Category archives: History

Christmas Prophecies (Part 6): How the Servant’s Death Brings the Light of Life

by David Closson

December 25, 2020

This is the final part of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

 

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see[the light of life] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12)

Christmas, the day when Christians celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ, is joyful precisely because Jesus succeeded in His earthly mission, namely, securing salvation for all who trust in His saving work. Our study of Isaiah 53 concludes with verses 10-12, which direct our attention to the meaning and significance of the Servant’s suffering and death and help us understand the depth of God’s love for His children.

Verse 10 reveals a startling truth—God willed the terrible death of this innocent Servant. Verse 11 explains why—His death made it possible for many to be accounted righteous. Verse 12 returns to the theme of Isaiah 52:13 and glories in the Servant’s exaltation. Together, these verses marvel at the work accomplished by the Servant and foreshadow Christ’s work on the cross.

Verse 10 opens the stanza with the disjunctive “Yet,” signaling a clear contrast with the content of the previous verse. The focus shifts from man’s sensory experience to God’s perspective on what has unfolded so far. In light of the horrifying miscarriage of justice perpetrated against the Servant, Isaiah’s readers expect God to avenge and vindicate the Servant. Thus, when God’s sovereign purpose is at last revealed in verse 10a, the truth is startling— “it was the will of the Lord to crush him.”

The natural response to this statement is disbelief and perhaps even anger. Why would God want to crush this man? Why would God want an innocent person to suffer? On these questions, theologian John Oswalt’s reflections are illuminating:

The faithful God of the Bible would certainly not visit bad things on innocent people, would he? Yes, he would if some greater good would be served. Is it possible there is some greater good than all the terrible things the Servant has endured will procure?… [Yes,] what God wants to come out of the Servant’s suffering is of monumental proportions. He wants human beings to be able to offer this man up on the altar of their sins so that he can be a “full and sufficient sacrifice” for them, satisfying all the unpaid debts of their behavior.[1]

God’s sovereign purpose behind all the suffering of the Servant was to make Him a guilt offering, not for His own sins (He had none), but for the sins of others.

An important note must be made concerning English translations that render verse 10a: “But the Lord was pleased to crush him” (NASB) or “Though the Lord desired to crush him” (NET). Unfortunately, these translations contribute to the faulty understanding that somehow, God took delight in making the Servant suffer. Peter Gentry helpfully clarifies this point: “Here, ‘delighted’ is being used in the context of sacrifice. God is delighted or pleased with the sacrifice in the sense that he accepts it as sufficient to wipe away his indignation, his offense and his outrage at our sin.”[2] Thus, it was not God’s sadistic will to punish an innocent man. Rather, it was God’s redemptive will. This notion is further clarified in the second part of verse 10 with the mention of “guilt offering.” 

The guilt or “reparation” offering in 10b refers to the fifth offering described in Leviticus. Of all the Old Testament offerings, this one covered guilt that had been knowingly incurred by the individual and had to be offered by the individual responsible.[3] Three important benefits of this offering are highlighted in verse 10c: “he shall see his offspring,” “he shall prolong his days,” and “the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” In view of fulfilling God’s glorious plan, the Servant will be successful; he will enjoy offspring and length of days. These should be interpreted figuratively to indicate that despite the bleak future forecasted in previous stanzas, the Servant’s life will be marked by blessing and fruitfulness. This thought is continued in verse 11a with the phrase, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see [the light of life] and be satisfied.” Despite not appearing in some English translations, the phrase “light of life” in verse 11 is supported by textual witnesses.[4] Taken together, verses 10c and 11a point to another significant reality—resurrection.

Although the Servant’s death is communicated in stanza four (verses 7-9), stanza five indicates that the Servant is alive. How is this possible? Verse 11a, with its contrast of “guilt offering” and “light,” strongly suggests resurrection, which is implied by the idea of seeing offspring and prolonging days.[5] Faithfully reconciling stanza four and five requires the Servant’s resurrection (taking place between the realities described by each). The reference to “light” in 11a is another clue to resurrection.

Verses 11b-12 conclude stanza five by describing the benefits of the Servant’s death given to the “many.” The use of “knowledge” in 11b should be understood as experiential knowledge of faith.[6] In context, this accurately captures Isaiah’s understanding of the Servant’s accomplishment. People do not benefit by what the Servant knows, but by knowing and believing in what the Servant did.  

Verse 12 explains that the benefits of the Servant’s success will be “divided… with the many.” This highlights the breadth of the Servant’s work. Because the Servant “poured out his soul to death” and “bore the sins of many,” he effectively has provided a way for men to have a right relationship with God. Gentry notes this “corporate solidarity” between the one and the many and explains it in terms of the Ancient Near East context of the relationship between a king and his people.[7] In this case, because the Servant represents the people, the rewards and benefits He secured through His suffering and death are transferred to the people. It is striking to discern that all the major words used for sin— “transgressions,” “iniquities,” and “sin”—are in the plural, indicating that the Servant’s sacrificial death is holistic, covering the guilt of the “many.” This is a magnificent picture of substitutionary atonement and points to what Christ did on the cross.

Conclusion

Isaiah 53 is one of the most magnificent messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. In a way that is striking and sobering, this passage blazes forth the glory of Christ and the hope of eternal salvation by teaching that God loved the world so much that He sent His Son as a humble Servant who willingly substituted Himself in our place and bore the full wrath of God for our sin that we might be forgiven.

