One of the most remarkable prophecies in the Hebrew Bible is to be found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Written some seven centuries before Christ, it depicts in graphic detail the passion of Israel’s Messiah. The discovery of the Isaiah scroll (dating to about 100 B.C.) amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls, together with the fact that the Hebrew Bible has been in the custody of both the Jews and Christians, leaves no room for doubt that the text of Isaiah that we read today predates the life and ministry of Christ. As William Paley remarked, “The record comes out of the custody of adversaries. The Jews, as an ancient father well observed, are our librarians. The passage is in their copies, as well as in ours. With many attempts to explain it away, none has ever been made by them to discredit its authenticity.”  No other text in Scripture can be credited with bringing more Jews to Christ than this. The text is among the richest in the Hebrew Bible and deserves to be quoted in full:
13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations.
Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
The text describes a prophet or a religious teacher (as the term “servant,” employed throughout the passage, makes apparent), to come from the Jewish people. He would be marked by exemplary conduct and would go on to be highly exalted. The individual, moreover, would be exhibited to public gaze with his face and body disfigured and exposed. 52:15 indicates that he would “sprinkle many nations”, which indicates that this individual would serve in the capacity of priest. Concerning this ceremonial practice of sprinkling blood, we read in Leviticus 16:14-19,
14 And he [the priest] shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. 15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.
As we continue reading Isaiah 53, we discover that the blood with which this priest sprinkles the nations is none other than his very own blood! He serves as the priest as well as the sacrifice itself!
We also learn that, though this servant is, in fact, the promised Messiah, he would be scarcely recognized for who he was — that is, the Messiah was to be rejected by His own people (53:1-4) — and yet nonetheless bring representatives of all nations to recognize the God of Israel (52:15; c.f. Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). No one besides Jesus of Nazareth has accomplished this remarkable feat. Since this achievement is, in view of these prophecies, much less surprising given Jesus’ Messianic identity than given that he is not the Messiah, that Jesus alone has succeeded in bringing a knowledge of God to the gentiles, even to the ends of the earth — and all this despite being rejected by his own people, this provides significant evidence for Jesus’ Messianic identity, and in turn the truth of Christianity.
We also read that he would be despised when tried, and ultimately rejected. His life would be one of grief and sorrow. Not only would he be not esteemed, but people would hide their faces from him, considering him accursed and forsaken by God. And yet all this sorrow would be borne for the sake of God’s people. He would be pierced as well as scourged, yet not for his own sins but rather those of others, which were in consequence atoned for. His suffering would be voluntary, and endured with patience. He is likened to a lamb led to the slaughter, which cannot help evoke echoes of Passover. It is no coincidence that Jesus’ death by crucifixion took place on the day of Passover. Given the symbolic import of Jesus’ death at Passover, this remarkable correspondence also carries evidential value in confirming Jesus’ identity.
This man would not speak a word before his accusers in his defense. He would be given a judicial trial and unjustly condemned and sentenced to death. He would be appointed to die with the wicked, and the rich involved in his burial, even though he was completely innocent, as even Pilate declared him to be (Luke 23:4, 22; John 18:38). He would be ultimately “cut off” and die, and yet in some sense “see” future generations of his followers (Isaiah 53:10), which is rather suggestive of resurrection.
An excellent commentary of this text, drawing out in considerably more detail the points of correspondence with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, can be found in William Harry Turton’s paper, “The Passion Prophecy of Isaiah.” 
In this paper, I will review common orthodox Jewish objections to identifying Jesus as the servant of Isaiah 53, and will marshal a powerful positive case that the text can be understood as referring to none other than Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s Messiah.
Is the Suffering Servant Israel?
Among contemporary orthodox Jews, the dominant view of Isaiah 53 is that it concerns the nation of Israel. Though this interpretation was made popular by Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), a medieval French rabbi, this interpretation goes at least as far back as the early Christian writer Origen (185-253), who wrote about encountering this interpretation in a disputation with certain Jews. In his Contra Celsus 1.55, he wrote ,
Now I remember that, on one occasion, at a disputation held with certain Jews, who were reckoned wise men, I quoted these prophecies; to which my Jewish opponent replied, that these predictions bore reference to the whole people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations. And in this way he explained the words, “Thy form shall be of no reputation among men;” and then, “They to whom no message was sent respecting him shall see;” and the expression, “A man under suffering.”
This is the sole reference in ancient literature to the national interpretation of Isaiah 53. Indeed, the Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 53 goes at least as far back as the Targum Onkelos (1st century CE), and the text has been interpreted to be referring to the Messiah in most traditional Jewish writings.
To this interpretation, Origen gave the following reply :
Many arguments were employed on that occasion during the discussion to prove that these predictions regarding one particular person were not rightly applied by them to the whole nation. And I asked to what character the expression would be appropriate, “This man bears our sins, and suffers pain on our behalf;” and this, “But He was wounded for our sins, and bruised for our iniquities;” and to whom the expression properly belonged, “By His stripes were we healed.” For it is manifest that it is they who had been sinners, and had been healed by the Saviour’s sufferings (whether belonging to the Jewish nation or converts from the Gentiles), who use such language in the writings of the prophet who foresaw these events, and who, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, applied these words to a person. But we seemed to press them hardest with the expression, “Because of the iniquities of My people was He led away unto death.” For if the people, according to them, are the subject of the prophecy, how is the man said to be led away to death because of the iniquities of the people of God, unless he be a different person from that people of God? And who is this person save Jesus Christ, by whose stripes they who believe on Him are healed, when “He had spoiled the principalities and powers (that were over us), and had made a show of them openly on His cross?” [emphasis added]
Origen’s challenge is quite correct, and it may indeed stand as the most devastating challenge to the national interpretation of Isaiah 53. In verses 8-9, we read,
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Throughout the book of Isaiah, the phrase “my people” occurs twenty-two other times, and always denotes the nation of Israel (Isaiah 1:3; 3:12; 3:15; 5:13; 10:2, 24; 22:4; 26:20; 32:13, 18; 40:1; 47:6; 51:4; 51:16; 52:4; 52:5; 57:14; 58:1; 63:8; 65:10; 65:19; 65:22). The lone exception is 19:25 where God declares, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” However, this text is speaking of the future kingdom, in which all people will know the Lord, under the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Habakkuk 2:14; Hebrews 8:11, 11:9). Given, then, that the reference to “my people” in Isaiah 53:8 is alluding to the nation of Israel, the servant in this text cannot be Israel since he was “cut out of the land of the living [i.e. killed], stricken for the transgression of my people [i.e. Israel]”, having himself “done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”
A typical Jewish rejoinder to the above concern is that the speaker throughout Isaiah 53 is in fact the gentile nations. Rabbi Tovia Singer claims that ,
The speakers, in this most-debated chapter, are the stunned kings of nations who will bear witness to the messianic age and final vindication of the Jewish people following their long and bitter exile. “Who would have believed our report?” the astonished and contrite world leaders will wonder aloud in dazed bewilderment… Therefore, Isaiah 53:8 concludes with their stunning confession, “…for the transgressions of my people [the gentile nations] they [the Jews] were stricken.”
