A Jewish Sailor Reads Isaiah 53
by Israel Cohen
Once I was in the Navy and away from my parents, I had the opportunity to do some new things—not all of them strictly kosher—and also to consider some ideas that I never could have thought about before: ideas like Yeshua being the Messiah.
My father and I regularly attended our Masorti synagogue, especially during the High Holy Days, and from the age of eight I went to Hebrew school every afternoon. But after my Bar Mitzvah, my religious education came to a halt. Later on, I joined the Navy and found myself away from home for the first time. Of all places to get stationed, I wound up in Morocco, North Africa.
One afternoon as I sat alone in the barracks, a young sailor came over to me and asked if I was Jewish. When I told him I was, he asked me to teach him about being Jewish (obviously he was not!). As I started to tell him, he interrupted me: “Can you teach me about being Jewish from the Bible?” I got hold of a Jewish Bible, but didn’t know where to turn. So he asked me to turn to Isaiah. When he saw I was having trouble finding it, he found it for me and turned to the 53rd chapter.
“Read this aloud,” he said, and I did. At first I thought I had the wrong Bible. Was this young sailor tricking me? It sounded so much like what my Christian friends used to say about Jesus. My confusion deepened when the sailor took out his New Testament and had me read the third chapter of a book called “John.” I read about a Jewish man talking with Jesus, and I could not figure out why a Jewish person would want to talk to Jesus the Christian.
My friend explained that Jesus was Jewish, the New Testament was written by Jews and that it tells all about the Jewish Messiah. Never in my life had I been so confused!
But after three hours of talking and reading from both of our Bibles, especially Isaiah 53 in my Jewish Bible, my confusion started to disappear. I understood that I needed the forgiveness offered by Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. But I also knew I was Jewish and that Jews do not believe in Jesus!
I was so torn that I actually cried that sleepless night, pulling my blanket over my head so the others could not hear my weeping. I then turned on a flashlight so I could read the New Testament my friend had given me.
As my tears fell upon the pages of the New Testament, I could no longer resist doing what I knew I had to do: I prayed to God and told him that I believed Jesus was really the Jewish Messiah. I asked His forgiveness for the many ways I had failed to live as I knew God willed! A few moments later, I went peacefully to sleep—and woke up to a brand new life.
Who is the Man of Sorrows?
by Alan M. Shore
As I entered young adulthood, I was like every other Jewish person I had ever known. As was the case with all of my Jewish peers, the name Jesus produced in me a complex set of emotions, dominated mainly by embarrassment.
I was baffled by the plethora of churches, crosses, statues, paintings and street preachers that came into view in virtually every direction I turned. I couldn’t fathom it. Add to this the suspicion of the Christian world that was practically encoded in my DNA, and you won’t be surprised that getting to know Jesus was not high on my list of priorities.
Later, as I became more aware of what Jesus meant to the Christians, I could finally, honestly, ask what his death could possibly have to do with me. He had been crucified. So what? It was a sad but distant tragedy. What could the death of a man twenty centuries ago mean to me today?
It was during this time of questioning that someone showed me Isaiah 53, a passage in my own Jewish Bible. These verses leapt out at me: He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not Web Site. Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed (Isaiah 53:3-5 JPS).
For the first time, I was able to make a connection with this helpless sufferer who had been given an oversized portion of the rejection, grief, humiliation and suffering that seemed to characterize the history of my people. I also began to see at last that somehow His suffering touched my own. What was this “Man of Sorrows”? Taken together with other pieces of knowledge that were coming my way, it was not a great leap for me to see it was Jesus or Yeshua (the Hebrew name his mother called him).
Isaiah 53 helped me to see two things of critical importance. The first is that the suffering of the Man of Sorrows is meaningful—not only in the abstract but also in concrete ways that help us to understand ourselves and our circumstances. As the suffering of Yeshua becomes real to us, it somehow helps us to bear our own suffering.
The second thing, perhaps even more important, is that the suffering Man of Sorrows depicted in Isaiah 53 powerfully reveals the Jewish dimension of Yeshua’s personality. After I made this connection, I could no longer see Yeshua as alien to Jewish life. It was quite the opposite. He seemed to me to be the embodiment of Jewish experience for all time—destined to suffer at the hands of the world, yet finally to be vindicated by God.
Life-Changing Words from a Jewish Prophet
by Lawrence Hirsch
My older brother, Alan, was always a seeker after truth. He really upset the family, to say the least, when he came home from the army one weekend with a Bible and some religious literature in his bags. I was about fourteen years old, and I still remember all the shouting and the tears as my mom and dad confronted him.
On one occasion, Alan opened the Bible and asked if he could read a passage of Scripture to me. I agreed to listen. He didn’t tell me which passage, but he began to read from Isaiah 53. When he finished, I said, “Well, that was all about Jesus, wasn’t it? That is in the New Testament, isn’t it?”
Of course, you could have blown me over with a feather when my brother revealed that he had just read from the Jewish prophet Isaiah. He also informed me that Isaiah had written these words 700 years before Jesus lived—yet it seemed so obvious to me that Isaiah was speaking about Jesus!
I didn’t let on how much this had impacted me; I kept it all to myself. I was especially taken aback by the words in verse three: “He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease…” Had we, as the Jewish people, rejected our very own Messiah? How could this be?
It took me several months to fully grasp the significance of these verses and the implications for my life. I knew that believing in Jesus would mean going against all that I had been brought up to believe as a Jew, and I would face much anger and opposition from my family and my people. Yet I could not deny the truth of what I read in Isaiah 53, and I too came to accept Yeshua as my Messiah.