Thus, at Christmas, it is fitting to read and study Isaiah 53, which clearly captures the meaning and significance of Christ’s work on the cross. Examining the intricacies of this text is not easy, but the reward is worth it. Seeing Christ’s person and work thus depicted—exalted (52:13-15), despised (1-3), rejected (4-6), killed (7-10), and resurrected (10-12)—prompts reverent worship and a profound sense of gratitude. Indeed, praise God for this Servant, this man of sorrows, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).



[1]  John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 400.

[2]  Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT), June 12, 2007, http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 35.

[3] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 402.

[4] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 37.

[5]  Allen P. Ross et al., Proverbs–Isaiah, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Revised ed. edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008), 802.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 41.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 5): The Lamb of God Is Sacrificed for Our Transgressions

by David Closson

December 24, 2020

This is Part 5 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

 

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7-9)

Our study of Isaiah 53 continues in verses 7-9, which contain the shocking climax of the chapter: the Servant suffers to the point of death. Because the parallels between the Servant’s death and the final events of Jesus Christ’s life are so striking, ever since the first century, Christians have acknowledged Christ’s death on the cross as the fulfillment of this passage. Verses 7-9 are quoted no less than 15 times by New Testament authors.[1]

The two comparisons with sheep (in verse 6 of the previous stanza and in verse 7) are noteworthy and most likely intentional. On this point, John Oswalt comments: “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is not accidental that the only extended metaphor in this poem involves sheep, the primary animals of sacrifice.”[2] While “we” the people are likened to sheep that have gone astray, the Servant is likened to a sheep led to slaughter. Amid His ongoing oppression and suffering, the Servant is silent, like a sheep before its shearers. Rather than objecting to the injustice of the proceedings, the Servant accepts his role and does not protest. In the same way, Christ was silent before His own accusers (Pilate, Herod, etc.), in fulfillment of this text.

The phrase “by oppression and judgment” in verse 8a presents an interpretive challenge. Professor Gay V. Smith understands “oppression” to mean “restrained,” suggesting that the Servant was arrested and imprisoned. He understands “judgment” as referring to a court or place of judgment.[3] Smith concurs with Peter Gentry, who thinks that a lack of justice in the judicial process (no fair trial) is most likely being implied.[4]

Verse 8 continues by noting that the Servant was “cut off” out of the land of the living, indicating death. Professor Geoffrey Grogan comments, “The phrase ‘cut off’ strongly suggests not only a violent, premature death, but also the just judgment of God, not simply the oppressive judgment of human beings.”[5] Although His death is somewhat expected, given the progression of the text, the fact that the innocent Servant is finally killed hits the reader with force. The miscarriage of justice is infuriating and cries out for retribution. However, the final phrase adds a shocking, revelatory detail that clarifies the motive of the Servant— he was killed “for the transgression of my people.” Oswalt notes that this reveals that the Servant was not killed because of a corrupt legal system: “It is not legal injustice that condemns him but the transgression of my people. If he is treated unjustly, and he is, the author wants us to know that this injustice is not an expression of that all-too-common custom of mistreating innocent people. The Servant was doing this on purpose.”[6] Despite the rejection, sorrow, grief, and shame, the Servant’s death was ultimately the result of an intentional and purposeful plan. This is a staggering statement that will be developed in the final stanza.

Briefly, verse 9 adds details concerning the Servant’s death and place of burial. Gentry argues that the verse should be rendered, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, but his tomb was with the rich.”[7]This means that although the Servant was killed with criminals, he was buried amongst the rich. This is exactly what happened at Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus was crucified with criminals but buried in the tomb of a rich man. Once again, Christ perfectly fulfills Isaiah’s description of the Servant.



[1] NIV Zondervan Study Bible, Hardcover: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message (Harper Collins, 2015), 1427. Some of these verses include Matt. 26:63; 27:12, 14; Mark 14:60-61; Acts 8:32-33; 1 Cor. 15:3, and 1 John 3:5.

[2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 391–392.

[3] Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, (Vol. 15) (The New American Commentary), (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2009), 453.

[4] Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT), June 12, 2007, http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 33. Oswalt concurs with Smith and Gentry on p. 393 of The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66.

[5] Allen P. Ross et al., Proverbs–Isaiah, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Revised ed. edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008), 801.

[6] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 394.

[7] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 34.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 4): The Suffering Servant Is Rejected by Mankind

by David Closson

December 23, 2020

This is Part 4 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

 

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Our continuing study of Isaiah 53 brings us to verses 4-6, which foreshadow Jesus Christ’s suffering on the cross. By invoking sacrificial imagery that would have been familiar to Isaiah’s readers, these verses shed light on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.

Verse 4 signals a dramatic shift in Isaiah’s narrative. The focus is now on the Servant’s intense suffering. But the reason for His suffering is shocking. Note the 10 first-person plural pronouns (“we,” “our,” and “us”) in these three verses. The “griefs” and “sorrows” borne by the Servant were not on account of his own deficiencies or sin. Rather, He substituted Himself for and was punished on behalf of the very same people who had previously ridiculed and rejected Him! John Calvin relates this shocking exchange to Christ: “Isaiah complains of the wicked judgment of men, in not considering the cause of Christ’s heavy afflictions; and especially he deplores the dullness of his own nation because they thought that God was a deadly enemy of Christ, and took no account of their own sins, which were to be expiated in this manner.”[1]

The degradations described in verse 5 escalate in severity—from sickness and physiological suffering to physical injuries and, ultimately, the bearing of spiritual wrath. Verse 5 is unequivocal that “we” are the beneficiaries of the Servant’s suffering. Although many liberal theologians categorically reject the concept of the transference of guilt, there is an important biblical antecedent that informs Isaiah’s prophecy—the Old Testament sacrificial system, particularly the scapegoat ceremony.