The biggest problem with this interpretation is that the first person singular pronouns are used, consistently throughout the chapter, by God:
- 52:13: my servant
- 53:11: my righteous servant
- 53:12: therefore, I will…
Furthermore, the onlookers in the text, without exception, consistently speak in the first person plural:
- 53:1: our message
- 53:2: that we should look at him … that we should desire him
- 53:3: we esteemed him not
- 53:4: our griefs … our sorrows … we esteemed him stricken
- 53:5: our transgressions … our iniquities … brought us peace … we are healed
- 53:6: all we … each of us … the iniquity of us all
The plural language ceases in verse 6. This implies that the speaker in these verses — whether that be the Jewish people or the gentile nations — is no longer the speaker after verse 6. Contextually, then, the most plausible interpretation of “my people” in Isaiah 53:8 understands God as the speaker. Therefore, Tovia Singer’s argument fails. In my opinion, this verse alone is devastating to the standard modern Jewish interpretation.
The picture of the servant in Isaiah 53:9 as being one who had “done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” is at odds with Isaiah’s depiction elsewhere of Israel’s moral status. For example, in Isaiah 6:5, the prophet states, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” In Isaiah 64:6, the prophet also asserts, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
A further reason to think that this text is not personifying the nation of Israel is that God uses the nations to smite Israel for Israel’s sins — and Israel’s smiting does not bring healing to the other nations. Rather, God then turns His hand in judgment against them for overdoing the punishment and for their haughtiness and arrogance (see Jeremiah 30 & 31, Zechariah 1, and Isaiah 10 & 29).
Another argument sometimes used to justify interpreting the servant as a corporate entity is the Hebrew pronoun (למו, lamo), though translated “he” in Isaiah 53:8 is in fact plural, and thus the verse is most appropriately rendered “for the transgression of my people they were stricken.” Rabbi Tovia Singer comments :
The prophet’s use of the Hebrew pronoun למו (lamo), which means “to them,” for the servant in 53:8 crates a staggering problem for Christian translators who are committed to casting Jesus as the ‘servant’ of Isaiah 53. The Jewish people are frequently addressed in Tanach in the singular form in order to highlight the nation’s singular destiny. The prophets, however, never speak of an individual in the plural. Therefore, the use of the Hebrew word “them” demonstrates that the “Servant” of Isaiah 53 is not a single individual. Christian Bibles escape this nagging problem by mistranslating the Hebrew word למו as “him,” in the singular, rather than “them.”
This argument, however, is misguided. First, the word למו is used elsewhere by Isaiah to refer to a singular. In Isaiah 44:15, we read, “he makes it an idol and falls down before it (למו).” Indeed, while the pronoun occurs fifty times in the Bible as a plural, it also occurs no fewer than nine times as a singular.  We must therefore discern the proper translation contextually. In any case, as Hebrew scholar Dr. Michael Brown explains, “the phrase negaʿ lamo, as rightly understood by the NJPSV, most likely means that the servant receives a stroke for them—in other words, for those for whom he is suffering.” 
Perhaps the most popular argument that is advanced in support of the contention that Isaiah 53 concerns national Israel is that Israel is identified as God’s servant in other passages in Isaiah. Rabbi Tovia Singer lists several of these on pages 96-97 and 117 of his Let’s Get Biblical, volume 1 . Ironically, however, it is these very passages that reveal that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 cannot possibly be Israel. To see why, let us examine these in turn.
Isaiah 41:8-9: 8 But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; 9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; 10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
This text reveals that, far from being saved by Israel’s afflictions, those nations who wage war against Israel will in fact be subject to destruction. This point is borne out in other prophetic texts as well:
- Jeremiah 30:11: For I am with you to save you, declares the LORD; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished.
- Jeremiah 46:28: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD, for I am with you. I will make a full end of all the nations to which I have driven you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished.
- Isaiah 53:9: And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
- Isaiah 53:11: Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
- Isaiah 45:17: But Israel is saved by the LORD with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity.
- Isaiah 45:21: Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. 22 “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.
- Isaiah 48:1: Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the LORD and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right.
- Isaiah 48:4: Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass.
- Isaiah 48:8: You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel.
- Isaiah 48:9: For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off.
- The righteous servant (Isaiah 42:1-7): Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. 5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
- The unrighteous servant (Isaiah 42:18-25): 18 Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! 19 Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the LORD? 20 He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear. 21 The LORD was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious. 22 But this is a people plundered and looted; they are all of them trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become plunder with none to rescue, spoil with none to say, “Restore!” 23 Who among you will give ear to this, will attend and listen for the time to come? 24 Who gave up Jacob to the looter, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned, in whose ways they would not walk, and whose law they would not obey? 25 So he poured on him the heat of his anger and the might of battle; it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand; it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart.
