This will be the first of several posts on this topic.
When it comes to messianic prophecy, Christian apologists have appealed to Isa 52:13-53:12 as a slam dunk for showing that nature of the Messiah’s suffering which is predicted hundreds of years in advance. And of course, almost any Jewish person that has come to faith in Jesus as their Messiah has been greatly impacted by this text. Let’s take a look at it here:
Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, So His appearance was marred more than any man And His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand. Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 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. 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. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way;But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. 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.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 For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. 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. –NASB
The word “ Messiah” means “Anointed One” (Heb. messiah),(Gk. Christos) and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Tanakh records the anointing with oil of priests ( Exod 29:1-9 ),kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. Also, when God anointed or authorized for leadership, in many cases he provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to do complete the task (1 Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1). However, just because someone was anointed in the Old Testament to perform a specific task doesn’t mean they are “the Messiah.”
As we look at this messianic text, let’s remember the following: 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.”
The word “Servant” in Hebrew is “ebed,” which can be defined as a slave, servant, or official, depending on the context in which it is used.
Remember the following issues with the identity of Servant of the Lord in the Bible: Herbert M. Wolf offers a summary here:
1. God’s servants were those who worshiped him and carried out his will, often in important leadership roles. Individuals such as Abraham(Gen 26:24 ), Moses ( Exod 14:31 ; Deut 34:5 ), David ( 2 Samuel 7:52 Samuel 7:8 ), and Isaiah (20:3) were called God’s “servants” as they obediently walked with the Lord.
2. The Servant as Israel: At times it seems quite clear that the servant refers collectively to the nation of Israel. The people of Israel (or Jacob) compose the corporate body that God calls “My servant” (Isa 41:8, 9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1, 2, 21, 26; 45:4; 48:20; 49;3; Jer 30:10; 46:27, 28; Ezek. 28:25; 37:25).
3. The Servant as a Righteous Remnant: Sometimes the concept of the “servant” seems to refer to those in Israel who were spiritual, the righteous remnant who remained faithful to the Lord. In 42:5 and 49:8 the servant functions as “a covenant for the people” and is involved in the restoration of the land after the Babylonian exile.
4. The Servant as an Individual: Unlike the nation Israel, the servant of the Lord listened to God’s word and spoke words of comfort and healing ( 42:2-3 ; 50:4-5). Yet his words were powerful and authoritative, and like a judge he was concerned about establishing justice and righteousness ( Isaiah 42:1Isaiah 42:4 ; 49:2 ). Twice the servant is called “a light to the Gentiles” ( 42:6 ; 49:6 ), and “light” is clearly paralleled to “salvation.” Similarly, the servant is involved in the restoration of the nation Israel ( 49:5 ). He is “a covenant for the people” ( 42:6 ; 49:8 ) as the ruler who was promised in the Davidic covenant ( 2 Sam 7:16 ) and the One who would initiate the new covenant. The servant opens the eyes of the blind and frees captives from prison ( 42:7 ; cf. 61:1 ).
5. A careful reading of the four servant songs has nonetheless led many scholars to argue that the servant refers to an individual who fulfills in himself all that Israel was meant to be. In some respects the servant can be compared with the Davidic messianic king. Both were chosen by God and characterized by righteousness and justice (cf. 9:7 ; Isaiah 42:1 Isaiah 42:6). The Spirit of God would empower both the king and the servant ( 11:1-4 ; 42:1 ), and ultimately the suffering servant would be highly exalted (cf. 52:13 ; 53:12 ) and given the status of a king. The “shoot” or “branch” from the family of Jesse ( 11:1 ) is linked with the description of the servant as “a tender shoot” ( 53:2 ).