Jews who take their Scripture seriously believe in the Messiah. They anticipate his coming with a zeal that equals the Christian anticipation of the second coming of Christ. The only difference between the two is the matter of identifying the Messiah, or, from the Christian perspective, identifying Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah because he uniquely fulfilled the messianic prophesies. Jews do not.
When examining why this disagreement exists, it is too easy (and unproductive) to simply say that those who disagree with you are deceived. Yes, spiritual deception is real, but to bring it up as an argument serves only to make one party feel superior and the other party offended. Instead, it is preferable to specifically deal with the assumptions, concepts and thought processes that lead to variant conclusions, so that all may examine them. My focus here is to examine the themes of blindness and sight, as found in the book of Isaiah.
In Isaiah 6:9-10 we read, “He said, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” This was part of the Lord’s charge to Isaiah. How are we to understand this?
“This people” (verse 9) is Israel, chosen by the Lord to be his own. But they had broken the covenant and turned their backs on him, mainly through idolatry, a blatant disregarding of the Lord’s commandments. Much of the book of Isaiah speaks of God’s judgement against Israel, and how their sin was to be punished. But God’s judgement is always balanced by the promise of redemption and future comfort.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me first say something about the book of Isaiah. For thousands of years both Christians and Jews have had this prophetic Scripture to read and study. Much of what is known about the Messiah is found in this book. When the Bible is challenged, the book of Isaiah stands out as one of the best examples for the accuracy and reliability of Scripture. In spite of so many centuries of being copied and recopied by hand, the accuracy of the text has been preserved. Nay sayers would have us think that discrepancies and omissions gradually entered into translations through human error. But the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls disproved that contention. Included in the Dead Sea Scrolls was a copy of the complete book of Isaiah. It is identical to the book of Isaiah found in our Bibles today!
So, at the very least, both Jews and Christians can agree that the Bible in general and the book of Isaiah in particular is the most dependable source material available to us. One characteristic of Isaiah that has always impacted me is the naming of God. Let me add at this point, that I understand the tradition of not spelling out the whole name of the Almighty, in order to revere his name (“G-d”). However, that is not in my tradition and it would be pretentious for me to do it. It is my belief that sober-minded adults should openly talk and write about our Creator God without undo concern for any disrespect or lack of reverence due to spelling conventions.
Naming or identifying God is vital because “God” means different things to different people. All religions define their own god. Allah, the “God” of the Koran, is not the God of the Bible. Even though some may insist that they are the same, a comparative study of the Bible and the Koran will show substantial differences in the character, nature and actions of the two. Isaiah tells us exactly who God is.
In Isaiah 37:16 we see how Hezekiah addressed God: “O Lord Almighty (ADONAI-Tzva’ot), God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” A more intimate quality is seen in Isaiah 41:13, “For I am the Lord (ADONAI) your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” From chapter 43, verse 3 we read, “For I am the Lord (ADONAI), your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”; and in verses 10 and 11, “You are my witnesses, declares the Lord (ADONAI), and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord (ADONAI), and apart from me there is no savior.”; and again in verse 15, “I am the Lord (ADONAI), your Holy One, Israel’s creator, your King.”
[It is important for Christians to realize that Jews render the tetragrammaton (יהוה) as ADONOI, while Christians render it LORD, or Jehovah. These are merely conventions because the name of God was never intended to be pronounced. Changing how we say the name of God does not change his name or his character, which includes many facets, as these sample verses illustrate.]
Isaiah 44:6 reads, “This is what the Lord (ADONAI) says–Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty (ADONAI-Tzva’ot): I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.” Isaiah 54:5 adds, “For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty (ADONAI-Tzva’ot) is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” And 60:16 restates, “Then you will know that I, the Lord (ADONAI) am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” And finally, in 63:16 we read, “But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, O Lord (ADONAI), are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.”
