"Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law."

Isaiah 42:1-4

Israel was called to be the Servant of YHWH, to be the light to the nations but failed.

"Who is blind but My servant, Or so deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me, Or so blind as the servant of יהוה?" (Isaiah 42:19)

"Yet you have not called on Me, O Jacob; But you have become weary of Me, O Israel...“So I will pollute the princes of the sanctuary, And I will consign Jacob to the ban and Israel to revilement." (Isaiah 43:22)

"For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me." (Isaiah 43:28)

"Listen to Me, you stubborn-minded, Who are far from righteousness. “I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; And My salvation will not delay. And I will grant salvation in Zion, And My glory for Israel." (Isaiah 45:4)

"Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are named Israel And who came forth from the loins of Judah, Who swear by the name of יהוה And invoke the God of Israel, But not in truth nor in righteousness." (Isaiah 46:12-13)

"Thus says יהוה, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, “I am יהוה your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go. “If only you had paid attention to My commandments! Then your well-being would have been like a river, And your righteousness like the waves of the sea. “Your descendants would have been like the sand, And your offspring like its grains; Their name would never be cut off or destroyed from My presence.” Go forth from Babylon! Flee from the Chaldeans! Declare with the sound of joyful shouting, proclaim this, Send it out to the end of the earth; Say, “יהוה has redeemed His servant Jacob.” They did not thirst when He led them through the deserts. He made the water flow out of the rock for them; He split the rock and the water gushed forth. “There is no peace for the wicked,” says יהוה." (Isaiah 48:1, 17-18, 19-20, 21)

"... not all out of Israel are Israel." (Romans 9:6)

There always has been a remnant of Israel who are true Israel:

This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” (Romans 9:8)

This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” (Romans 9:8

For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return...” (Isaiah 10:22)

Ultimately, the remnant would be an individual who would be Israel, the Servant of יהוה. An individual who, as true Israel, would be the Son of God (Exodus 4:22):

Listen to me... יהוה called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name... And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”” (Isaiah 49:1–3)

The Servant was tasked to bring the people Israel back to God and restore their purpose.

And now יהוה says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of יהוה, and my God has become my strength— he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”” (Isaiah 49:5–6)


So what is the context of the Servant passages?

The nation failed its calling

In Isaiah 41 the Servant is the nation in exile. Isaiah 41:8, 14 say "But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend. you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off... Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel!"
God previously promised a messenger of good news (Isaiah 41:27) because the nation was in idolatry and could not be used (Isaiah 41:28-29).
So Isaiah 42:1-2 introduces an individual who will fulfill the role given to the nation.
"Behold my servant... my chosen... I have put my Spirit upon him... he will bring forth justice to the nations... He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law."
God will deal with the idolatry of his people (Isaiah 42:16-18). They are blind and deaf, "Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of יהוה?" (Isaiah 42:19, 43:8)
The nation is unable to fulfill its task. They are in captivity because of disobedience (Isaiah 42:20-21, 22-23, 24-25). Israel will be saved but through much suffering (Isaiah 43:1-2). Israel stands as witness and servant to the truth of God's uniqueness (Isaiah 43:10). God is going to do something new which will result in Israel praising God (Isaiah 43:21). But the nation had abandoned God (Isaiah 43:22). No sacrifice only sin (Isaiah 43:23-24). The nation had forsaken God, the only one who can give forgiveness of sins (Isaiah 43:25), resulting in "Therefore I will profane the princes of the sanctuary, and deliver Jacob to destruction and Israel to reviling." (Isaiah 43:28).
But God has a plan to save his people (Isaiah 44:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8). Forget idols and turn back to God (Isaiah 44:21-22) "... return to me, for I have redeemed you."
It is because of the founding ancestors that the nation is honoured... even though it does not know God (Isaiah 45:4). "For the sake of my servant Jacob... I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me..."
"“Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness..." (Isaiah 46:12).
"Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of יהוה and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or righteousness... because I know that you are stubborn... you have been called a rebel from birth... if only you had paid attention to my commandments... There is no peace for the wicked..." (Isaiah 48:1, 4, 8, 18, 22).


