isaiah chapter 53 overview
Whenever the Tanakh (Old Testament) speaks about The Servant, it is always referring to Israel, not Jesus as Christians argue. There are countless passages where this term, The Servant or The Son, is used and because Israel is referred to in this manner, the pronouns "He," "His" "Him" are also used where it is appropriate. Sometimes Israel is called “a Man.”
Israel was G-d’s chosen Son and Servant, creating jealousy among the nations, who have hated and persecuted Israel and the Jews from the beginning. They have suffered tremendous injustices and have been rejected and accused of being enemies of G-d.
Despite their trials, Israel and its people carried the sins of the entire world on its back while shining their light of truth throughout the entire world.
Isaiah 53 tells us that when the true Messiah of Israel is revealed - a fully human, anointed king from the line of David - peace will reign, all will be healed and Israel and its children will be vindicated. The world will then return to a Utopian Paradise, much like the original Garden of Eden.
Considering the meaning of this prophetic word, why would G-d give His people a prophecy about someone named Jesus, who the Jewish people had no knowledge of? This would be utterly confusing and helpful to no one.
The fact is, the founders and promoters of Christianity inserted Jesus into this story to fit their narrative, as they have done with numerous other scriptures in the Tanakh.
We must remember that the New Testament was written long after the original Word was given to the Jews and the quotes it lifts from the Tanakh are always taken out of context.
The Tanakh is the authentic Word of G-d, given exclusively to the Children of Israel. It is THEIR story and should be read from that perspective. They are called G-ds Chosen People because it was THEY who Hashem entrusted with His inerrant and everlasting Word that is not to be changed, added to or taken away from in any way. No other peoples or nations on the planet hold this distinction, which is the reason the Jews have been victimized throughout the centuries by jealous Gentiles who begrudge their favor with G-d.
Speaking to Abram in Genesis 12:3, Hashem promises:
"I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you."
This verse alone should compel us to stand with the Children of Israel in their light of truth.
isaiah chapter 53 commentary
The 53rd chapter of Isaiah is a beautiful, poetic song, one of the four “Servant Songs” in which the prophet describes the climactic period of world history when the Messiah will arrive and the Jewish people assume the role as the spiritual leaders of humanity.
Isaiah 53 is a prophecy foretelling how the world will react when they witness Israel's salvation in the Messianic era. The verses are presented from the perspective of world leaders, who contrast their former scornful attitude toward the Jews with their new realization of Israel's grandeur. After realizing how unfairly they treated the Jewish people, they will be shocked and speechless.
Marshall Roth, Jewish commentator for AISH, an online Jewish publication, which exists to inspire a deeper connection to Judaism and to ensure a vibrant future for the Jewish people.
The following is the entire chapter of Isaiah 53 with commentary by Roth:
1. Who would have believed our report, and to whom was the arm of the Lord revealed?
In this opening verse, world leaders are shocked at the incredible news of Israel’s salvation: “Who would believe what we have heard!”
This verse refers to “the arm of God.” Throughout the Jewish Bible, God's "arm" (זרוע) always denotes a redemption of the Jewish people from physical persecution. For example, God took the Jews out of Egypt “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm” (Deut. 26:8)
2. And he (Israel) came up like a sapling before it, and like a root from dry ground, he had neither form nor comeliness; and we saw him that he had no appearance. Now shall we desire him (Israel)?
This imagery of a tree struggling to grow in dry earth is a metaphor for the Jewish struggle in exile. A young sapling in dry ground appears that it will die. The Jews were always a small nation, at times as small as 2 million people, threatened with extinction. In this verse Isaiah describes Israel’s miraculous return from exile, like a sapling that sprouts from this dry ground.
3. Despised and rejected by men, a man of pains and accustomed to illness, and as one who hides his face from us, despised and we held him (Israel) of no account.
This verse describes the Servant as universally despised and rejected. This has been a historical theme for the Jewish people, as a long list of oppressors have treated the Jews as sub-human (the Nazis) or as a pariah state (the United Nations). See similar imagery in Isaiah 49:7, 60:15; Psalms 44:14; Nechemia 3:36.
