Isaiah 53


Chapter 53 is the middle of the second section (chapters 40-66) of Isaiah.

Isaiah is quoted 80 times in New Testament.  Most of these quotes come from Isaiah 53.

Isaiah 53:1-12 is part of a set of verses that begin in 52:13-15.  These verses make up a                       

literary collection of five stanzas with three verses each:

a)      52:13-15

b)      53:1-3

c)      53:4-6

d)      53:7-9

e)      53:10-12


One of the reasons this collection of verses is separated after 52:15 is because Medieval           

Jews and a few other early scholars could see 52:13-15 describing the Messiah            

(victorious) but 53:1-12 could not be since the servant suffers in defeat.

Ironically, the very place they begin to stumble in their understanding begins by asking:

            Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Almost all modern scholars agree that the chapter break is misplaced


Much study has been committed to these verses.

The conclusions basically agree with the details of the servant’s character and his work.

The difficulty comes when scholars state who the servant is.

This difficulty may be intentionally caused by the author who is forcing the readers to     

make a decision and apply it to the text.

It seems that if you know the answer the text is clear, but if you do not know the answer           

then there are many possible options.  Each option clouds the reader from seeing.


The Second Set of Verses


Is a continuation of chapter 52:14-15 when it explained that the servant of the Lord would:

1)      The extreme suffering of The Servant of the Lord

a.       Many appalled at him

b.      His appearance was disfigured, marred beyond human likeness

2)      The universal exaltation of The Servant of the Lord that followed

a.       He will sprinkle many nations

b.      Kings will shut their mouths because of him

c.       Gentile nations will understand Him and his work

The thing that would amaze the nations is that a deliverer would go so low to help them.

Reminds us of Luke 22:25, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who                  

exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be

like that;.  Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the    

one who rules like the one who serves. . .But I am among you as one who serves.”


53:1 is Isaiah asking, “Who will believe this?” and “To whom has God revealed this powerful plan?”


Isaiah job is to preach this message to Israel and the nations.

Isaiah himself has believed the message (promise) since he calls it “our” message.



Isaiah 51:9-11

Consider the prayer of Isaiah 51:9-11. 

This prayer will be answered by The Servant of the Lord in chapter 53. 

In this prayer God is called upon to show himself strong as he did in days gone by. 

In chapter 53 the Lord will do the same thing but the strength will be demonstrated by the         

Servant on the cross in death and apparent defeat. 

The results will prove to it was the greatest display of God’s power.

 “Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O arm of the Lord;

                        -Jesus Christ goes to the cross

awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old. 

                        -The Lord had intervened in generations through out history.

Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces, who pierced that monster through?

-In the past the Lord’s power was demonstrated in military victories and by crushing his enemies.

 In Rahab’s case the monster was pierced, but this case the Servant of the Lord will be the one pierced.

Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep,

                        -At creation and at the Exodus God drove back the waters that threatened                                   

his people.  In this case the arm of the Lord will drive away sin and death.

who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over? 

                        -Jesus said, “I am the way.”  The Servant of the Lord made a way to God.

The ransomed of the Lord will return.

                        -No longer can this statement be assigned to creation or the exodus since                          

no one was returning.  It could refer to the return from Babylon.  The                                

work of Jesus ransomed people from sin and death so that they might                                

return to fellowship with God.

They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. 

                        -Again this could refer to the return from Babylon to Jerusalem (Zion) but                         

the work of the Servant of the Lord will take us to the true Zion and                                  

“everlasting joy” will be a reality.

Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

                        -The Arm of the Lord revealed in Isaiah 53 will be God’s greatest                                      

response to this prayer.  The Lord explains his response and the results to                         

Isaiah in chapter 53.


Creation in Genesis 1, the Exodus, and the return from Babylon are all OT pictures of the                     

the Lord’s work on the cross.


John 12:37-41 uses this verse to explain the people’s reaction to Jesus:

            “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still   would not believer in him.

 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:                           

‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has thearm of the Lord been revealed?’ 

for this reason they could not believe because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:  

He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither    

see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn – and I would heal them.’ (Isaiah 6:10) 

Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus‘ glory and spoke about him.”



Who is the “us” and the “we?

Through out Isaiah 53 there is a group called “us” or “we”

Three ideas who this group is:

1)      The nations

2)      The nation of Israel (whose voice is heard through the prophet Isaiah’s response)

3)      The prophetic voice of all the prophets collectively together.


If #3) is tried in verse 1 and 2 it fails to make sense in verses 3 and 4, etc.