18 And Balaam took up his discourse and said, “Rise, Balak, and hear; give ear to me, O son of Zippor: 19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it? 20 Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it. 21 He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel. The Lord their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them. 22 God brings them out of Egypt and is for them like the horns of the wild ox. 23 For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel; now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, ‘What has God wrought!’ 24 Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain.”
And the Spirit of God came upon him, 3 and he took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, 4 the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered: 5 How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel! 6 Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the Lord has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters. 7 Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters; his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. 8 God brings him out of Egypt and is for him like the horns of the wild ox; he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows. 9 He crouched, he lay down like a lion and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.”
15 And he took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, 16 the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered: 17 I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. 18 Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. 19 And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!”
7 I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Our Rabbis taught: The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days!), “Ask of me anything, and I will give it to you”, as it is said, “I will tell of the decree … this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me and I will give the nations for your inheritance” (Psalms 2:7–8).
R. Jonathan said: “Three persons were bidden, ‘Ask’—Solomon, Ahaz, and the King Messiah. Solomon: ‘Ask what I shall give thee’ (I Kings 3:5). Ahaz: ‘Ask thee a sign’ (Isaiah 7:11). The King Messiah: ‘Ask of Me’, etc. (Psalms 2:8).”
The Lord says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 2 The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty sceptre. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. 4 The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” 5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. 7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. 9 Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? 10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until shiloh comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
12 You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them. 13 You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us. 14 You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. 15 All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face 16 at the sound of the taunter and reviler, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger. 17 All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. 18 Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; 19 yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death. 20 f we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, 21 would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart. 22 Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
In Psalm 44 the godly remnant makes an appeal to the Lord based on their innocence, crying out for mercy on the nation as a whole because of their devotion to him (or at the least, crying out for mercy on themselves because of their devotion). This is the only interpretation that makes sense in light of the explicit teaching of the Torah and the consistent historical testimony of the entire Hebrew Bible, both of which testify to the fact that obedient Israel was blessed by God, while disobedient Israel was judged by him. Moreover, this sheds light on the intercessory power of the Messiah, described in Isaiah 53 and further explained in the New Testament writings: Through his perfect righteousness, the Messiah was able to make multitudes of sinners righteous too (Isa. 53:11b; Rom. 5:15–21).
In reality, this “remnant” has no history and cannot possibly be described with words such as, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground” (Isa. 53:2a), since the righteous remnant does not have a specific origin or upbringing. Nor do verses such as Isaiah 53:7, speaking of the servant’s lamblike silence and submission in the midst of his suffering, apply to the remnant, which was sometimes actively opposed to the sinful majority and even led resistance movements to overthrow their oppressors (as the Maccabees did in the second century B.C.E.). Nor was the righteous remnant ever highly exalted to the point that kings bowed down before it/them, as stated explicitly in the end of Isaiah 52. Quite simply, a concrete person, not an abstract group of hardly identifiable individuals, is described by the prophet in Isaiah 53.
A Case for the Messianic Identity of the Servant
The Messianic identity of the servant described in the book of Isaiah can be determined by an analysis of intertextual links with other parts of the book of Isaiah as well as other parts of Scripture.
In Isaiah 11:1-5,10, we read,
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— 3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist…10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
This text is indisputably speaking of the Messiah, as even the great medieval Jewish commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki) concedes  — the descendant of David (and therefore of his father Jesse). This means that this text connects with an earlier text found two chapters earlier in Isaiah 9:6-7, which speak of a divine child reigning from David’s throne: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” The conclusion that Isaiah 11 is speaking of the same individual as Isaiah 9 is further supported by the statement that “with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth”, which resembles what is said of the child born in Isaiah 9 (verse 7): “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” Thus, the Messiah spoken of in Isaiah 11 is the same individual as that spoken of in Isaiah 9:6-7. The idea in both of those texts is that the Davidic dynasty, though it would fade away into obscurity, would one day bring forth a shoot from its stump, or a root out of its dry ground. Indeed, the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 11:10 for “root” (verse 1 uses the same word in the plural) is שֹׁ֣רֶשׁ (sheresh), the very same word used of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:2: “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root (שֹּׁ֙רֶשׁ֙) out of dry ground.” It may also be observed that the Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel, an Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Bible, explicitly identifies this text as speaking of the Messiah: “The prophet said to the house of David, For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and he has taken the law upon himself to keep it. His name is called from before Him who is wonderful in counsel, the mighty God who lives to eternity — the Messiah whose peace shall be great upon us in his days.”
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” 5 This is what God the Lord says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
Thus, like the Messiah of Isaiah 9 and 11, the servant is going to “bring justice to the nations” (verse 1) and “establish justice on the earth” (verse 4). God also says “I will put my Spirit on him”. Compare with Isaiah 11:2 (“And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him…”). Moreover, the servant is going to “open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” But that is exactly what we read of the divine child in Isaiah 9:1: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” He is also to be a “light for the gentiles”, just as we saw in Isaiah 11:10: “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.” Isaiah 9:2 similarly says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” We also see these texts being connected to Isaiah 49:1-7, yet another Messianic text:
Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. 2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. 3 And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 4 But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.” 5 And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— 6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” 7 Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
This text portrays the servant as the true Israel (verse 3), an individual who regathers and redeems national Israel (verse 5) (note also, as previously discussed, the comparison of the righteous servant in Isaiah 42:1-9 with the unrighteous servant, Israel, in Isaiah 42:18-25). The servant also — just as we saw in our other texts — is a light for the gentiles (verse 6). There is also a striking parallel in verse 7 to Isaiah 52:15:
…so shall he sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.
Notice also that the servant in Isaiah 52:15 sprinkles the nations, which is consistent with the mission statement assigned to the servant in Isaiah 9, 11, 42 and 49. This, among other clues, indicates that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the same individual as is spoken of in these other texts by Isaiah.
