Response by Mark Robinson |

In searching the web about articles on Isiah 53, I came across this comment in the comments section of an article:

Can you show any verse where Isaiah says Jesus/Yeshua is the Servant. Isaiah specifically says; “You are My servant, O Israel” (41:8) “You are My servant, Israel” (49:3) see also Isaiah 44:1, 44:2, 44:21, 45:4, 48:20 The Bible is filled with other references to the Jewish people as God’s “servant”; see Jeremiah 30:10, 46:27-28; Psalms 136:22. There is no reason that the “servant” in Isaiah 53 would suddenly switch and refer to someone other than the Jewish people. This is in singular since every Jew will go through this individualy [sic]. I will await your verse from Isaiah that says otherwise.”

The “servant” of Isaiah 53 being Israel did not initiate with this person’s questions. As early as the late 11th century Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040 – 1105 A.D., born and lived in northern France, popularized the view that Isaiah 53 spoke about the nation of Israel. Rabbis and Jewish sources prior to Rashi, as well as contemporary rabbis of Rashi, disagreed with his applying the text of Isaiah 53 to Israel rather than the Messiah. Today, though, the primary response by the Jewish world to Isaiah 53 speaking of Jesus is, no; it is speaking of the nation of Israel. The person above at least offered some scriptural evidence for the Servant to be Israel. Usually, none is offered. So, is the Servant of Isaiah 53, Israel or Jesus?

The first question we should ask would be, “Is ‘servant’ used exclusively of Israel in the Tenach (Jewish Bible)? More pointedly, is ‘servant’ used exclusively of Israel in the book of Isaiah?” It is this second question we will answer in light of the claim that “servant” in Isaiah speaks of Israel.

Servant(s) in Isaiah

Servant is used in a variety of ways in the book of Isaiah. Three times it speaks of individuals; Isaiah – Isaiah 20:3; Eliakim – Isaiah 22:20; and David – Isaiah 37:35. Servant is often used of the nation of Israel – Isaiah 41:8-9; 44:1, 21; 45:4; 48:20 – and some of these listed were referenced by the comment writer. It is also used of the Messiah.

There are many contrasts in Isaiah between Israel, as the servant of God, and Messiah, as the servant of God. For example, Israel the servant is sinful and corrupt Isaiah 1:4, blind, Isaiah 29:10, and unrighteous, Isaiah 48:1. Messiah as the servant is perfect, Isaiah 53:9b, gives sight to the blind, Isaiah 42:7, and is righteous, Isaiah 53:11.

In order to show that servant is used of the Messiah, it is necessary to provide context. There are four “servant” passages in Isaiah – 42:1-7; 49:1-6; 50:4-10; 52:13 – 53:12.

Within these passages, we can see a distinction between the Servant (Messiah) and the nation of Israel. In chapter 42, the servant will be a “covenant of the people.” The people are the nation of Israel and the servant is distinct from the nation.

In chapter 49 verse 5, God “formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him.” Me is the servant and Jacob is the nation of Israel. In verse 6, we are told, “thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel.” Clearly, the servant and Israel are different entities.

When the servant is called Israel in Isaiah 49:3, Israel, in this case, is simply another name for Messiah and not the nation of Israel. The context of the passage establishes this as we saw in verses five and six. The Servant is Israel par excellence. What Israel couldn’t do, the Messiah accomplishes.

Servant the Redeemer

Perhaps the key function of the “servant” found in the four servant passages is that of Redeemer.

In Isaiah 42:6 we are told the “servant” is “…a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.” In Isaiah 49:6 we are told he is God’s “servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.”

These two passages tell us that the “servant” will bring salvation to both Jew and Gentile (the context of these two passages is spiritual salvation).
The final two “servant” passages tell us how this salvation for the “tribes of Israel” and the “Gentiles” will be accomplished. Spiritual salvation is accomplished through the vicarious suffering of the “servant.”

Isaiah 50:6 speaks of the physical suffering of the “servant.” “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.”

In the fourth “servant” passage, we have the most important aspect of the work of the “servant.” His suffering is an atonement for our sins. “But, he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed,” Isaiah 53:5.

One verse that says the “servant” of Isaiah 53 is Messiah? The entire contextual flow of this book speaks of the “servant” of Isaiah 53 being Messiah and not Israel. Isaiah 53 is the culmination of the challenge found in the first chapter.

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool,” Isaiah 1:18.

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