painting travellers chatting on a road

Reflecting on Isaiah 53 4-11

We are studying Isaiah 53:4-11 for Sunday, April 4 – Easter Sunday! Notice how that context influences the way we read this text about redemptive suffering. [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are some questions we might ask ourselves:
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When and where have we heard this text, or parts of it, before? [e.g., in Handel’s Messiah; at church) Does our experience with the text seem to influence the way we read it now? How is that influence working? (e.g., does it give us an idea about who is speaking in the text? Or who the text refers to? Or how the text “feels” to us?)

What do we understand the text to mean? Who is speaking, and who is the speaker talking about, when we read this text? How do we know that? (e.g., from something in the text? From its context? Something else?)

How does this text “feel” to us? Why, do we think?

Let’s try to think of what this text might have meant to people when it was first written and read – that is, we think, around the time of the Israelites’ release from exile in Babylonia. What would those people have understood this text to mean, do we think? Why? How would the text have “felt” to them, do we think? Why?

If we compare that to how we ourselves think of the text, what differences and similarities do we notice?
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This text is quoted (usually in its Greek translation, the Septuagint version) in several places in the New Testament: Matthew 8:14-17; Luke 22:35-38; John 12:37-41; Acts 8:26-35; Romans 10:11-21 and Romans 15:21; 1 Peter 2:19-25. If we read those verses, what ideas do we get about how early Christians understood this scripture? About how they used it? What ideas? Why?

Does it seem to us that we use the text in the same way today? Why, or why not?
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[More theoretical and theological, maybe; but maybe worth thinking about] What are some of the ways one person’s suffering or even death could benefit another person? [We could make a long list here, thinking of some noble and some ignoble examples, from “real life,” great literature, television.]

Are some of those ways more acceptable than others to us? Which ones? Why? Are any of them unacceptable? Which ones? Why?

Which one, or ones, seem to be reflected in this text? What thoughts or feelings do we have about that? Why?
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[A lot more theoretical and theological, but still worth thinking about] “Redemptive suffering” and “scapegoating” are both ideas with Biblical roots. [See e.g. Philippians 3:7-11; Leviticus 16]

How do we understand the difference between “redemptive suffering” and “scapegoating? Do we see any relationship between them?

How do these ideas help us, do we think? Do they harm us in any way, do we think? Why?

[More personal] How do these ideas seem to contribute to the way we ourselves live our lives, or try to live good lives?

What thoughts or feelings does this line of thought raise for us? Why?

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travellers stopping for a conversation by a wooded stream

Image: “Plausch am Weg,” Oswald Achenbach, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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