A remnant of one will fulfill the nation's calling

"...יהוה called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name... you are my Servant Israel... to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him" (Isaiah 49:1-2, 3-4, 5).

The nation failed but this individual will succeed and bring about the nation's salvation "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Not just the nation but the Gentiles too (Isaiah 49:6)
But this individual will be hated and despised by the nation Israel: "To the despised one, the one abhorred by the nation..." (Isaiah 49:7). But he will be the people's covenant [ברית] (Isaiah 49:8). The people were exiled in sin and there was nobody to fulfill the call (Isaiah 50:1-2). The prophet speaks as the servant and the servant is an individual (Isaiah 50:10). One will come bringing good news (Isaiah 52:7).
So this individual, so despised by the nation (Isaiah 49:7) will be exalted but only after suffering (Isaiah 52:13-14). The comparison is made between the nation's suffering and this individual, "As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind"

His task

He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him... (Isaiah 52:15) He was... despised... forsaken... man of sorrows... acquainted with grief... bore our sickness... carried our pains... smitten of God... afflicted...(Isaiah 53:3-4) wounded for our transgressions... crushed for our iniquities... chastened... scourged... sin bearer... (Isaiah 53:5-6) oppressed... taken away... cut off from life...(Isaiah 53:7-8). But, he will justify many by his death (Isaiah 53:10-11) and be exalted because of it (Isaiah 53:12).
So here we have it...
Isaiah 49:7-8 "Thus says יהוה... To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the NATION, To the Servant of rulers, “Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of... the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”
"...Thus says יהוה... I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages."
The Servant is righteous Israel, a remnant of one who builds around him a faithful Israel whose task is to bring the nation back and... to reach out to the Gentiles. The Servant is one and becomes many as the faithful of Israel gather around him, along with the Gentiles (his זֶ֫רַע you could say). That's what the church means, those gathered together around the Servant as the 'adah - עֵדָה or qahal קָהָל. Paul is merely speaking as one of the faithful remnant carrying out the commission of the Servant.

As for the nation Israel...

Paul's love for the nation is expressed in this:

I am speaking the truth in Messiah—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Messiah for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Messiah, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:1–5

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Messiah is the fulfillment of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1–4)

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew....” (Romans 11:1–2)

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;” (Romans 11:25–26)

Notes and Explanations

What is the context of Isaiah 49:3?

Isaiah 48:12, 15 “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last... I, even I, have spoken and called him (Cyrus).

The 'me' and 'I' here are clearly God speaking.

The subject me/I continues to speak. That is, God continues to speak. This is what God says:

Isaiah 48:16 Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.” And now יהוה GOD has sent me, and his Spirit.

So the me/I, that is, God is sent by God? A recurring theme in Tanakh.

God continues to speak to the patriarch:

Isaiah 48:17-18, 19 Thus says יהוה, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel...Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments... your offspring would have... your descendants... their name...

So Jacob/Israel the patriarch was called but his descendants were continually disobedient!

So the tone changes but the speaker remains the same. That is, God who is sent:

Isaiah 49:1, 3 Listen to me... יהוה called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name...   And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

Ah, so we see that this sent one, this subject is given Israel's task and name (as a faithful descendant of the patriarch).

Isaiah 49:4 But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with יהוה, and my recompense with my God.”

The task was thankless and seemingly fruitless. But this individual keeps trusting!

Isaiah 49:5-6 And now יהוה says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him... he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

So now the task becomes apparent. It is to bring the people Israel back to God... and to reach out to the nations (Gentiles).

Isaiah 49:7 Thus says יהוה, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers...

The task is not easy and involves rejection by Israel the nation and humiliation before those in charge.

Isaiah 49:8 Thus says יהוה: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people (Israel)...

But ultimately success will ensue and in the end the nation will accept him as their covenant mediator.

Some interesting parallels between Isaiah 11 and the Servant passages:

"Who is the obedient Servant of Isaiah? On the one hand, we know that he's referred to as 'Jacob' and 'Israel', but what else do we know?

