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Who is the "Servant" in Isaiah 53?

Is it Israel or the Messiah?

The first thing I would like to observe is that prior to chapter 52:13 the next previous reference to the "servant" is in chapter 50:10. It poses the question"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?"  As I said in part 1, this only makes reasonable sense if it refers to the Messiah. (If it referred to national Israel, would the prophet Isaiah speak of "obeying his voice" as in the voice of a man with authority, coupled with fear of the the LORD (Yahweh)?  In any case, it is not stated explicitly as Israel in the immediate context as we find in these 8 previous verses (41:8 and 9; 44:1, 2, and 21; 45:4, 48:20 and 49:3).  So it does not fit the Isaiah pattern in which the people of Israel is clearly identified in the same verse.

Now we come to chapter 52:13 immediately below: "Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and he shall be exalted."  Here also we observe the absence of any explicit reference to Israel in the immediate context, as in chapter 50.  We would do well to ask, shall national Israel be high and lifted up, and exalted?  Maybe so, but I do not see it as reasonable since Israel is so often chastised by Yahweh for their unfaithfulness and rebellion to Him. Let's continue with this line of questioning.

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, beyond human semblance,         
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—

 

  • I ask: Is national Israel high and lifted up, and exalted?  Do they have some kind of collective visible appearance and form that can be compared with a human semblance? (not reasonably, no)

 

15 so shall he sprinkle many 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.

 

  • I ask: Can national Israel sprinkle many nations? (no)

 

Chapter 53 

1

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.

 

  • Again I ask: Does national Israel have a visible form, majesty and beauty that we can look upon? (no)

 

He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 

  • I ask: Would national Israel be called a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and the rest? (I think not.)


Surely he has borne our griefs

    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.

 

  • I ask: Can national Israel bear our griefs and carry our sorrows? (no)



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.

 

  • I ask: Can national Israel be pierced and incur wounds?  If so, can they be pierced for our transgressions--in such a way that brings us peace and healing? (no; how could that be possible?)

 

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.

 

  • I ask: Can our iniquities be laid upon national Israel? (certainly not)

 

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.

 

  • I ask: Can it be said of national Israel that he opened not his mouth...twice? (not reasonably)

 

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?

 

  • I ask: Can national Israel be stricken? (yes)  But can they be stricken for the transgression of themselves? (I think not.)


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.

 

  • I ask: Can it be said of national Israel that they had done no violence and deceit? (absolutely not; they had done much violence both to other nations and to their own people; and they had been deceitful both to themselves and to the LORD himself, e.g. lying to God.)


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.

 

  • I ask: Can national Israel's soul be made an offering for guilt? (no)

 

11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.

 

  • I ask: Can national Israel make many to be accounted righteous?  Is there something vicariously meritorious about national Israel that can be somehow applied to others to make them righteous, especially considering their own unrighteousness before a Holy LORD? (certainly not)
  • Can national Israel bear the iniquities of others...of many? (not in the least)


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.

 

  • I ask: Can national Israel pour out his soul to death? (an individual person can, but there was never a time when all Israelites died.)
  • Can they bear the sin of many, or of anyone at all? (no; they have their own sin to account for)  
  • Does national Israel make intercession for the transgressors? (Certainly the Prophets and other righteous exemplars did so, e.g. Moses, the priests, etc. But aside from this minority, the vast majority of Israelites did not have this practice.)

Therefore, based on my analysis of this passage we should conclude that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 does not refer to national Israel, but rather to the Suffering Servant as seen in the 9 other previous verses--the Messiah.  And even if some of those may be taken to refer to national Israel, the servant of this passage cannot be taken as such.
By the way, today I conducted an interesting experiment in the library.  I approached a Muslim student and told him I wanted to read a Bible passage to him from the Prophet Isaiah (this one, chapters 52/53). I told him I would have two questions for him: the first in advance--whether he thought the passage referred to a nation or a person; the second that I would ask him after reading the passage. Then I read the passage to him. To the first question he said that it seems to refer to a person. Then I asked him the second question: "To whom do you think this passage refers?" Guess who he said?  That's right...to Jesus. Then I asked him why he thought so, and he said "because of the references to his suffering and his bearing the sins of others, etc."  
Isaiah 52/53 refers to the person of the Messiah. 

Scott
  • 21 May 2019
  • Author: Scott Cherry
  • Number of views: 377
  • Comments: 1
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1 comments on article "Who is the "Servant" in Isaiah 53?"

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6/15/2019 5:52 AM

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