The “hidden Prophecy” (2): Lost In Translation

By now, you already know that the mysterious “hidden prophecy” I am talking about has to be looked for in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Of course, you all know these verses; yet let me remind you that in this chapter, Isaiah describes “God’s servant, who will be exalted and honored even by kings and yet is subjected to intense humiliation and suffering like a social outcast.”[1] We read that it is by the will of God that he bears his suffering on account of the sins of the people—“in effect he functions as a guilt offering; he suffers without complaint and is eventually killed and buried. Somehow, he will see the result of his suffering and will be vindicated by God.”[2]

I have no doubt that all my readers know this chapter very well – yet I am still quite confident that I can show you something new today. In the Hebrew text of Isaiah 53:3, we read:

נבזה  וחדל אישים

איש מכאבות

וידוע חלי

וכמסתר פנים ממנו

נבזה ולא חשבנהו

 

A literal translation of this verse would go like this: He was despised and rejected by men, a man of pains and knowing disease. And like the one hiding his face, he was despised and we did not consider him. However, instead of “like the one hiding his face” (an action referring to the Suffering Servant himself), in translations we read: “and we hid our faces from Him”. Thus, the Suffering Servant is transformed from the object to the subject of this action: it is no longer his action, but something that the people around him did. The result, of course, is very different, and the original meaning of the Messianic Suffering Servant hiding his face is completely lost in translation. How did this happen?

The LXX matches the MT’s וכמסתר  “and like  hiding…” with οτι απεστραπται: “for [his face] was turned away“. The active form: [he] was like hiding, is replaced here by the passive form: [his face] was turned away; the “and” is rendered by “for”. This translation transforms the meaning of Isaiah 53:3b: “Through the insertion of οτι, the reader of the LXX is led to conclude that the marginalized state of the servant resulted in his being despised and disregarded.”[3] The servant’s humiliated condition is depicted by the perfect passive απεστραπται ([his face] “was turned away”). The Greek verb αποστρεφω is important in the LXX and is broadly used there. It describes someone or something physically turning or turning away. At the same time, it often refers to the Lord, whose anger is not turned away from his people or who has Himself turned away from his people because of their sin. For instance, we read in the book of Job: God will not withdraw (απεστραπται) his anger.[4]  However, even though the verb απεστραπται here is in a passive form, it is important to note that it is still in the singular form of the 3rd person, which means that in LXX, it is still the face of the Servant that is turned away, and in this sense, it is still his decision and his action: because his face was turned away, we dishonored and did not consider him (literal translation).    

How, then, in later translations of Tanach into different languages, did the general meaning of this verse become: we turned our faces from him? We have explained how the change from “hide” to “turn” took place; now we need to understand how the switch from the 3rd person singular to 1st person plural happened.

The explanation of this switch might be found in the Hebrew grammar, in particular in the Hebrew word .ממנו The meaning of this word in Hebrew can be double – either “from him” or  “from them”. In the Hebrew Scriptures we find both cases: for instance, in Genesis 3:3, 3:5 ממנו לא תאכל  means “from him” (from it, in English: from the tree); but in the same chapter, in Genesis 3:22 –כאחד ממנו  – the same word clearly means “from us”: like one from us. Here lies the root of the problem: when a certain translation reads this word in Isaiah 53:3 it as from him, not from us, it gives a very different meaning to the whole sentence. Thus, it becomes: we turned our faces from him – and that is what we find in most translations of Isaiah 53—instead of the original: and like one hiding his face from us…

Thus, this original meaning of this verse: as though hiding his face from us… became completely lost in translation, and the prophecy itself became the “hidden prophecy”. As you may have already realized, the very title of my last book came from this verse. Now we know that, according to Isaiah 53:3, the hiding of the face had to become an important step in the Messianic program—a prominent feature in the “Messianic Servant” image. The “Hidden Messiah” motif we find in Second Temple Jewish literature had, in all probability, been developed under the strong influence of this verse: since the messianic program of Isaiah included “hiding his face”,  if somebody considered himself to be a messiah, he had to be silent about his messiahship until the appointed time. If Jesus was the  Messiah, he had to fulfill every single step of this messianic program, and therefore, the hiding of the face in Isaiah 53:3b was possibly one of the main reasons for him to hide his messiahship: He was supposed to hide the face; His messianic dignity had to be concealed during his life and his ministry.