If the Servant is Israel then #1) The Nations is correct

If the Servant is not Israel then #2) The nation of Israel always seems to work

a)      This is the normal use of “we” in Isaiah 16:6; 24:16; 42:24; 64:4-5

b)      The NT understands these to be the words and attitude of Israel (John 12:38; Romans 10:16)


Deliverance of People Who Serve as Lights to Nations

Through chapters 49-52 God is telling Israel he will deliver them from their bondage to Babylon (and to sin) and also be a light to the Gentiles .

Isaiah 49:6

“It too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.  I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Isaiah 51:4

            “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation:  The law will go out from me; my justice will come a light to the nations.”


Gives us a description of the Servants human origins.

He would face adversity and odds that when he overcame them could not be explained by the great spiritual climate, family advantage,


“Grew Up” speaks of humanity

“Tender Shoot” describes his humble origins and growth.  A shoot is often cut off.

“A Root” is a twig that grows from the ground and dries up quickly

“Dry Ground” potentially describes:

a)      the dry spiritual climate the Servant would come from and grow up in (legalistic Judiasm)

b)      the virgin birth


The second part of 53:2 describes either his natural appearance or his appearance on the cross.

Most likely these words describe the fact that the Servants “beauty”, “majesty” or anything in his natural “appearance”

would cause people to recognize him and honor him  as anything but a natural man.


Jesus was born (in a stable), grew up with a common family, appeared as a normal man and was not even recognized

by John the Baptist unless God showed him.  If it were not for the angel’s words to Mary and the events that surrounded his birth                 

there would be no reason to look to this child or this man for anything unusual.


Charlemagne - greatest of medieval kings was born in 742.  He is well known to have been tall, stately, and fair-haired, with disproportionately thick neck. His skeleton was measured during the 18th century and his height was determined to be 6 ft. 4in., and as Einhard tells it in his twenty-second chapter:

Charles was large and strong, and of lofty stature, though not disproportionately tall (his height is well known to have been seven times the length of his foot); the upper part of his head was round, his eyes very large and animated, nose a little long, hair fair, and face laughing and merry. Thus his appearance was always stately and dignified, whether he was standing or sitting; although his neck was thick and somewhat short, and his belly rather prominent; but the symmetry of the rest of his body concealed these defects. His gait was firm, his whole carriage manly, and his voice clear, but not so strong as his size led one to expect.



In 52:2 the people failed to desire him.

Now in 52:3 the people turn to despising and rejecting him.

a)      The Hebrew word translated “despising” has less emotion than the English word. 

b)      The Hebrew word  means to consider someone worthless and unworthy of attention.

Rejected by men” is translation of the phrase “cessation of men or “rejection of people”. This could mean:

a)      That the Servant turned away from men since they despised him

b)      That men ceased paying attention to the Servant because they didn’t see him


Sorrows” – is the word “pain” (Heb. – “makob” and again in verse 4))

Suffering” – is the word “sickness” (Heb. – “choil” and again in verse 4)


These two words (“sorrows” and “suffering”) may refer to one of four things:

a)      The Servant had pain and sickness physically

b)      The Servant had pain and sickness of heart

c)      The Servant was like a doctor, a man associated with dealing with pain and sickness

d)      The Servant was punished with pain and sickness

Men even “hide their faces


From verses 52:13-53:3 the Servant is confronted with:

a)      Shock

b)      Astonishment

c)      Distaste

d)      Dismissal

e)      Avoidance

He does not fit the picture of the world’s greatest deliverer.


The Third Set of Verses:

This tells us that the problems the Servant dealt with were not his problems but ours.

Combined with 53:10-12 we see the Servant was a substitute for us.


First word is “aken” and means “but surely” and means in spite of all the people have just said here is the true case of what happened.


Isaiah reverses the order of “choli” (sickness) and “makob” (pain).

We now see that the reason the servant was rejected was really our own sickness & pain.


Matthew 8:17 tie Christ’s life into removal of healing by taking them to himself.


took up” – in Leviticus the sacrificial animal carries (“nasa”) the sins of people away.    The animal dies but also carries away the sin.

“carried” – (“sabal”) is the bearing of a burden for someone.


“stricken” (“nagua”) used often of leprosy.  The Babylonian Talmud goes so far as to describe the Messiah as a leper.  It refers to a sudden strike of misfortune





“pierce” most always is associated with death.

“crushed” is not the word “bruised” but instead to break into pieces, to pulverize, to turn to dust.