We know that he'll have the Spirit placed upon him and he will establish justice for the nations (Isaiah 42:1, 3), he'll bring out justice and establish justice on the earth (Isaiah 42:3-4), and the nations will anticipate and seek his instruction (Isaiah 42:4).

He'll also be commissioned as a covenant mediator for the nation of Israel, and even a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6). He will also restore the tribes of Judah and Israel while also being a light to the nations (Isaiah49:5-6). Again, he will be a covenant mediator to Israel in order to rebuild their desolate land (Isaiah 49:8).

Now, that's very interesting and all, but we also happen to find another figure in the book of Isaiah who is given these exact same characteristics!

Isaiah 11 describes a shoot from Jesse who will have the Spirit placed upon him (Isaiah 11:2), and he'll be given the wisdom to establish justice among the earth (Isaiah 11:2-5) and execute justice to the wicked of the earth (Isaiah 11:4).

The root from Jesse will stand as a signal flag for the nations such that the nations will seek after him for guidance (Isaiah 11:10). The Lord will use the root of Jesse as a signal flag to gather and restore Israel and Judah's exiles from among the nations with the help of those nations (Isaiah 11:11-12, compare with Isaiah 49:22).

From all of these obvious parallels, it seems that the obedient Servant 'Israel' is the root of Jesse, the Davidic King, while the disobedient servant is the nation of Israel, who is blind (Isaiah 42:19) and all of whom are trapped in prisons (Isaiah 42:22). This servant also refused to obey God's commands (Isaiah 42:24). This servant is called 'Jacob' and 'Israel' as well, and yet it is in need of salvation by the obedient 'Jacob' and 'Israel'.

This becomes all the more significant when we consider the passage of Isaiah 52:13-53:11. The son of Jesse is the only qualified individual since he is the one Israelite who initiates the judgment of all the earth (including the nations), who will successfully gather the exiles back while also being a light and signal flag to the nations from whom they seek instruction.

All of that which the Servant of Isaiah 42 and 49 accomplishes is attributed solely to the work of the root of Jesse in Isaiah 11. This would require us to attribute the suffering of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:11 to the root of Jesse as well. This root (an individual man) suffers and dies at the hands of the disobedience of Israel and the nations, only to come to life and prosper."

Ariel Gonzalez

Isaiah 52:12 - 53:12

Messiah and Isaiah 53

There is no doubt that Isaiah chapter 53 is speaking of Israel's Suffering Servant, for the passage immediately preceding this chapter says,

"Behold My Servant will succeed, He will be exalted and lifted up and be very highJust as many will be astonished over Him, thus His appearance is too marred to be a man's, and His description to be a human'sThus many nations shall gaze upon Him, and kings will shut their mouths, because that which has never been told to them they will see, and that which they has never been told they will perceive." Isa. 52:13-15

There is also no doubt that Isaiah is speaking about the Messiah according the Talmud and Rashi's commentary on Sanhedrin 98.  Therefore what does the reader learn about Messiah from Isaiah 53? This is the subject of this article. The chapter opens up with a call to be faithful to the proclamation that has been heard,

"Who has believed our report and unto who has the Arm/Seed/Son (see the previous article's discussion of this word) been revealed." Isaiah 53:1

The subject of this verse, "the Arm of the L-rd" appears several of places in the prophecy of Israel (see Isaiah 40:10, 51:5, 51:9, 52:10, 59:16, 63.5). It is clear from these passages that the "Arm of the L-rd" is the instrument that G-d uses to bring salvation, redemption, and the kingdom to His people Israel. This is exactly what the Messiah will do; hence, one sees an inherent relationship between the "Arm of the L-rd" and the Messiah. 

