Isaiah 53 - Is offspring (zera') literal or metaphorical?

Please use this thread to discuss who the Servant of Isaiah 53 is
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Isaiah 53 - Is offspring (zera') literal or metaphorical?

Postby cgpb » Fri Sep 26, 2014 6:38 am

Another objection Jews raise to Isaiah 53 is that the servant can’t refer to Jesus because in verse 10 it says that the servant of the lord would see seed or “zera” – an expression meaning physical descendants in the Hebrew Bible.

So the entire argument then centers around whether the term seed, or“zerah”is used metaphorically or literally.

This argument has to be dealt with in terms of the following things:

1. The character and purposes of God
2. The use of metaphor and the word “zerah” in the Bible
3. What do the early manuscripts say

1. Firstly this argument isn’t taking into account the Bible as a spiritual book. God is an eternal and omnipotent being , so His plans and His Kingdom pertain to eternity. Metaphorical language is an inevitable part of spiritual matters otherwise how does one convey things that are not seen in the natural without the use of metaphor. Therefore it is wrong to presume that the word “offspring or seed” always has to refer to the physical or natural.

2. Secondly, the problem with this objection is that it removes the use of metaphorical language from scripture because how does one then deal with other scriptures where words that are applied literally are understood in other passages to be metaphorical.

For example: throughout scripture, the Hebrew word “ben” literally means a physical son but in 1 Samuel 3:6, Eli the priest calls Samuel his son, even though he wasn’t his literal son. In this context it is clear that “son” carries a metaphorical meaning.

Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” (1 Samuel 3:6)

We also see God using the same word to call Israel His firstborn son in Exodus 4:22

‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” (Exodus 4:22)

Genesis 3:15 uses the word seed or “zerah” to tell us that there will be enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Now a literal interpretation here would be ridiculous as it would have to mean that Eve’s children would be fighting with snakes.

Scripture clearly shows us that the word ”zerah” isn’t always limited to mean physical human offspring and here are a few examples.

a. In Gen 47:24 it refers to sowing

b. In Gen 47:19, 23 , it refers to actual seed that is planted in the ground.
Metaphorically we also see that Judah’s idolatry (Isaiah 17:11), The fortunes of Zion (Psalm 126:6) and King Zedekiah in (Ezekiel 17;5) are all likened to seed or zerah.

c. In Proverbs 11:21 the word “zerah” identifies groups and individuals that are united by a common quality. (Be sure of this: the evil man shall not be unpunished; but the seed of the righteous shall escape.)
The use of Zerah in Prov. 11:21 is metaphorical and cannot mean “literal descendants” because that would mean that the literal descendants of a wicked person are doomed to punishment even if they live a Godly life. Why? Because they are not the children of a righteous man. If ‘zerah” here meant literal offspring it would mean you would have to interpret Pro. 11:21 as teaching that your punishment or deliverance is decided by your ancestors, no matter what your personal righteousness is. This interpretation would be ridiculous and scripture itself nullifies it as we see that there are righteous individuals whose ancestors were wicked. For e.g Godly King Hezekiah, the direct descendent of wicked King Ahaz and is also a contradiction to Ezekiel 18:20.

“The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.”

According to Pr. 11:21, the righteous person is considered among the descendants of the righteous because he himself shares the common quality with all those people who live by God’s standards, regardless of whether his own physical father was righteous or not.

d. To mean physical descendants (Gen. 46:6)
“So Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt, taking with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan.”

e. To mean spiritual descendants (Gen. 15:5) as we shall see.

Often times in scripture we see the words “offspring”/“zerah” and “forever” occurring together. For example 2 Ch.13:5 says:

“Don’t you know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt?”

Clearly “forever “ in such phrases is not limited to the physical but also extends to the spiritual because the physical cannot guarantee the everlasting succession of descendants due to factors like a person’s wickedness, covenant curses like exile which made Zedekiah the last king, a person not marrying or having children etc…

Let’s examine an example with Abram.

When God calls Abram, in Gen 12:7, He promises to give him and his offspring the land.

“And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land”. (Gen 12:7)

He then goes on to promise Abram that he will give his offspring the land forever and that his descendants will be so numerous that they will be like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then his offspring should be counted.”

“for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants[a] forever. 16 And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.” (Gen. 13:15-16)

In Genesis 15:5, God then goes on to promise Abram that his offspring shall be so numerous that they will be like the stars in the heavens.

Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

The fact that God has gone from speaking to Abraham in terms of dust or sand relating to the number of his offspring to stars is significant. “Dust ” or “sand” always speaks of the carnal while “light” or “stars” speak of the spiritual.

Notice all these will be in the singular “seed” not plural “seeds”. These are going to be spiritual descendants, those who follow the Faith of their Father Abra{ha}m.

In Genesis 22:18, God then promises Abraham that through his offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.

“In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

Since seed here is in the singular, this poses the following problem:

How will seed or physical descendants that are in the singular, bless all nations of the earth?

We now come to the 3rd issue that deals with what the early manuscripts say regarding Isaiah 53:10

The Great Isaiah scroll of the Dead Sea scrolls says:

“….he will see his offspring, and he will prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will triumph in his hand.”

The Septuagint ( LXX )Says:

“…..If ye can give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived seed”

καὶ Κύριος βούλεται καθαρίσαι αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τῆς πληγῆς. ἐὰν δῶτε περὶ ἁμαρτίας, ἡ ψυχὴ ὑμῶν ὄψεται σπέρμα μακρόβιον· καὶ βούλεται Κύριος ἀφελεῖν

The LXX includes a key word that is lacking in the Masoretic text which is μακρόβιον meaning seed that is long lived. Now if it were referring to physical descendants, how could they be long lived ,when the physical is subject to factors that do not guarantee “long-life”

So the Jewish objection that the servant in Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus because he didn’t literally father children is weak and clearly shows an unfamiliarity with Hebrew, a lack of access to other resources that enable a closer examination of the statement and a lack of understanding of the use of metaphor in scripture to teach spiritual truths.

Clearly the “seed” or “zerah” of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53;10 is referring to spiritual descendants or disciples rather than literal offspring.

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