Proof Texts

Dan Wagner Dan.Wagner at
Tue Dec 19 17:02:49 EST 2000

Charles David Isbell says, "Surely for a 6th century prophet in Babylon to
spoken about events in 1st century Roman Judea would have been the height of
irresponsibility to his own people."

I agree with your concern that the Heb. prophets must have immediate
relevance in their message, else they were irresponsible. However, there are
a variety of ways by which an oracle can have immediate application. If one
accepts the concept of Messianic hope, then surely this must have had
immediate relevance to the original audience from that moment until the time
of the Messiah's coming, even if it was presented as a remotely future time.
Jeremiah's prophecy of 70 years could not be fulfilled in most people's
lifetime, but it still gave comfort to them (potentially). The peaceful,
dominating kingdom of Israel spoken of by many prophets gives hope to many
even today, though it surely has not been fulfilled as yet.

Therefore, while you may not agree with a fulfillment in Jesus, this
interpretation should not preclude a very real application that Isaiah
intended to his audience. If they were under the reign of terror of King
Manasseh--it was the very opposite of the Servant's "justice" (42:1,3,4). A
more righteous King would come--yes, a long time away--but that King's reign
was an eternal one (Psalm 72). He would reign over them eternally after
their resurrection (Dan. 12). Thus they could know, like Asaph of Psm. 73,
that the transient triumph of the wicked was not so bad after all, since
after death comes, God would _LQX_ [take/receive] them to "glory" just like
He had "_LQX_[-ed]" both Enoch and Elijah (v. 24; cf. Psm. 49:15 "God will
redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He will _LQX_ me.").

If the Hebrews didn't believe in immortality/resurrection, they were
certainly the odd-balls of the entire ancient Near East on that issue. But i
am confident that they did (cf. Isa. 26:19; Job 14 & 19). Immortality was a
concept known from the very inception of revelation (Gen. 3:22). So
individually they could have hope, and according to Ezekiel 37, they could
have hope of national restoration also through the Messianic new "David"
(vv. 24-25). 

My point is that Messianic prophecy could *always* have application to an
audience in any time, no matter how far removed from its historical

Dan Wagner

-----Original Message-----
From: Charles David Isbell [mailto:cisbell at]
Sent: Tuesday, December 19, 2000 12:24
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: Re: Proof Texts

I do not wish to indict anyone on the List who has written on this subject.
But it should be noted that a far too common lay Christian perception of
Hebrew prophecy is that the words of the great nevi'im became true ONLY with
the advent of Jesus.

As a Jew, allow me to note that I have no objection whatsoever to the
Christian practice of appropriating and reconstructing the meaning of
biblical texts for the purpose of building a new religion.  I consider it
rather a compliment to the profundity of my own faith.  But I do not think
any NT reconstruction of a biblical oracle allows interpreters of either
faith to withdraw from the struggle to understand the meaning of a sermon by
a person preaching almost 600 years before there was a Jesus with whom to
connect Isaiah 42.   Surely for a 6th century prophet in Babylon to have
spoken about events in 1st century Roman Judea would have been the height of
irresponsibility to his own people, who looked for an authentic word to
address the struggles in which they were engaged, a word that would enable
them to understand the working of God in their world and in their time and
place.   Thus if a Christian interpreter wishes to adopt a BOTH AND view of
Isaiah's words, I say welcome to the neighborhood.  But to adopt a JESUS
ONLY view makes Isaiah irrelevant for centuries of time, and begs the
question of why his people would have treasured and guarded these words
which they could not possibly have understood in the NT sense.  I believe,
to the contrary, that they did draw sustenance from them, and this meaning
was demonstrably a non- [i.e., pre-]Christian understanding.  In this sense,
to employ the NT to interpret Isaiah is to take a blind alley.  Such a
method cannot help us to understanding ISAIAH, but has significance only
with respect to one's understanding of the NT and Christianity.

Charles David Isbell

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