This is the fourth post in our series on A Closer Look at Isaiah 52:13- 53: 12- Who is the Servant of the Lord?
Let’s continue with Part Four:
Isa 53:2:“ For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.”-
A canonical reading shows how Isaiah connects between the servant of Isaiah 53 and the coming King of Isaiah 11:1-16. In verse one it says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” This indicates the Servant is a royal figure who is a Davidic King. Also, as Daniel I. Block notes, when the messiah is both characterized as a servant with a specific name, that name is always “David” or a person with a Davidic connection (1)
And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.-Ezek. 34: 23-24
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’-Jer. 23: 5-6
Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch -Zech. 3:8.
In Jer. 23: 5-6; Zech. 3:8, Branch” is seen as the name for Messiah. I said previously that other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant of the Lord, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One.
Isa 53:3-4: “He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.”
To look for a fulfillment in Jesus, it is obvious it can’t mean that Jesus was despised by everyone that came into contact with him. The Gospels make it clear that Jesus was seen as popular healer, exorcist, and miracle worker. However, the religious establishment at the time—the scribes, Pharisees and priests did despise Jesus (Mt.12: 14; Mk. 14:65; 15:15, 19; Jn. 11:53).
In vs 5, 6, 11, 12, there are several references to sin: “pasha” (transgressions, transgressors) “’awon” (iniquities) and “chet’ ” (sin, guilt for sin and punishment for sin). Here we see The Servant is “despised”– people turn their faces away because of his sufferings. Also, the Hebrew words translated “griefs” (choli) which means sickness, disease, while “sorrows” (mak’ob) can legitimately refer to either physical pain, mental pain, or spiritual problems.
Isa 53:5-6: “But He was pierced through for our transgressions (pasha`). He was crushed for our iniquities (‘awon). The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity (‘awon ) of us all to fall on Him.” “Crush” refers to physical assault whether fatal (Job. 9:6; Ps. 89:10); or non fatal (Ps.143:3; Lam. 3:34). (2) Depending on the context, the word “chastisement” (מוּסר mûsâr), properly denotes the correction, or punishment inflicted by parents on their children, designed to amend their faults (see Proverbs 22:15; 23:13).
Isa. 53: 7: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.”
The submission is seen in the actions of the Servant. While sheep were slaughtered for food as well as for sacrificial rituals, “slaughter” (טֶבַח tevakh) doesn’t always refer to sacrificial slaughter ( Gen 43:16; Prov. 7:22; 9:2; Jer. 50:27). To see fulfillment in Jesus, one might ask if Jesus was always silent before His accusers. After all, when interrogated by Pilate, he did answer his questions (Mk.14: 62; Lk. 23;2; Jn. 18:33-37). However, when Jesus was actually accused by the chief priest, he was silent (Mt 27:12-14; Mk.15:1-4) before he eventually responded by making claims that were considered blasphemous. Peter says that “When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when they suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Isa 53: 8-9: “By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”
The “land of the living” is an idiom for the sphere where people live, in contrast to “sheol,” underworld realm of the dead. Here we see the Servant is “cut off” from the land of living can refer to violent death (Job 27:8; Ps. 88;5; 109;13; Zech. 13:8) or be in a life threatening situation (Pss.31;22;88:5 (3). “He was assigned a grave” matches the Near Eastern understanding that graves we prepared for those whom death was certain. The text goes onto to say the Servant was “with a rich man in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” “Violence” refers to violence of evil doers – not violence in general. So for the objection that Jesus did violence in the Temple (by cleansing it) would have to assume this was a demonstration of evil violence which fails to understand he context of the cleansing (Jn.2:13-16). The Servant is said to be “with a rich man in his death.” In the case of Jesus, crucified victims were generally never shown honorable burials. Given the fact that Jesus came from a poor family, he would of most likely been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. But in relation to this issue, archaeologist Jodi Magness (who is not a skeptic, but a non-religious Jew) says:
“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb.” (4)
Interestingly enough, Magness goes on to say:
“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence. In other words, although archaeology does not prove there was a follower of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea or that Pontius Pilate granted his request or Jesus’ body,the Gospel accounts describing Jesus’ removal from the cross and burial accord well with archaeological evidence and with Jewish law. The source (s) of these accounts were familar in which wealthy Jews living in Jersualem during the time of Jesus disposed of their dead. Jesus expired on the cross shortly before sundown on Friday. Because Jesus came from a lower class family that did not own a rock cut tomb, under ordinary circumstances he would have been buried in a pit grave or trench grave. However, there was no time to prepare (dig) a grave before the beginning of the Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy follower of Jesus, was concerned to ensure Jesus was buried before sundown in accordance with biblical law. Therefore, Joseph hastened to Pilate and requested permission to take Jesus’ body. Joseph laid Jesus’ boy in a loculus in his own rock- cut tomb, an exceptional measure due to the circumstances as rock-cut tombs were family tombs. When the women entered the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea on Sunday morning, the loculus where Jesus’ body had been laid empty. The theological explanation for this phenomenon is that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.” (5)
Isa. 53:11-12: “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.” (‘awon). Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin (chet’) of many, and interceded for the transgressors.
