As I read Isaiah 53 while recognizing chapters leading up to the controversial chapter and familiar themes through Scripture, I can understand God’s chosen people, particularly the righteous remnant, are often overlooked or considered the ‘underdog’, persecuted, and afflicted. Certainly, over the course of history, the majority of God’s chosen nation are stiff-necked and rebellious; however, there are some, a remnant, who choose to live righteously by adhering to Torah to the best of their ability and are eventually rewarded. We see Noah mocked while being obedient and yet spared of the great flood of judgment by the arm of the LORD. We see Joseph rejected and afflicted by his own family only to be elevated to the highest position by the arm of the LORD. We see David, a lowly, humble shepherd boy, overlooked as God’s anointed by man, but cultivated into a mighty warrior King by the arm of the LORD. We see Esther, an orphaned, girl chosen simply for her beauty but chosen by the arm of the LORD to save the Jewish people elevating them and all involved. We see people like Job and Daniel tested and refined; yet, rewarded by the arm of the LORD.
Similarly, in the final verses of Isaiah 52 leading up to the often misunderstood Isaiah 53, we see the servant, the righteous remnant of Israel, raised up and revered by Gentiles after having been rejected and refined due to the sins of the rebellious fulfilling prophecy often spoken of throughout the Torah and Prophets (compare Deuteronomy 26:19, 28:1,10 as well as Isaiah 60-61, 62:2-4). Notice the similar if not identical verbiage found in other prophetic passages about Israel compared to the latter part of Isaiah 52:13-15 refer to the world, particularly leaders, being shocked to witness those who were once hated and despised, being the Jews and all of the twelve tribes, will be exalted / resurrected, reunited, and restored to rule and reign or extolled and be very high. Over and over again the prophets both warn and encourage the House of Israel and the House of Judah, collective Israel, that they will be punished severely for rejecting and not diligently obeying God’s voice of Torah, but that eventually and despite their rejection as well as the world’s rejection and oppression of them, eventually all twelve tribes will be raised from the dead as well as the living remnant will be saved from their oppressors restoring them all to the land of Israel to rule and reign (also see Ezekiel 34-37, Jeremiah 29-31, Isaiah 60).
More specifically, let’s examine each verse of Isaiah 53 to see other themes of these same sentiments further proving this text is about Israel, not specifically and exclusively Jesus.
Isaiah 53:1 arm of the LORD = strength; see Isaiah 51:9, 59:16; 63:5 all of which speaks to this pattern is all of God’s doing, His strength and His will
53:2 no form or comeliness is likened to Zephaniah 3:12 referring to the remnant as meek and humble
53:3 the servant is despised and rejected; despised and we did not esteem him is similar to Psalm 44:13-15, but especially Isaiah 49’s reference to Israel being rejected by men, yet later esteemed or raised up just as the later part of Isaiah 52 and 53 speak to. Notice the entire passage of Isaiah 49 is about Israel, the servant (vs 3), who is afflicted and by men (vs 13-14), and just as Isaiah 52:13-15 speaks to the “servant” being miraculously extolled higher than kings shocking kings that this little nation is now honored, Isaiah 49:23-26, Isaiah 51 speak to the same prophecy as does all of Isaiah 60, but specifically Isaiah 60:14-15, as well as Isaiah 62:2-4.
53:4 wounded, stricken, smitten and afflicted by God compare to the remnant of Israel being afflicted in Zephaniah 3:19, Psalm 44:24-25, Isaiah 51:7,12 (notice Isaiah 51:9 referring to the arm of the LORD just as as Isaiah 53:1 and the close proximity of these parallel verses); also, see Isaiah 60:14-15.
53:5 all of Israel will suffer for the sins of Israel (i.e. even the righteous remnant such as Daniel and Jeremiah were carried off into the Babylonian captivity). Also, compare the servant being bruised for iniquities then healed to Israel being bruised for their iniquities in Isaiah 30:9-15, then bind up the bruise and healed in Isaiah 30:26
53:6 we (people of Israel) like sheep have gone astray and the LORD has laid on him (collective Israel) the sins of us all (people of Israel) is likened to Zephaniah 3:13 as well as Ezekiel 34 and Psalm 44:11
53:7 the servant/he didn’t open his mouth is also referenced of the righteous remnant of Israel learning to not open their mouth in rest and quietness Isaiah 30:15 and Zephaniah 3:13 and Psalm 46:10/11 (depending on if you are using the Hebrew or Christian Bibles); sheep for slaughter, the sheep being representative of Israel, is also found in Jeremiah 11:19 and 12:3 as well as Psalm 44:22.