While this description clearly applies to Israel, it cannot be reconciled with the New Testament account which describes Jesus as immensely popular (Matthew 4:25). “Large crowds” of people came from far and wide to hear him speak, and Jesus had to sail into the water to avoid being overrun by the crowds (Mark 3:7-9). Luke 2:52 describes him as physically strong and well respected, a man whose popularity spread and was "praised by all" (Luke 4:14-15). A far cry from Isaiah’s description of “despised and rejected.”
Although Jesus died a criminal's death, Isaiah is describing someone for whom rejection has spanned the ages – obviously referring to a nation, not an individual who suffered rejection for only a few hours.
4. Indeed, he (Israel) bore our illnesses, and our pains-he carried them, yet we accounted him (Israel) as plagued, smitten by God and oppressed.
Throughout the centuries of Israel’s exile, many nations persecuted the Jews on the pretense that it was God’s way of “punishing” the “accursed” Jews for having stubbornly rejected the new religions. In these verses, until the end of the chapter, the nations confess how they used the Jewish people as scapegoats, not for the “noble” reasons they had long claimed.
Indeed, the nations selfishly persecuted the Jews as a distraction from their own corrupt regimes: “Surely our suffering he did bear, and our pains he carried.”
5. But he (Israel) was pained because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his wound we were healed.
This verse describes how the humbled world leaders confess that Jewish suffering occurred as a direct result of “our iniquities” – i.e., depraved Jew-hatred, rather than, as previously claimed, the stubborn blindness of the Jews.
Isaiah 53:5 is a classic example of mistranslation: The verse does not say, “He was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities,” which could convey the vicarious suffering ascribed to Jesus. Rather, the proper translation is: “He was wounded because of our transgressions, and crushed because of our iniquities.” This conveys that the Servant suffered as a result of the sinfulness of others – not the opposite as Christians contend – that the Servant suffered to atone for the sins of others.
Indeed, the Christian idea directly contradicts the basic Jewish teaching that God promises forgiveness to all who sincerely return to Him; thus there is no need for the Messiah to atone for others (Isaiah 55:6-7, Jeremiah 36:3, Ezekiel chapters 18 and 33, Hoseah 14:1-3, Jonah 3:6-10, Proverbs 16:6, Daniel 4:27, 2-Chronicles 7:14).
6. We all went astray like sheep, we have turned, each one on his way, and the Lord accepted his prayers for the iniquity of all of us.
The nations realize that their lack of proper leadership (“shepherd”) caused them to treat the Jews with disdain. They further acknowledge how punishments that should have befallen the nations were averted through Israel’s suffering.
7. He (Israel) was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he would not open his mouth; like a lamb to the slaughter he would be brought, and like a ewe that is mute before her shearers, and he would not open his mouth.
In various contexts, the Bible uses the imagery of “sheep led to the slaughter” specifically in reference to the Jewish people. For example: "You give us as sheep to be eaten and have scattered us among the nations... we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered" (Psalms 44:12, 23).
This verse prophesizes the many hardships – both physical torment and economic exploitation – that the Jews endured in exile. Ironically, this prophecy refers in part to the 11th century Crusaders who "persecuted and afflicted” the Jews in the name of Jesus. In our time, while Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were "led to the slaughter," they still remained like a "lamb that is silent before her shearers" – without complaints against God.
8. From imprisonment and from judgment he is taken, and his generation who shall tell? For he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the transgression of my people, a plague befell them.
The phrase, "land of the living” (Eretz HaChaim) refers specifically to the Land of Israel. Thus this verse, “He was removed from the land of the living,” does not mean that the servant was killed, but rather was exiled from the Land of Israel.
This verse again describes the world’s surprise at witnessing the Jewish return to the Promised Land. "Who could have imagined” that the nation we tortured now prospers? World leaders offer a stunning confession: “Because of my people’s sin, they [the Jews] were afflicted.”