Continuing through Isaiah 49:8-10 reveals further connections to the other servant texts:
8 Thus says the LORD: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, 9 saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; 10 they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.
These verses also contain similar themes to the other servant texts we have examined, including the servant being made “a covenant to the people” and liberating the prisoners and those who are in darkness. Notice too that the servant is not merely the officiant of the new covenant. He is the covenant. These words from Isaiah 49:8-10 are applied to Jesus by the author of Revelation (7:15-17), an oft-overlooked support of Christ’s deity:
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
There is also support for a Messianic interpretation of these texts from outside of the book of Isaiah. For example, the prophet Micah — a contemporary of Isaiah — in 5:2-5, wrote as follows:
Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. 2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And he shall be their peace.
Even the medieval rabbinic commentator Rashi concurs that this text expresses the Messianic hope.  Notice the parallels between this text and those Christological passages in Isaiah. Micah 5:5 indicates that “he shall be their peace,” which links with the title bestowed upon the child in Isaiah 9:6, “prince of peace.” He is also said to come out of Bethlehem, the city of David (which links with the prophecies of Isaiah 9:7 and 11:1, which assert that the individual will be of Davidic descent). The allusion in Micah 5:3 to “when she who is in labor has given birth” has long been recognized to be an intertextual reference to Isaiah 7:13-15, a text clearly concerned with the same divine child as that described in 9:6-7. Verse 3 also indicates that “then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.” This is consistent with what is said of the servant in Isaiah, namely, that he will “bring Jacob back to him; that Israel might be gathered to him” and that he will “bring back the preserved of Israel” (Isa 49:5-6). Micah 5:4 also indicates that the Messiah will be “great to the ends of the earth.” This too is consistent with the servant from Isaiah, of whom it is said that he “shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious,” (Isaiah 11:10) and that through him God’s salvation would “reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). Note too the statement in Isaiah 11:10 that the servant “shall stand as a signal for the peoples,” which dovetails with the statement in Micah 5:4 that he “shall stand and shepherd his flock.” Verse 2 indicates that the Messiah’s “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” The King James Version translates this phrase, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” The latter translation is more suggestive of the Messiah’s eternal and divine nature, whereas the rendering of the ESV (which reads “from ancient days” rather than “from everlasting”) could be interpreted to mean that the Messiah had his origins in Bethlehem back in the ancient times of King David. Which translation is correct? Michael Brown notes that “In most cases in the Scriptures, ʿolam clearly means eternity, as in Psalm 90:2, where God’s existence is described as meʿolam weʿadʿolam, “from eternity to eternity” (cf. NJPSV). There are, however, some cases where ʿolam cannot mean “eternal” but rather “for a long time” (either past or present).”  Examining the broader context of Micah reveals that the Hebrew word עוֹלָם (olam) means “forever” in 2:9 and 4:5, 7. However, in Micah 7:14 the phrase “as in the days of old (עוֹלָם)” uses the word in its non-eternal sense. The context therefore allows for either translation, and we cannot be dogmatic as to the translation of Micah 5:2. Some might worry that the reference to “the Lord his God” in Micah 5:4 undermines the interpretation of the Messiah as a divine person. However, the New Testament implies that, at the incarnation, Jesus submitted to the Father as his God. Indeed, this is a corollary of the fact that the Lord is the God of all flesh (Jeremiah 32:27) and that in the person of Jesus the son of God became flesh (Jn 1:14). Even the gospel of John and the book of Revelation, both of which are quite emphatic about Jesus’ deity, refer to the Father as Jesus’ God (c.f. Jn 20:17; Rev 1:6, 3:2 and 3:12). For further discussion of this subject, I refer readers to my article here.
The Messianic identity of the servant described by Isaiah is further supported by a comparison with Zechariah 9:9-12, which is unequivocally Messianic. As even Rashi states with regards to this text, “It is impossible to interpret this except as referring to the King Messiah, as it is stated: ‘and his rule shall be from sea to sea.’ We do not find that Israel had such a ruler during the days of the Second Temple.”  If, then, it can be shown to be probable that Isaiah and Zechariah 9:9-12 speak of one and the same individual, this would supply yet further evidence for identifying the servant with the Messiah. In this text, Zechariah prophesies:
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. 12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
The individual of whom Zechariah speaks in this passage is clearly the same individual of whom Isaiah spoke. Notice the close parallels. Just as we read of the servant in Isaiah, this individual establishes worldwide justice and peace on the earth, and his rule extends from shore to shore, including to the gentiles. We also have a reference to prisoners being set free from the waterless pit, which bears striking parallels to Isaiah 9:2 (“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone”) and Isaiah 42:7 (“…to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness”). Indeed, the basis of the liberation of the prisoners is “the blood of my covenant with you.” This is consistent with the statements in Isaiah that the servant is the covenant (Isaiah 42:6; 49:8), and that salvation will be accomplished by the shedding of his blood (Isaiah 53:5-6). Furthermore, the expression, “his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” parallels Psalm 72:8, in which it is said of Solomon, the Davidic heir, “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!” This is consistent with the statement in Isaiah 9:7 that the one spoken of would reign “on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
In addition to the foregoing considerations, it is also of note that Zechariah 9:9-12 can be argued on its own terms to speak of a divine-human person, thus paralleling the divine titles bestowed on the child of Isaiah 9:6. In this text, we see that Israel’s king (the same individual as spoken of by Isaiah), who is to come and establish peace on the earth, is to be a human who rides on a donkey (to ride on the back of a donkey, he must be physical). But Zechariah also tells us something else that is very important in relation to Israel’s coming king. In Zechariah 14:1-9, we read,
Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4 On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. 5 And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. 6 On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. 7 And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. 8 On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. 9 And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.
