By Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal
Isaiah 53 (52:13 – 53:12) describes the servant of the Lord who shocks the world with his unexpected exaltation. The prophet presents us with the shocked words of the onlookers as they express their astonishment. From these words we learn that the onlookers were intimately familiar with the servant long before his exaltation. But they knew him as a wretched sufferer. The exaltation of the servant will cause them to reevaluate all of the theories that they had been propounding to explain the suffering of the servant.
Who is this servant?
I propose that in order to discover the identity of the servant we search the Scriptures to see who it is that will be exalted in the Messianic era and who it is that will be shocked and shamed when the Messianic era unfolds.
We do not need to wander very far to discover who it is that will be exalted at the time of the final redemption. Throughout the same book of Isaiah we learn that it is Israel who will be exalted and vindicated on that day and her enemies that will be shamed (Isaiah 26:2; 29:23; 30:26; 34:8; 41:11; 54:17; 60:2,14,15; 62:2;).
Micah 7:9,10,16, also describes the shame of Israel’s enemies when Israel is ultimately vindicated. Micah speaks of Israel’s enemy who taunted her with the words: “where is the Lord your God?” This seems to indicate that the shame that Israel’s enemies will experience will be a result of their own rejection of God. Isaiah, on the other hand, seems to focus on the revelation of Israel’s righteousness (62:1). According to Isaiah, it is the nation’s malicious evaluation of Israel that will cause them to be embarrassed when they see her righteousness shining bright.
So what is it that will bring shame upon Israel’s enemies? Is it their rejection of God? Or is it their vindictive attitude towards Israel?
My understanding is that these two are actually one and the same.
Throughout our long exile, we have been accused of many wrongdoings. But there is one “sin” that, in the mind of Christianity, towers above all the others – and that is our rejection of Jesus. According to the Christian Scriptures, it is only a child of the devil and an enemy of truth itself that could find it within themselves to reject the claims of Jesus (John 8:44). In the eyes of the Christian, all of the suffering that the Jews experienced is the just consequence of this “sin”.
When that great day comes, and God alone is exalted on that day (Isaiah 2:11), Christendom will realize that God is God and that Jesus was just another one of His subjects. They will recognize that their devotion to Jesus was – to put it mildly – misplaced. At the same time they will realize that what they had considered to be the greatest “sin” of the Jewish people was actually their greatest virtue. It wasn’t a rejection of Jesus as much as it was a fierce loyalty and love for God. They will realize that in a world steeped in idolatry, Israel, with all of her faults, maintained her loyalty to God – through fire and water, through the Crusades and the holocaust. This is the righteousness of Israel that will blaze brightly to the eyes of the whole world.
Israel’s enemies will realize that their vindictive assessment of Israel is rooted in their rejection of Israel’s God, and both of these will bring them shame together.
Israel’s exaltation is not something separate from the exaltation of God. When God is exalted, it will be evident that those who had hoped to Him and maintained their loyalty to Him were truly His representatives on this earth, and they will know no shame (Isaiah 49:23).