In Leviticus 16:7-10, the priests are instructed to designate a goat that, despite its innocence, would symbolically take the Israelites’ place and carry their sins into the wilderness (this is where the term “scapegoat” comes from). The goat would eventually die in the wilderness, while the people remained alive in the camp. Professor Gary V. Smith cautions against reading too much into this connection but affirms the correlation: “Chapter 53 does illustrate substitutionary action drawn from sacrificial concepts.”[2]

Isaiah clearly states that the Servant is not suffering with the people—He is suffering for them. Verse 5 concludes with an incredible statement: “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” The result of the substitutionary action of the Servant is peace and healing—the same remarkable spiritual benefits New Testament believers receive when they trust in Christ for their salvation. Verse 5 prefigures Christ’s substitutionary work on the cross.

Verse 6 concludes this stanza by comparing the people to a flock of sheep, a simile that will continue in later verses. Isaiah’s point is that people wander aimlessly in their sin, completely unaware of its magnitude and wickedness, much like sheep are prone to wandering from their shepherd’s care. People blissfully unconcerned about their sin are also equally oblivious to the incredible lengths the Servant has gone to secure payment and forgiveness on their behalf. Surely the apostle Paul had Isaiah 53 in mind when he reminded the Philippians of the great lengths Christ has gone for their—and our—salvation: 

though he [Christ] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 6-8).

At Christmas time, we Christians should celebrate and remind ourselves and others of the great lengths Christ went to for our salvation. Being fully God, Christ humbled Himself and became also fully man. And not just any man, but one who was despised and rejected, bearing the punishment that we justly deserved. As one Christmas hymn so beautifully puts it:

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becomes poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man.

- “Thou Who Was Rich Beyond All Splendor” (words by Frank Houghton, 1894–1972)



[1] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries - Volume 8 - Isaiah 33-66 (Baker, 1999), 115.

[2] Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, (Vol. 15) (The New American Commentary), (B&H Academic, Nashville), 2009, 449.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 3): A Root That Is Despised

by David Closson

December 22, 2020

This is Part 3 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

 

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrowsand acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:1-3)

Isaiah 53 is one of the most well-known passages in the Old Testament. However, it is usually associated with Good Friday, not Christmas. Even so, as Christians consider the “reason for the season” this week, it is important to remember why Jesus came—and what His death and resurrection accomplished.

Verses 1-3 continue the description of the Servant begun in 52:13-15 by detailing His physical appearance and reflecting on how the people responded to Him. The Servant is “despised” and utterly ignored and discounted because He did not conform to preconceived notions of royalty.

Although the identity of the “we” in verse 3 is debated, a growing consensus of scholars think it refers to a believing Israelite remnant that is remembering the Servant’s person and work. If that is the correct interpretation, the ensuing verses contain a report about the deliverance God has accomplished through the Servant. Notably, the prevailing tone throughout these verses is a mixture of shock, anguish, and disappointment, as those returning from exile consider their failure to recognize God’s faithful and restoring work on their behalf. In retrospect, the people realize they completely missed the identity and significance of the Servant in large measure because of His humble comportment and appearance.

Somewhat ironically, the phrase “arm of the Lord” is used in verse 1b to introduce the physical description of the Servant. In biblical literature, the “arm of the Lord” represented the powerful, salvific strength of God manifested in episodes of deliverance. Significantly, this image would have evoked memories of the Exodus, when God dramatically rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians. The Israelites’ safe passage through the Red Sea and the subsequent drowning of the pursuing Egyptian army would have immediately been brought to mind. Thus, the juxtaposition of the Servant’s humble act of deliverance with the Exodus event conveys enormous theological truth, making it even more shocking that a figure of such importance was not recognized.

Verses 2-3 detail the physical appearance of the Servant and how the people responded to Him. Verse 2 compares the Servant to a “young plant” and “root” that comes out of the “dry ground.” Interpreters seem to differ on the significance of this comparison. John Oswalt argues that “this is figurative speech that is intended to convey to us the unexpected nature of the Servant’s entire ministry.”[1] Peter Gentry sees a reference to Isaiah 11:1 and the promised Davidic king. He explains, “This is once more the image of a tree that is a metaphor for kings and kingdoms both in Isaiah and the Old Testament as a whole.”[2]

On close observation, it is fascinating that this imagery invokes a diminutive plant and that the “root” emanates from “dry ground.” Thus, Oswalt and Gentry do not contradict—the “young plant” and “root” proceeding out of “dry ground” indeed symbolize a royal figure but also the unexpected and unlikely origin and appearance of the Servant. From the perspective of the New Testament, it is clear that Jesus exemplified these traits and is identified with the Servant.

The final verse in the stanza reinforces the notion that this figure did not resemble royalty. At first glance, there was nothing discernible in appearance or comportment that embodied majesty, and He was treated accordingly. Verse 3a summarizes this treatment: “He was despised and rejected by men.” The term “despised” refers to the fact that the Servant’s contemporaries considered Him unworthy of attention.[3] This notion is also expressed in the phrase “as one from whom men hide their faces” (v. 3b). John Goldingay notes: “Hiding the face is more commonly an act of rejection.”[4] Perhaps this rejection was partly due to the “sorrow” and “grief” that characterized the Servant’s experience.

