May 3: Isaiah 53:8

Isaiah 53:8

“From oppression and from judgment he has been taken,
(and now) his (life) cycle—who thinks on it?
For he was cut off from (the) land of (the) living;
from (the) breaking (faith) by his people (the) touch (came) to him.”

The allusion to the Servant’s death in verse 7 (cf. the previous note) becomes more explicit here. The verb jq^l* (“take”) in the first line should be understood in terms of his death: “he has been taken”, i.e., by God in death. In the preceding pair of nouns, framed as a dual prepositional expression, we have the means (and the cause) of his death:

    • rx#u)—the root rxu has the fundamental meaning “hold (back), restrain”, almost always in a negative sense; given the context of vv. 2-7, the noun here should probably be read as continuing the theme of suffering and oppression experienced by the Servant.
    • fP*v=m! (“judgment”)—that is, the judgment from YHWH that comes upon the Servant.

The oppression coming from the people, and the judgment from God, have together led to the Servant’s death. As previously noted, for commentators who would point to the figure of Moses as the type-pattern for the Servant, the reference may be to Moses’ death outside of the Promised Land. The punishment brought down on the people (the adult population of the Exodus) falls upon Moses as well: he is fated to die without entering the Promised Land.

The second line would seem to set the time of the Servant’s life (and death) in the generations past. The noun roD literally means “circle”, often in the sense of a cycle of life—that is, the period of a person’s life, along with others in his/her generation. The question of whether anyone “thinks on” (vb j^yc!) or “speaks of” the Servant’s life and time anymore now (or in the future) strongly indicates that it is a matter of the past. The implication is that people already have forgotten it. This would certainly fit the figure of Moses, as well as any number of Prophetic figures from Israel’s history.

The phrase in the third line, “he was cut off from (the) land of (the) living”, clearly refers to the Servant’s death; while the fourth line again emphasizes the cause of his death: the breaking of the covenant bond by the people. As previous mentioned in the note on verse 5, the noun uv^P* essentially means “breaking (faith)”, breaking the bond with YHWH, and rebelling against His authority. Even though the guilt of this rebellion belonged to the people, collectively, the punishment for it (by YHWH) fell upon him. This is emphasized by the suffixed preposition (oml*, “to him”) occurring in the emphatic (final) position. The Masoretic text reads yM!u^ (“my people”), but many commentators would opt for the reading of 1QIsaa, oMu^ (“his people”), as proper to the context; and I have followed this in my translation above as well.

The “touch” (ug~n#) refers to the punishment that comes upon the Servant from YHWH. While such usage often implies disease or plague, and that may be in view here as well, what is being emphasized is the “touch of death.” It is a mortal blow that the Servant endures on behalf of the people. This repeated stress on the empathic, vicarious nature of the Servant’s suffering is significant, and represents a key theme of the passage.

Verses 7 and 8 represent the portion of this poem quoted in the episode of Acts 8:26-40 (vv. 32-33), being interpreted in light of the suffering and death of Jesus. I will be addressing this Christian application of the passage in the concluding article of this study; in addition, I will be discussing the use of this Scripture within the Acts narrative in the next Saturday Series study.

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