When the verb “to bear” is used, it depicts the subject carrying a heavy load on its shoulder. The term can be used as follows: (1) A person bearing his own sin, that is, being held accountable for his actions (Lev.5:1,17) (2) a person suffering the punishment of his sins (Gen 4:13; Num. 14:34); (3) a person incurring the guilt of someone else’s sin (Lev.19:17); (4) a person suffering the effects of punishment of the sin of others (Num. 14:33; Ezek. 4:4-6); (5) a person unjustly suffering punishment for the sins of others (Ezek. 18:19-20); (6) God taking away the guilt of the people’s sins, that is, forgiving their sin (Gen. 18:24,26, 50:17); (7) the scape goat symbolically carrying away the sin of Israel into the desert (Lev 16:22); (8) the priests symbolically removing the sins of Israel by eating meat of the sin offering (Lev. 10:17). (6)
Isa. 53: 10: “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days” Here the Servant is “an offering for sin.”
Here we see the masculine singular noun “’ašam.” The “’ašam;” refers to the “guilt offering” as described in Leviticus 5-7 where the offering functions as an atoning sacrifice for sin. Block notes that in the regulations given by Moses the “’ašam;” is the only regular offering that required a ram or male sheep. (7)
Some translations say “he will see his descendants and prolong his days.” If one is said to have descendants and a long life, this is generally accepted as a divine blessing from God. Now we can ask the following: “How can a dead man who has been sacrificed as a guilt offering (vs. 10), see his literal children and prolong his days?” If the Servant is an individual such as Jesus and he dies, in verses 8-10, the only way this individual can see literal children and prolong his days is if he is resurrected. David Flusser, the late Jewish scholar of Hebrew University said the following about Isaiah 53:
“Although no Jewish interpretation of this passage, which would explain that the Servant will be a prophet or the Messiah who will be killed, is preserved, such an interpretation could have existed. If an interpretation of Isa. LIII in this vein ever existed in Judaism, this would have been important for the concept that the prophet will again come to life. Though the servant “was pierced for our transgressions, tortured for our iniquities” (v.5), he “shall enjoy long life and see his children’s children (v.10). So Isa LIII could be understood not only as speaking about the death of the Servant, but implicitly about his resurrection.” (8)
But the real question at hand is whether it is “ literal offspring “that is intended here. The first place to look for the use of the word “offspring” is in Isaiah itself. When we do that, it is evident that “offspring” is used in a metaphorical sense (Is.1:4; 14:20;57:3-4). Also, if we were to insist that the Isaiah text means “literal descendants” we could ask if the same could be said for Proverbs 11:21. In this case, “literal descendants” would mean that the literal descendants of a wicked person are doomed to punishment even if they live a righteous life. It is clear that the need for Jesus to have literal offspring (e.g., “children”) is unnecessary. Furthermore, in a metaphorical sense the “offspring” of the suffering individual in Isaiah 53:10 can be spiritual descendants or disciples rather than literal offspring (e.g., physical children). Some translations say “He will see his seed and prolong his days.” The idiom “to see one’s seed” means one lives a long life to see his children and grandchildren (Gen 33:5; 48:11; 50:23; Ps. 128; Isa. 29:23). (9) The idiom elsewhere always takes the pronoun “see his seed/your seed” which does not appear in Isa. 53:10. The absence of the pronoun here allows for a messianic reading in that the Servant will live to see “redeemed seed.” (10)
Isa. 53:10 also says the Servant “will prolong his days.” The idiom “prolong one’s days” means to enjoy longevity of physical life (Exod. 20:12; Prov. 28:16). But here in Isa. 53:10 it departs from the standard idiom since it doesn’t explicity say the Servant’s own days would be prolonged days. Hence, it literally reads “He will prolong days.” (11)
Is: 53:11-12: “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, my Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.”
According to Bock, Bateman, and Johnston, “While Isaiah 53:12 may be understood in terms of unjust suffering or vicarious suffering, it is impossible to determine the original meaning simply on the basis of the contextual reading. So while this expression does not demand an atoning sacrifice, it doesn’t prohibit this.” (12)
“The many” רַבִּים (rabbim) includes those who witnessed the sufferings of the Servant. This would include the speakers of verses Is.53: 1-6 who appear to be Israel as well as the nations and their kings (Is. 52:15; 53;11;12). With respect to Israel, the sin in view is the violation of the commands of Torah (Isa. 42;4; 48:18-19). With respect to the nations, Isa. 40-55 pinpoints the idolatry of the nations. (13) To be even more specific, Isa. 24:5 says the people of the earth have “broken the permanent treaty” (or “everlasting covenant”). (14) Given the Servant’s work is to both Israel and the nations, this fits with what we see in other texts in the larger context in Isaiah (49:6-7; 56:6-7).The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 12:1-3) had already shown that the calling of Israel would be to see the inclusion of Gentiles (“goyim” or “people groups” ) into the covenant. The expression “to see light” generally refers to some kind of renewal or restoration. When the context is (the death of) exile (Isa 9:1) or physical death (Ps 36:10, Job 33:28), a restoration to life is indicated.
1. Daniel I. Block, “My Servant David: Ancient Israel’s Visions of the Messiah” in Richard S. Hess and M. Daniel Carroll R, Israel’s Messiah In The Bible and The Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 48.
2. Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King ( Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012), 158.
3. Ibid, 159.
4. Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 170.
5. Ibid, 171.
6. Bateman, Bock, and Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King, 156.
7. Block, “My Servant David: Ancient Israel’s Visions of the Messiah” in Richard S. Hess and M. Daniel Carroll R, Israel’s Messiah In The Bible and The Dead Sea Scrolls , 51-52.
8. David Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 423
9. Bateman. Bock, and Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King, 160.
11. Ibid, 161.
12. Ibid, 157.
13. Darell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering The Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 2012), 283.