In other words, the Servant was subject to pain, grief, and suffering. Given Jewish expectations of a powerful and conquering Messiah, they perceived this figure as weak and ineffective, not in any way resembling the strong “arm of the Lord” that brought their ancestors out of Egypt. Thus, they turned away and rejected Him. Again, from the standpoint of the New Testament, this description perfectly captures the experience of Jesus. Oswalt aptly summarizes verses 1-3: “The point is that because he does not fit the stereotype of the arm of the Lord he will be treated as though he were ill; he will experience what the ill experience: avoidance.”[5] In summary, these verses speak of the unassuming and lowly bearing of the Servant, who is stricken with suffering to the degree that people turn away from Him.

Having described the appearance of the Servant, Isaiah is ready to reflect on the Servant’s actions and their significance. These are some of the most astounding verses in Scripture and will be the focus of the next study.



[1]  John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998),  382.

[2]  Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBTJ), June 12, 2007, ,http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 31–32.

[3] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 383.

[4] John Goldingay, Isaiah, The International Critical Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001), 303.

[5] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 385.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 2): How the Suffering Servant Defied Expectations

by David Closson

December 21, 2020

This is Part 2 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1.


13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
  he shall be high and lifted up,
  and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
  his appearance was so marred [is an anointing], beyond human semblance,
  and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinklemany nations.
  Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
  and that which they have not heard they understand. (Isaiah 52:13-15)

As we approach Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, it is helpful to consider what the Bible teaches about why Jesus came to earth. Isaiah 53, written 700 years before the first Christmas, provides a detailed description of this purpose. To fully understand Isaiah’s teaching, it is important to start a few verses earlier with Isaiah 52:13-15.

Verses 13-15 function as a prologue, previewing the issues that will be developed throughout the passage.

Despite being in the middle of a chapter, the phrase “Behold my servant” introduces a new section of thought in 52:13 (modern Bible readers must remember that chapter and verse divisions were not added until around A.D. 1200).[1] Biblical authors often signaled new sections of thought by using stylistic elements. Such is the case in 52:13, with the attention-getting “behold.” However, this phrase does more than merely indicate a new section of thought; it also helps communicate the significance of the person about to be described, i.e., the Servant. Isaiah wastes no time in drawing attention to the person and work of the Servant.

Isaiah continues by explaining that the Servant “shall act wisely.” The ESV and NIV render the Hebrew verb as “wisely,” whereas the NASB translates it as “prosper.” Although both contain an important nuance, neither conveys the full intended meaning. Isaiah is not merely explaining that the Servant will be wise. Rather, he is saying that he will “both know and do the right things in order to accomplish the purpose for which he was called.”[2] This provides clarity to the rest of the verse: “he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” Because he has completed the work for which He was sent, the Servant will be exalted to a place of prominence.

Next, verse 14 provides further detail on how the Servant will accomplish His purpose. First, the text explains that many will be “astonished” at Him. Why are people astonished at the Servant? The reason for this response depends on how verse 14a is translated. There are two options for translating the Hebrew noun used here— “anointing” or “destruction/marred.” Old Testament professor Peter Gentry argues that the first option—“anointing”—is to be preferred because of its pervasive use in other biblical texts. He notes that the imagery associated with “anointing” recalls the anointing ceremony that took place when a new high priest was installed into office (Ex. 29:29; Lev. 21:10). This special anointing served to differentiate the high priest from other priests.

On the other side, Professor Gary Smith proposes that the Hebrew term is better rendered “disfigurement.” Appealing to context, he argues that “disfigurement” fits with the physical description of the Servant in 53:2.[3] Concurring with Smith, John Oswalt contends that “all suffering is encompassed here: physical, mental, and spiritual.”[4]

However the term is best translated, the Servant’s appearance is evidently a shock, especially to those who expected a godlike deliverer. Reading this text informed by the New Testament, the connection between the Servant in Isaiah and Jesus is becoming clear. Those in Jesus’ day were anticipating a military and political champion to overthrow the occupying Romans. Jesus defied those expectations, and, following a Roman-inflicted beating, did not appear able to save.

Moving on to verse 15, there is debate amongst biblical scholars on whether the Hebrew word should be rendered “sprinkle” or “startle.” The majority of interpreters prefer “sprinkle,” which best fits the progression of the text, especially if “anointing” is the correct interpretation in 14a. Peter Gentry summarizes his position for both disputed words by arguing, “The servant sprinkles because he is anointed.” He adds, “The idea of many being horrified at the Servant and of an anointing and sprinkling that goes beyond that of Israel so that it applies to all the nations best explains the exaltation of the Servant and why so many in the end are told something they have never before seen or understood.”[5] Gentry’s argument prioritizes the literary structure by recognizing that the prologue previews the major ideas unfolding in subsequent stanzas.

Verse 15 concludes the prologue by describing kings’ reactions to the Servant’s work. In short, the Servant’s work will be unlike anything the nations have seen before.

Isaiah 52:13-15 serves as a helpful prologue for Isaiah 53. Isaiah has signaled that the Servant is the focus of this section and the one who is tasked with securing forgiveness of sins and a right relationship with God. As we see in the forthcoming verses, this will be accomplished through His mediating role of a priest, and it will apparently involve a type of sacrifice. Evidently, the Servant’s work will shock those who witness it, and ultimately the Servant will be exalted.



[1] Robert Plummer and Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2010), 28.

[2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 373.

[3] Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (B&H Academic, 2009), 438.

[4] John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 380.

[5] Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBTJ), June 12, 2007, ,http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 29, 31.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 1): Why We Should Contemplate Christ’s Suffering at Christmas

by David Closson

December 20, 2020

This is Part 1 of a 6-part series.

When Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is common to retell New Testament stories of how Jesus came into the world as a baby in the manger. But there are other passages in the Bible that help us understand the purpose of the incarnation, including one of the most stunning prophecies in Scripture—Isaiah 53. This blog series will take a closer look at this passage and provide fresh perspective on Jesus’ mission, suffering, and victory over sin and death.

This week, Christians around the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus. Over the next few days, Scripture passages such as Matthew 1-2 and Luke 2 will be read and studied, and believers will reflect with gratitude on God’s love manifested in the incarnation of His Son. But as wonderful as these passages are, additional biblical texts can also help us understand the meaning and significance of Christmas. One such passage is Isaiah 53, a well-known Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah that explains the purpose of Jesus’ birth and the significance of His atoning work on the cross.

In his book, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, James Hamilton makes a simple but profound observation: “If we will listen carefully to the Bible, it will proclaim to us the glory of God.”[1] This is true of Isaiah 53, one of the most magnificent prophecies in the Old Testament. Although the entire biblical canon manifests the majesty of Christ, this particular passage shines a light on God’s plan of redemption in a way that is striking, weighty, and sobering.

This Christmas blog series will unpack Isaiah 53 by carefully analyzing each verse with the aim of illuminating larger themes, including the significance of the Servant’s death and resurrection (biblical scholars agree that the Servant figure in Isaiah prefigures Jesus). Entries in the series, of which this is the first, will follow the natural flow of the text. The second will examine the prologue in verses 52:13-15. The third will examine the rejection of the Servant in verses 53:1-3. The fourth will examine the Servant’s substitutionary atonement in verses 4-6, and the fifth will examine the Servant’s rejection in verses 7-9. Finally, verses 10-12, which interpret the meaning of the Servant’s death, will be covered in the final entry.

Understanding the book of Isaiah’s literary style and broader context is essential to grasping the significance of chapter 53. Hebrew prophecy has a unique form and style. Old Testament scholar Peter Gentry helpfully points out: “Prophetic preaching and writing certainly does not follow the patterns of Aristotelian rectilinear logic so fundamental to our discourse in the Western world. Instead, the approach in ancient Hebrew literature is to take up a topic and develop it from a particular perspective and then to stop and take up the same theme again from another point of view. This pattern is kaleidoscopic and recursive.”[2] This kaleidoscopic approach is characteristic of Isaiah’s prophecy, which presents a holistic message through seven major sections. Each of these sections focus on aspects of God’s relationship with Israel. The reality and implications of the broken covenant, judgment, exile, and the hope of restoration are all thoroughly explored throughout these sections.[3]

The Fourth Servant Song is situated in the sixth section (chapters 38 to 55), which focuses on restoration and redemption. This section follows on the heels of a lengthy description of Israel’s forthcoming exile (chapters 5-37). As Isaiah shifts his attention from exile to restoration, it is apparent that there are two distinct returns from exile and two agents of redemption being described. The two returns are a return to the land of Israel and a return to an Eden-like experience with God.[4] Gentry summarizes this by noting: “There are two issues in the return from exile: physical return from Babylon and spiritual deliverance from bondage and slavery to sin.”[5] Corresponding to these two returns are two agents of redemption: Cyrus and the Servant. Whereas Cyrus is responsible for the people’s physical return to the land of Israel, the Servant is tasked with the more difficult task—securing forgiveness of sins and restoring a right relationship with God.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas this week, it is appropriate to consider the reason for the incarnation. Why did Jesus—the Second Person of the Trinity—step out of heaven and become a man? As Isaiah helps us see, it was to deliver us from our sin and reconcile us to God. This is why Jesus came. This is the reason we celebrate the arrival of Immanuel—God with us—at Christmas.

David Closson is the Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.



[1] James M. Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 40.

[2] Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBTJ), June 12, 2007, ,http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 20.

[4] James M. Hamilton, “Introduction to Old Testament II” (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, August 30, 2016).

[5] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 22.

Christmas Past: Reflecting on the Origins of Yuletide Traditions

by Molly Carman

December 15, 2020

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series.

Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday in the world. With all the associated traditions, music, decorations, and food, it should come as no surprise that many children and adults consider it their favorite holiday. Unfortunately, due to our culture’s increasing biblical illiteracy, many people who celebrate Christmas are unaware of its true meaning and origin.

Traditionally, Christmas (“Christ’s mass” or the Feast of the Nativity) is a Christian holiday that was originally a Catholic mass service memorializing the birth of Jesus Christ. The early church did not initially celebrate His birth. However, in the fourth century, Pope Julius I chose December 25 as a dayfor celebrating Christ’s birth and the day was formally established by emperor Constantine when he declared Christianity the formal religion of Rome. The tradition spread to Egypt by the fifth century, England by the sixth, and Scandinavia by the eighth.

Although the Bible does not specify the exact date of Christ’s birth, there are various reasons why December 25 may have been chosen for its observance. First, the Roman Catholic Church traditionally celebrates the annunciation of the Angel to Mary nine months earlier, on March 25, during the spring equinox. Also, December 25 was already a major Roman feast day honoring the sun god, set during the winter solstice. This darkest time of year might have been chosen in order to symbolize God bringing us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). While most biblical historians now believe that Christ was most likely born in either the spring or fall, the traditional December date has remained the same.

The precise date of Christ’s birth is not the point of Christmas. Neither are evergreen trees, sleigh rides, cookies, and presents. Christmas ultimately celebrates the first coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to save us from our sins. Unfortunately, as the holiday has been popularized and marketed to a consumeristic culture, various secular traditions have taken over, distracting us from the sacred intent behind the holiday. Our culture has slowly forgotten that Christ, not material and earthly things, makes Christmas the joyful celebration that it is.

