Books At a Glance interviewed Dr. Darrell Bock regarding his book, which he edited with Chosen People Ministries’ President, Dr. Mitch Glaser, The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, Kregel Academic, 2012. Below is a transcript of the interview.
Few chapters in the Bible are more familiar to the Christian ear than Isaiah 53 (Is. 52:13-53:12), and certainly few are more beloved. And judging by the number of quotations and allusions to it we find in the New Testament, this has long been the case!
There have of course been other books dedicated to this passage of Scripture, but The Gospel According to Isaiah 53by Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser (eds.) does have its own contribution to make. If you’re intending to study this wonderful passage of Scripture in any depth, then this is a must read book. Darrel Bock is here to give us just a taste of what they offer.
Books At a Glance: First, tell us about this book and how it came about – how is it unique? What are your goals? How is the book structured?
Bock: We perceived a need for a detailed treatment of Isaiah 53, which is a significant text in sharing about God’s program to Jewish people who question the idea of a Messiah who suffers. It is a careful look at Isaiah 53 in its OT context as well as in Jewish interpretation and its use in the NT.
Books At a Glance: In broad terms, at least, describe for us the "Servant" of the Lord as he is presented in the book of Isaiah.
Bock: Well that depends on where you are in the Servant Songs. It is Israel as a nation in some texts such as Isaiah 49, but when we get to Isaiah 53, It has narrowed down to an individual who can deliver on what Israel has failed to be as Servant.
Books At a Glance: What indications are there in Isaiah that the Servant of the Lord is a personal and not only a corporate figure?
Bock: The idea of being a sacrifice and the first person language on behalf of his own points to an individual, not a corporate figure for Israel. The perspective looking at outside kings (note the “them”) is not the nations speaking, but a perspective from within Israel. This makes the “we” Israel speaking about he Servant. The rebellion of his own people caused him to suffer. All these point to an individual who goes through what he does on behalf of his people.
Books At a Glance: What considerations lead us to understand the “Servant” as Messianic?
Bock: The context of the book of Isaiah as a whole points to a Messianic figure for he both proclaims and brings deliverance according to Isaiah 61:1-2. The first part of Isaiah (chapters 1-39) also looks for a king as the key figure (see especially Isaiah 7-11).
Books At a Glance: In terms of the identity of the Servant, was there a common interpretation of Isaiah 53 among the Rabbis before the time of Christ, a general consensus? Did they understand it as Messianic?
Bock:Though some Jewish rabbis saw an individual, most interpret it either as Israel or as a remnant in Israel. They did not see the text as messianic. This explains why some were slow to understand the idea of a suffering Messiah.
Books At a Glance: Is there a common interpretation among the Rabbis and Jewish theologians today?
Bock: No. It runs very much like the older rabbinic options.
Books At a Glance: How might we best use Isaiah 53 in Jewish evangelism?
Bock: The simplest way is to hand a Jewish person the text or read it to them and ask who does this sound like. Many Jewish people do not know about this text as it is not read regularly in the synagogue. So this is a way into a conversation. If they do not know or have a suggestion you can still make the connections to Yeshua (the Jewish name for Jesus).
Books At a Glance: Isaiah 53 reads like a lament, a confession of those who rejected the Servant and now understand better. Who is the “we” that express this lament? And is there a specific time-frame in view?
Bock: This seems to be from a “prophetic” perspective of a group within Israel. The kings are “them” and it is what “we” did to him that is lamented. There is no specific time frame in view. It is simply clear he provides a way for deliverance. The description fits Jesus of Nazareth very nicely.
The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 is an great resource for evangelists, pastors, teachers, seminary professors, and para-church organizations and all those who want to learn more about the Suffering Servant. Listen to three of the scholars who contribute to the book talk about it.
