He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Isaiah 53:3 NASB
Despised and forsaken – In Messiah Journal, Special Supplement of 2011, Steven Lancaster and James Monson examine the Isaiah scroll found among the Dead Sea scrolls. They discover that some traditionally interpreted passages which rely on the much later Masoretic text are not the same in this much older Isaiah scroll. Their discussion of the entire “servant song” of Isaiah 52 and 53 requires more than 60 pages of detailed analysis, but one passage in particular should catch our attention. It is the verse above, the well-known and often repeated passage about the rejection of the Messiah. Lancaster and Monson demonstrate that the older text (and therefore most likely the more accurate one) does not include the idea of the Servant’s rejection, so popular among Christian musicians and story-tellers. Rather, the older text means that the servant was unremarkable and ignored (disregarded). “Rather than a sense of ‘scorn,’ we translate nivzeh as meaning that the exalted servant was ‘disregarded,’ i.e., that he gave no evidence of exulted status. Moreover, to those who knew him, he was chadal ishim, ‘lacking the importance of me.’ This interpretation of the Hebrew, while perhaps troubling to those emotionally attached to the traditional translation, fits the context of this opening division of the son far better and sets this statement within that context, for indeed the community ‘gave him no thought!’”
The Isaiah scroll also alters the meaning of the phrase “like one from whom men hide their face.” Lancaster and Monson show that the Isaiah scroll should be translated, “as one concealing his face.” The point is that the Servant disguised his true identity, not that the people turned away from him. It is the servant, not the people, who conceals the truth. This is exactly what the gospels say about Yeshua and what Paul reiterates in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. The Isaiah scroll makes it clear that the reason the community did not recognize the exalted status of the Servant is the result of the Servant’s deliberate concealment, not the community’s lack of spiritual insight. The scroll goes on the say “we disregarded him,” (not “we did not esteem him”), indicating that the community did not have any reason to think of him as other than an ordinary man.
Why is the radical (though it might not seem so at first) change important? Christian teaching about Jesus has focused on the sinful obstinacy of the people, claiming that anyone who had “eyes to see” should have recognized Him as the Messiah. From this position, Christian theology often asserts that the Jews were “spiritually blind,” either because of sin or because of an act of God. But the Isaiah scroll says something very different. It says that the Servant himself kept his true identity secret. Only those who diligently sought him saw the truth – and, as we know from the gospel accounts – even they lacked unmistakable evidence.
Does this change your view about why Yeshua wasn’t universally proclaimed as the Messiah by his own audience? Does it give even more meaning to his statement that only those whom the Father draws will find him? Does it alter your perception of the later Christian idea that the Jews were personally culpable? Does it give you a new view when reading the gospels?
The idea of blindness to the Messiah takes on spiritual and theological significance only when the Church begins to develop an anti-Semitic polemic. If the Isaiah scroll represents the thinking of the first century, we should not have expected anyone to exclaim, “He is the Messiah!” No wonder Yeshua can say to Peter, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you” (Matthew 16:17).
Now do you see?
Topical Index: Isaiah 53:3, despised, forsaken, esteem, disregard, Matthew 16:17, Servant