If one believes that there is a God who has inspired prophets who are able to describe scenarios of various developments in the distant future, then one has to accept that the understanding of these passages should change and improve as we come closer and closer to the future times they describe.
As an example, Jeremiah describes a radical future in which women surround men, “The Lord will create a new thing on earth-a woman will surround a man” (31:22). The great commentator Rashi understands ‘surround’ to mean encircle. The most radical thing Rashi can think of (and in 11th century France it was radical) is that women will propose marriage (a wedding ring, or encircling the groom at the wedding ceremony) to men.
In today’s feminist generation we can see women surrounding men in fields once almost exclusively male such as law and medicine. Of course, this means that a few generations from now we might have even better understandings of some predictive passages in the prophets so humility should always be with us.
Isaiah proclaims the good news of peace and salvation (52:7) when God returns to Zion (8) and comforts his people (9) so all the Gentiles see his salvation (10). The Jewish people will depart the exile not in flight but under God’s protection (11&12). Israel/Jacob, God’s servant, whose appearance (14) was disfigured, marred and appalling (during the holocaust) will prosper (13) and be lifted up (in subsequent generations).
A marvel for many nations, whose rulers will shut their (anti-Semitic) mouths because of this, since they will see what they had not been taught and will understand what they never heard of (15). For centuries the Church taught that the Jews were being punished for rejecting Christ and couldn’t be redeemed without believing Jesus was the Son of God. Now some Gentile rulers see that this teaching is false. The biblical message of God’s commitment to redeem Israel without their believing in Jesus wasn’t believed (53:1) but now there is a growing minority who affirm a two covenant theology.
Many Gentile rulers (kings, governments, business and religious leaders) now admit what their anti-Semitism did to the people of Israel. The Jews were like a tender shoot in dry ground, unattractive and undesirable, despised and rejected, sorrowful and familiar (intimate) with suffering (52:2&3). We (the Gentile rulers) scapegoated them and they carried our projected infirmities, but we rationalized that the Jews were stricken and afflicted by God, not by us. Israel was pierced and crushed due to our transgressions (anti-Semitism) for we sought our peace by blaming Jews for all kinds of evils (54:4&5).
This anti-Semitism led to: Crusaders slaughtering Jews in France and Germany, blaming Jews for the Bubonic Plague in central Europe, torture by the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition, many expulsions and pogroms at various times throughout Europe, and the deaths of tens of thousands of Jewish civilians massacred during wars in Poland (1648-9) and the Ukraine (1919-21). All this set the stage for the worst martyrdom of all, the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust (plus five million non-Jews). Each evil regime turned its own kind of iniquity (religious, political, economic and social) on its Jews (54:6).
Again and again Jews were passively taken away to exile, or like sheep to the slaughter cut off from the land of the living, though they had done no violence (54:7-9). Yet faithful Jews accepted all this as God’s will and refused to abandon their religion or their people. Survivors of the concentration camps, who had lost their entire family, had the courage and faith to marry, and lived to see their offspring (Jewish children and grandchildren) grow up (54:10). Many, whose days were prolonged (54:10) and are now in their 70’s and 80’s, have lived long enough to see the most amazing outcomes of the Holocaust.
The return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel (46% of the world’s Jews now live in Israel) and the rebuilding of its cities and countryside are the subject of many passages in Isaiah both preceding chapter 53 and following it. The realization of these prophecies did not require a Holocaust. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the mass departure of more than one million Soviet Jews to the land of Israel also are not directly linked to the Holocaust. But the redemptive aspect of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust for Gentile rulers and nations is only emphasized in this suffering servant passage.
The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials that followed WW2 set a pattern for later trials of Cambodian, Serb, and Hutu mass murderers by international courts. When the German government decided to pay reparations for property losses to German Jews, it was the first time an oppressor had voluntarily accepted responsibility for acts of oppression upon another people. The Prime Minister of France finally apologized 56 years after the end of WW2 for the collaboration of the Vichy French government in deporting French Jews to the death camps.
When the Pope and several Protestant denominations began to atone for previous centuries of anti-Semitism in the 1970’s and 1980’s a rising awareness of the Holocaust began to influence a wider spiritual consciousness in the West. The American government finally made a token payment to the Japanese interned in American concentration camps during WW2. In 1993 President Clinton signed into law a resolution stating, “Congress apologizes to the native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of their independent government”.