By Alan Shore
I am grateful to have been raised in a Jewish home where Jewish heritage was prized and Jewish values stressed; religious faith—not so much, although my parents made sure I went to Hebrew school and had my bar mitzvah. One thing I more or less took for granted is that Jewish people didn’t believe in Jesus. If you asked me why, the one thing I would have said was, “I guess we Jewish people don’t believe that a holy, invisible God, if He existed at all, could ever become a man.” That was for Christians, not for us. But I had other problems with religious faith. They were not particularly original, but they mattered to me. The main objection to God was the problem of suffering. How could a just and loving God stand by and watch the unspeakable catalog of horrors that human beings are either afflicted with or else inflict upon one another?
Where Was God?
God seemed to me to be indifferent to our plight, the senseless and terrifying physical and/or spiritual pain we must endure. And for Jewish men and women who saw the struggle for faith as a lost cause from the beginning, the biggest question of all was, “Where was God during the Holocaust?” The implied answer to this was, for so many of us, “nowhere.”
Or was it?
I had heard the case for unbelief loud and clear. But was there another side to the question? Although, like so many in my generation, I had fooled around with Eastern mysticism and had searched in all the wrong places for some kind of spark to kindle hope, none of it seemed to reach to that deep and inconsolable place of loneliness. Yet there came a time when
I began to sense I was a little too complacent in my glum atheism. It was time to ask a new set of questions.
The Suffering Servant
I went back to square one—the problem of human suffering. Did God care? If there was a God, and He did not care, then it made no sense to pursue the question any further. But if God did care, that changed everything. And if God cared, how could we tell?
To find out, I turned again to the root that had somehow nourished me all along—Jewish identity. Where, if not there, was the mixture of God, suffering and human destiny most deeply entwined? And it was there I found something so unexpected and unimaginable that all of my preconceived ideas of God and the universe were turned completely upside down.
As my thoughts were turning in this new direction, I discovered that one of the most startling claims that the Bible makes, a claim that originates in the Hebrew Scriptures and is repeated throughout, is that the Creator of the universe has willed a special, irrevocable, covenant relationship with human beings, starting with the Jewish people. Moreover, the Scriptures inform us that the God of the Jewish people also has compassion for us. He has determined to heal the deep, appalling wound that sin has inflicted upon His creation and the disfigurement it has wrought upon the humanity that was originally created in His own image and likeness.
But how? It was in the one way, it seems, I had been taught was impossible—by becoming one of us. I saw it, first reluctantly and later clearly, in the moving and unforgettable passage about the Suffering Servant in the prophet Isaiah 53:4-5.
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
Immanuel: God with Us
It was then that I made a life-changing connection—the claims concerning Jesus in the New Testament did not stand alone. They were firmly based on prophetic groundwork that had already been laid in the Hebrew Scriptures. The New Testament proclaims that God has taken the almost inconceivable step of coming among us: by entering our world—as a human being—to share our condition, shoulder our burdens, to suffer on our behalf and to suffer with us.
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [Isa. 7:14], saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).
Through this unimaginable act of love, we now dare to speak of God as though He were at our side, in our world, closer to our soul’s need than we can possibly be aware. To this day, as I reflect and marvel, I am drawn into what is perhaps the greatest mystery of all—what believers in Yeshua (Jesus) call the incarnation.
If the Lord’s presence was found by Moses in the burning bush or by Job from out of the whirlwind, why not in the form of a human being, as the Scriptures proclaim? Why not, indeed?
Alan Shore is a Jewish believer from New York City who has served with Chosen People Ministries for over fifteen years in a number of capacities including staff writer, ministry representative and as part of the Shalom Brooklyn Evangelism Team. He is also working on a doctorate in Modern Jewish History and Culture.
Gospel Literature Leads to Faith Decision for Jewish Man in Berlin
There are some who think that giving out tracts is old-fashioned and ineffective. But then along comes a story that makes you think again. Mendel,* an Orthodox Jewish man, received an evangelistic brochure on the main street of Berlin. As he tells it, at first he thought to get rid of it, but he could not. A desire to attend the Chosen People Ministries Messianic worship service grew strong in his heart. He came the very next Saturday. He was impressed. The Spirit of God was touching him, and he came to Yeshua (Jesus) one week later at the next service. Praise the Lord!
