Friday, September 30, 2011

Misquoted and Misguided

Recently, Jesus and His disciples were confronted by the Pharisees for picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Jesus explained that, just like how David broke God's Law by eating the consecrated bread and it was OK, what He and His disciples were doing was OK too. The Jesus healed a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath, which prompted the Pharisees, and possibly the Herodians (see Mark), to begin plotting to take Jesus' life (Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11).

Misquoted and Misguided
Prophesy. It has become my favorite point of contention with Christianity, perhaps endearing me to the Jews. :-) For all of the contradictions in the Gospel accounts can be rationalized by believers, and all of the Old Testament absurdities and harsh punishments under God's instruction and control can be swept aside as things which God needed to say or do at that particular time in order to orchestrate the climax of the story; the Salvation though Jesus. However, the prophesies which the New Testament authors employed for support are often so twisted and cherry-picked from their original content that anyone with scruples enough to turn an honest eye on them would be forced to recognize the indelible fingerprints of man, not God, such as we will see in this study.

Jesus had angered the Pharisees by healing on the Sabbath, so they sought to kill Him. Jesus knew this, so He fled the scene. Crowds of people followed Jesus, and Jesus healed them and told them not to tell anybody who He was (much like He did with His exorcisms). This was all to fulfill the words of Isaiah (Matthew 12:15-17). Which words? Matthew 12:18-21 misquotes Isaiah 42:1-4. Here they are side-by-side in the NIV:

Matthew 12:18-21
Isaiah 42:1-4
"Here is My Servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. "Here is My Servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
In his name the nations will put their hope." he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope."

First, notice that it is somewhat difficult to directly correlate what Jesus had just done with the words of the prophesy, regardless of which version you look at.

More importantly though, I have made a mistake in saying that Matthew misquoted Isaiah. He completely changed the text with a biased intent to tie the prophesy to Jesus. This is most clear in the last verse of the four. For a detailed look, examine Isaiah 42:4 and Matthew 12:21 in the Bible Lexicon.

Matthew leaves off the part about establishing justice on earth. He uses “In his name,” implying in Jesus' name, as a substitute for the Hebrew word “torah,” which can mean instruction or precept, but is most commonly used to designate God's Law. He uses the term “the nations,” which, in the original Greek, the word was commonly used to designate people other than the Jews (and so is also rendered “the Gentiles” in other translations) in place of the Hebrew word for coastlines or islands. Matthew altered, twisted, and forged the prophesy until it was bent to his will; to bolster the claim that Jesus was the Messiah while dismissing the more common ideas of what the Jewish Messiah was to do.

I know. You are not convinced. Well, then, let us have a look at the full prophecy of Isaiah 42. This prophesy was supposedly written at a time after the Babylonians had conquered the lands of Israel and Judah. Many of the surviving Hebrews were scattered; some had fled to other countries while others were captured and taken back to Babylon. In effect, there were small islands of Hebrews scattered in the seas of Gentile nations, which is most likely the reason for the island metaphor used in verse four of the prophesy. These islands would have been indeed hoping for a day when they could return to their homeland and worship God, and obey His Law. That is what I would suggest, but let us keep reading to see if that is accurate.

In Isaiah 42:5, God just talks about Himself; how He made everything and makes everyone live.

Isaiah 42:6-7 sure sounds like it is about Jesus. God is saying that He will make this Servant a “covenant for the people” and a “light for the Gentiles” (with the Hebrew word “goy,” meaning foreign nation, being interpreted justifiably as “Gentiles”), as well as how the blind will see and prisoners in darkness will be released. A less obvious alternative interpretation is that the word “covenant” is often used in close association with God's Law in the Old Testament, and the idea might be that when this Servant establishes God's Law again, the wisdom of God's Law will shine out to the Gentiles. That may seem like a stretch now, but let us keep reading.

In Isaiah 42:8, God says that He will not share His glory with anyone, which simultaneously supports and refutes the idea of Jesus.

Isaiah 42:9 speaks of how the former things have taken place, and now God is proclaiming new things before they happen. One way you could look at this is that the time of the Old-Testament-style divine interaction will come to an end and this prophesy has to do with what is coming through Jesus. Another interpretation is that previously prophesied things have come to pass (the conquering and scattering of the Hebrews) and that God is just proclaiming a new prophesy.

In Isaiah 42:10-12, God says that the whole world should rejoice and praise God, which may again be tempting to side on supporting this as a prophesy for Jesus. Or it could be a general call for everyone to praise God because, well, He is God.

Up to now in the prophesy, there is a relatively strong case for suggesting that this is all really about Jesus. However, this is where it all turns around and the truth is more clearly revealed.

In Isaiah 42:13-15, God says that He has been quiet for a long time now, but will soon sound the battle cry and triumph over His enemies, laying them to waste. That is very different than Jesus on earth. At best, from a New Testament perspective you could associate that with Judgement Day, but let us keep reading.

Isaiah 42:16 continues with how God will lead the blind and those in darkness down unfamiliar paths into the light. But, as Isaiah 42:17 continues, those who worship idols will be shamed. The first part of that you could have associated with Jesus, but idol worship was not a big concern Jesus had in His ministry. In fact, you will not even find the word “idol” in any of the four Gospel accounts.

Now: the coup de grĂ¢ce on the Jesus theory. Let us read Isaiah 42:18-19 together, where God says:
"Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but My Servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the Servant of the Lord?" NIV

Yes, the Hebrew word for “servant” here is “ebed,” exactly the same word used in Isaiah 42:1. For the same author to use the same word in the context of the same chapter and prophesy, there is no reason for us to think that they are different in meaning. So, was Jesus blind and deaf? The answer is obviously no. No in the literal sense of the words, and no in the metaphorical sense, which is subsequently described in Isaiah 42:20-25. There, you find God lamenting how the Hebrews had not obeyed His Law or paid heed to the punishments which He bestowed upon them.

Everything falls into place. The exiled and scattered Hebrews, Hebrews who were God's chosen people, His chosen servant, were the ones who were blind and in darkness, who God was going to lead to the light down unfamiliar paths; the light of His Law, in the path of obedience.

We have now seen how evident it is that Matthew twisted words and cherry-picked the prophesies to build a case of support for Jesus. If Jesus was the real thing, then such perverse methodology would not have needed to be employed to support the truth.

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