Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Is Jesus God’s Servant or Son?

Addendum A

The Jewish Exegesis of Isaiah 52:13

Sam Shamoun

In this section we will be citing specific Jewish sources to show that Christians are not the only ones claiming that texts such as Isaiah 52:13 are about the Messiah. We start off with the targums, which are Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible:

LII. 13 Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: 14 as the house of Israel looked to him during many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men, 15 so will he scatter many peoples: at him kings shall be silent, and put their hands upon their mouth, because that which was not told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have observed. (Targum Jonathan, as translated by Samuel R. Driver and Adolf Neubauer, with an introduction by Edward B. Pusey [Hermon Press, New York: Reprinted in 1969], p. 5; bold emphasis ours)

And here is how this same targum interprets Isaiah 42:

Behold, My servant, THE MESSIAH, whom I bring near, My chosen one, in whom MY MEMRA takes delight; I will place My holy spirit upon him, and he shall reveal My law to the nations, He shall not cry, nor shout, nor raise his voice on the outside. The humble, who are like the bruised reed, he shall not break, and the poor of My people, who are like candles, he shall not extinguish; he shall truly bring forth justice. He shall not faint and he shall not tire until he establishes justice in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his Torah. Thus says the God of the universe, the Lord, who created the heavens and suspended them, who established the earth and its inhabitants, who gives life to the people who are upon it and spirit to those who walk in it. "I, the Lord, have anointed you in righteousness, and have firmly taken you by the hand, and established you, and I have given you as a covenant of the people, as a light of the nations. To open the eyes of the house of Israel, who have been blind to the Torah; to bring back their Dispersions from among the nations, they, who are like prisoners; and to deliver them, who are imprisoned like prisoners in darkness, from the servitude of the empires. I am the Lord, that is My name, and My glory, which I have revealed unto you, I will not give to any other people, nor My praise to those who worship idols. The former things, behold, they have come to pass, and new things I declare; even before they occur I announce them to you" (Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation, Samson H. Levy (New York: Hebrew Union College, 1974), pp. 59-60; bold and capital emphasis ours)

{Sidenote: Memra is an Aramaic term meaning “Word”, and is often used throughout the targums in passages where Yahweh either speaks directly to someone or performs a certain function. In these places, the targums replace Yahweh with the Memra or Word of the Lord, meaning that the Jews who translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Aramaic took these to be appearances of God’s Word who was sent to carry out these specific tasks or speak to the prophets or the people on God’s behalf. According to the NT, specifically the writings of John, this Memra became a flesh and blood human being in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ [cf. John 1:1-14; 1 John 1:1-3; Revelation 19:13].} 

This next rabbinic citation will give the readers an idea of just how remarkable Isaiah 52:13 truly is, since this is a text which even astounded some of the rabbis:

“I will now proceed to my exposition. 13 Behold my servant shall have understanding. From the prophet’s saying ‘understanding,’ it may be seen that all the lofty predicates which he assigns to him have their source in this attribute; in virtue of his comprehensive intelligence he will attain an elevation above that even of the most perfect men in the world. He shall be high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly. According to the Midrash of our Rabbis; he will be higher than Abraham, who was first of all a ‘high father,’ and afterwards a father of a multitude. He will be more exalted than Moses, who was ‘exalted’ above the exalted ones of Levi (cf. Num. iii. 32), who was a prophet such that ‘none arose like him in Israel,’ (Deut. xxxiv. 10), who ‘saved’ Israel ‘with a great salvation’ (cf. I Chron. xi. 14) when they came out of Egypt, and the report of whom spread into all places until ‘the dukes of Edom were confounded’ before him, and ‘trembling seized the mighty men of Moab, and all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away’ (Ex. xv. 15). But this one will be exalted far above 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, and will exalt him above them, as Daniel prophesies concerning him, ‘All nations, peoples, and tongues shall serve him’ (Dan. vii. 14, 27). 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. xxix. 23), and our Rabbis say that he was king over both the upper and the nether world. 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. For it is an exceedingly high privilege, that one whose nature is compound and material should attain to a grade of intelligence more nearly Divine than that which belongs to the incorporeal; and so it is said of him that ‘his strength is greater than that of the ministering angels,’ because these have no impediment in the exercise of their intellect, whereas that which is compound is continually impeded in consequence of material element in its nature. Accordingly, the grade of his intelligence being such as this, he is said to be ‘lofty exceedingly,’ and his strength to be ‘greater than the angels.’… And when this ‘servant of the Lord’ is born, 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. lxiii. 9) he will be exceedingly afflicted; and because of their being outcasts and scattered to the ends of the world, his grief will be such that the colour of his countenance will be changed from that of a man, and pangs and sicknesses will seize him (for great grief, as physicians know, by producing melancholy, subjects a man to many diseases); 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 his train, BECAUSE HE IS PERFECT, IN THE COMPLETENESS OF PERFECTION, as Isaiah says (xi. 2f.). Truly all his pains and sicknesses will be for us…” (R. Mosheh Kohen Ibn Crispin (14th century AD), as cited by Driver and Neubauer, The “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah, pp. 101-103; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Here is another quote which combines Isaiah 42:1 and 52:13 along with a host of other OT references and interprets them all in relation to the Messiah:

In the decree of the Prophets it is written Behold My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high (Isa. 52:13), and it is also written Behold My servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth (Isa. 42:1). In the decree of the Writings it is written, The Lord said unto my lord: "Sit thou at My right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool" (Ps. 110:1), and it is also written I saw in the night visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the Ancient of days, and he was brought before Him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him (Dan. 7:13, 14).

In another comment, the verse is read I will tell of the decree: The Lord said unto me: Thou art My son ... Ask of Me, and I will give the nations for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession (Ps. 2:7, 8). R. Yudan said: All these goodly promises are in the decree of the King, the King of kings, who will fulfill them for the Lord MESSIAH (The Midrash on Psalms, William G. Braude, Translator (New Haven: Yale, 959), Yale Judaica Series, Volume XIII, Leon Nemoy, Editor, Book One, Psalm 2:9; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Here we see the rabbis applying Psalms 2:7-8 and 110:1, along with Daniel 7:13-14, to the Messiah, much like the inspired authors of the NT do! Note the following examples:

“And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself said in the Holy Spirit, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet.’” David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense is He his son?’ And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.” Mark 12:35-37 New American Standard Bible (NASB) – cf. Psalm 110:1

“… Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, ‘Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’” Mark 14:61b-62 – cf. Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 110:1

“And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son; today i have begotten You.’” Acts 13:32-33 – cf. Psalm 2:7

“For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’? And again, ‘I will be a Father to Him And He shall be a Son to Me’?…But to which of the angels has He ever said, ‘Sit at My right hand, Until I make Your enemies A footstool for Your feet’?” Hebrews 1:5, 13 – cf. Psalm 2:7, 110:1; 2 Samuel 7:14

“So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’;  just as He says also in another passage, ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.’” Hebrews 5:5-6 – cf. Psalm 2:7, 110:4

Hence, both Christians and rabbinic authorities agree that Isaiah 52:13 refers to the exaltation of the Messiah, an exaltation which places him on the level of Deity!

For more on the Messiah’s exaltation and divine status see the following article: How the Hebrew Bible Falsifies Islam Pt. 2

Time to proceed to the next addendum.