It’s a line from the famous encounter in Acts 8 between Philip and “the Ethiopian eunuch.”
Philip is led by the Spirit to a certain place at a certain time and sees a caravan heading south. Among them, an important official is lounging on a “chariot” (probably a covered wagon or litter) reading a scroll (as above)to idle away the journey. Here’s the story:
“Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.”
“Beginning from that scripture!” It was the claim of the first believers that the Old Testament contained prophecies about what was happening in their own day. Specifically, the prophet Isaiah was said to have provided detailed information about this coming Messiah. Was this true or was it contrived -the way you can twist something vague into sounding specific.
And who was Isaiah?
The name means “Yahweh is salvation.” He lived in Jerusalem in the eighth century BC and the prophecies God gave him were directed toward Israel, Judah and other nations. More than any other prophet he seemed to have access to the royal court, and, according to 1:1, he received visions from God during the reigns of four kings of Judah—Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. The time covered is from the end of King Uzziah’s reign (Isaiah 6:1) to the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem. That makes for a 40-year ministry during the last half of the eighth century BC.
Isaiah was married to a prophetess (Isaiah 8:3). They had two sons whose names had prophetic meanings. They were Shear-Jashub (Isaiah 7:3, meaning “a remnant shall return”) and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isaiah 8:1-4, meaning “speed the spoil, hasten the booty”). Isaiah and his family would be for “signs and wonders in Israel” (Isaiah 8:18).
Jewish tradition says he was killed by being sawn in two by King Manasseh, the son of King Hezekiah. This seems to be alluded to in Hebrews 11:37.The first intent of the Old Testament prophet was to “forth tell” rather than to “foretell”. They spoke out of an understanding of the character of God into the prevailing social conditions of their own day. They asked: “What would God say about political corruption, or exploitation of the poor or increased military spending?” or any one of a raft of serious contemporary issues. And they spoke out God’s answer.
But in the course of speaking God’s answer, they started to say, through the power of the Holy Spirit, just what the Lord would do about such things. And so their prophecies began to take on a future dimension.
Thus, many of the prophecies in Isaiah begin with the historical conditions in his own day and then move forward to a far greater fulfillment in a future situation through the coming of what the prophets called “Messiah,” God’s hero who would rise up to act on God’s behalf. This is the dualism seen in many of the prophecies of the Bible. The first (historical) fulfillment is lesser in scope and is followed by the greater future fulfillment at “the end of this present age”. The dualism in Isaiah usually pertains to the prophecies about Jesus Christ, Israel, Judah or other nations.
There is much in the massive document we call “Isaiah,” but here we’re just going to sketch something of what Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah, and (tomorrow) seek to answer the Eunuch’s question:“About whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”
Almost one-third of the chapters of the book of Isaiah contain prophecies about the Messiah in both His first and second comings. Here’s a glimpse:
- “He shall judge between the nations” (Isaiah 2:4).
- He was to be the “Branch of the Lord” (Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1).
- He would be born of a virgin and be called “Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 8:8, 10).
- He would be a “stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (Isaiah 8:14).
- An eternal “government will be upon His shoulder” and He would be called the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
- The Holy Spirit would “rest upon Him” (Isaiah 11:2).
- He would be “a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16).
Christ is directly spoken of in more than half of the chapters between Isaiah 40 and Isaiah 61. Undoubtedly, the most important chapter is Isaiah 53, which the Eunuch was reading. This prophecy explains how much He would suffer during His sacrifice for man’s sins.
It is impossible to understand this passage without a larger panoramic view of the concept of the servant of the Lord in Isaiah. This is the fourth of a number of “servant songs” in Isaiah (Is. 42:1-6; 49:1-3; 50:4-9; 52:13 – 53:12). Interestingly, each of these servant passages appears to build on one another.
First, Isaiah 42:1-6 describes the mission of the servant. Commenting on Isaiah 42:1-4, Blenkinsopp notes, “Here the speaker is Yahweh, who designates an individual as his servant and chosen one, endowing him with the spirit so that he may fulfill his mission of dispensing justice and law to the nations.”
Second, Isaiah 49:1-13 notes that this mission is accompanied with difficulties. Some argue that the text refers to the prophet himself. Commenting on Isaiah 49, Blenkinsopp notes, “But the problem is that the mission assigned to the speaker includes the task of bringing Israel back to its God, which task must be ascribed to an individual or collectivity within Israel, not to Israel itself.”
Third, Isaiah 50:4-9 shows that the servant suffers short of death, but does not give the reasons for his suffering. Finally, Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 demonstrates that the servant’s suffering leads to his death.
Within this section, a description of His first coming begins in Isaiah 52:14, which says, “His visage [appearance] was marred more than any man.” Isaiah 53:2-5 explains that His earthly physical appearance would not stand out, He was “despised and rejected,” and “by His stripes [wounds] we are healed” of our sicknesses.
This pivotal chapter tells us that He would come to give His life as a sacrifice for our sins. The Passover lamb symbolized this merciful act (Isaiah 53:7; Exodus 12:5; 1 Corinthians 5:7). Statements of His death are then repeated: “For He was cut off from the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8). “And they made His grave with the wicked” (verse 9). He was an “offering for sin” (verse 10) and He “poured out His soul unto death” (verse 12).
So: “About whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”
- Some of this drawn from Ryan Turner CARM, by permission
- Pic is Great Isaiah Scroll from Dead Sea