While reading The Servant Songs in Isaiah and Harold Bloom on The Suffering Servant, my mind kept drifting and going on to a further topic in the Bible: Jesus, the Messiah. I know that in The Suffering Servant that the real suffering servant is not the Messiah, but the people of Israel. I think that these servant songs are so hard to interpret because of the many subjects they could be talking about (the Messiah, the people of Israel, Moses, Jeremiah, etc).
When pertaining to the people of Israel as the subject, there are many lines in the servant songs that I can read and think “Oh yeah, this is really talking about the people of Israel”. Some of these lines or passages include Isaiah 51:4-5. Here, the subject is referred to specifically as “My people” and then “O My Nation”. These to me seem obvious that they are talking about the people of Israel. It goes on to talk about how they have gone forth, which to me makes me think of the journey from Egypt to the Promise Land. The rest of the passage goes on and while reading it I was reminded of the promises that God made to the Israelites and how that covenant was brought up time and time again.
I think that these Servant Songs are especially hard to interpret while thinking about the New Testament. There are so many lines in these passages that remind me of Jesus the Messiah and it’s easy to see how people could get the subjects of these servant songs confused. For example, in Isaiah 49: 1 it says that “He named me while I was in my mother’s womb.” After reading that, I immediately thought of Mary and how the angel Gabrielle was sent down to her to tell her that she was carrying a son and that she was to name him Jesus. Another passage that I thought was pertaining to the Messiah was 50:5-6 where it says “The Lord God opened my ears, And I did not disobey, I did not run away. I offered my back to the floggers, And my cheeks to those who tore out my hair. I did not hide my face From insult and spittle”. Here I am reminded of the walk Jesus had to make to his own death. I think of people yelling at him and spitting on him and disgracing him while he does not say a word. Another passage is 49:16 where they are talking about being forgotten and then it was written “See, I have engraved you On the palms of My hands” which when I read it, I read it as when Jesus was crucified and had the nail marks in his hands, which he later showed the Apostles. The passage that I think makes the subject seem like the Messiah, however, is 53:6-8 which says “We all went astray like sheep, Each one going his own way; And the Lord visited upon him The guilt of all of us. He was maltreated, yet he was submissive, He did not open his mouth; Like a sheep being led to slaughter, Like a ewe, dumb before those who shear her, He did not open his mouth. By oppressive judgment he was taken away, Who could describe his abode?For he was cut off from the land of the living Through the sin of my people, who deserved the punishment”. That to me sounds like exactly what happened to Jesus during his crucifixion. He was led by people to his own death, not saying a word while others taunted him. And since the Israelites went astray or didn’t follow God anymore, Jesus was sent down to save them by sacrificing himself so that they could be saved. That is how Harold Bloom uses Isaiah 53 to show his theory of poetic misreading. He includes that chapter to show “Christianity’s strong misreading of this extraordinary poem”. I am obviously guilty of that, because when I read the poem, all I could think about was the Messiah. Here are some other views of The Servant Songs:
The main challenge when reading the Servant Songs in context of the New Testament is not comparing the suffering servant in these poems to Jesus. It from Chapter 49-53 most of it seems like it’s about Jesus’s life. Chapter 49 starts out with the passage about being named while in the mother’s womb. Then the middle of it seems like Jesus’s life, his journeys he went on and some of the hardships he had to suffer. It ends with the post popular Servant Song, in Isaiah 53, in which it sounds so similar to the crucifixion of Jesus. Being a Catholic, it’s hard to read these poems and not think about Jesus. I think that is what is the most difficult task while reading and interpreting these poems.
The figures of the Servant, while it is the people of Israel, can also be taken in a broader perspective to me all of us. We suffer in everyday life, although not as much as the servants in these poems. But everyday we go through trials and tribulations that can wear us down and break us. I think that with these songs, it gives us a sense of hope. The suffering servant is a sign of hope because it says how we will not be forgotten. In Isaiah 52:13 it says “Indeed, My servant shall prosper, Be exalted and raised to great heights”. This has to give some sort of strength and hope, knowing that if we believe and follow God we can prevail against the troubles.
I think that it is astonishing that these poems were written before the birth of Jesus and how similar it is to the story of his life. Here’s another Christian or New Testament view of the Servant Songs