Jewish Woman in Hospice Care Affirms Faith in Messiah in the Blink of an Eye
Responding to a request from Darlene,* a Jewish believer, to visit her dying mother, Carole Bahm arrived at a hospice center in Boynton Beach to minister to a woman she had never met. Darlene was concerned that although her mother had prayed the “sinner’s prayer” years ago, she later said it was all “a lot of nonsense.” Although Lois* was close to death, she could hear and her mind was clear. Carole said, “I want to ask a question. If the answer is yes, I want you to blink your eyes—“Lois, do you believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah, and do you believe that He is your Savior and Lord?” She blinked yes! Darlene was so relieved that her mother had at last accepted the Lord.
Holocaust Survivor Believes and is Baptized in Israel
Eugene L. is rejoicing over fruit reaped from the Bible study he teaches at the Jerusalem Messianic Center. Elisheva,* who survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as a child and later immigrated to Israel, has become a believer. When Chosen People Ministries opened a food distribution center in Jerusalem, Elisheva got to know Eugene and his coworkers, Maxim and Vicka. She not only gratefully received help, but also became a faithful volunteer. Soon, she began to attend Bible study. Now, after two years of studying the Scripture, several personal meetings and many prayers, she has received the Lord. When she asked to be baptized, Eugene and Maxim gladly completed the Lord’s command at the Jordan River. Elisheva told Eugene that it was probably the happiest day in her long life.
From Russia With Messiah’s Love
Although Shalom Brooklyn is some weeks past, staff member Mira Gracheva, who traveled all the way from Moscow to assist with the outreach to the Russian Jewish community, has this lovely report—“Shalom Brooklyn is a very blessed time for all. As I ministered, 38 Jewish seekers gave me contact information and 36 people received the Lord—31 of them Jewish! Now that I am home and resting from this difficult battle, from the hot sun, I feel how great the joy in heaven is! It is impossible to describe all of the wonderful encounters the Lord gave me. Before my eyes, a Jewish husband and wife prayed together to receive Messiah in their 92nd year!”
Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Sees Messiah Through Isaiah 53!
During Shalom Brooklyn, one of our volunteers was passing out tracts on the streets of Manhattan, while wearing his Isaiah 53 T-shirt. He was approached by a Jewish woman who asked him if he was with Chosen People Ministries. Our volunteer answered that he was. She then went on to tell him that she grew up an Orthodox Jew and years ago received Messiah Jesus as her Savior through reading Isaiah 53. After this took place, she was sadly shunned by her community and family, forced to get a divorce from her husband, and was not allowed to see her children—all because of her faith in Yeshua! Her son, now grown and an Orthodox rabbi, recently contacted her and expressed that he wanted her to be a part of his life and that of his wife and children. This woman was not shy about sharing Yeshua…even after her previous experience! She had many conversations with her son regarding Yeshua being the Messiah, and she gave him a copy of Isaiah 53 Explained. After reading the book, and through the witness of his mother, this Orthodox rabbi has placed his faith in Jesus as his Jewish Messiah! Praise the Lord!
Give Thanks to the Lord,
for He is good
Dear friend in the Messiah,
Shalom and happy Thanksgiving! This is one of my favorite holidays of the year. It is well known that the Pilgrims, who were in every sense of the word religious refugees from England, believed they were the chosen people. When they entered “the promised land,” they celebrated the Old Testament festival of thanksgiving—the Feast of Tabernacles. Although this aspect of the religious observance has changed over the centuries, we still know the celebration as Thanksgiving.
Giving thanks seems to be almost “natural” for humanity, and I cannot help but wonder if this is not part of our being created in the image of God.
The Thankful Psalmist
The Psalmist calls upon us repeatedly to show our gratitude to God. I am especially fond of Psalm 136, as this call to be thankful introduces and concludes the refrain in which the author reviews the history of the world and the Jewish people. The Psalm not only calls upon the children of Israel to give thanks to God for what He has done, but also indicates that what He has done flows from the beauty of His character and commitment to the children of Israel.
The first four verses of the Psalm seem to capture the heart of what the Psalmist is saying:
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Give thanks to the God of gods, for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His lovingkindness is everlasting. To Him who alone does great wonders, for His lovingkindness is everlasting (Ps. 136:1-4).