Our behavior during the Christmas season betrays what we truly believe and value. When we believe and value the first coming of Christ, we cease chasing after earthly goods and worship Him alone. Let us take some time to remember why we celebrate Christmas and the remarkable, humble entrance of our Savior into the world:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

Since the fall of mankind, God had promised and foretold of a coming Savior who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15) and save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Throughout the Old Testament, this is God’s greatest and most emphasized promise to His people Israel. This promise found its fulfillment in a humble manger (Luke 2:11-12). The King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16) miraculously entered the world as a baby born to a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25), with stable animals as witnesses. Imagine that! Despite God foretelling that Christ would come to them as a lowly, suffering servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), His coming was nothing like what the Jews imagined or envisioned. Nevertheless, it was exactly how God intended it to be, for His wisdom is foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:25). Jesus, the Son of God and second person of the holy trinity, came to a sin-corrupted and broken world to save a people who would reject Him.

The way that Christmas is celebrated—the traditions, music, decorations, and food—has changed over the years, but the ultimate meaning of Christmas has not changed. The holiday is an opportunity to consider the significance of Christ’s first coming and remember that He will be coming again—this time not as a baby and a suffering servant, but as a conquering King (Psalm 2, Isaiah 9:7, Revelation 19:11-16). Reflection is God’s gift to us, helping us learn from the past so that we can live more faithfully in the present and future. Reflection requires intentionality, honesty, and courage.

The best part about Christmas is not the presents, but the ultimate present of Christ’s presence in the world. When Christ came, the promise of Isaiah was fulfilled: “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever” (32:16-17). May we all grow in the knowledge of Christ as we remember His incarnation and commit to renewing our minds with a biblical worldview this Christmas season.

Molly Carman is a Policy and Government Affairs Intern at Family Research Council whose research focuses on developing a biblical worldview on issues related to family and current events.

The Washington Monument: A Tribute to Leadership and Religious Heritage

by Laura Grossberndt , Hayden Sledge

September 21, 2020

The history of the United States is preserved in archives, books, and the collective memory of the American people. It is also preserved in monuments, memorials, and statues made from marble, granite, bronze, or plaster.

Our nation’s capital is home to some of the world’s most recognizable and frequently visited monuments. This blog series will explore the events and people they commemorate, devoting particular attention to the spiritual themes depicted. By shedding light on our nation’s deep religious heritage, this series aims to inspire the next generation to emulate virtues and merits from America’s past that are worth memorializing.

FRC’s blog series on monuments is written by FRC summer interns and edited by David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. Be sure to read our previous posts on the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Joan of Arc Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial, the Japanese American Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Titanic Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

The Washington Monument serves as a memorial to the life of George Washington, particularly his leadership as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and as the first president of the United States. It also stands as a reminder of America’s rich religious heritage.

Washington was so pivotal to America’s founding that he has been called the “father of his country.” He was a member of the First Continental Congress in 1774 and then was appointed commander-in-chief of the army in 1775. As a general, he is especially remembered for his stalwart leadership during the winter encampment at Valley Forge in 1777-78. After leading America to victory and independence on the battlefield, Washington presided over the convention that produced the U.S. Constitution. In 1789, he was unanimously elected the nation’s first president.

President Washington and his administration laid a strong foundation for the United States of America. Some notable events during Washington’s presidency include the celebration of the first federally-recognized Thanksgiving, the putting down of the Whiskey Rebellion, the induction of new states (North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee), and the approval of the Bill of Rights. Washington also oversaw the signing of the Jay Treaty (normalizing trade relations with Great Britain), Pinckney’s Treaty (friendship with Spain), and the Treaty of Tripoli (access to Mediterranean shipping routes). Washington also set the presidential precedent of selecting a cabinet of advisors and stepping down after two terms.

Even before Washington became president, members of Congress wanted to create a statue of him to honor his wartime accomplishments. However, because the young country was lacking in funds, the project was scrapped.

Pierre L’Enfant, the designer of the federal capital (which was officially named after the first president in 1791), envisioned a monument honoring President Washington and even designated a special spot for an equestrian statue of Washington in his initial layout of the city.

The Washington National Monument Society, a private organization started by President James Madison and Chief Justice John Marshall, raised funds for the monument’s construction. First Lady Dolley Madison and Elizabeth Hamilton, widow of Alexander Hamilton, were also instrumental in raising funds. In 1833, the Society facilitated a contest to design the monument. The contest’s winner, Robert Mills, also designed the U.S. Treasury Building and the U.S. Patent Office. The latter building now holds the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

On July 4, 1848, a cornerstone-laying ceremony was held. President James K. Polk and future presidents James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson were in attendance. Embedded in the cornerstone is a box of artifacts, including a portrait of Washington.

By 1854, Mills had built 156 feet of the monument. His design was incredibly daunting, and he encountered many obstacles during its construction. For example, when Pope Pius IX donated a stone from the Roman Temple of Concord, the gift sparked an outcry from the “Know Nothing” Party that opposed Catholicism and Catholic immigrants.

Unfortunately, Mills died in 1855 before the monument could be completed. The unfinished monument stood untouched for two decades.

In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant approved funding to finish the monument, and work resumed in 1879. When Thomas Casey and the U.S. Army of Engineers could not find the original rock quarry, they were forced to use different stone. As a result, three different shades of stone from three different quarries were used in the monument’s construction.

