The Book of Isaiah Bible Study Chapter 53 Part 1

Isaiah

Our last reading this week is Isaiah 53:1-6

This is one of the most debated chapters in the Bible. We are very aware, by now, that Isaiah speaks of a Suffering Servant. Sometimes this suffering servant is indeed the children of Israel (the Jewish people). However, the vast majority of the time this Suffering Servant is referring to Israel’s Messiah (Yeshua) – not to the Jewish people. 

In this chapter we need to ask the question: Who is Isaiah referring to when he speaks of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53? Israel or Messiah? 

Followers of Judaism (especially Orthodox Judaism) say that Isaiah 53 is not about the Messiah but is about the plight of the Jewish people throughout numerous centuries. 

Rashi, a famous Jewish theologian who lived around 1000 years ago, stated emphatically (when speaking publicly) that this chapter is referring to the Jewish people. However, in closed community, while discussing the Talmud privately, Rashi agreed that the Talmud was right, and that Isaiah 53 was indeed Messianic as the Talmud claimed it was. Rashi’s commentary on religious doctrine is not binding or Scriptural, but many ascribe to his views as if they are. 

The Talmud however (written down around 400-500AD), is seen by Orthodox Judaism as the authoritative word of G-d (handed down in oral form over the centuries before it was written down) and they consider it binding. When the Talmud discusses who Messiah is, what He will do and how to recognise Him, it offers up Isaiah 53 as prophetic and Scriptural evidence that help us to understand Messiah. The Talmud does not assert that Isaiah 53 is speaking about the Jewish people. 

v1: Report: The root of this word is derived from the word for hearing (ie who has believed what they have heard? – Roms 10:16-18). 

  • To whom has the arm (Son, Sacrifice, Messianic hope – Passover Lamb) of the L-RD been revealed: Who has believed in the descendant of G-d Himself (ie the Son of G-d)? see Heb 11:6, Roms 10:8-10

v2: Grew up (gone up): This is a word that explains Messiah’s manifestation. He was seen. The report has gone out about Him. 

  • Before Him: Before the L-rd. 
  • Tender plant: This is a healthy plant, a plant that is designed to take nourishment from the ground that it has been placed in. 
  • Dry ground: The problem is that this young plant was not placed in a good place. It was in dry ground and not in fertile ground. Isaiah is telling us that the One who has been revealed to us came into the hostile environment of this world. The world was not responsive or receptive to Him and they caused Him to suffer (John 15:18-19). 
  • No form: Nothing about Messiah’s outward appearance stood out to anyone as remarkable or unforgettable. His appearance didn’t make a great impression on others. It was not unique.
  • Comeliness: Beauty. He was not notably glorious in His appearance. Others did not look at Him and immediately perceive that He was someone extraordinary or special. He looked just like an everyday, ordinary man. Messiah was extraordinary – but this had nothing to do with His looks. 

v3: Despised…rejected: He was held in contempt by others. People rejected Yeshua when they looked upon Him. His ways were not the ways of the world. He didn’t fit in. He didn’t make Himself at home here on earth. He didn’t belong here (Matt 8:20). 

  • (Pains): This is not the word for ‘sorrow’. It is a word that speaks of physical pain – not emotional pain. 
  • (Sickness): This is not the word for ‘grief’ but the word for ‘sickness’. Sickness (like death) is a consequence of sin. This, however, does not mean that someone is sick because he has sinned. Messiah never sinned, but, as this verse tells us, He experienced the consequences of sin – He was acquainted with sickness (not necessarily in His own physical body, but He had sickness around Him. He understood the consequences of sickness and the pain associated with it). 
  • And we hid…our faces from Him: This is another phrase of rejection. Many people did not want to be around Him. 
  • Did not esteem: Did not consider. Gave no thought to Him.

v4: Our: Isaiah is speaking primarily to the children of Israel. It would not make sense to interpret this to mean that Israel is bearing Israel’s own sickness or pain. Someone else bore this for them.

  • Borne our (sicknesses): Sin and sickness are connected to each other Scripturally. Yeshua never sinned, but He understood and bore the consequences of our sin. 
  • We: Israel 
  • Stricken: Afflicted or struck. In the Talmud it is said that this is a word that is related to leprosy. A story is told within Judaism (which is not Biblical) about what they have termed the “leper scholar” or “leper Messiah”. This story states that the Messiah will associate with the rejected and the outcasts (those who are not well received by society). According to this make-believe story, all the lepers would go to the place where they would bathe. They would remove all their bandages, wash and restrap fresh bandages on themselves. But another “leper” would come to their place, but he would be different. He would have bandages covering his body but when it came time for him to wash, he would remove a small part of the bandage, wash the area and recover it. He never fully exposed his skin and they never realised that he, unlike them, did not have leprosy. He was among them and suffered their outcast state, despite that fact that he was perfectly clean. He was struck, but not because of his own sickness. Although he did not have leprosy, he associated with them, assisted them and encouraged them. The Jewish people see this as a kind of parable for the role and character of Messiah. 
  • Smitten (crushed) by G-d, and afflicted: Yeshua, although He was innocent of sin, was struck and afflicted on the cross. He wasn’t doing this for Himself, but He did it for our sins. This is why He is known as the Suffering Servant. He served humanity by suffering on our behalf. He was innocent – not sick and sinful – but He suffered on behalf of others.

v5: Wounded: This is a word that literally means to be profaned. Innocent of sin, He became sin for us. G-dlaid upon Him the sins of all the world (Isaiah 53:6) and He suffered the punishment for all that sin. 

  • He was wounded for our transgressions: It would not make sense to be speaking about Israel being the suffering servant here. Israel cannot be wounded for Israel’s own sins. The nature of this prophecy demands that something (a lamb) or Someone (the Lamb) paid the price for Israel’s (and the world’s) sins. This can only be speaking about Messiah. There is no other possible explanation for this passage. 
  • Our iniquities: Our behaviour.
  • The chastisement (punishment) for our peace (Israel’s peace)was upon Him: This is another very important statement that refutes the claim that Isaiah 53 is in regard to Israel. This passage does not state that the “punishment of our peace was upon ourselves”. It, therefore, cannot be speaking about Israel, but has to be speaking about the Messiah and about what He did for Israel and for all of humanity. 

v6: We all like sheep have gone astray: We, Israel and the world, have all sinned. We have turned aside from the right path and are deserving of punishment. 

  • We have all turned, every one, to his own way: We are all guilty before G-d. 
  • Laid on Him: Afflicted Him. The word used here is a word that means to hit someone in order to cause them pain, to hurt them. 

Note: In the Old Testament the only way to be forgiven and not suffer for one’s sins was through the sacrifice of an innocent, clean and spotless lamb. Before an animal was offered up for sacrifice it had to be thoroughly inspected to make sure that it had no blemishes or imperfections. In the New Covenant the only way to be forgiven and not suffer for our sins is through the spotless and sinless Lamb of G-d – Messiah Yeshua. If Messiah had sinned, He could not have done the work that He did – He could not have taken the punishment upon Himself and still have had a positive effect on others. Suffering for our own sins is just – we deserve the suffering and punishment. It is only when one is innocent that suffering can then be imputed to or benefit someone else (they willingly take the punishment on your behalf, even though they didn’t do the crime). Messiah suffered on behalf of us. He did not suffer on behalf of Himself.

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