This refers to a time yet future when all nations will be gathered for battle against Jerusalem, but God Himself will intervene against Israel’s enemies. Verse 4 states something very intriguing: the feet of Yahweh will stand upon the Mount of Olives. For Yahweh’s feet to stand upon the mount of olives, He must join to Himself a physical body — for a non-material being has no feet. It seems that this allusion is intended to be taken literally rather than metaphorically, since the feet touching the Mount of Olives is responsible for the mountain literally being split in two from east to west. Thus, here we see a picture of Yahweh himself clothed with a physical body. Verse 9 further tells us that in that day “the Lord will be king over all the earth.” Thus, the king of Zechariah 9:9-10, whom we read of coming to Jerusalem with salvation, physically mounted upon a donkey, appears to be Yahweh Himself. Here we thus see a foreshadow of the incarnation where, in the person of Christ, God will take upon himself human flesh. One might object to this by suggesting that the Messianic king of Zechariah 9:9-12 is merely God’s agent, and hence he can be appropriately referred to as “king” because he stands in the place of God, doing His bidding. However, on this interpretation it makes little sense for God to physically come to earth to reign if he was intent on working through a non-divine human intermediary. Another reason to take the Messianic king spoken of in Zechariah 9:9-12 as a divine figure is the passage’s intertextual connection with Zephaniah 3:14-20, which exhibits several striking parallels with Zechariah 9:9-12, including the expressions “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” This text also speaks of a king of Israel in the midst of His people who comes as their salvation to clear away all Israel’s enemies. The text also speaks about the restoration of Israel’s fortunes (Zephaniah 3:20, c.f. Zechariah 9:12). However, the king of Israel in Zephaniah 3 is identified in verse 15 as none other than the Lord God Himself: “The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst.” This provides further support for interpreting the Messianic King of Zechariah 9:9-12 as a divine person This is consistent with the presentation of the servant in the book of Isaiah, as we shall see in the next section.
Finally, there is also a connection with the prophet like Moses, spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:15-19:
15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.
Though this figure is sometimes identified by Jewish exegetes as Joshua, Moses’ immediate successor, this interpretation seems to be excluded by Deuteronomy 34:9-12:
9 And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses. 10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
This text (most likely a much later addition to the Pentateuch) indicates that no prophet ever arose in Israel who fulfilled the promise of Deuteronomy 18:15-19. There is also a consistent anticipation throughout the Hebrew Bible, including the book of Isaiah, of a new spiritual exodus, which will be accomplished by the Messianic King, the suffering servant of whom Isaiah speaks. For example, consider the following texts concerning the servant liberating captives (just as Moses did), and being the mediator of a new covenant (like Moses was the mediator of the old covenant):
- Isaiah 42:6-7: 6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
- Isaiah 49:8-10: I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, 9 saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; 10 they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.
- Isaiah 61:1: The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…
- Zechariah 9:11: As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
11 Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the LORD. 12 For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
Devastation, bondage, captivity have been used as motifs, and the key to this was provided in 49:14–50:3, where Zion’s desolateness and despondency were evidences of the spiritual malady of unresponsiveness to the Lord. The leading promises of God have been concerned with spiritual verities of salvation, righteousness, the end of divine wrath, holiness and priestliness. It is unthinkable to return at 52:11 to the historical events of captivity and liberation. To do so makes nonsense of the ordered way Isaiah presents his message. Secondly, there is a clear contrast between Isaiah’s vision of leaving Babylon (48:20–21) and the vision here. There the parallel with the exodus was precise: they are to ‘flee’, the word used in Exodus 14:5 of Israel’s exit from Egypt. They had at last been given permission to leave by a notoriously capricious captor, and they lost no time in seizing the opportunity to get out before the royal mind changed again—which it did; they had left none too soon. But here they explicitly do not leave as fugitives. The urgency to start pilgrimage is moral and spiritual, arising from the command of God, not political and expedient, nervous of the fickleness of rulers.
A great salvation has been effected in which the Lord’s wrath is gone (51:17–23) and his people are established in holiness as a royal priesthood (52:1ff.). Now they are called to live according to their God-given dignity, which is what was asked of the Sinai people but could not be accomplished. From there is a really great difficulty for all who propose a Babylonian location for the prophet: how could he say from there if he meant ‘from here’? In context, however, the call is to leave the whole setting and ambience of the old sinful life behind. In contrast to the exodus, when they were commanded to load themselves with the treasures of Egypt (Ex. 12:35f.), they are now commanded to touch no unclean thing. The ideas of contagion through touching (Lv. 5:2) and of ‘carrying the vessels of the LORD’ are characteristically priestly. Numbers 1:50–51 is the only other place where ‘carry’ and the vessels of the LORD are found together. It refers to the levitical duty of porterage of the tabernacle and its accoutrements. This was the ‘burden’ of the Levites (Nu. 4:6, 14–15, 24–25) and could be shared with no other (Nu. 3:5–9). In this way verse 11 matches verses 1–2. The people who wear the priestly garments of beauty perform priestly duties before the Lord, and all who go out in this greater exodus are priests. Come out is the same verb and form as verse 11a and should be translated identically, ‘Go out’.
- Isaiah 40:3-5: 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
- Isaiah 41:17-20: 17 When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. 18 I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. 19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, 20 that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
- Isaiah 43:16-21: 16 Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17 who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 18 “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. 19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21 the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.
- Isaiah 51:9-11: 9 Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? 10 Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over? 11 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
- Isaiah 52:10: The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
The return from exile of less than forty-five thousand Jews (see Nehemiah 7) was hardly an earth-shattering, heaven-opening, miraculous event of cosmic proportions. It did not reveal the glory of the Lord and all the earth did not witness his salvation. Therefore, being true to the larger context and carefully interpreting the specific verses, the following picture emerges with clarity: It is the Messiah as the servant of the Lord who leads the way for his people, the Messiah as the new Moses who liberates them in a new exodus, but this time it is not from Egypt or even from Babylon. Rather, he leads his people out of spiritual bondage—symbolized here by the Babylonian exile—and into the fulfillment of their spiritual destiny. As stated above, the exile serves as the backdrop for these Messianic prophecies, and marching out of the exile, fulfilling the mission of God’s servant Israel, is God’s servant the Messiah, the ideal representative of the people, setting the captives free and bringing salvation to the ends of the earth.