Consider Isaiah 1:5-6 where Israel is in the same condition


“punishment” – the discipline of a child due to a broken relationship and violation of    justice.

“peace” (salom) – well being








The Fourth Set of Verses

He was unjustly punished


1)      The servant was submissive

2)      The servant was innocent

3)      The servant was treated with injustice


“descendants” – (“dor”) ususally speaks of a period of time such as between two generations or between a father and a son.




cut off” – (nigzar) means to kill.  It not only suggests a violent death but speaks of it being due to the judgment of God.

            Gen. 9:11 “Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood”

Exodus 12:15 “whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel.”



The Fifth Set of Verses

Helps explain the first four sets of verses.


In these verses we see that this sacrifice was a complete work.

It was so complete that the judgment on the servant stops, the servants work is stopped due to its completion in his death and

we hear off a new life after the death.



“Yet” (waw) – begins a contrast to the previous verses

How could this tragedy have happen?  It was the Lord’s will.


“Guilt Offering” in Leviticus 5 and 6 the guilt offering includes two things:

1)      Paying restitution (Lev. 6:6)

2)      Bring an offering to the Lord to make atonement and he will be forgiven (6:7)

The result is “he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.”(6:7)



The contrast between “suffering of his soul” and to “see the light of life” speaks of a         

life after death or a resurrection of the servant.  This life after death is not a        

continuation of punishment like those who sin against God.  Instead this life after            

death is a resurrection into rewards for it says “he will . . .be satisfied.”

The servant is seen here as one who has finished his work and is pleased with what he has        

accomplished.  In the midst of his labor he sees the end result (Heb. 12:2, “For the       

joy set before him he endured the cross.”)

            (It is also possible that the following phrase “by his knowledge” could go with the          

proceeding words and this verse then would say “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be

satisfied by his knowledge.” 

Meaning like Heb12:2 says, He saw the end result and was satisfied with knowing what his work accomplished.)


Going along with this same idea of a resurrection into glory after the punishment of death is seen in verse 53:10 when it says

 “he will see his offspring and prolong his days.”  This is interesting when while he is being punished and dying in verse

53:8 it asks, “who can speak of his descendants.”


Psalm 22 is very similar in its flow.  There also a man suffers death but is vindicated with resurrection.  There mentions that

“those who go down to the dust of the   earth will kneel before him” (indicating his existence in glory after death) and

 that “Posterity will serve him.” (Ps. 22:29-30)


The NIV “by his knowledge” chooses the subjective instead of the possible and more   

probable objective (which the NIV places in the footnotes) which  says, “by      knowledge of him”.

When we read it to say “by knowledge of him my righteous servant will justify many” we find ourselves in the middle of the book of Romans.

1)      Knowledge of the servant’s work of justifying the sinner by shedding his blood is the information we place faith in and so believe.

2)      The alternative would be that the servant’s knowledge will justify us.  This makes the servant a teacher with information that can save us. 

3)      Jesus was the savior.  The church posses the knowledge of his work that needs to be taken to the world.  He was the savior.  Jesus teaching nor did his knowledge justify us.  He could know what our problem was and he could teach us information but only by his shed blood could we be justified.





In this verse the conclusion of the servants work is mentioned first and then the cause comes second to form a summary of chapter 53.


“he poured out his life unto death” may be the basis for Philippians 2:7:

            “but made himself nothing (“kenosis” –literally “emptied himself”) taking the very nature of a servant”

Here is another mention of the death of the servant.


“Therefore I will give him a portion among the many” must speak of:

1)      a resurrection

2)      a reward for his work as a servant

3)      that he did not suffer for his own sins


“he will divide the spoils with the strong (numerous)” is one of the few indications of         

this sacrifice having to do in some way of a military battle and the servants death being tied into the victory in a war.

The result of his victory was that he would share the spoils of war with his people.


Chapter 12 ends by summing up the servants work in three clear phases:

1)      The Servant was innocent but was charge d with mans sins and carried their penalty

2)      The Servant became one of the sinners and paid for it with suffering and death.

3)      The Servant lives on to continue a ministry of intercession for the sinners that he was sacrificed for.


he bore the sin of many” now explains why in:

1)      verse 11 the “servant will justify many

2)      verse 11 God will “give him a portion among the many

3)      verse 11 “he will divide the spoils with the many

Why??  Because “he bore the sin many”. 

So, the ones he justified, lives among and shares the spoils of his victory with where the many sinners that he carried away their sins.