Thursday, December 6, 2012

Derek Leman on Isaiah 9:5(6)

Messianic Jewish rabbi Derek Leman has graciously given me permission to post today's Daily Isaiah on my blog.  I am glad to do so because today's Daily Isaiah was one of my favorites!  Daily Isaiah is something that Derek sends out to subscribers each day for free, and it contains his reflections on the Book of Isaiah and scholarship concerning it.  Here is today's Daily Isaiah:

"ISAIAH 9:5 (9:6 in Christian Bibles) A king will be born to us.

"For a child has been born to us, A son has been given us. And authority has settled on his shoulders. He has been named 'The Mighty God is planning grace; The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler' —

"(Isaiah 9:5 JPS)

"NOTES: The common misinterpretation of this verse is to take the long name of the king to be born as four titles for Messiah. It is one long name on the same pattern as Shear-Yashuv (a remnant will return), Immanuel (God is with us), and Maher Shalal Hash Baz (swift is the loot; speedy the plunder). This name is longer than any other given so far in Isaiah: Pele Yo’etz El Gibbor Avi’ad Sar Shalom. The first part of the name is very similar to Isaiah 25:1, 'You have done a marvel, counsels from of old.' The usual translation 'wonderful counselor' captures the essence of Pele Yo’etz. El Gibbor combines the divine title El with a common word for hero or mighty one. So the first half of the name in Isaiah 9:5 is: A wonderful counselor is the mighty God (Pele Yo’etz El Gibbor). The next part of the name, Avi’ad, is written as one word but is actually two words in construct. Eternal Father captures the meaning very well. Sar Shalom is simply Prince of peace. The entire name, then, means 'A wonderful counselor is the mighty God; the Eternal Father is a Prince of peace.' Like the other names in Isaiah, the name is a statement about the plans of God for the future of the people. It is likely that people in Isaiah’s time hoped this prophecy would be about Hezekiah, the Davidic king. But the promise in vs. 6 (vs. 7 in Christian Bibles) will take the meaning beyond anything Hezekiah achieved. The people are entering a dark time with Assyria coming to kill and destroy and times will be gruesome in Israel and Judah for a very long time. Yet God’s plans for his nation are wonderful in the end and for peace, not war. Isaiah's faith in the power of God's covenant with the house of David leads to prefiguring a Messianic king. Isaiah's message is not only faith in the Davidic covenant but also in the counsel of God, the wonderful counselor, and not in political maneuvering or military might."

To read some of my own wrestlings with Isaiah 9:5(6), see here and here.

Why did I especially like today's Daily Isaiah?  First of all, Derek argues that Isaiah 9:5(6) meant something within its original context, while also proposing a way that it could have significance beyond that particular historical setting.  Many times, it seems to me that Jewish counter-missionaries are faithful to passages' contexts when they seek to show that Christian interpretations of Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:1-6 are false, whereas Christian and Messianic Jewish missionaries are either unaware of the passages' contexts, or they use mental gymnastics to apply the passages to their contexts while also treating them as prophecies about Jesus.  But Derek is sensitive to context: he says that God's message in Isaiah 9:5(6) was relevant to the time of Isaiah and nations within that historical setting (e.g., Assyria).  And yet, according to Derek, the message that God plans peace rather than war for God's nation can transcend that context and pertain to Jesus.

Second, I liked Derek's point that Isaiah 9:5(6) is saying that the name of the child is about God, as opposed to saying that the child being born (or who will be born) is God.  Many times, Christian apologists and missionaries to Jews contend that Isaiah 9:5(6) demonstrates that the Messiah will be God, as Christians believe.  I've heard even evangelical colleagues in biblical scholarship make that sort of claim.  Derek may believe that Jesus is divine for certain reasons (see, for example, here), but he does not use Isaiah 9:5(6) as a proof-text for that, and I commend him on this.

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