The Servant’s Divine Identity
In addition to the connection of the servant of Isaiah to the Zechariah 9:9-12, discussed previously, there are also at least three further reasons to take the servant spoken of by Isaiah as none other than Yahweh himself. Indeed, one of the most intriguing things about this passage is the exaltation language that is applied to the suffering servant in 52:13: “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” This is the very same exaltation language that is used exclusively of Yahweh elsewhere in the book of Isaiah. Consider, for example, Isaiah 6:1: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” Or consider Isaiah 33:5,10: “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high…’Now I will arise,’ says the Lord, ‘now I will lift myself up; now I will be exalted.'” Or Isaiah 57:15: “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.'”
In case any readers were wondering whether this exaltation language of being “high and lifted up” can be applied to anyone who is not Yahweh, Isaiah 2:11-17 sets the record straight:
11 The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. 12 For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low; 13 against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan; 14 against all the lofty mountains, and against all the uplifted hills; 15 against every high tower, and against every fortified wall; 16 against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. 17 And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
This text indicates that the Lord’s unique exaltation is to take place on the great day of the Lord. Texts that are parallel to Isaiah 53, already discussed, suggest that the Messiah’s exaltation is to take place on the great day of the Lord (e.g. Zechariah 12:10; 14:9). Thus, we see, that the language that Isaiah 52:13 applies to the suffering servant can only be used of a divine person.
However, we see further evidence in the suffering servant song of a divine Messiah. Consider again Isaiah 53:11-12:
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Thus, we read that the servant will justify many and make intercession for sinners. But here is the thing. We read in Isaiah 45:24-25 that Israel will be justified in Yahweh alone:
24 “Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. 25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.”
To further consolidate this point, consider Isaiah 59:16 (c.f. Isaiah 63:5):
He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.
Thus, there was nobody found worthy enough to intercede or bring about salvation — so Yahweh did it himself using His very own arm. And yet we see in Isaiah 53:11-12 that the servant shall intercede. How can he do so if nobody besides Yahweh is worthy? The answer, of course, is that he himself is a divine person.
A third reason to take the servant to be God himself is the designation of the promised child of Isaiah 9:6-7 (whom we have shown to be the same individual as that described in Isaiah 53) is afforded divine titles. The most provocative of those titles is Mighty God. At first consideration, one might think that this ends the debate. However, orthodox Jewish interpreters often point out that the title God can be used in some contexts of those who are not God. For example, in Exodus 7:1, God says to Moses, “See, I have made you God (אֱלֹהִ֖ים) to Pharaoh” (though some English translations add the word “like” before “God,” this is not present in the Hebrew text). Psalm 8:5 also uses the word אֱלֹהִ֑ים (Elohim) in reference to angels, or heavenly beings.
A royal inauguration Psalm refers to the Davidic King as “God” (Ps 45:6-7):
6 Your throne, O God (אֱ֭לֹהִים), is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; 7 you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.
Notice that the referent of this Psalm is ascribed the title of אֱ֭לֹהִים (Elohim), yet distinguished from his God who has anointed him with the oil of gladness. Some Christian commentators have identified this as a reference to the Messiah.  However, I believe this to be a mistake, since the context makes it clear that this Psalm concerns a royal inauguration of a Davidic heir. The Psalm is introduced in verse 1 with a royal tribute: “My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.” This by itself is not fatal to a Messianic interpretation. However, verse 9 adds further clarity: “…daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.” If this Psalm concerns the Messiah, who is the queen of whom this text also speaks, not to mention the daughters of kings who are his ladies of honor? It has been suggested that the “wedding in Ps 45 is intended to be a figurative depiction of the eschatological wedding banquet,” with the queen being a metaphor for God’s people and the bridesmaids representing foreign nations.  While this is not impossible, it seems to me that the most straightforward reading is that the bride and bridesmaids are literal rather than figurative. Thus, it must be granted that the title אֱ֭לֹהִים (Elohim) carries a broader meaning than merely an alternative designation of Yahweh, though of course it can be (and usually is) used in this sense. The question, then, is what we can determine from the context about its meaning in Isaiah 9:6.
In Isaiah 9:6, the complete phrase that is used is אֵ֣ל גִּבּ֔וֹר (el gibbor). This expression occurs three other times in the Hebrew Biblical corpus, and in all three of those cases it refers specifically to Yahweh (Deut 10:17; Jer 32:18; Isa 10:21). One of those references is in fact in the very next chapter that follows our text: “A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God (אֵ֖ל גִּבּֽוֹר),” (Isa 10:21). This tends to favor an interpretation of the same expression in Isaiah 9:6 as likewise denoting divine status. However, a sample size of three is not sufficiently large to render this conclusion beyond all doubt, and so we must further supplement it with additional argumentation. It should be noted here that it may be contended that an exception is found in Ezekiel 32:21: “The mighty chiefs (אֵלֵ֧י גִבּוֹרִ֛ים) shall speak of them…” This verse uses the phrase, אֵלֵ֧י גִבּוֹרִ֛ים (ele gibborim), which is sometimes claimed to be the same words used in Isaiah (in the same order) but in the plural form and connected in a genitive relation, literally “gods of mighty ones.” However, the word אֵלֵ֧י (ele) actually derives from the root, אַ֫יִל (ayil), which can mean a ram or a leader/chief. 