In 1885, 36 years after the cornerstone had been laid, the monument was finished. On February 21, 1885, the day before Washington’s birthday, the monument was dedicated. At the time, the 555-foot-tall Egyptian-style obelisk was the tallest building in the world.

The Washington Monument has been the location of a few notable events. In 1982, veteran and anti-nuclear weapons activist Norman Mayer drove to the bottom of the monument and threatened that he would blow it up with 1,000 pounds of dynamite. Thousands of people were evacuated, but some were held hostage with Mayer. After ten hours, he let the hostages leave and was shot and killed by U.S. Park Police. Authorities later carefully inspected Mayer’s van and did not find the explosives he had claimed to have.

On August 23, 2011, the monument endured a severe earthquake. Although people were inside the monument at the time, no one was injured. It cost $15 million to repair the damage incurred by the earthquake.

It is worth noting that the Washington Monument represents more than the nation’s first president. The monument itself honors and reflects the Judeo-Christian values America was founded upon.

Many people and institutions contributed stones for the Washington Monument. Many of these stones are inscribed with names and short messages. One such stone donated by Sabbath School Children of the Methodist E. Church in Philadelphia is engraved with John 5:39 (“Search the Scriptures”), Luke 18:16 (“Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the Kingdom of God.”) and Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”) An image of the stone can be found here.

Other stones are engraved with phrases including “The memory of the just is blessed” (Proverbs 10:7), “Holiness to the Lord,” “In God We Trust,” “Qui Transtulit Sustinet” (“He who transplanted sustains”), and “May Heaven to this Union continue its beneficence.” At the top of the monument is an aluminum cap engraved with the Latin phrase “Laus Deo” (“Praise be to God”). A list of memorial stones and their inscriptions can be found here. A gallery of photos of some of the stones can be found here.

In 2007, a controversy arose involving the monument’s cap. While the monument was being renovated, a replica cap in the monument’s museum was removed and later put back in such a way that the “Laus Deo” inscription was not visible. Also, the accompanying plaque omitted the meaning of “Laus Deo.” After public outcry, the National Park Service later apologized and included the meaning of “Laus Deo” on the new plaque.

The Washington Monument isn’t just a soaring memorial to “the father of his country.” The verses and religious phrases inscribed on its stones serve as reminders of the Judeo-Christian values and religious freedom that played an important role in America’s founding.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial: A Monument to Freedom

by Sarah Rumpf

September 15, 2020

The history of the United States is preserved in archives, books, and the collective memory of the American people. It is also preserved in monuments, memorials, and statues made from marble, granite, bronze, or plaster.

Our nation’s capital is home to some of the world’s most recognizable and frequently visited monuments. This blog series will explore the events and people they commemorate, devoting particular attention to the spiritual themes depicted. By shedding light on our nation’s deep religious heritage, this series aims to inspire the next generation to emulate virtues and merits from America’s past that are worth memorializing.

FRC’s blog series on monuments is written by FRC summer interns and edited by David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. Be sure to read our previous posts on the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Joan of Arc Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial, the Japanese American Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Titanic Memorial.

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. honors the life and work of Thomas Jefferson—the author of the Declaration of Independence, the first secretary of state, the second vice president, and the third president of the United States. An influential figure in America’s early development, Jefferson was a lifelong advocate for limited government, religious freedom, and public education. Although Jefferson tragically failed to uphold the right of personal liberty of his fellow humans—namely, slaves—throughout his life, Jefferson’s advocacy for religious freedom continues to benefit people of all faiths, backgrounds, and ethnicities today.

Congress created the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission in 1934, nine years before the bicentennial of Jefferson’s birth in 1743. The site of the memorial had been originally intended for Theodore Roosevelt; however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt deeply admired Jefferson and used his influence to secure the site for the Founding Father. In 1935, the commission selected John Russell Pope, one of the nation’s most famous architects committed to the classical tradition, as the architect for the memorial.

Pope’s original design called for a huge building and the transformation of the Tidal Basin into a series of reflecting pools, rectangular terraces, and formal rows of trees. This design was controversial; many people expressed concern about the possible destruction of the Tidal Basin’s famous cherry trees. These trees had been a gift from the government of Japan in 1912 and were beloved by Washington, D.C.’s residents.

After Pope’s death in 1937, his colleagues Otto R. Eggers and David P. Higgins took over the project. President Roosevelt approved their more modest design, and Congress approved the first part of the $3 million construction cost in 1938. Work began that year and continued throughout World War II. On April 13, 1943, the bicentennial of Jefferson’s birth, President Roosevelt dedicated the completed memorial. To the 5,000 spectators and a radio audience of millions, Roosevelt proclaimed, “Today in the midst of a great war for freedom, we dedicate a shrine to freedom.”

Upon entering the Jefferson Memorial, the visitor will notice at its center the Jefferson statue, standing 19 feet tall atop a black Minnesota granite pedestal inscribed with the dates of Jefferson’s birth and death (1743-1826). The statue is surrounded by columns, quotes from Jefferson, and a coffered ceiling above. Interestingly, when the memorial construction was completed in 1943, there was a shortage of bronze due to World War II. A plaster statue was temporarily erected, to be replaced by a bronze statue in 1947. The statue depicts Jefferson holding the Declaration of Independence in his left hand. The interior of the Jefferson Memorial is comprised of white Georgia marble, the floor of pink Tennessee marble, and the massive dome of Indiana limestone. The dome’s interior is divided into two parts: the lower section has a coffered surface, and the upper section has a smooth, uninterrupted surface.