Here the text makes absolutely clear that the oppressed Servant is a collective nation, not a single individual. This is where knowledge of biblical Hebrew is absolutely crucial. At the end of the verse, the Hebrew word for “they were” (lamoh – לָמוֹ) always refers to a group, never to an individual. (see for example, Psalms 99:7)
9. And he gave his grave to the wicked, and to the wealthy with his kinds of death, because he committed no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Missionaries cite this verse as a claim that Jesus lived a sinless life, and was thus the Messiah. This is contradicted, however, by the Gospels themselves, who record that Jesus sinned by violating the Sabbath (John 9:16) and – by claiming to be God Himself – violating the grave prohibition against making any physical image of God (John 10:33, 14:9-10).
Throughout history, Jews were given the choice to “convert or die.” Yet as this verse describes, there was “no deceit in his mouth” – the loyal Jews refused to accept a pagan deity as their God. Rather than profane God’s Holy Name, they “submitted to the grave” – i.e. chose to die rather than renounce their faith. As such these Jews were often denied proper burial, discarded “to the grave as evil people.”
Further, wealthy Jews "submitted to his executions, for committing no crime" – killed so that wicked conquerors could confiscate their riches.
10. And the Lord wished to crush him, He made him ill; if his soul makes itself restitution, he shall see children, he shall prolong his days, and God's purpose shall prosper in his hand.
"God desired to oppress” the Jewish people, in order to inspire them to return to Torah observance. If the Jews would only "acknowledge guilt," they would see their "offspring and live long days." This refers to the Messianic era when all Jews will return to Torah observance.
This verse emphasizes that the Servant is to be rewarded with long life and many children. This verse could not possibly refer to Jesus who, according to the New Testament, died young and childless. (Furthermore, if Jesus was alleged to be the immortal Son of God, it is absurd to apply the concept of “living long days.”)
Although missionaries may claim that the “offspring” refers to spiritual descendants, this is based on a distortion and mistranslation. In this verse, the Hebrew word for "offspring" (zera - זֶרַע) always refers to physical descendants (see Genesis 12:7, 15:2-4, 15:13, 46:6; Exodus 28:43). A different word, banim (בנים), generally translated as "sons," is used to refer to spiritual descendants (see Deut. 14:1).
11. From the toil of his soul he would see, he would be satisfied; with his knowledge My servant would vindicate the just for many, and their iniquities he would bear.
Missionaries cite this verse to claim that Jesus died for our sins. The Christian idea of one’s sins being forgiven through the suffering of another person goes against the basic biblical teaching that each individual has to atone for his own sins by repenting. (Exodus 32:32-33, Deut. 24:16, Ezekiel 18:1-4)
This verse describes how God’s Servant “will cause the masses to be righteous” – not as some mistranslate, “he will justify the many." The Jewish mission is to serve as a "light to the nations," leading the world to righteousness through knowledge of the one true God. The Jews will accomplish this both by example (Deut. 4:5-8; Zechariah 8:23) and by instructing the nations in God's Law (Isaiah 2:3-4; Micah 4:2-3). As it says: “The world will become full of the knowledge of God, as water covers the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
12. Therefore, I will allot him a portion in public, and with the strong he shall share plunder, because he poured out his soul to death, and with transgressors he was counted; and he bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.
This verse speaks of how the Jews always pray for the welfare of the nations they are exiled into (see Jeremiah 29:7). The verse continues to explain that the Jewish people, who righteously bore the sins of the world and yet remained faithful to God, will be rewarded.
Regarding the above passage, some have claimed that the "suffering servant" cannot be Israel, since Israel has sins. Yet this is a fallacy, since we know that no human being – not even Moses – is completely free of sin. Yet Moses was considered “righteous,” which takes into account not only one's good deeds, but also one's repentance after sin. If Jesus is God, these ideas have no meaning.
Immediately following this promise of reward for the Jews’ suffering (53:10-12), chapter 54 clearly speaks of the redemption which awaits the Jewish people. This point is acknowledged by all Christian commentaries.