It is also noteworthy that the word, אֵ֖ל (el) occurs in the singular form 217 times in the Biblical text, and always (without exception) denotes nothing less than absolute deity, though there is a handful of instances where it is used to refer to false gods (c.f. Deut 32:12; Pss 44:20, 81:9; Isa 44:10, 45:20; and Mal 2:11). Thus, if Isaiah 9:6 does not use the word אֵ֖ל (el) to denote divine status, it would be the sole exception.
Some have pointed out that the word גבר (gibbor) is sometimes used as a noun, meaning ‘hero’ or ‘warrior’, and thus the phrase אֵ֣ל גִּבּ֔וֹר (el gibbor) in Isaiah 9:6 could perhaps mean something like ‘godlike warrior.’ On this view, the word אֵ֖ל (el) would be taken adjectivally rather than as a noun. There are many examples in the Hebrew Bible of the word אֵ֖ל (el) being used with a following noun or adjective. Hebrew scholar Alec Motyer comments, “With a following adjective ’ēl always retains its full status as a noun (e.g. Ex. 20:5; Dt. 7:9; 10:17).”  He further remarks, “if ever ’ēl is used adjectivally, the phrase is never identical with Isaiah 9:6〈5〉and its meaning is never diluted into ‘godlike’. Whenever we find a construction identical with Isaiah 9:6〈5〉 (’ēl with a following adjective or noun), ’ēl is never adjectival but is always the ruling noun, more closely defined by the additional word.” 
As quoted previously, the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel renders Isaiah 9:6 into Aramaic: “The prophet said to the house of David, For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and he has taken the law upon himself to keep it. His name is called from before Him who is wonderful in counsel, the mighty God who lives to eternity — the Messiah whose peace shall be great upon us in his days.”  This rendering avoids the implication of the child being afforded titles such as “Mighty God” and “Father of Eternity.” However, on this translation, Michael Brown remarks, “The problem with this translation, aside from the fact that it is grammatically strained, is that almost all the names are heaped upon God, and only the last two are given to the son—although it is the naming of this royal child that is central to the verse. How odd! Clearly, the names refer to the son, not to the Lord who gave them. In other words, the Targumic rendering would be like saying, ‘And God—the great, glorious, holy, wonderful, eternal, unchangeable Redeemer and King and Lord—calls his name Joe.’ There is no precedent or parallel to this anywhere in the Bible and no logical explanation for this rendering, nor is it even a natural, grammatical rendering of the Hebrew. The characteristics of the royal child are central—highlighted here by his names—not the characteristics of the Lord.” 
The child is also identified by the title, “Everlasting Father,” (אבי־עד, ad abi) which may be translated as a genitive phrase, “Father of Eternity” (since אֲבִי, abi, in the Hebrew text, stands in a genitive relationship to עַ֖ד, ad). Hans Wildberger concurs with this rendering: “אבי־עד can only mean ‘father of eternity.’”  This translation implies that the child is in fact the creator himself, which is unequivocally an attribute of deity. Rydelnik and Spencer note that “The child born here is not to be confused with the Father in the triune Godhead. Rather, the Son of God is the creator of time, the author of eternity.”  Walter Kaiser likewise comments, “Thus the one who will arrive later is one who has been here from the beginning of time and more!”  The NET Bible notes similarly stress, “This title must not be taken in an anachronistic Trinitarian sense. (To do so would be theologically problematic, for the ‘Son’ is the messianic king and is distinct in his person from God the ‘Father.’) Rather, in its original context the title pictures the king as the protector of his people.”  Indeed, God is portrayed as a Father to his people in various texts, including Isaiah 22:21, 63:8, and Job 29:16.
The term “Father” may also describe the relationship of the Messiah to his people. This would not be inconsistent with what Isaiah says in our text: “when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring (זֶ֖רַע, zera); he shall prolong his days,” (Isa 53:10).
Another title that is ascribed to the child is “wonderful counsellor,” literally “wonder-counsellor.” Though admittedly less conclusive than the titles already surveyed, I believe that this phrase is also suggestive of the child’s divine identity. Indeed, Isaiah says of God elsewhere, “This also comes from the LORD of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom,” (Isa 28:29, emphasis mine). Motyer concludes concerning this text, “To designate the child as pele’ makes him ‘out of the ordinary’, one who is something of a ‘miracle’. Isaiah’s use of the noun in 25:1 and the verb in 28:29 of the Lord’s ‘counsel’ suggests that he would not resist the notion of deity in 9:6〈5〉, specially when it is contextually linked with Mighty God (’ēl-gibbôr).”  One must exercise caution, however, not to overstate the case with respect to this title, as some well-meaning Christian scholars have done. For example, Edward E. Hindson asserts that “Motyer notes that pele’ is used 15 times of extraordinary acts of God.” However, Motyer in fact writes that “It is used fifteen times of human acts etc. where it means ‘what is out of the ordinary’, e.g. Jonathan’s love for David (2 Sa. 1:26; cf. 2 Ch. 2:9; Dn. 8:24). Even where it has unfortunate overtones (e.g. 2 Sa. 13:2) it means ‘more than he could bring himself to do’.”  Hindson’s representation of Motyer is therefore inaccurate. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum also claims that “In English, ‘wonderful’ may be freely used of many things, but in Hebrew it is reserved exclusively for that which is divine.”  However, this is incorrect, as the examples listed by Motyer attest. The above caveats notwithstanding, Motyer nonetheless notes that “It is used fifty-four times of the acts of God and there the meaning is ‘supernatural’, that which, for whatever reason, requires God as its explanation, for example his omnicompetence (Gn. 18:14), the way his acts confound human estimates (Ps. 118:23), the ranges of his moral providences (Ps. 107:8, 15) and when the beleaguered people felt only a ‘miracle’ could save them (Je. 21:2). In particular it describes God’s exodus-acts (Ex. 3:20; 34:10). Isaiah uses the verb in 28:29 of the Lord’s ‘counsel’ (linking with 9:6〈5〉) and in 29:14 of his work of changing the human heart.”  There is also a possible connection with Judges 13:18, where the angel of the Lord says to Manoah, after Manoah inquired after his name, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful (פֶּלִאי, peli)?” I have argued elsewhere that the angel of the Lord is himself revealed to be the Messiah and indeed a divine theophany. It may be that the translators of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible made this connection, since the Septuagint translation reads, “Because a child was born to us; a son was given to us whose leadership came upon his shoulder; and his name is called ‘Messenger of the Great Council,’ for I will bring peace upon the rulers and health to him.”  The Greek word translated “messenger” is ἄγγελος which, much like the Hebrew equivalent מַלְאָךְ (malak) can be translated both as “messenger” or “angel.” It seems plausible that the Septuagint translators thus understood the child of Isaiah 9:6 to be none other than the angel of the Lord!