Although Isaiah uses different language in verse 2, the idea is the same as stated in Isaiah 11:1 (a shoot will come forth from the stump of Jesse),

"He will rise as a sappling before Him, and as a root from arid land; He had neither form nor grandeur, we saw Him, but (He did) not have an appearance that we should desire Him." Isaiah 53:2

The primary message of this verse is that Messiah is not going to be an individual who draws others to Him by some beauty that He possesses. In fact the next verse tells how strongly Messiah will be rejected,

"He was despised and separated from men, a man of pains and someone who experienced sickness; (to the extent) one would hide his face from Him; He was despised and we did not give to Him any consideration. (Literally we did not consider Him) Isaiah 53:3

Hence, Messiah will not only suffer, but His suffering will be to the extent that it will cause Israel to reject Him and not afford to Him any consideration or significance. It is important to point out not only is Messiah rejected, but twice the text uses the word "despised". Messiah will be one for which Israel will have total contempt. 

Isaiah makes it clear in the beginning of the next verse that such a view is not based upon an accurate view of truth. For Isaiah writes in Isaiah 53:4,

"In deed our sicknesses He bore our pains He did suffer, but we considered Him stricken- struck by G-d and afflicted."

As stated in the previous article, Rashi disagrees with himself in stating whom this chapter is about. When he writes about verse 4 from its use in the Talmud he states clearly that this chapter is about Messiah. However, in his commentary of Isaiah when he comes to this chapter he states that Israel (the Jewish people) is the subject.  It is rather odd that Judaism, for the most part, adheres to Rashi's view from his Isaiah commentary rather than to assert the binding assertion of the Talmud (as the Talmud is considered to be Holy Scripture for Orthodox Judaism). Rashi's view that Israel is the subject is without foundation; the subject of Isaiah 53 is contained in the meaning of verse 4, "bore our sickness and our pains". One needs to ask the question who is being referred to with the word "our"? The obvious answer is Israel. Therefore, how could Israel be the one who bears the pains and the subject of the verse as well?

The first word of Isaiah 53:4 is important in helping the reader understand the proper context.  After stating the error of the people in not esteeming Messiah properly and even rejecting and despising Him, verse 4 opens up with the word that the Stone edition of the Hebrew bible translates, "But in truth". This phrase captures the intent of Isaiah. He wants to show how the previous two verses reveal an incorrect response of the people, a response that fails to believe the truth of the prophets. Whereas verse 4 emphasizes that the fact that Messiah's uncomely appearance was due to the suffering that He endured for Israel.

It is significant that this verse tells us that Messiah was "stricken and afflicted by G-d". This means that Messiah being the "Suffering Servant" was part of G-d's plan to bring about Israel's redemption.  A point that the Talmud also emphasizes is that Messiah suffered and was afflicted in order to pay the price for our sins.

This is also mentioned in the next verse of our text.

"He was profaned because of our transgressions and bruised because of our iniquities, the chastisement (for) our peace is upon Him and by His wounds we are healed." Isaiah 53:5

I translated the second word in the Hebrew with the word "profaned". The Hebrew word has an idea of desecration. The verse reveal that Messiah became sin for us; that is He who never sinned, but is totally righteous, was afflicted and stricken by G-d because the sins of mankind were laid upon Him so that we could find redemption and peace with G-d (a spiritual healing). The next verse continues to emphasize that it was due to man's sin and guiltiness before G-d that Messiah endured a divine punishment.

"We are all like sheep and have erred, we have turned each man to his own way; and the L-rd inflicted upon Him the iniquity of all of us." Isaiah 53:6

There can be no debate that Messiah suffered vicariously for humanity. Another significant fact is that Messiah did all of this willfully and without any complaining or self-justification. Isaiah beautifully relates this with the following verse,

"He was oppressed and afflicted and He did not open His mouth, as a sheep is led before the slaughter and as a ewe before the shearers is silent, He did not open His mouth." Isaiah 53:7

It is worthy of attention that sacrificial animals are used in this analogy. In the next verse Isaiah speaks that the punishment and suffering finally ended and He (Messiah) was taken away (died). The prophet also speaks that this event was something that those of His generation could not have even discussed; that is, a suffering Messiah was too painful to even be considered. Such sentiments are exactly what the disciple Peter voiced when Jesus revealed G-d's plan for Him to go to Jerusalem and to lay down His life (see Matthew 16:21-22). The verse ends with another statement that Messiah suffered on behalf of His people.

