Sunday, November 05, 2017

High and glorified

I'd like to briefly consider a neglected prooftext for the divine messiah:

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted (Isa 52:13).

That's from the famous Suffering Servant oracle. Considered in isolation, it might not strike the casual reader as a witness to messiah's deity, but "high/exalted/lifted up" is an Isaian motif. In the OT, that motif only occurs in Isaiah. It occurs four times in Isaiah. And in three of the four occurrences, it describes Yahweh:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
(Isa 6:1-3).

“Now I will arise,” says the Lord, “now I will lift myself up; now I will be exalted (Isa 33:10).

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy (Isa 57:15).

The first occurrence is from Isaiah's famous inaugural vision and commission, when he sees Yahweh in heaven. And the descriptors aren't incidental. In the hierarchy of existence, Yahweh is "high/exalted/lifted up" because he occupies the top spot in the pecking order. Yahweh is the Supreme Being. None are higher, all others–angels, men, animals, stars–are lower.

So Isaiah describes messiah in terms that properly evoke Yahweh. In language that on three other occasions is reserved for Yahweh. A Jewish reader steeped in the text of Isaiah would be expected to mentally compare the four descriptions, and recognize the parallels.

It's also instructive to read these verses in the LXX:

And it happened in the year that King Ozias died that I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and raised up, and the house was full of his glory (Isa 6:1, LXX).

"Now I will arise," says the Lord, "now I will be glorified; now I will be exalted" (Isa 33:10, LXX).

This is what the Lord says, the Most High (Isa 57:15).

(All quotes from NETS, Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright, eds.) 

So the LXX renders exaltation in terms of glorification. Compare these to John's description of Jesus:

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him...23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified...32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”…41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. (Jn 12:16,23,32-34,41).

John is picking up on the Isaian motif of the "high/lifted up/exalted/glorified" Yahwistic messiah. That prophetic motif comes full circle in Jesus. And that culminates in the resumption of his preexistent glory (17:5). The Suffering Servant is Yahweh in disguise. 


  1. I'm reminded of this passage in volume two of Michael Brown's Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus:

    Many times in the psalms, the Lord and his anointed are described in equal terms, and similar reverence is required for both. Consider these following clear parallels (which I have translated for greater clarity): In Psalm 83:18, God is "the Most High over all the earth," while in Psalm 89:28, it is the Davidic king, designated significantly as "firstborn," who has been appointed "the most high of the kings of the earth." In Psalm 86:9, "all nations will bow down" to the Lord, yet in 72:11, the foreign kings will bow down to the Davidic king. First Chronicles 29:20 is even more to the point: "They [i.e., the people] bowed down and did obeisance to the LORD and to [David] the king." So also in Psalm 2:11 and 100:2, the rulers and peoples are exhorted to worship/serve the Lord, while in 18:44 and 72:11, it is the Davidic king whom they must worship/serve.

    Both God and his anointed king are worthy of praise (see Ps. 67:4, where the peoples are called on to extol God, and 45:17[18], where it is the king whom they will extol forever), and both are clothed with "glory and honor" (cf., e.g., Ps. 96:6 with 21:6). Of the royal king it can be said, "All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him" (Ps. 72:11); for "I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted ['elyon] of the kings of the earth" (Ps. 89:27[28]). "I will set his hand over the sea, his right hand over the rivers" (Ps. 89:25[26]), and "I will establish...his throne as long as the heavens endure" (Ps. 89:29[30]). "Therefore the nations will praise [him] for ever and ever" (Ps. 45:17[18]).

    God's "son," the Davidic king, was quite an exalted figure! Is it any wonder that Scripture declares that in the Messianic era the people "will serve the LORD their God and David their king (Jer. 30:9)?
    [Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume Two, page 40]
    Italics original, Bold by me, AP.

  2. 1. God is truly called "high/exalted/lifted up".
    2. The Messiah is truly called "high/exalted/lifted up."
    3. Therefore God just is the Messiah (and vice-versa).

    That argument is indisputably invalid. 3 doesn't follow from 1 & 2. A swing an a miss. This may help:

    Steve is a master of making big claims and then retreating to weaker claims the second they're challenged. He might say that 1 & 2 raise the probability of 3. But that hasn't been shown, even if 75% of the time such language in Isaiah refers to God.

    Yet a further retreat would be that the theory that God just is the Messiah (and vice versa) best explains the aforementioned usage. But he's given us no reason to think that. (That'd require comparing rival theories, but he only wants his pet confusion on the table - that Jesus just is God - though those differ from one another.)

    And he's ignored a relevant fact: in John - see the passages he cites above - Jesus's great "glory" is when he allows himself to serve as a sin-offering, being killed on a cross. But God, explicitly in the NT can't be killed, and surely this is something which Isaiah would assume. God, the uncreated creator, depends on nothing, so there is no way to deprive him of his life. So no, God can't be his own Son - but that's just what that language would lead us to think. God and his Son are two beings who are in relationship, the second serving and obeying the first.

    "The Suffering Servant is Yahweh in disguise."
    Sounds rather docetic, doesn't it? If Yahweh's "humanity" is a mere disguise - then he is essentially divine but not truly human. His seeming human death would be a farce in that case. But I think Steve's OK with that - with a pseudo-death on the cross.

    For a common sense definition of death that is independent of theological speculations, see here:

    1. i) The Bible isn't written in logical syllogisms. Biblical revelation isn't technically rigorous. It doesn't attempt to communicate at that level, which would make it incomprehensible to most readers. Rather, Biblical revelation is more impressionistic. Often using picture language. The exegetical question is what these comparisons would convey to the implied reader.

      ii) You then rehash your equivocation about whether God can die.

      iii) No, there's nothing "docetic" about saying Jesus is Yahweh in disguise.

  3. What? The Bible isn't written in syllogisms? Man, I was confused about that! Thanks a lot Steve.