, with all our years of
discussion and this very lengthy interchange here the last couple of
years, you have yet to provide me with a syllable demonstrating the
vicarious and redemptive aspects of Israel’s suffering on behalf of the
nations.”

I do not believe that the prophet is talking about vicarious suffering
of Israel on behalf of the nations and that is why I did not provide a
syllable of explanation to that effect. However I do believe that
Israel’s suffering is redemptive and I have demonstrated time and time
again that this is one of the themes of these chapters.

The prophet describes Israel as the bearer of God’s word which is the
blessing of mankind. This redemptive task goes along with suffering in a
way that is parallel to the bearers of the vessels of the Lord in the
wilderness. So this is the redemptive aspect of Israel’s suffering.

Did you not get this? Why then would you reject the straightforward
reading of 51:16 which has God place His word in Israel’s mouth? Why
would you flip flop on the interpretation of “no’sei klei Hashem”
(52:11) from insisting that the correct interpretation is NOT “armor
bearers” but rather “bearers of the vessels” and then go back and argue
that the correct interpretation IS “armor bearers” and not “bearers of
the vessels”?

The Report of 48:20

In our debate I pointed to the report that goes to the end of the earth
in 48:20 to help us understand the report that goes to the end of the
earth in 52:10 and 53:1. This is not the form of evidence that I would
call “literary parallel.” This is a case of one Scripture illuminating
another. Where the prophet sheds light on a concept in one passage and
then describes a similar concept in another passage. We then understand
that the two passages are to be understood in light of one another.
(This is similar to the argument about the two references to the arm of
the Lord that I mentioned earlier.)

You dismiss the connection between these two reports but you argue for a
set of literary parallels between the two passages which leads you to
conclude that the prophet was following the same pattern of first
speaking of the redemption from Babylon and then focusing on the
individual servant.

In the course of your argument you acknowledge that the report of 48:20
is speaking of the same sort of event described in 52:11 and 12. Would
you then argue that the revelation of the arm of the Lord of 52:10 is
disconnected from the redemption from Babylon described in verses 11 and
12? And if you accept that the revelation of the arm of the Lord of
52:10 is related to the redemption from Babylon would you still argue
that the arm of the Lord spoken of in 53:1 together with the report
mentioned in that same verse is disconnected from the redemption from
Babylon?

Armor Bearers

The very last prophetic description of Israel before the suffering
servant passage is “no’sei klei Hashem.” (52:11). In earlier
communications I proposed that this phrase is describing Israel as armor
bearers of God. You pushed back against this interpretation (in Brown 3)
and wrote: “Rabbi Blumenthal has made far too much out of the
armor-bearer image, which simply refers to the returning exiles as those
who carry the vessels of the Lord. They are not to touch anything
unclean because of what they are carrying – namely, some of the sacred
objects from the Temple. That’s it.”

Yet in this most recent communication when I bring up the connection
with the sons of Kehat of Numbers 4 you go back to the armor bearer
interpretation. So which would you rather? That the last reference to
Israel before the suffering servant passage is one which portrays Israel
as an entity that stands beside God in His battle? Or would you rather
have this reference portray Israel as the sons of Kehat who are exhorted
to carry out their duties properly as they bear the focal point of God’s
presence in this world?

Who is Called “Righteous”?

We both agree that the servant of 53 is called righteous. You had
challenged me to point out where the remnant is called righteous. The
point of your challenge was that if the remnant is not called righteous
then it would be inappropriate to see the remnant as the servant of 53
who is called righteous. When I pointed out the prophet clearly implies
the righteousness of the remnant you responded with the argument that
the prophet does not use the precise word; “righteous.”

It was to this argument of yours that I responded by pointing out that
throughout the book of Isaiah the precise word “righteous” as a title
only applies to God and to Israel. The individual servant is never
entitled with the precise word “righteous.”

You responded by pointing to 53 where the servant is called “righteous.”
But that is precisely the point. If we are going to use the prophetic
usage of the specific title; “righteous” to determine the identity of
the servant of 53 (which is your own argument – not mine) we would not
end up with the individual servant.

Isolated Passage

I asked if you believe that the fact that readers who are ignorant of
the Biblical context see Isaiah 53 as a reference to Jesus is a factor
to consider when determining the correct interpretation of this passage.
I pointed out that using such interpretative methods would have us read
John 8:44 in light of the understanding of this isolated verse in the
minds of anti-Semitic Germans.

You responded by stating that this passage stands on its own and that
Isaiah 53 consists of 15 verses as opposed to the one verse of John 8:44.

So do you believe that someone can get an accurate read on this passage
without a previous Scriptural understanding of terms such as God,
Israel, God’s servant, arm of the Lord, vessel bearers of the Lord, the
Biblical teachings on sin and forgiveness, and the Messianic era? Are
you trying to say that people who are actually misinformed about these
subjects should be teaching us the meaning of this passage?

Forest and Trees

Your interpretation of Isaiah 53 has the glorification of the Messiah
bringing shame to Israel. This is not simply a matter of an
interpretation that does not conform with the central theme of these
chapters (40-52), your interpretation runs counter to the theme that you
yourself acknowledged in your outline.

Yes, Israel needs to repent from her sins and repentance involves shame
and confession. But these chapters in Isaiah do not describe the actual
process of redemption as one that brings shame to Israel. These chapters
emphasize the glory and vindication of Israel that will be produced by
the redemption. The underlying spirit of all of these chapters is
comfort and consolation. That God’s dramatic work of redemption will
bring honor to Israel who waited for this redemption. Your
interpretation is the very opposite of the heart of this prophetic promise.

What part of this do you not see?

From Diminishing References to Increased Intensity to the Rhythm Argument

In our video debate you presented the argument that chapters 40-48 focus
on Israel while 49 -52 focus on the individual servant. When I pointed
out that this is not the case, and in fact 49-52 still focus on Israel
more than they focus on the individual servant you switched to the
“increased intensity” argument. You argued that the increase of focus on
the individual rises at a steeper rate (in 49-52 over 40-48) than does
the increase in intensity of focus on the nation and that this factor should determine the identity of the unnamed servant of 53.

Now that I have pointed out that the last two chapters before 53 are
intensely focused on the righteousness of Israel’s remnant with no
mention of the individual servant, you switched your argument yet again
and now you want us to accept the “rhythm argument.” You want us to see
some sort of “back and forth” pattern where the fact that one chapter
focuses on one subject is evidence that the next chapter needs to shift
focus to another subject.

You realize that the premise of your original argument was that the flow
of the prophetic word is consistent and that one chapter leads directly
into the next. Now you want us to accept the very opposite premise; that
the chapters swing from one subject to the next. You have switched the
underlying premise of your original argument.

What made you switch the premise? What was the basis of your shift from
seeing the chapters flow consistently from one into another to the idea
that they keep on moving back and forth from one subject to another? Is
there any other basis for this shift in your understanding of Scripture
aside from the desire to bend the prophetic word so that it can agree
with your theology?

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Thank You

Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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