The Second Temple Jewish texts are very important witnesses to the ideas current in the pre-Christian Jewish world, and in themselves become the proof that the concept of Hidden Messiah was already an integral part of this world at the turn of the era. Undoubtedly, we might also expect this concept to be present in the New Testament, and if we read the New Testament in the light of the “hidden prophecy”, we will clearly see that the messiahship of Jesus was understood, not only by Himself but also by those describing his life and his ministry, in terms of a Messiah “hidden and revealed”—a Messiah whose messiahship is hidden till the appointed time, only to be revealed later. Next time, we will witness this drastic transition from Hidden Messiah to Messiah revealed in the New Testament.

 

If you liked this article, you might enjoy also my book As Though Hiding His Face, discussing in depth the issue of the Hidden Messiah. To get this and my other books, click here: all Books by Julia

 

[1] G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (p. 574). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

[2] Ibid.

[3]  Eugene Robert Ekblad Jr, Isaiah’s Servant Poems According to the Septuagint (Peeters  1999) , p.209

[4] Job 9:13

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (22 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Joseph Laulom.

    Really enjoy your teachings. Thank you very much. God Bless.

  2. Jane Mzwakali

    Shalom Julia

    You have made my Wednesdays a blessing for the past few months.
    I know we are coming towards the end of our lectures.
    I just wanna thank your for all the teachings we received from you on The Torah.
    The way it was structured it gave me an appetite to want to know more about the book of Genesis I m a quite person but I could not resist asking questions.
    I can boldly say I enjoyed every minute I was in your class and the participation of my classmates.
    I thank God for you and the wisdom of presenting what God has put into your heart to be able to open our spiritual eyes to His Word,.
    Thank you so much
    In Hebrew Toda raba lah.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much Jane, for your beautiful and generous words. I am so glad you’ve been enjoying the lectures! It’s a blessing to have people like you in the class, with the love for the Word and inquiring mind. And by the way, we still have couple months to go, the most beuatiful part of the Genesis -Joseph’s saga – is still before us, so we are not coming toward the end yet.

  3. It's Beginning to Rain Ministries

    Awesome Article!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you ! Check out my books, they are not bad either 🙂

  4. Mandy

    Shalom Julia.
    As always I love your blogs!
    I now have all your books, keep writing.
    Todah

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Mandy, for your kind words, i am blessed and touched!

  5. Margaret Vaughan

    Interesting Julia, with thanks. Bearing in mind that many Christians have personal witness of the Messiah, it seems that Romans 11:25, Matthew 13:11, Luke 21:24 also apply. However, of the many Jews who have accepted the Messiah and follow him – mystery no more?!!! Shalom

  6. Cleide Souza

    Dr Júlia
    Shalom
    Metsuyan your lessons … I love it …

    My comment :
    Wow … is true ….

  7. Laura Olson

    This is great dissertation! Food for the soul! I agree with all the wording mentioned, but I think that it was saying that we disesteem anyone who hides their face from us. Like homeless people, the loser in a boxing match, etc. Not militant about it, that just seems like everyday man, to look down on someone who’s face is hung down.

  8. Dorothy Healy

    This insight makes a lot of sense Julia – thank you for sharing it.
    What an absolutely profound act of love and humility. In paganism, man sacrificed to the gods to appease them or to gain favour. In Christ, we see the Divine One taking on human flesh, and laying his own life down to save sinful man – whilst all the time hiding his true face. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (Jn. 10:18)

    1. Wyatt Paul

      Dear Dorothy, If I dare reply, Jesus told Pilate ” For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth…” ( Jn 18.37). I am in much agreement with Dr Eli ( and I presume Julia) that John is the Gospel of Memra and an astonishing transformation of Targum, Temple and Festival theology in the light of the understanding the disciple that Jesus loved gained from the Word made Flesh. In this schema Jesus’ death in John is clearly portrayed as a Pesach sacrifice which is not a sin sacrifice. You may say that I am being pedantic but this leads to my mind to what is the nature of salvation, what actually is the essence of sin and our ultimate relationship with G-d. In the synoptic Gospels perhaps the key teaching of Jesus is “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”. The verb very lightly translated as ‘deny’ is in Matthew and Mark – ‘aparneomai’ – which is very strong. “Utterly deny/repudiate” the prefix ‘ap’ from ‘apo’ suggests “from its source”. It is our conception, our construction of ourselves – yes, on a psychodynamic level about which Jewish thought has contributed so much – which makes us think ourselves separate from G-d, separate objects on a billiard table, – and so much of Jesus’s teaching in the synoptics on radical non possessiveness, on anxiety, the things that choke the seed, are related to this. It is not a question of being somebody, however ‘good’, but of passing through nobody to be everybody and the nature of ” I AM”/Christic consciousness when agapatic love is the inevitable consequence. The essence of ‘sin’, of missing the mark, is this wrong thinking of separateness (” Why was this man born blind …” Jn 9.1) when John’s Gospel insists that if we abide in Jesus we will become completely/perfectly one with him and the Father (Jn 17.23) This is where our salvation rests in that Truth which will set us free, not the ‘sins’ ( plural) of our illusory selves which were forgiven before Jesus’s death so long as we ourselves can accept that reality.
      So Jesus’s death was a sacrifice – a sacrifice for the Truth ( in the face of ‘this world’ which we must to ‘go back’ into without compromising to it ) and a continuing power to make us ‘born of G-d’ ‘children of G-d’ ( Jn 1;12-13).
      But I come back to my original question to Julia about Isaiah 53.
      I am sorry if this has taken us so far away from her original piece. These are sensitive matters because I think they also touch upon on what did Jesus mean when he said “if you put new wine into old wineskins..”. My apologies to anyone that I may upset.

