"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

Who is the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53? Part One

May 23, 2011

in Christianity:,Idolatry,Judaism vs. Christianity,Judaism:,Messiah-Truth,Noahide - The Ancient Path

by Uri Yosef – Messiah Truth.com


(ISAIAH 53:1-4)

IV. ISAIAH 53:1-4

  1. The Hebrew Text with Jewish and Christian Translations

Side-by-side English renditions and the Hebrew text of the first portion of the Fourth Servant Song, Isaiah 53:1-4, are displayed in Table IV.A-1.  The King James Version (KJV) translation identifies cross-referenced passages in the New Testament.  [The references are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).  The corresponding passages quoted below the table are from the KJV.]

Table IV.A-1 – Isaiah 53:1-4


ch:vs King James Version Translation Jewish Translation from the Hebrew Hebrew Text
53:1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?(1) Who would have believed our report, and to whom was the arm of the L-rd revealed?
2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. And he came up like a sapling before it, and like a root out from dry ground; he had no features and no splendor; and we saw him that he had no appearance; and how could we desire him?
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.(2) He was despised and forsaken by men; a man of pains, and accustomed to illness, and as one from whom we would hide our faces; he was despised, and we had no regard for him.
4 Surely he hath borne ourgriefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.(3) Indeed, he bore our illnesses, and our pains – he has carried them, yet we had regarded him plagued, smitten by G-d, and oppressed.

(1) John 12:38(KJV) – That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake ,Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?

Romans 10:16(KJV) – But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?

(2) Luke 18:31(KJV) – (31) Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. (32) For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: (33) And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. [See also Mk 10:33 34; Jn 1:1011 ](3) Matthew 8:17(KJV) – That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.

  1. Analysis of Isaiah 53:1-4

An introductory “thumbnail sketch” of scenes out of Jewish history will help set the stage for understanding the next eight verses.  This summary puts into perspective the confession of guilt and admission of unjust mistreatment of the servant by the (Gentile) nations as they begin to realize Israel’s proper place and role in history.

Throughout their exile, the social ranking of Jews was often placed beneath that of domesticated animals.  Jews have been demonized and vilified in terms of many non-human forms, which caused Jewish blood and life to become cheap commodities (as was described in another essay[1], where it was demonstrated that much of this can be traced to teachings of the New Testament.  Jews have been pictured with large hooked noses and hunched backs, and perceived as having an odd, characteristic Jewish aroma.  Jews have been accused of sacrificing Christian children to the devil, who allegedly controls them, and using the blood of these children in the preparations for Passover (“Blood Libel”[2]).  Jews have been accused of poisoning wells and desecrating hosts.  The skin of Jewish victims has been used to make lampshades, and the hair to make cloth.  To those who have hated the Jews, they have been beyond human semblance.  The Jewish people have endured much suffering throughout their history, and to metaphorically say that the Jewish visage has been scarred from all the suffering endured at the hands of their host countries is certainly applicable.  In fact, considering the many medical experiments tried on Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust, the “marred appearance” (Is 52:14) can even be literally construed.

Against this backdrop, the Verification stage of the Scientific Method resumes with testing the hypothesis on the four verses in the current segment of the Fourth Servant Song, Isaiah 53:1-4.  Evidence from the Hebrew Bible and from the historical record is used to check whether Israel = servant “fits” into the context.

The importance of knowing the identity of the “speakers” was pointed out at the start of the analysis.  In the opening passage, Isaiah 52:13-15, it was the “voice” of G-d.  As Chapter 53 opens, an abrupt change occurs in the “voice”. From Isaiah 53:1 through Isaiah 53:8, the prophet conveys the words of the (Gentile) nations, i.e., the text reads as if it were coming from a spokesperson for, or the leaders of, the (Gentile) nations.


Isaiah 53:1 – Who would have believed our report, and to whom was the arm of the L-rd revealed?

Isaiah 53:1(KJV) – Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?

Aside from some variation in tenses, there are no significant differences between the two translations.

This is the opening verse of a passage in which the (Gentile) nations contrast their former scornful attitude toward the Jewish people (Is 53:1-3) with their new realization of Israel’s grandeur (Is 53:4-7).  The leaders of the (Gentile) nations express the magnitude of their shock at the received news with the information about the servant’s greatness.  Thus, the answer to the opening question in this verse, “Who would have believed our report?“, is, “No one would have believed it.”  The report was too incredible to be believed.

The second question in this verse, “to whom was the arm of the L-rd revealed?“, contains an anthropomorphic reference to “the arm of the L-rd“, which requires further comment before the question can be answered.  Metaphoric references in the Hebrew Bible to G-d’s arm, hand, and finger frequently point to G-d’s taking direct action, and to His acts of vindication.  Such terms are commonly used throughout the Hebrew Bible to point to both the physical and spiritual redemption (salvation) of the Jewish people from the hands of their oppressors, the (Gentile) nations (e.g., Exod 14:31, 15:6; Deut 4:34, 7:19; Is 51:9, 52:10, 62:8, 63:12; Jer 21:5, 27:5; Ezek 20:33,34; Ps 44:3, 98:1).