Three Hebrew words bring us a world of meaning that don’t necessarily make it fully into English translation. “Give thanks” is Yadah. The term used for “goodness” is Tov. The Psalmist then uses a word for “lovingkindness,” Chesed. That is simply packed with significance.
The usual term for thanks is Todah. The Psalmist uses Yadah as it refers to the confession or declaration of “thanks.” The Psalmist is calling upon the children of Israel to rise up and publicly declare that God is good! Declaring the goodness of God is something the Psalmist encourages the Jewish people to do in public.
Through his use of the word Tov, the author of the Psalm invites the children of Israel to declare the “goodness” of God—specifically, the good character of God that causes Him to act on behalf of sinners and evildoers.
The next term, Chesed, is often translated as “covenant faithfulness.” This term is used throughout the Bible in reference to the relationship God has with the Jewish people. It is used in Exodus chapter 20 in reference to the giving of the Law. It is also used in Deuteronomy chapter 7, where Moses describes the way God has initiated His relationship with the Jewish people. As he writes,
Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers (Deut. 7:12).
So you see how the author of the Psalm weaves the words Yadah, Tov, and Chesed together to recount God’s covenantal relationship with the Jewish people. The Psalmist calls upon the Jewish people to declare their thankfulness to God because of His good character and His lovingkindness, which speak to His ongoing commitment to the Jewish people throughout our history.
This call to gratitude is a reminder that God chose the Jewish people for His holy purposes—and in spite of Israel’s disobedience, God will remain faithful to His covenant and promises. The Apostle Paul picks up on this faithfulness when he writes at the end of Romans chapter 11,
I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! (Rom. 11:11-12).
And further on in the chapter, which might be the very definition of Chesed, Paul writes,
Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:28-29).
This is why I view this Psalm as such an important lesson on how to be a thankful person! We are to be the type of people that gives public praise and thanksgiving to God. We praise Him for His unchanging good character and His never-ending love and commitment to His promises. We thank God for who He is and for what He has done for us. This is the unchanging basis of gratitude, from which all other thanksgiving flows.
Thanksgiving for God’s Work In and Through Chosen People Ministries
In thinking about this past year and all that the Lord has done within the global Chosen People Ministries family,
I cannot help but give Him thanks in public…for all to hear! I am grateful to God for the wonderful staff He has given us around the world. This includes our ministerial staff and a dedicated host of administrative workers without whom we could not carry out our ministry.
I am grateful to God for our board members—almost 100 individuals in the 16 countries where Chosen People Ministries does its work. I am grateful to God for the bravery of our staff in Israel and for the ways in which they have ministered throughout the war and continue to do so through our relief efforts. I am grateful to God for our Messianic centers in Jewish neighborhoods around the world: in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, London, Germany, Argentina, Canada, and Australia.
I am grateful to God for the thousands of Jewish people who heard about Jesus through the witness of our staff and our online campaigns, such as Isaiah 53 in Israel and Argentina. I believe we have broken new ground and I want to thank God for all He has done.
I am grateful to God for the Messianic congregations and congregational leaders who are part of the Chosen People Ministries team. We are in the process of either planting or leading forty Messianic congregations around the world. Not only are Jewish people worshiping the Lord in a comfortable setting, but they have a place to bring their seeking relatives and friends to hear the Good News of the Messiah in a Jewish way.
I am grateful to God for the families of our terrific staff around the world. They have endured sacrifice and hardship, and exemplified Chesed—
covenant faithfulness—as I see husbands and wives and children stand for the Lord by supporting and participating in the service of their loved ones.
I am grateful to God for faithful donors, prayer partners, and volunteers. Without you, we could not do this great work of reaching Jewish people for the Messiah Jesus.
Ultimately, I am grateful to God because He is good and He is faithful.
I know that He will keep His covenant promises, and that our ministry will continue to be blessed as we reach our Jewish people with the Good News of Jesus the Messiah.
Have a very happy Thanksgiving, and thank you so much for including Chosen People Ministries as part of your family.
Your brother in the Messiah,