53:8 the righteous servant/remnant being cut off from land of living is also referenced in Jeremiah 11:19 whereas Israel being cut off from the land/living in general is mentioned in 1 Kings 9:6-7 and Ezekiel 37:11
53:9 no deceit in his mouth is also referenced in Zephaniah 3:13 of no deceit being in the mouth of the righteous remnant (even the author of the Book of Revelation seemed to understand this reference is about Israel see Revelation 14:5 and how it is referencing the 144,000 righteous remnant of Israel found in Revelation 7)
53:10 again references bruising the servant as did 53:5 and 30:26; note: Jesus/Yeshua had no physical seed or offspring to carry on his legacy, but Israel’s descendants continue to be fruitful and multiply. The prophet Isaiah also prophecized a tenth of the holy seed will remain in chapter 10:13.
53:11 -12 by his knowledge – knowledge or wisdom in the Hebrew Bible always refers to Torah/God’s laws see Hosea 4:6 as an example or Proverbs 3. Obeying Torah is defined as being righteous and received by God (see Psalm 95:6-11; 103, 119 and Isaiah 1:16-20, as just a few examples, but really it is everywhere in the Tanakh.) Also, notice Isaiah 26 speaks all about salvation and the importance of learning righteousness in Isaiah 26:8-12 or Isaiah 48:17-19. Israel, specifically the Jewish people, are called to be the light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6-8 and 49:3,6) and how are they/we to be the light? By living Torah, obeying God’s voice, which is Torah (Deut 28:1; Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 6:23; 4:2). So that the world might come to know how be saved and therefore not perish (Hosea 4:6). The righteous remnant repeatedly intercede of behalf of the people, despite their transgressions (see Moses and Aaron and all the prophets as examples), but moreover, lead in love simply by example of a Torah-observant lifestyle (to the best of their ability). Isaiah 53 speaks to the affliction of Israel; Isaiah 54 speaks to the salvation of the Jews/Israel; Isaiah 55 is an invitation for all to follow their example; Isaiah 56 explains the Gentiles/foreigners who also keep God’s covenant (Torah) are also saved/gathered to Mt Zion.
Whether Christian or Jewish, we must learn to stop making Scripture fit our preconceived notions and rather, let Scripture interpret Scripture within context and how the author refers to terms throughout. In regards to Isaiah 52 and 53, I asked myself, “What other passages refer to Israel as ‘him’?” Surprisingly, numerous Scriptures refer to Israel in the masculine (Isaiah 45:11,46:8,56:8; Jeremiah 31:9-11,18,20-22; Hosea 7:8-10, 8:14, 10:6, 11:1,5, 12:1-4, 13:12-13). It would appear collective people such as Israel/Jacob/Ephraim/Judah uses pronouns such as him/his and them/their. Whereas when Scripture references specific cities such as Zion, Jerusalem, Holy City, Samaria, Babylon, etc, it uses the feminine pronouns (Isaiah 10:11,47:1,5, 51:17-18, 52:1-2, 62:1-2). I then asked myself, “Has Israel been defined as ‘My Servant’ such as in Isaiah 52:13?” Again, surprisingly, yes. Isaiah 44:1-2,21-22, 45:4, 48:20, 49:3.
When reading any other book, would you insert a different subject just because they have similarities and then deem that one chapter is all about a different person not identified within the book? For example, if you were reading an autobiography about a specific bricklayer, named Jerry, who gets dirty and has aches and pains, would you suddenly say, “Oh, this chapter, in fact, this entire autobiography is all about my friend, Joe the plumber, because Joe gets dirty and had aches and pains at work too!” What?! Talk about taking things completely out of context and reading into it what you want it to be about compared to what and who it actually is about.
Next, I thoroughly researched Scriptures to find where it indicates a person will need to die for my sins and that one is eternally damned in their sins. To my surprise, I found “salvation” is always referencing a literal, physical saving, no one can die for another sins for we each are held accountable (Deuteronomy 24:16, 2 Kings 14:6, Jeremiah 31:29-30, Ezekiel 18:19-24, 33:12-20), and that all one must do is repent and obey God’s commands and He will gladly forgive (see Psalm 103 and Isaiah 1:16-20 or the story of Jonah and how even the Gentiles had been forgiven simply for repenting or the repeated message of the Prophets). Christianity teaches if you don’t believe in Jesus you are damned to hell, eternally lost, part of the Anti-Christ Spirit, etc. while Judaism teaches if you believe in Jesus you are an idolater and will be held accountable for your sins as we all are.
Choose this day whom you will serve and choose wisely. Shalom and blessings!
Carrie R. Turner June 2020