Continued from Part 29
Of God and Israel
As mentioned above a verse by verse explanation of how the people of Israel are the fulfillment the Suffering Servant prophecy can be found in Isaiah 53: Who is the Servant? In answer to those who deny this biblical truth and question how Israel can be called the “righteous one” when the people of Israel have not always obeyed God’s commandments God’s word declares otherwise. This passage describes the culmination of a long historical period and marks the time of the final redemption from exile. Obviously, if Israel as a nation is repentant there is no problem. But, what if that is not the case and Israel does not fully repent?
It should be noted that God is often merciful and forgiving even when there is an absence of sincere repentance. God declares: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19). The psalmist writes: “But He, being full of compassion, forgives iniquity, and does not destroy; many a time He turns His anger away and does not stir up all His wrath. For He remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passes away, and comes not again” (Psalms 78:38-39). The prophet Micah declares: “Who is a God like You that pardons the iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in mercy” (Micah 7:18). Even when Israel is figuratively blind and deaf God still considers the nation as His servant and messenger (Isaiah 42:19). Isaiah records that redemption may be forthcoming even when undeserved, for God’s own reasons: “I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25; see also Ezekiel 20:14, 22). The prophet informs us that in some cases God’s redemption precedes Israel’s return: “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant: O Israel, you should not forget Me, I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and as a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you…. The Lord has redeemed Jacob, and does glorify Himself in Israel” (Isaiah 44:21-23).
God redeems His people even though they do not deserve this redemption according to strict justice. Divine need is the decisive factor and His promises to the patriarchs are unconditional and still binding (e.g. Genesis 17:7). Thus, God declares to the prophet Isaiah: “And your people, they are [as a unit] all righteous” (Isaiah 60:21).
Individually there is no atonement without repentance. However, in the case of Israel, after causing the nation to suffer for her sins, God forgives for His own sake lest the other nations mock Him (Isaiah 43:25). Thus, God’s redemption is not always dependent on repentance preceding forgiveness. God considers a forgiven Israel as completely righteous, all past misdeeds forgiven and so to speak forgotten by God. So, although Israel has suffered in the past for its sins at the juncture mentioned in the passage, a new era begins.
In sum, the major issue concerning the suffering servant passage has been the Christian allegation that it refers to Jesus. It should be obvious that the passage does not describe Jesus whatsoever. Although cited by several New Testament authors, as if it referred to Jesus, there is no way of escaping the fact that the opposite is true.