Letter To The Jews / Chapter 23

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23: Lamb To The Slaughter

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The discipline for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we were healed. All of us, like sheep, went astray; we went, each man, his own way, and YHWH has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” 1

Now, if this is Israel being described, and it was crushed for its own iniquities, then why was it not restored soon afterward? For “by his stripes we were healed.” But this is similar language to the man described a little earlier by Isaiah, who gave his back to the ones striking, and his cheeks to the ones plucking at his beard.

Many of your teachers say this is still the foreign kings speaking here, and that Israel is crushed for the iniquities of those kings. But the principle given elsewhere by the prophets is that foreign kings always pay for their own errors. For example, the prophet Joel says:

“For look! In those days and at that time, when I bring back the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will be judge of them there over my people and my heritage Israel, whom they scattered among the nations, and divided up my land.”

And speaking to those nations, YHWH says in reference to his captive ones: “Look! I will rouse them from the place where you sold them, and will return your recompense upon your own head.” 2

There is no concept in either the Law or the words of Moses, of the nation of Israel being crushed for the iniquity of foreign kings. However, there is a full description given by Moses of what would happen to the nation for its own iniquity, in the blessings and the curses, which we need not relate here in detail.

For example, Moses said: “YHWH will raise up against you a nation from afar, from the end of the earth, swooping like the eagle, a nation whose tongue you will not understand, a nation of fierce countenance, that will not respect the elderly nor show favor to the young.” 3 And again: “YHWH will scatter you among all the peoples, from one end of the earth to the other.” 4

This was partly fulfilled in the exiles to Assyria and Babylon, but it was ultimately fulfilled by the Romans. This is confirmed by the prophet Daniel, who wrote, “and in the later time of their kingdom, when the transgressors come to their end, a king of fierce countenance will stand up, and understanding ambiguous sayings.” 5

This ambiguous “little horn,” as we have shown earlier, is the Romans, who became the “nation of fierce countenance” YHWH brought upon your ancestors, because of their transgression.

In reference to the curses, Moses says, “They will come upon you as a sign and wonder, and upon your offspring indefinitely.” 6

But once they had returned to YHWH, he would bring them back from all the nations to which they were dispersed; and then, says Moses, “YHWH your God will put all these curses on your enemies, and on those hating you, who are persecuting you.”7

Now, there is also no concept in the law of Moses of one man being crushed for the iniquity of the nation, since human sacrifice is forbidden.

Nevertheless, there is a sacrifice that is crushed on behalf of the nation. Once a year on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, the high priest slaughtered a goat as a sin offering for the whole assembly of Israel, and then over another goat, all of the errors of the nation were confessed, and that goat carried all of their iniquities into the wilderness.

This despised servant’s death is similar to those goat sacrifices made on the day of atonement. He is “crushed for our iniquities” like the first goat, and “the iniquity of us all” is laid on him like the second goat.

“He was oppressed, and was humbled, and he did not open his mouth. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, like a sheep that is silent before her shearers, and he did not open his mouth.”8

The phrase “he did not open his mouth” is said twice, and so this becomes the distinctive aspect of the despised servant during his oppression, and while he is being brought as a “lamb to the slaughter.”

Now, there are certain similarities between this and the language David used in a psalm to describe his people: “But you have cast off, and humiliated us, and you do not go out with our armies. You make us turn back from our enemy, and those hating us take plunder for themselves. You have given us like sheep for food, and have scattered us among the nations.

You sell your people for next to nothing, and do not increase your wealth by their price. You make us a reproach to our neighbors, derision and scoffing to those round about us. You make us a proverb among the nations, a shaking of the head for people.” 9

And again: “For your sake we are killed all day long. We are counted as sheep for slaughter.” 10

Nevertheless, this is not the psalm of a man who is “silent” before his shearers, and who “did not open his mouth” because of oppression. Just before his complaint to God, David says: “You, God, are my king. Command salvations for Jacob. Through you we will push down our enemies, through your name we will trample those rising up against us.”11

In David's psalm, the people are counted as sheep for slaughter, but unwillingly. Indeed, we could say that this psalm is David lodging a letter of complaint on their behalf to YHWH! Certainly it is David's prayer for Israel to have the power to trample and defeat its enemies.

But the despised servant in Isaiah is not like this. He does not ask for retribution. Unlike David and his people Israel, he “did not open his mouth” in complaint, either to YHWH or to those oppressing him, because he knows the purpose of his death. For that reason he is said to “act wisely.”

1 Isaiah 53:5,6. 2 Joel 4:1,2 (or 3:1,2); 4:7 (or 3:7). 3 Deuteronomy 28:49,50. 4 Deuteronomy 28:64. 5 Daniel 8:23. 6 Deuteronomy 28:46. 7 Deuteronomy 30:7. 8 Isaiah 53:7. 9 Psalm 44:10-15 (or 44:9-14). 10 Psalm 44:23 (or 44:22). 11 Psalm 44:5,6 (44:4,5).

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