"From imprisonment and judgment He was taken, His generation could not have even discussed for He was cut off from the land of the living because of the transgression of His people; an affliction for them." Isaiah 53:8

Isaiah 53:9 speaks once again of His innocence, yet His willingness to submit to the outcome of sin, not His sin, but as already been discussed, the sins of mankind. This verse is rather difficult to translate if one does not utilize the laws of Hebrew poetry and possess a competent understanding of Hebrew parallelism. In order to assist in a proper translation I will lay out the verse in a manner that shows the parallels.

It was given among the wicked (plural)        His tomb (singular)
XXXXXX before a rich one (singular)      His death (plural)

Concerning no violence He did
XXXXXX no deception (was)            in His mouth

The first phrase (His tomb was among the wicked ones) shows that although He never sinned, Messiah suffered the outcome of all sinners and died and was buried. The second phrase (He submitted before a ruler His death) is important to understand because it does not contain the "It was given/ He submitted" wording; however it is understood that those words needed to be added in order to complete the idea of the parallel section. Rabbinical commentators point out that the word translated "rich" is better understood as a ruler as rulers were rich.  Hence it was one certain ruler who gave to Messiah a death sentence. The end of the second phrase has death in the plural, which does not make any sense until one understands that in Messiah's death, many died. For it says in I Corinthians 5:14-15

"…that since one (Messiah) DIED for all, then were all dead: 
And that he DIED for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which DIED for them, and rose again.

A smoother English translation for Isaiah 53:9 would be,

"His tomb was among the dead and he was sentenced to death by one ruler, He did no violent act nor was there any deception in His mouth."

The next verse reiterates that it was G-d's desire to bring the punishment of sin (death) for all humanity upon the Messiah. It also tells that since Messiah suffered the shame; that the "seed", Israel will eventually understand this truth and be blessed. (The phrase for have one's days lengthened is an idiom for being blessed.) All of this the L-rd desired for His people and because of the redemption that would befall Israel, G-d delighted in afflicting the Messiah. The verse ends with a statement that Messiah will successfully complete His work

"The L-rd delighted (in) crushing Him-He (The L-rd) afflicted (Him)! Since you place guilt on His soul, (the) seed (Israel) will see, he will lengthen days, the delight of the L-rd is in His hand-He (Messiah) will succeed"! Isaiah 53:10

The prophet then makes a statement that the L-rd will see the labor of Messiah and be pleased with it. That Messiah, My Servant (the L-rd's Servant) will succeed in bringing righteousness upon Israel. How will Messiah do this? Verse 11 says boldly, "and their iniquity He suffered."

"The toil of His soul He (The L-rd) will see, He will be satisfied with the knowledge (Lit. His knowledge) that My Servant will justify many, for He suffered their iniquity." Isaiah 53:11

The chapter ends with the following verse,

"Therefore I will divide to him among the multitudes, he will divide the spoils of the mighty in return for having poured out his soul to death, he was numbered among the transgressors and he carried the sin of many and for transgressors he will be afflicted." Isaiah 53:12

This verse informs the reader that as Messiah receives His reward that it will be distributed among those He justified. This reward will be the spoils of mighty nations. This is to fulfill the verse that we shall inherit the earth and that in the last days; i.e. the nations will bring up to Jerusalem their treasures. The reason that we can receive these blessing (both physical and spiritual) is because Messiah did the work of redemption and pour out His Holy Soul unto death, bearing our sins and transgressions. It was for this reason He was afflicted and G-d delighted in doing so.

It is amazing that in the twelve verses of Isaiah chapter fifty-three the prophet tells the reader that Messiah must suffer for sin multiple times, but yet Judaism fails to convey this most important truth.

Author: Dr Baruch Korman


Other sites:

The Identity of the Servant of Isaiah 53

Eved Adonai?

Rebuttal to Jews for Judaism

Who is the Servant? (Part 1)

Who is the Servant? (Part 2)

Back to the top