The architects of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial chose the materials not only for their aesthetic appeal but also for what they each symbolized. The exterior stonework is from Vermont, while the interior walls are from Georgia; this symbolized the geographic extremes of the original 13 colonies—from New England to the Deep South. Inside, the flooring and inner dome material are from Tennessee and Indiana; this symbolizes the expanding Union. The bronze statue of Jefferson stands atop a massive block of Minnesota granite with a gray Missouri marble ring surrounding its base; this symbolizes the impact President Jefferson had with the Louisiana Purchase during his presidency in 1803.

Thomas Jefferson has been closely associated with religious freedom for more than two centuries. The Jefferson Memorial was built to commemorate an esteemed advocate for personal spiritual freedom who believed that religion was a matter of conscience so long as it is not “injurious to others” and that the state should guarantee religious freedom for “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination.” Jefferson firmly believed that broad religious freedom and toleration were essential in a nation that was comprised of people from diverse backgrounds.

Today, Christians benefit from Jefferson’s convictions on personal religious freedom. Although Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian himself and is generally understood to have been a deist (i.e., accepting God’s existence but denying supernatural revelation and the deity and miracles of Jesus), Jefferson’s advocacy for religious freedom has helped ease the spread of the gospel. American Christians have an obligation to use the earthly freedom we have to preach spiritual freedom through the gospel. Galatians 5:13 states, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Let us continue to practice the religious liberty that Thomas Jefferson fought to preserve.

Sarah Rumpf is a Development intern at Family Research Council.

The Titanic Memorial: A Tribute to Sacrifice and Celebration of Life

by Molly Carman

August 26, 2020

The history of the United States is preserved in archives, books, and the collective memory of the American people. It is also preserved in monuments, memorials, and statues made from marble, granite, bronze, or plaster.

Our nation’s capital is home to some of the world’s most recognizable and frequently visited monuments. This blog series will explore the events and people they commemorate, devoting particular attention to the spiritual themes depicted. By shedding light on our nation’s deep religious heritage, this series aims to inspire the next generation to emulate virtues and merits from America’s past that are worth memorializing.

FRC’s blog series on monuments is written by FRC summer interns and edited by David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. Be sure to read our previous posts on the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Joan of Arc Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence MemorialJapanese American Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg on her maiden voyage. The sinking of the so-called “unsinkable ship” and massive loss of life (over 1,500 of the 2,224 passengers) garnered international attention and led to major changes in maritime safety regulations.

Following the sinking of the Titanic, a movement arose to commemorate those who perished in the tragedy, specifically the men who had abided by the ship’s policy of admitting women and children into the lifeboats first. Approximately 75 percent of the men aboard the Titanic died in the icy waters of the Atlantic when the ship sank.

Within a month of the ship’s sinking, planning and fundraising to build a monument in memory of these men were already underway. Helen Herron Taft, wife of President William Howard Taft, gave the first recorded donation to the Women’s Titanic Memorial Association, which was chaired by Clara Hay, the widow of Secretary of State John Hay. Titanic survivors and family members were prominent contributors. Two such donors were the widow of the late Pennsylvania railroad magnate John Thayer and Mrs. Archibald Forbes, who donated the money she had won playing bridge against the late John Jacob Astor the night the ship sank. Both Mr. Thayer and Mr. Astor died onboard. In the end, over $40,000 was raised toward the memorial.

The Women’s Titanic Memorial Association sponsored and organized a design competition for the memorial exclusively among female artists. The original design for the monument was an arch, but the committee preferred a statue designed by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and chose it instead. While Whitney was the designer, she did not sculpt the memorial. Rather, the monument’s base was sculpted and engraved by Henry Bacon, the same architect who designed and built the Lincoln Memorial. The statue on top of the base was carved from a single piece of red granite by John Horrigan in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Located at the northern tip of Fort McNair in Washington D.C., the memorial is a 15-foot statue of a young man with his arms stretched wide in a posture of hospitality, sacrifice, and surrender toward heaven. His head is tilted upward, his eyes are closed, and a peaceful expression rests across his face. A crown of laurels rests on the young man’s head, a symbol of honor, like the wreaths given to champions in ancient Rome. Finally, a drape covers most of the statue’s left side, maintaining his innocence and demonstrating his humility.

On the granite base of the memorial is the inscription:

To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic

April 15, 1912

They gave their lives that women and children might be saved

Erected by the women of America

 

On the back of the base, it reads:

To the young and the old

The rich and the poor

The ignorant and the learned

All

Who gave their lives nobly

To save women and children

 

It took 17 years to build the memorial, due to a lack of funds, but on May 26, 1931, it was finally dedicated in a coveted spot along the Potomac. It was unveiled by Helen Herron Taft, the now-widow of William Howard Taft, who had been president at the time of the Titanic’s sinking. Unfortunately, the memorial was taken down in 1966 and put into storage. Its former site is now home to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. However, the memorial reemerged from storage in 1968 and now resides at the northern tip of Fort McNair.

We can learn three truths from the Titanic Memorial and the men it honors. First, the statue is in a posture of peace. As Christians, we must remember Jesus’ invitation and promise to give rest to all who come to Him (Matthew 11:28). Despite the dark nights we may face, true rest from our fears can be found in Christ.

Second, the statue is in a posture of surrender. Christians must remember to surrender to God daily and trust His will for our lives. Consider the refrain of Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before he suffered for our sakes, “Yet not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). We must surrender our lives to God so that we might truly live for Him.

Third, the statue represents sacrifice. Christians must remember Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross. John 15:13 reminds us that “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Just as men onboard the Titanic sacrificed their lives so others might live, so Christ laid down His life for the world, so that all might live.

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