Rosenbaum on the Suffering Servant; Soloveitchik on Medicine

1.  In Bringing the Hidden to Light, I read Michael Rosenbaum’s “‘You Are My Servant’: Ambiguity and Deutero-Isaiah.”  Before I discuss his article, I have a question.  Wasn’t the guy who played Lex Luthor on Smallville named “Michael Rosenbaum”?

This article brought to my mind my thesis at Harvard Divinity School.  Dogmatic evangelical that I was, I was trying to show that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 was a Messianic figure, whom I considered to be Jesus.  My reasoning went as follows: I saw royal characteristics of the Servant, such as his role in bringing about justice and restoring Israel.  So the Suffering Servant must be a Davidic monarch—a Messiah, if you will, right?  And Jesus was that, right?  Therefore, Jesus was the Suffering Servant and fulfilled an Old Testament Messianic prophecy, meaning that Jews should believe in him, right?  Or, at the very least, we can see from Isaiah 53 that God’s plan was for the Messiah to suffer and die for people’s sins and come back from the dead, which is consistent with what Christianity says about God’s plans concerning the Messiah.  So why shouldn’t Jews believe that God did things as Christianity claims?

I thought the issue was so crystal-clear at the time! 

Paul Hanson, who’s written extensively on Deutero-Isaiah, hit me with things that I had not considered.  He said that there’s a person called the Messiah in Second Isaiah, all right—but that person was the Persian king Cyrus, not the Servant.  Professor Hanson also didn’t think that Second Isaiah believed in the restoration of the Davidic monarchy.  For one, Second Isaiah doesn’t really mention it.  And, secondly, Second Isaiah applies the Davidic promises to the entire nation of Israel in Isaiah 55:3, in effect democratizing the Davidic covenant.

It’s interesting to see Rosenbaum’s take on some of these issues.  He pretty much acknowledges that Cyrus fulfills a Messianic function in Second Isaiah.  He notes that Second Isaiah’s audience was expecting a Davidic king to bring justice and “proclaim liberty to Israel’s exiles” (Isaiah 9:6; 11:1-5; 16:5; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:9, 21; 33:15-16), but that Second Isaiah presents Cyrus doing this stuff (Isaiah 41:2-3; 45:1-3, 13).  Rosenbaum even applies the Servant Song in Isaiah 42:1-7 to Cyrus.

And yet, Rosenbaum holds that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 was a Davidic king.  He sees royal imagery in the Servant Songs—a king who will lead Israel to a restored land and divide the spoil after his sufferings (see Isaiah 49:9-12; 52:13, 15; 53:2, 12).  But the Servant disappoints Israel, perhaps because he dies, or is rendered powerless in some fashion.  Second Isaiah then challenges Israel to return to God so that she might be restored.  For Rosenbaum, God in Second Isaiah is still behind the Davidic dynasty.  God in Isaiah 55:3 is not transferring the Davidic covenant to Israel, but is making with Israel a covenant that is like God’s covenant with David: unconditional, everlasting.  But God’s covenant with the Davidic dynasty must still be binding for that to make any sense.   

I’m not sure who specifically Rosenbaum thinks the Suffering Servant was.  Could he have been Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, who was believed to have Messianic promise (Haggai 2:23), and yet mysteriously disappears from history after a certain point?

2.  I’ll be returning Joseph Soloveitchik’s Lonely Man of Faith back to the Hebrew Union College library tomorrow, and so I want to write about a part of the book that stood out to me.  On pages 84-85, Soloveitchik justifies medicine from a Jewish perspective.  He affirms that, according to the Halakhah, “God wants man to fight evil bravely and to mobilize all his intellectual and technological ingenuity in order to defeat it.”  Soloveitchik sees in Exodus 21:18 a biblical justification for medicine: “Only he shall pay for the loss of his time and cause him to be thoroughly healed.”  In this verse, humans play a role in the healing of the sick.

Soloveitchik refers to Nachmanides’ comments on Leviticus 26:11, and I presume he’s talking about God’s promise to Israel of health if she follows God’s commandments.  If God is Israel’s healer, does that nullify any need for medicine?  According to Soloveitchik, that’s talking about “an ideal state of the covenantal community enjoying unlimited divine grace and has no application, therefore, to the imperfect state of affairs of the ordinary world.”

What about II Chronicles 16:12’s condemnation of a sick king for seeking physicians rather than the LORD?  For Soloveitchik, that’s talking about “priest-doctors who employed pagan rites and magic in order to ‘heal’ the sick”, not legitimate physicians.

I pray that God might bring people healing through any means—miracle, or science.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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