  9. Robert F. Westfall

    Julia: Love the picture relating to this post. Feel like that is me. Dwelling into His Word is one thing; following His Word through your posts is an amazing thing. My eyes are transfixed and my mind opened to the True Word through your posts. What a great blessing to be able to see the true scripture and explained in Hebrew. Thank you. As time and finances permit hope to come to understand the True Word more and more. bob

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Robert for your kind and encouraging words. I myself can also relate to this picture becuse it exactly how I felt years ago when I first discovered the “hidden prophecy” of Isaiah 53:3: I was just starting to work on the Hidden Messiah concept and was absolutely overwhelmed with this incredible proof! It was a great “wow” moment for me – and that’s why I picked this picture.

  10. depatridge

    Wow, thanks Julia for the continuing insight.

  11. Oliver Hirsh

    Thanks, I’m with you. Oliver (a lover of Isaiah)

  12. Wyatt Paul

    Dear Julia How do you square Isaiah 53 with what I thought was G-d’s abhorrence of human sacrifice – which so distinguished the religion of the Hebrews from that of other Canaanite peoples ? Am I correct in thinking that the ‘deuteroIsaiah’ hypothesis is now discredited and this passage was written before that of Jeremiah where G-d tells Jeremiah in three different places that the idea of human sacrifice had never entered his mind.
    Thank you.

    1. Julia Blum

      Dear Wyatt, years ago, when I first discovered the “hidden prophecy” of Isaiah 53:3, I was overwhelmed with this incredible proof of the Hidden Messiah concept. However, I don’t consider myself a specialist on Isaiah in general: These questions have been much debated, different scholars have expressed their scholarly views, you are probably familiar with some of them, and I don’t think I could add much to what has been said already.

  13. David Hereford

    Julia thank you so much for your diglent work giving us these insights into His Word. It seems we are truly slow to learn and hard of hearing, but please keep up this process of helping us to draw closer together,

    1. Brian Parker

      Todah Rabah Julia. It seems that the grasping the fullness of this phrase would be helpful as those of us who,like G-d Himself, love the Jewish people and pray earnestly for their fulfillment in finding Y’shua, the Hidden Meshiach.

    2. Mary Zore

      I am going to ask a theological point here, is not the sacrifice of Christ different from ‘human sacrifice’ since he is both human and Divine in nature. The death of Christ is an example of ‘deicide’. Christ came to die for mankind simply because a human sacrifice, no matter how holy the person, would always be insufficient for restoring mankind from the original sin of Adam and Eve. Thus God chooses a time, a place, the “woman” prophesied in Genesis 3:15 (Virgin Mary) and comes as a Messiah who is hidden under the guise of a ‘slave’ by his human nature. Saint Augustine likened the incarnation to being a ‘mousetrap for Satan who would not recognize Christ as a human person, after all Satan despised humanity and Genesis 3:15 says clearly that the seed of the serpent (Satan’s seed) would be in enmity with the seed of the “Woman”. Christ recalls this verse from the cross when he looks at Mary and the disciple John (beloved disciple) and says “Woman behold your son” meaning now Mary will have the motherhood over God’s household and all who accept Christ as the Messiah will be ‘seed’ of the cross and the grace won by His sacrifice.

    3. Julia Blum

      Thank you David, for your generous words. It’s always a blessing to hear from you, and I am glad you keep following the blog.