Israel’s redemption and final vindication, witnessed by the (Gentile) nations, and to their surprise and astonishment, is the central theme of the last 27 chapters in the Book of Isaiah.  The two adjacent chapters to Isaiah 53, Chapters 52 and 54, speak of the salvation of the afflicted Jewish people in the presence of their persecutors, the (Gentile) nations:

Isaiah 52:9-12 – (9) Burst out in song, sing together, O ruins of Jerusalem, for the L-rd has comforted His people.  He has redeemed Jerusalem. (10) The L-rd has revealed His Holy Arm to the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our G-d!  (11) Turn away, turn away, get out of there, touch no unclean one; get out of its midst, purify yourselves, you who bear the L-rd’s vessels. (12) For not with haste shall you go forth and not in a flurry of flight shall you go, for the L-rd goes before you, and your rear guard is the G-d of Israel.

Isaiah 54:7-10 – (7) “For a small moment have I forsaken you, and with great mercy will I gather you. (8) With a little wrath did I hide My countenance for a moment from you, and with everlasting kindness will I have compassion on you”, said your Redeemer, the L-rd.  (9) “For this is to Me [as] the waters of Noah, as I swore that the waters of Noah shall never again pass over the earth, so have I sworn neither to be wroth with you nor to rebuke you. (10) For the mountains shall depart and the hills totter, but My kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the Covenant of My Peace totter”, said the L-rd, Who has compassion on you.

Therefore, the answer to the second question in the verse, “to whom was the arm of the L-rd revealed?“, is, “To Israel, not to any (Gentile) nation.“.  No (Gentile) nations ever merited the manifestation of G-d’s power as Israel has on this day.

Y      Question:           Does Israel (as G-d’s servant) “fit” into Isaiah 53:1?

Y      Answer:              YES!


Isaiah 53:2 – And he came up like a sapling before it, and like a root out from dry ground; he had no features and no splendor; and we saw him that he had no appearance; and how could we desire him?

Isaiah 53:2(KJV) – For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

A comparison of the two renditions reveals a significant difference; namely, in the KJV, past tenses of the Hebrew verbs were changed into future tenses.  Since Isaiah 52:15 clearly indicates that the text which follows it is spoken sometime in the future from a past tense perspective, the KJV translation is in error by projecting the context of this verse into the future.

Using metaphoric language, Isaiah 53:2 begins to describe the reasons for the disbelief expressed in the preceding verse by the (leaders of the Gentile) nations.  Throughout their harsh and dangerous exile, the Jewish people struggled like a young tree growing on parched land.  Imagery of a tree struggling to grow in dry earth as a metaphor for Israel’s struggle to survive in exile, is found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible:

Ezekiel 19:10-13 – (10) Your mother is like a vine in your likeness, planted by the water, fruitful and full of branches from the abundance of water. (11) And it had sturdy rods for the scepters of rulers, and its stature was exalted among the thick branches, and it could be seen because of its height with its multitude of tendrils. (12) But it was plucked up in fury and it was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up its fruit; its sturdy rods were broken and withered – fire consumed them. (13) And now it is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground.

However, the future will be different.  By employing similar metaphors, the prophets foretell that things will change:

Isaiah 60:21 – And your people, all of them righteous, shall inherit the land forever, the scion of My planting, the work of My hands in which I will glory.

Hosea 14:6-8 – (6) I will be like dew to Israel, he shall blossom like the lily, and strike his roots like the [roots of trees of] Lebanon. (7) His [young] branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his aroma like the Lebanon. (8) Those who dwell in his shade shall return; they shall revive like grain and blossom like the vine; their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

Amos 9:15 – “And I will plant them on their land, and they shall no longer be uprooted from their land that I have given to them,” said the L-rd your G-d.

This is a rather different picture from that which was described by the (Gentile) nations in Isaiah 53:2.  Instead of a beaten and struggling people, Israel will be an exalted and successful people.

Y      Question:           Does Israel (as G-d’s servant) “fit” into Isaiah 53:2?

Y      Answer:              YES!


Isaiah 53:3 – He was despised and forsaken by men; a man of pains, and accustomed to illness, and as one from whom we would hide our faces; he was despised, and we had no regard for him.

Isaiah 53:3(KJV) – He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

As was the case with the previous verse, once again there is the a problem of different tenses in the KJV rendition.

Israel is described as being despised elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible:

Isaiah 49:7 – Thus said the L-rd, the Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, to him who is despised of men, to him who is abhorred by nations, to him who is a slave of rulers, …

Nehemiah 3:36 – Hearken, our G-d, for we have been despised, and return their reproach upon their head, and make them despised in a land of captivity.Israel is described as being forsaken:

Isaiah 60:15 – Instead of your being forsaken and hated without a passerby, I will make you an everlasting pride, the joy of every generation.

Israel is described as being afflicted, with the adversities often likened to injuries and diseases:

Isaiah 1:5-6 – (5) Why are you beaten when you continue to rebel?  Every head is [afflicted] with illness and every heart with malaise. (6) From the sole of the foot to the head, nothing in him is whole; only wounds and contusions and fresh sores; they have not been treated, and they have not been bandaged, and [the wound] has not been softened with oil.

