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@Dick Harfield, in a article titled A New Look at a Servant Song suggests that Isaiah (or Second Isaiah) was speaking of King Zedekiah. This goes against both traditional Christian interpretations that the Servant was Jesus and the Jewish understanding that it refers to Israel as a nation. Arguing that the Servant, who is not named, must be a person well known to Isaiah's audience, Harfield says:

Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was indeed a man of sorrows. The Babylonians killed his sons before his eyes, blinded him and led him in chains to Babylon because he had rebelled against their rule. The Servant Song refers to a Man of Sorrows whom I believe to be Zedekiah. He was “wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” before he was taken in chains (“brought as a lamb to the slaughter”) to prison in Babylon. The Servant was taken from prison and cut off from the land of the living because of the transgressions of the people... As their king, Zedekiah took responsibility for the suffering of the people (“borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows”)... Isaiah 53:3 tells us the Jews exiled with the man of sorrows hid their faces from him and despised him, as they might do with a king who had failed his nation.

Harfield presents further arguments in favor of this idea in the article linked above. Do the historical facts and/or Biblical text (as opposed to Jewish and Christian doctrine) contradict this proposition?

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  • I note that Dick Harfield has not been heard from recently. Is he still with us? Oct 10, 2023 at 14:47
  • If Dick Harfield was right, what message from God would like us to know through Isaiah prophecy? or simply a history that does nothing to present time? Oct 10, 2023 at 19:23
  • If DH is correct then then it calls into question whether the Suffering Servant he had in mind was Jesus. However just as the fact that Isaiah's prophecy of Immanuel originally referred to a child who was born in Isaiah's day and also (acc to the NT) applied to Jesus, so it might have applied to Zedekiah when it was written, and also to Jesus in Christian understanding. Oct 10, 2023 at 22:46
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    If DH agreed that the prophecy refers to a suffering servant, how could he have found Zedekiah to be a qualified suffering servant of God? Zedekiah did not listen God's word through Jeremiah and surrendered to the king of Babylon. His disobedience eliminates this possibility. Oct 11, 2023 at 1:26
  • I note that Dick is still publishing and active but has not been seen on this site for more than 4 years.
    – Dottard
    Oct 11, 2023 at 10:30

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The book of Isaiah contains four famous "servant songs", namely:

  1. Isaiah 42:1-4;
  2. Isaiah 49:1-6;
  3. Isaiah 50:4-9;
  4. Isaiah 52:13-53:12.

The fourth of these is by far the most famous and well-known. If, as Dick Harfield suggests (in common with a minority of scholars, especially Jewish) it refers to king Zedekiah or the nation of Israel generally, it is a very poor prophecy. Many Christian Bible students believe all four of the servant songs were Messianic. [see Wikipedia: Servant Songs for some other views.] Let us examine the predictions of this fourth servant song to determine the prophetic intent:

  • (V4) "Surely He took on our infirmities"
  • (V5) "But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him"
  • (V6) "and the LORD has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all"
  • (V7) "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth."
  • (V8) "For He was cut off from the land of the living"
  • (V9) "nor was any deceit in His mouth"
  • (V10) "and when His soul is made a guilt offering"
  • (V11) "By His knowledge My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities."
  • (V12) "Yet He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors."

All these are true of Jesus Christ (John 1:29, 1 John 2:2, Rom 5:6-8, Heb 9:26, 2 Cor 5:19; not one is true of King Zedekiah! Indeed, Zedekiah was not killed ["cut off from the land of the living"] but taken captive to Babylon. Zedekiah did not die as a ransom for sin generally - that was the sole work (Acts 4:12) of Jesus Christ -

John 1:29 - The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

1 John 2:2 - He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Thus, Isaiah correctly says of the coming Messiah,

Isa 53:6 - and the LORD has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.

Thus, while one can see that some phases, isolated from their context, can be made to fit with Zedekiah (and some other regnal tragics), most cannot. The whole thrust and intent of Isa 53 is clearly Messianic.

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  • By way of analogy, I think Isaiah's Immanuel prophecy (Is. 7-8) referred both to a child born in Isaiah's day AND to Jesus. If so then I see no reason why Isaiah couldn't have been thinking of someone like Zedekiah and (perhaps without knowing it) also refer through inspiration to Jesus. Oct 10, 2023 at 22:56
  • @DanFefferman - I accept that that is a theoretical possibility but Zedekiah was never the barer of sin for everyone. In the case of Immanual, the prophet's wife did not call her son Immanuel - that was reserved for Jesus
    – Dottard
    Oct 11, 2023 at 7:22
  • I read the story of Immanuel differently, because the text is clear that he is to be born during the reign of Ahaz. Regarding Zedekiah, there is precedent for a leader bearing the people's sin... see Ezekiel 4:5. Oct 11, 2023 at 13:29
  • @DanFefferman - that is true but there are two objections to the conclusion - first, Ezekiel was not a leader of the people, and, Ezekiel was performing a symbolic act, not a true act of atonement - Ezekiel's' pantomime did nothing to expiate sin; Jesus did. The same is true of Zedekiah who was a vile, wicked man.
    – Dottard
    Oct 11, 2023 at 20:48
  • See Ezek 24:18-21 for why I see Ezekiel as a leader of his people. Also I would argue that symbolic acts can indeed be acts of atonement. What is a sacrificial offering if not a symbolic act of atonement? Also acc Daniel 4:24, atonement can be accomplished through good deeds and does not require a priest. Oct 12, 2023 at 2:00

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