Now, this list of verses descriptive of God is by no means exhaustive. These and similar descriptions are found repeated throughout Isaiah and elsewhere in Scripture. My purpose here is to establish an agreement as to just who God is, according to Scripture, so that as I discuss him, there is no question as to who he is.
A MESSAGE THAT STINGS
Returning to the Isaiah 6:9-10 reference quoted above, (‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”) Are we to understand that this means God, as described above (Creator, Redeemer, Savior etc.) doesn’t want his people to learn the truth or change their ways? Does this mean that God intends his message to be hidden, or only accessible to an esoteric few? If so, then what is the purpose of giving that message to a prophet?
Is God using reverse psychology? Based on their past behavior, when he gave Israel specific commands which they disobeyed, is he now telling them not to hear or see or understand, and therefore not to turn and not be healed? Is God underscoring man’s rebellious nature by presuming his disobedience? This Scripture also alludes to the fact that Israel gave the outward appearance of obeying God, while in fact disobeying God. Isaiah 29:13 reads, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” Thus, “Be ever hearing, but never understanding…” just like a child who insists, “I hear you, I hear you!” while doing just the opposite. There is an almost sarcastic sting to this passage, as if God is lowering his rhetoric to the level of Man after the bitter disappointment of Israel’s apostasy.
But the Lord will not be angry forever. After he tells Isaiah to speak this message, the prophet asks him (Isaiah 6:11), “For how long, O Lord?” The Lord’s answer is basically a list of judgments he has in store for Israel: ruined and deserted cities and fields; the people sent away. Yet, even at this point, the Lord gives hope. Verse 13 tells of a remnant of a tenth remaining in the land that has been laid waste, and “the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” which assures the future fulfillment of God’s promise that the throne of David will be established forever. (“Holy seed” and “stump” are prophetic terms used elsewhere to describe David’s lineage.) Isaiah 9:7 includes this promise: “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”
Implicit in Isaiah 6:9-10 is God’s desire that Israel turn from sin (repent) and be healed from sin (redeemed). But for that to happen they must be receptive to the Lord, not only listening, but really understanding; not only seeing, but really perceiving; not having calloused hearts but understanding hearts. And after they have suffered judgement for their sin, they will be consoled and restored to their rightful place in God’s good graces.
Some of the merciful acts of the Messiah, associated with the restoration of Israel, are found in Isaiah 29:18: “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of the gloom of darkness the eyes of the blind will see. Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” Similarly, Isaiah 35:5-6 says, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf be unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” And again, Isaiah 42:6-7 adds, “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”
Except for the reference to deafness, we find these same things mentioned in Psalm 146:7-8: “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.” While both blindness and deafness are physical disabilities, at another level in these prophetic verses, they are also symbolic of Man closing himself off from God, as seen in the discussion of chapter 6, above. The simplified gist of these prophesies is that even though Israel has been blind to God, he will send Messiah, who will restore their sight and their right relationship to the Lord.
Many centuries after Isaiah’s prophesies were recorded, another prophet of God, languishing in prison and haunted by doubts, sent word to Jesus of Nazareth, whom he had known, had baptized and had referred to as the Lamb of God. Recorded in Matthew 11:2-4 and Luke 7:18-23, the messengers asked, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus answered, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
Over 300 Biblical prophesies point to Jesus as being the Messiah. One of these is recorded in Luke 4:16-21. In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus was handed the scroll of Isaiah and he read from Chapter 61:1-2. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” After rolling up the scroll, handing it to the attendant and sitting down, while the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were on him, he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Referring to Israel’s history, 1 Corinthians 10:11 says, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” Christians would do well to heed the lessons God taught the Jews. Their Messiah is our Messiah. He offers sight to those who are blind to his truth; hope, joy and freedom to those imprisoned in darkness and sin.
There are those who believe and those who don’t; those who see and those who are blind. God loves us all, and is present now, and offers compassion and forgiveness. He wants you to see, hear, understand, repent and be healed. What do you say?