More recently the great majority of U.S senators officially expressed sorrow over the many times the Senate refused to pass federal anti-lynching laws (over 4,000 men-70% black- were lynched in the U.S.). In February of 2006. two centuries after profiting from the venture, the Church of England has apologized for its role in the global slave trade, which included running a Caribbean island sugar plantation and branding the blacks who worked it.
Of course, the Turkish government still denies responsibility for the death of over one million Armenians; the Japanese deny slaughtering 300,000 residents of Nanking, and only a few French leaders admit to the complicity of the Vichy government in rounding up Jews for the Nazi death camps. Even the UN has not officially admitted its dereliction of duty in the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. Yet the few steps of public confession and atonement that have been taken by some political and religious leaders are truly remarkable when you consider that nothing like this has ever happened in previous human history.
If the Holocaust has stimulated a willingness by religious and political leaders to accept responsibility for past examples of persecution and iniquity done by their institutions and governments in the past; and this willingness continues to expand, society will improve greatly. If other governments and institutions admit responsibility for the sins of their predecessors it reduces the likelihood of repetition.
It will take another century of spiritual development to see if this interpretation is correct. Israel’s passion in the 20th century should be for the leaders of both Churches and nations, what the passion of Jesus was for many non-Jewish individuals in the 1st century. Without the powerful example of the sacrifice of Jesus that Christianity spread throughout the western world this would not be possible. Both Jesus Josephson and God’s servant Israel/Jacob filled the role of the martyred Josephson messiah.
The Davidson messiah will come after all nations, religions and political parties learn to respect and value as a gift from God, each other’s right to differ in large as well as small issues. Since this religious refocus requires great leadership from all the major religions, each religion will have to produce its own Aronson spiritual reformer messianic figure.
These plural messianic religious reformers are referred to by Jeremiah as ‘seven shepherds’ (3:14-18) and their teachings will provide each religion with a reshaped relationship with other reshaped religious communities and a revitalized and renewed covenant (31:31-34). It would not surprise me if the work did not begin with Jerusalem and its ancient site previously visited by Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad.
One of the accomplishments of a Davidson Messiah is to rebuild in some form and fashion, the Temple of Solomon, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah, “He shall build the temple of the Lord, and he shall bear the glory, he shall sit on the throne and rule, there shall be a priest before the throne, and peaceful counsel will exist between both of them” (6:13).
Now that a large part of the Jewish people (46%) have returned to the Land of Israel and resurrected a Jewish state, one might think that rebuilding a temple on the site where Solomon originally built one almost three thousand years ago, would be relatively simple. And it would, except for the fact that the site is presently occupied by a Muslim shrine called the Dome of the Rock. Often erroneously called the Mosque of Omar, it is not a mosque and was not built by Omar. It was built in 691 by Abd-al-Malik, and it is regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site in the world. Any attempt to replace the Dome of the Rock would provoke a Muslim holy war of cataclysmic proportions.
There is, however, a lot of open land on the Temple Mount, and a Jewish house of worship could be built adjacent to the Dome of the Rock provided the Muslims would cooperate. Most observers agree that anyone who could arrange such Jewish-Muslim cooperation would really be a Messianic Ruler of Peace (Isaiah 9:5) Christian support for such a cooperative venture would also be very important, and any leaders who can bring Jews, Christians and Muslims together in mutual respect and cooperation would surely fulfill the greatest of all Messianic predictions, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives; nation shall not take up sword against nation, they shall never again teach war.” (Isaiah 2:4)
Indeed, such Jewish/Christian/Muslim cooperation would not be possible without great spiritual leadership in all three communities. Thus, each community could consider its leadership to be the Messiah and this would fulfill the just cited verse of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy, as enlarged upon by the prophet Micah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives. Nation shall not take up sword against nation, they shall never again teach war, but every man shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him, for it is the Lord of Hosts who spoke. Though all peoples walk each in the name of its God, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah: 3-5)
If each people truly follows the best of its own religious teachings; the Messiah will surely have arrived, and God’s Kingdom will be established. The advocacy of pluralism and mutual respect for other theological views by the major religious communities will provide the bases for the ultimate messianic predictions of worldwide peace, justice, prosperity, and redemption that the prophets proclaimed so often. The Davidson Messiah activities and inspiration will then have come to crown our own faith in our own religions teachings of God’s deliverance.
Although it might seem impossible now, I do believe that within a decade or two Muslims will visit Jerusalem and pray together with Jews as Prophet Isaiah states: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the (One) Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast to my covenant, these I will bring to my holy mountain (Zion), and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:6-7)