Jeremiah 10:19 – Woe is to me for my hurt; my wound is acute, and I said [to myself], “This is but an illness, I will bear it”.

Isaiah 53:3 describes the one whom the (Gentile) nations characterize as having been despised, as being a “man of pains” who is accustomed to illness, and similar pictures were drawn elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.  The lesson here is that all this has been going on for long periods, for centuries.  Therefore, these descriptions can only be of a people, not of a single individual.

Y      Question:           Does Israel (as G-d’s servant) “fit” into Isaiah 53:3?

Y      Answer:              YES!

A change in perspective starts to emerge in the next set of four verses, which are still spoken in the “voice” of the (Gentile) nations.  The leaders of the (Gentile) nations begin to recognize that Israel suffered because of them.


Isaiah 53:4 – Indeed, he bore our illnesses, and our pains – he has carried them, yet we had regarded him plagued, smitten by G-d, and oppressed.

Isaiah 53:4(KJV) – Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

Here, the KJV suddenly reverts to the past tense, which makes it somewhat more consistent with the Jewish translation and with the Hebrew text.

What might the leaders of the (Gentile) nations be saying?

We saw nothing worthwhile in the Jewish people, so we despised them.  Eventually, we pushed our own troubles on them, using them as a convenient scapegoat, thereby allowing us to escape our problems.  We now realize that, in blaming the Jewish people for our troubles, we have sinned and caused them much pain – they suffered directly from our sins.  As we saw them suffer, we told them that G-d was the one who caused this pain, it was their own fault.  Yet, in truth, they suffered from us alone, not so much because of G-d.

The prophet Jeremiah alludes to the actions of the (Gentile) nations when he speaks of the redemption of G-d’s servant, Israel:

Jeremiah 30:10,17 – (10) “And you, fear not, My servant Jacob,” says the L-rd, “and do not be dismayed, O Israel, for behold, I am saving you from afar and your seed from the land of their captivity, and Jacob shall again be at peace and tranquil, and none will frighten him.”

(17) “For I will bring healing to you, and of your wounds I will heal you,” says the L-rd, “for they called you an outcast [saying], ‘she is Zion for whom no one cares’.”

The (Gentile) nations acknowledge that Israel was the victim who bore the dire penalties which the iniquities of others have incurred.  The (Gentile) nations’ own misdeeds, and not G-d punishing Israel for its sins, inflicted the suffering on Israel.  The Jewish people have been forced to carry ills and pains caused by the direct actions of the (Gentile) nations.  They have borne the consequences of the (Gentile) nations’ sickness, and have suffered (and continue to) suffer because of them.  The (Gentile) nations have held that the Jewish people are cursed by G-d, and they were (and still are) determined to see that they suffer the consequences of this alleged curse.

Y      Question:           Does Israel (as G-d’s servant) “fit” into Isaiah 53:4?

Y      Answer:              YES!

  1. Interim Summary – Isaiah 52:13-53:4

Using a verse-by-verse analysis of the Hebrew text, and with the help of a correct translation from the Hebrew, testing of the hypothesis formulated in Sec III.B continued as part of the Verification stage of the Scientific Method.

A new “voice” appears in Isaiah 53:1 – the “voice” of the (Gentile) nations or, perhaps, the “voice” of a spokesperson for them or their leaders.  Given this change in “speakers”, and based on their contextual consistency with the teachings of the Hebrew Bible and the historical record, the present segment continues to confirm the validity of the hypothesis that Israel, as G-d’s servant, is the subject in the Fourth Servant Song.  The results obtained thus far are summarized in Table IV.C-1, with the results from the analysis of the earlier portion shown in a lightly highlighted format.

Table IV.C-1 – Summary of results from Validation stage: Isaiah 52:13-53:4


ch:vs Jewish Translation from the Hebrew Who Is The “Speaker”? Does Hypothesis “Israel=Servant” Fit?
52:13 Behold, My servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and he shall be very high. G-d YES
14 As many wondered about you, “How marred his appearance is from that of a man, and his features from that of people!” G-d YES
15 So shall he cause many nations to be startled; kings shall shut their mouths because of him, because that which had not been told to them they saw, and that which they had not heard they perceived. G-d YES
53:1 Who would have believed our report, and to whom was the arm of the L-rd revealed? The (Gentile) Nations YES
2 And he came up like a sapling before it, and like a root out from dry ground; he had no features and no splendor; and we saw him that he had no appearance; and how could we desire him? The (Gentile) Nations YES
3 He was despised and forsaken by men; a man of pains, and accustomed to illness, and as one from whom we would hide our faces; he was despised, and we had no regard for him. The (Gentile) Nations YES
4 Indeed, he bore our illnesses, and our pains – he has carried them, yet we had regarded him plagued, smitten by G-d, and oppressed. The (Gentile) Nations YES


[1] The Anti-Jewish New Testament

[2] See, for example, Two Christian myths against Jews:

Blood libel & host desecration; 1144 CE to present time – http://www.religioustolerance.org/jud_blib2.htm

Copyright © 2001-2004, Uri Yosef for http://www.MessiahTruth.com.
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