by Rev. Ken Overby
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. 2 He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. 4 He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law. 5 Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: 6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; 7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.”
He had been a faithful servant of Jehovah. Growing up in an orthodox Jewish school, he later enrolled in Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Eleven years later Dr. Max Wertheimer was ordained and became the Rabbi at a Reformed Congregation in Dayton, Ohio. Over the next ten years he rose to become a widely sought after speaker even within ecumenical circles. With a beautiful talented wife, a nice home, and two precious children, he later recalled “I was satisfied with life!”1
Then his wife became gravely ill. In spite of the best that doctors could do, she died. As a young widower he found that his years of study of the greatest Talmudic scholars gave him no comfort. He questioned, “How could I speak as a Rabbi, words of comfort to others when my own sorrow had brought me to despair.”2 He declined re-election as Rabbi to the synagogue to study his Bible for answers to some haunting questions. With regard to his wife, he asked, “Where is the spirit and soul of one who was such a gifted pianist, who gave charm to life?”3 Eventually he came across the phrase in Isaiah “my righteous servant.”4 To identify that “servant” he began at chapter one and fervently studied. He gradually concluded that it could only mean the Anointed of God. But who was this Messiah? “Why didn’t He speak so plainly to Israel that every Jew could understand?,”5 he exclaimed. Jehovah said of Him, “I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.”6 Sitting in the dungeon of despair, Rabbi Wertheimer needed a hand to hold, a covenant promise to stand on, and light for his darkened soul.
Another Jewish man, 2000 years earlier, sat in synagogue with no remedy for his withered hand. News came of a teacher in Galilee who healed people. Instead of seeking relief for the troubled, the rabbis touted their knowledge of the Talmud. Then an unexpected guest walked into the shabbat service. Challenged by this carpenter from Nazareth, the rabbis put Jesus to the test and asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?”7 Jesus pointed out a midrash (explanation of the text) of Moses that approved the care of sick sheep on the Sabbath. Scanning the knowing expressions of the peasant farmers in the assembly, Jesus answered the rabbis question with another, “How much then is a man better than a sheep?”8 Turning the spotlight on the Pharisees, He commanded the afflicted to, “Stretch forth thine hand.”9 I can just imagine how the gnarled fingers straightened, then clapped the other hand like thunder, in exuberant joy. The rabbis were infuriated. Jesus departed to flocking multitudes. I love what happened next! “HE HEALED THEM ALL.”10 He charged the multitudes not to speak to anyone about these miracles. Jesus in essence said, “Don’t make a big deal about it with your rabbi.” The rabbis’s saw His miracles with their own eyes, however the willful blindness they exhibited in spite of them, even He could not heal.
We read His next words from Isaiah 42 again, in Matthew 12:18-21. In this one event, Jesus gives the understanding of the identity of the “servant.” Long before Bible commentators could decide whom this verse was speaking of, the healed were certain that their healer was this Servant of the LORD. Jesus often described Himself as a servant.11
Many rabbis and liberal commentators erroneously identify the servant as Israel. Victor Buksbazen comments, “Although modern liberal commentators have interpreted the ‘servant’ as Israel” it was not so with the majority of ancient Jewish scholars”, who interpreted Isaiah 42:1-4 “as referring to the Messiah.” The Palestinian Targum, an ancient Aramaic paraphrase of the Old Testament, renders ‘Behold my servant’ as ‘Behold the Messiah my servant.’ Isaiah 42 is the first of four distinct “servant of the Lord prophecies which apply to the person of the Messiah.”12
Rabbi Wertheimer in his quest to identify this servant said, “Whoever that ‘righteous servant’ of Jehovah is, of one thing I am sure: he is not Israel, because the prophet declares Israel to be a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity.” Furthermore, Isaiah ruled himself out in chapter 6:5, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am man of unclean lips.”
The next phrase “whom I uphold” has prompted some to ask if it indicates the servant’s weakness. Although Jesus was fully incarnate and subject to pain and hunger and thirst, the phrase rather speaks of the incomparable One that God displays for all to view. A servant Messiah much like a “root out of dry ground”13 is a marvel to consider.
As for the phrase, “mine Elect in whom My soul delighteth,” the interpretation is clear in the New Testament declaration, “This is My beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”14
The next phrase “I have put My spirit upon him” is consistent with Isaiah 61:1 and was claimed by Jesus to apply to Him in Luke 4:18. John the Baptist testified, “he that sent me to baptize with water…said unto me, upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.”15
But how will this servant “bring forth judgment to the Gentiles”? The Holy Spirit with ‘the Gospel’ reproves men “of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment,” John 16:8. Jesus said, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”16
The opening verses of Isaiah 42 are best summarized, “The servant of the LORD is humble, unobtrusive and compassionate, verse 2. He does not crush the weak or the broken, but heals them, verse 3. He never wavers and is not crushed by His adversaries, nor by the enormity of His task, but will in the end accomplish His divinely appointed task, verse 4.”17
Finally, Rabbi Dr. Max Wertheimer became convinced that Jesus was the righteous Servant of Jehovah.18 On March 30, 1904 he publicly confessed Christ in the Central Baptist Church19 in Dayton Ohio. Little did he know that it all began in 1895 at a meeting in the Christian Church of Dayton where he proudly stood before an audience of “professing” Christians. He told them he could not believe in their Christ as his Messiah. He prided himself in Reformed Judaism’s denial of the need of an atoning sacrifice for sin. But unbeknownst to him, in the audience sat one of Christ’s little broken reeds, a humble aged woman. “O God,” she prayed, “Bring Dr. Wertheimer to realize his utter need of that Savior he so boastingly rejects. Bring him if necessary to the very depths in order that he might know his need of my Lord Jesus Christ.”20 Soon he would be sitting in the utter darkness of the prison house. It was there He began to seek for the Light.
With the authority of the Creator that spoke suns into brilliant light, by the force of the Spirit that moved upon the waters, and with the trumpet that thundered His Covenant at Sinai, God clothed Himself in human flesh. He obediently gave His life and shed His blood and became the New Covenant for Israel promised in Isaiah 42 (see Jeremiah 31:31-34 also). He arose to shine the light of eternal life on those spiritually blind prisoners scattered among the remote “isles”. He was called in righteousness to make us righteous. We who know Him must, like that dear saint who wept over Rabbi Wertheimer’s blindness, pray for His chosen people and with His gentle manner and the Spirit’s power say, “Behold His Servant.” To look at Him will open blind eyes.
1. Rabbis Meet The Messiah, Messianic Good News, p. 23
4. Isaiah 53:11
5. Rabbis Meet The Messiah, Messianic Good News, p. 24
6. Isaiah 42:6
7. Matthew 12:10
8. Matthew 12:12
9. Matthew 12:13
10. Matthew 12:15
11. Matthew 20:25-28, Matthew 23:11, Mark 9:35, Mark 10:43-45
12. Victor Buksbazen, The Prophet Isaiah, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 2008, p. 344
13. Isaiah 53:2
14. Matthew 3:17
15. John 1:33,34
16. John 12:47,48
17. Victor Buksbazen, The Prophet Isaiah, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 2008, p. 344
18. Rabbis Meet The Messiah, Messianic Good News, p. 26
20. Rabbis Meet The Messiah, Messianic Good News, p.22
Editor’s Note: You can read the entire testimony of Rabbi Wertheimer, along with the testimonies of 24 other rabbis, in the book “Rabbis Meet Jesus the Messiah.” It can be order from J.A.M. for $10 plus $4.00 postage and handling. Call us at 919-275-4477.