Only Jesus Can Be the Subject of Isaiah 53
Once it has been shown that the servant of Isaiah 53 is the Messiah — and, indeed, a divine person — the move to identifying the servant as Jesus is an easy one. Who besides Jesus, after all, has, despite being rejected by his own people, the Jews, has nonetheless brought representatives of all nations to recognize the God of Israel? Not only did this same individual claim to be Israel’s Messiah, and God incarnate, but there is also a powerful historical argument that he rose bodily from the dead, as predicted by Isaiah 53:10. I again refer readers to William Harry Turton’s paper, The Passion Prophecy of Isaiah for a good overview of the ways in which Jesus’ ministry and death fulfilled various aspects of Isaiah 53. 
In summary, we have seen that there is in fact very strong — I would even venture so far as to say overwhelming — justification for taking Isaiah 53 to concern Israel’s Messiah, and decisive reason to reject alternative interpretations such as that the servant is a personification of the nation of Israel or a righteous remnant within Israel, or Jeremiah. In addition, there are at least four independent lines of evidence that indicate that the servant of Isaiah 53 must be a divine person. Finally, once these foundations are established, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Jesus is the individual intended. I have only scraped the surface of the ice berg in surveying the Old Testament portrayal of the Messiah. My hope and prayer is that the above analysis gives you, the reader, a glimpse into the depth and riches of Scripture and motivates you to plumb its depths to uncover its many treasures.
1. William Paley and Edmund Paley, The Works of William Paley, vol. 2 (London; Oxford; Cambridge; Liverpool: Longman and Co.; T. Cadell; J. Richardson; Baldwin and Cradock; Hatchard and Son; J. G. & F. Rivington; Whittaker and Co.; Hamilton, Adams & Co.; Simpkin, Marshall, and Co.; Smith, Elder and Co.; E. Hodgson; B. Fellowes; R. Mackie; J. Templeman; H. Washbourne; Booker and Dolman; J. Parker; J. and J. J. Deighton; G. and J. Robinson, 1838), 149.
2. William Harry Turton [1856-1938], “The Passion Prophecy of Isaiah,” Bibliotheca Sacra 79 No. 313 (Jan. 1922): 72-84.
3. Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 420.
5. Tovia Singer, Let’s Get Biblical! Why Doesn’t Judaism Accept the Christian Messiah? Volume 1 (RMBN Publishers, 2014), 116, 118.
6. Ibid., 104.
7. Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch and Sir Arthur Ernest Cowley, 2d English ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), 301.
8. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 66.
9. Tovia Singer, Let’s Get Biblical! Why Doesn’t Judaism Accept the Christian Messiah? Volume 1 (RMBN Publishers, 2014), 96-97, 117.
10. Yisroel C. Blumenthal, “Contra Brown: Answering Dr. Brown’s Objections to Judaism”, accessed June 27 2020, https://judaismresources.net/contra-brown/
11. John Ronning, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology (Baker Academic, 2011), 94.
12. Richard M. Davidson, “Corporate Solidarity in the Old Testament,” revised 2 December 2004, accessed 6/26/2020. http://www.gospelstudygroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/corporate-solidarity-in-OT.pdf.
13. Gregory K. Beale, “The Use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15: One More Time.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 55:4 (2012): 697-715.
14. Tovia Singer, Let’s Get Biblical! Why Doesn’t Judaism Accept the Christian Messiah? Volume 1 (RMBN Publishers, 2014), 103.
15. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 55–56.
16. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 56
17. “Rashi on Isaiah 11:1”, Sefaria, https://www.sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Isaiah.11.1.1
18. “Rashi on Micah 5:2”, Sefaria, https://www.sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Micah.5.2
19. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 39.
20. “Rashi on Zechariah 9:9”, Sefaria, https://www.sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Zechariah.9.9
21. J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 421.
23. Ibidi., 421-422.
24. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 44.
25. Ibid., 46.
26. Seth D. Postell, “Psalm 45: The Messiah as Bridegroom,” in The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy: Studies and Expositions of the Messiah in the Old Testament, ed. Michael Rydelnik and Edwin Blum (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019), 573-586.
27. Ibid., 579.
28. James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
29. J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 104.
30. Ibid., 105.
31. “Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 9:5, Sefaria, https://www.sefaria.org/Targum_Jonathan_on_Isaiah.9.5
32. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 32–33.
33. Hans Wildberger, A Continental Commentary: Isaiah 1-12 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1991), 404.
34. Michael A. Rydelnik and James Spencer, “Isaiah,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, ed. Michael A. Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1024.
35. Walter Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 1995), 164.
36. Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Is 9:6.
37. J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 104.
38. Edward E. Hindson, “Isaiah 9:1–7: The Deity of Messiah,” in The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy: Studies and Expositions of the Messiah in the Old Testament, ed. Michael Rydelnik and Edwin Blum (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019), 836.
39. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 39.
40. J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 104.
41. Rick Brannan et al., eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), Is 9:6.
42. William Harry Turton [1856-1938], “The Passion Prophecy of Isaiah,” Bibliotheca Sacra 79 No. 313 (Jan. 1922): 72-84.
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