Make Option 02: In the lecture, in the Bandstra reading linked above (or your textbook of choice), and in the recommended reading, find what is available on “Isaiah’s Servant” (or the Servant of YHWH, or the Suffering Servant) with regard to the book of Isaiah.
Pick someone whom you would like to teach about “Isaiah’s Servant.” (A colleague, a prospective MDiv student, a curious family member, or anyone else.) In about 1000 words, and using these course materials as a resource, write them a letter about what this “servant” is for the book of Isaiah. Be sure to cite appropriately, so that they can engage these materials themselves also. Don’t “lecture” (we all know how off-putting that is!), but do find compelling ways to include the relevant information. Anticipate their questions and concerns, and address them overtly.
Dear Children of [insert church name],
Today, I would like to talk to you about something we see in the Bible. By the way, learning about this today will probably make you smarter than your parents, but you probably already are. If you have ever looked at the books of the Bible that start at the beginning, before we get to the part that talks about what Jesus did and said, you have probably seen that there are a lot of pages! This section of the Bible is called the Hebrew Bible, because we get these books of the Bible from the Torah, which is kind of like a Bible for Jewish people. When we look at the book called Isaiah, there is something that is mentioned over and over again, it is the phrase “Isaiah’s Servant” or “The Suffering Servant.” Before we talk about who the servant is, we need to understand who Isaiah is, what suffering means, and what a servant is. Let’s start with Isaiah. Isaiah was a man who lived before Jesus was born (he lived about 780-651 B.C.E. which was a REALLY long time ago!). Isaiah was called a prophet, a prophet is someone who God tells things to and asks them to tell the people. Now let’s talk about suffering. Some of you probably know what suffering is, but I am going to explain it so we are all on the same page. Suffering is when you are hurting, having a hard time, or worried about something really important. Servants are people who do things for others. Now I know some of you are thinking that your parents are servants for you (and they probably are!), but this kind of servant is typically someone who is not related to you.
Back to that Isaiah book. Now that we know who Isaiah is, what suffering means, and what a servant is, we can dive into the idea of “Isaiah’s Servant” or “The Suffering Servant.” One of the people who lived during the days of the early church (about 184-254) was named Origen. He came up with the idea that these phrases that we see over and over again in the Hebrew Bible mean that the servant is Israel.
Some other people think that the suffering servant is a person that we hear about in the Bible. Still, others think that the suffering servant might be a sign of Jesus. There are many different ideas about what this suffering servant could be, but whoever the servant is, we know that God loved it and cared about it.
The Suffering Servant in the Hebrew Bible could be talking about a lot of different people or even be talking about the nation of Israel. However, what is important in this story is that God loved the servant and the servant found that God loved and cared for the servant even when the servant had to go through some tough stuff. The servant did not make God happy by taking over other nations or hurting people, the servant found favor with God by working and being obedient, even when the servant did not want to. Obedient is when you do something someone else asks or tells you to do (and you typically don’t complain about it!). So when God saw the servant (whoever the servant is supposed to represent) being obedient even when the servant was tired or didn’t want to do what the person over the servant told the servant to do, the servant was still obedient. It’s kind of like when the people who take care of you ask you to clean your room, or make your bed, or set the table for dinner, etc. and you might be too tired or playing a cool new video game, or whatever you are currently doing, we are called to be obedient and do what we are asked by the people who take care of us. God is one of the people who cares for us and we are called to do what God asks of us, even if we are tired, or don’t think it would make us look cool, or even if we simply do not want to do whatever it is God is asking of us. Sometimes being obedient does not get us exactly what we want. The Suffering Servant had a lot of problems; it had to accept the punishment for the sins of other people at times. Think of when you argued with a brother or sister, or even a friend and you didn’t want them to get in trouble so you took the blame for what was going on and got in trouble, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. That is kind of what is going on here. Even if we don’t like what is happening or we have to take the blame for something we didn’t do to protect someone else, God still sees that we are being obedient by doing what God asks us to do.
It’s really interesting to think about who the Suffering Servant could be in the Book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible, because that gives us a better understanding of who the person or nation was so that we can better understand what the Book of Isaiah is trying to tell us. When we try to learn and better understand the Bible, sometimes we are able to better understand what the message is and what the author is trying to tell us, so we can be better people and better Christians.
Throughout this letter I have hyperlinks to various resources supporting the statements. In the second paragraph of the letter there is a hyperlink on who Origen is, and according to our readings for the week Origen was one of the first theologians. He is credited with coming up with the idea that the Suffering Servant used in this passage is a reference to the nation of Israel. A hyperlink is also contained in the third paragraph of the text linking to the reading from Barry Bandstra. Bandstra suggests that in Christian interpretation, the Suffering Servant is a reference to Christ; he uses Handel’s The Messiah to support his point. Bandstra also suggests that the servant could have been Judah, Jeremiah, etc. citing that Moses is called this in Deuteronomy, so the suffering servant could have been a real prophetic figure. Regardless of who the servant is, Bandstra also points out that this is a shift from animal sacrifice that the Israelites were used to participating in to atone for sins to the suffering of a human to atone for the sins of the people.