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Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

The Servant in Isaiah

See notes on Isaiah 49 about Christian reflexes to reading Jesus as the Servant.

This is the how of the release from exile.


The passage starts with YHWH speaking and exalting His Servant.

The passage starts with the Servant sacrificing on our behalf.

It starts with the human view of the Servant, and ends with God’s view of the Servant (the correct view).

First person pronouns

52:13-15: my servant; YHWH (presumed) is the speaker – prefatory theme (the exalted despised one). Movement in the passage: Humiliation à Exaltation

Cursed à Recognising something wonderful has happened through the Servant.

52:13 – "will prosper" or "act wisely" = lkc (sakal)

Wisdom and prospering are connected in the biblical view on wisdom.

52:14 – Metaphor of shameful disfigurement of suffering.

(The cross was the most humiliating way to die. A slave’s death, death of insurrectionists [JC accused: "King of the Jews"], not used on Roman Citizens [ex insurrectionists]. Crosses were put near highways so everyone could see them [and be deterred against committing such crimes punished by crucifixion] [Mk. 15:29])

52:15 – The kings are in awe (image of the kings having to shut their jaws which are open in awe).

Third person pronouns

53:1-6: we – the point of view of the author and the community.

– servant seen as a loser.

53:1-3 – we for him – despised by us

His disfigurement if seen as God’s judgement on him.

He did nothing to for men to like him – he was rejected, hated. Men hated him and his message (earned through his message their despising).

53:4-6 – him for us – despised for us

God rejects him as he bore OUR sins, he suffered for OUR sins.

Tanach taught that you suffered for your sins – Ezekial (3:19 …) etc.

Our harmony is the result of his disgrace.

53:7-9: him; a new perspective on a remembered fate.

Death in the Psalms is often used to represent suffering, rejection. But not here, the descriptions are clear and it shows that it is not just imagery.

Jews nowadays believe that this chapter refers to suffering Israel (the righteous remnant), a reaction against Christians using this to back up JC as the Messiah. Apparently during and before 1st Century AD this wasn’t so – apparently the Babylonian Talmud interprets this as referring to the coming Messiah. This makes the passage very metaphorical. The righteous suffer because of sinful Jews. This falls apart as the language is too strong.

Humiliating death.

53:7 – "silent" – the slaughter of lambs was done peacefully back then (throat cut). The shepherds cared for their sheep. The sheep went quietly and trustingly to their death.

53:8 – "My people" – the Servant bore God’s people’s sins.

53:10: him and you, the new perspective – this is YHWH’s will for him, for us.

In Tanach human sacrifice is condemned (Jephath in Judges 11 is different). So here it is almost impossible for the Tanach to say this. Very extraordinary. The Tanuch is talking about God offering this man, it is YHWH’s will – for our benefit.

First person pronouns

53:11b-12: I; YHWH (presumed) is the speaker – the servant’s future.

Clearly it is YHWH speaking

Servant bears our sins, counted as a sinner. Suffereing for us.


The emphasis on the Servant’s role, not identity in Isaiah 40-55. The importance of this role in the message of release from exile. Transcending the horizon of Isaiah 40-55 and the Tanach. The puzzle of the Servant in Isaiah 40-55.

The clearer the Servant’s role becomes, the less clear his identity becomes.

- He looks less and less like a prophet.

He is a servant who knows and embraces God’s Law.

The chapters with/about the Servant are chapters 42, 49, 50 and 53.

The servant in these four chapters is clearly different to the servants of God in the other chapters. So these four songs are connected. What the Servant does – becomes clearer and more explicit. He has a consistent function, he is faithful to death.


Acts 8 – The Ethiopian is right from the Tanach’s point of view (vv. 32-34).

The question of the Ethiopian ("In Isaiah 53:7-8 is the prophet speaking of himself or someone else?") is not answered by the Tanach.

Acts 8 – Phillip if right, but only from a NT point of view.

He spoke of one who achieved what the prophet spoke of (v. 35).

Jesus and the Servant in Christian faith and practice.

Jesus’ suffering servant-hood is a pattern for our life. We should give all for Him.

The passage speaks of the pattern of God’s involvement in the earth (53:1).

This was addressed to people in exile – Death of the Servant is necessary to deal with Israel’s past and present sin. It opens the way of Israel hearing of God’s word, praising Him, release from exile. But chapter 54 shows that it goes beyond the physical release from exile: Permanent security (54:15) – not possible in human history.

Chapters 56-66 are to post-exilic Israel – Not safe, not sinless etc..

- These were the point of salvation. Puzzle: Hope in 40-55 is not done in restoration of exile. This poses a question – so it goes beyond all this? This passage does not show how the Servant deals with sin. How a human can be sacrificed in their place.