76 Sermons On The Old Testament Given By Jesus
Sermon 64 - The Second Isaiah wrote the Suffering Servant Songs.
July 21st, 1963
Received by Dr Samuels
I am here, Jesus.
But there is more to the Suffering Servant Songs which the Second Isaiah wrote than the identity of the suffering servant, which you will see was transformed by the prophet to meet the requirements of the changing times. This servant of God had to be conceived as dying in order for his noble deed (in taking the sins of his people upon himself) to have any effect. In the first place, in the Hebrew rite of Atonement, a sacrificial goat became the sin offering, in that it bore the iniquity of the congregation, and was sent out into the desert to die. In the land of Canaan, the concept of the dying god, and its relationship to agriculture, was well-known to the Hebrews who came into possession of the country at the time of the Exodus from Egypt and acquired their knowledge of agricultural pursuits from the Canaanites This was the death of the god in autumn and his rebirth in the spring; the planting and the harvest. This concept, as found here and in other Eastern lands, had a most important effect upon Christianity as it is now understood, and one early Greek writer of the Gospels had me to say:
“Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
(John 12: 24)
I never said this, to be sure, but the thought behind this was to make early converts to Christianity feel I was a god like the pagan deities who had to die to be resurrected. My death and resurrection had nothing to do with the seasons or agricultural processes, but the latter was certainly the fulfillment of the power of Divine Love.
Among the exiles in Babylon, a similar concept was in vogue making for their assimilation with pagan practices. In fact, the Book of Ezekiel, Chapter 8, relates that a spirit brought the prophet in a vision to Jerusalem and the Temple where all kinds of abominations were being practiced. The Spirit of God then brings Ezekiel to the entrance of the North Gate of the Temple, where women were worshipping Tammuz, the Babylonian god. Here is what Ezekiel wrote:
“Then He brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was towards the north; and, behold, there sat the women weeping for Tammuz.”
(Ezekiel 8: 14)
The Babylonian god, Tammuz, therefore, was well-known in Jerusalem and even worshipped by some Hebrews in the Temple itself, and his cult was very well understood, if not in some cases actually adhered to, among the Jews in Babylonia. A series of songs by the Second Isaiah, combining a scapegoat prophet of Jehovah, who became identified with the people, Israel itself, and a propitiatory dying god, Tammuz, were quite acceptable as a prophet’s message to the Hebrews in exile.
Now Tammuz, like other gods of this type, conformed to the Egyptian Osiris-Isis legend, differing in some unimportant details. He was Sumerian and Assyrian as well as Babylonian, and represented the withering and reviving vegetation. This god, brother and lover of Ishtar, the heaven and earth goddess, descended each year into the underworld, and was brought back to earth by her for a season, during which time flocks and plants flourished. During the time of his annual death, descent and sojourn into the netherworld, which naturally took place in the heat and drought of mid-summer, and continued until spring rains brought a renewal of plant life, there took place the religious wailing for Tammuz, conducted by a priestess of Ishtar and her women devotees, as Ezekiel mentioned it in his Chapter 8. There were many ramifications and inconsistencies as to the relationship of Ishtar to the god, some cultists calling her “sister,” others “mother,” and also “lovers,” inasmuch as it was his fecundation of the earth that brought the growth and harvest and, like Osiris, he was slain and drowned in the water. At the New Year celebration at Babylon, corresponding to September, the god Marduk, identified with Tammuz, was slain with an evil-doer, descended into the other world, was brought back by lshtar (here regarded as mother), and proceeded to come forth from a sepulcher to bring life to the world. I am quite aware that all this has a fairly close analogy with Christianity as it is now taught, and is one of the important reasons why this Christianity spread so quickly among the pagan peoples, who knew and accepted a kind of theology in varied form so similar to their own.
The forgoing, in a very brief way, represents the background to the famous Servant Songs of the Second Isaiah. To repeat, he blended the role of the prophet as the suffering servant of God, taking on the sins of the people, with the role of a pagan god annually dying and being resurrected to bring renewed life to earth.
At the same time, as the Second Isaiah continued to write his prophecies, under the impact of King Cyrus’ decree permitting the exiles to return to Jerusalem, and the exultation that the Lord had finally redeemed his people, there developed in him the conviction that this Hebrew people, exiled into a strange land and now returning home, was much like the god Tammuz, returning to earth after his stay in the netherworld, and that the prophet, spokesman of God, represented the redeemed portion of the people of Israel.
Jesus of the Bible,
Master of the Celestial Heavens