THE SUFFERING SERVANT... AND YOU

Interpreting the Bible isn't simply an intellectual matter. Certainly it involves the intellect, but there is much more to understanding what the Bible says than simply understanding with the mind, which is a Greek concept, not a Hebrew one. The Hebrew meaning of what it means to know something is demonstrated by the statement in the Torah, "Adam knew his wife." Adam did not simply have an intellectual concept of his wife. He knew her personally, intimately, physically, and practically. Likewise, to know the Lord means much more than to know he exists. Jesus' brother Jacob told us, "You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that -- and shudder." (James 2:19) Real belief and understanding involves action. There is a great deal of difference between saying I believe there is a million dollars buried in the back yard and getting out a shovel and digging it up!

We've studied Isaiah 53 from several perspectives. We've considered rabbinic interpretation, examined to see if the passage could be referring to Israel or some other individual. Finally, we saw that the key to understanding the passage is that it contained the familiar image of a root or shoot (shoresh) sprouting up, which is beyond dispute a Messianic image in other places in Isaiah, such as Isaiah 11:10. The figure of Isaiah 53 would be exalted over the Kings of the earth, yet he would also serve as a priest who would sprinkle many nations, which is a priestly function. Let us go back to this rich text again and consider how to understand it in a Hebrew way, that is, practically and personally.

Let's go back to the text and consider the implications for each of us.

53:1 Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

53:2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

53:3 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.

The arm of the Lord is his power at work to save his people. God delivered Israel from Egypt by his mighty arm (Exodus 6:6). The word for arm is "zeroah," the same word used for the shank bone of the lamb found on the Passover Seder plate today to remind us of the Passover Lamb. Isaiah 53 described one who would come as a sacrificial lamb for us. What can you say about the response to the message of the Messiah? How was the Messiah to be viewed? The prophet said he would be rejected, despised, and one people would prefer to avoid looking at. When Messiah came the Judean leadership, as foretold, did not accept him. In fact, many saw his crucifixion as the punishment he deserved, just as Isaiah foresaw. How have you responded to the Messiah? Many times in Israel's history the prophets were rejected. Remember, most of those who came out of Egypt did not make it into the Promised Land. Many in Israel rebelled against Moses in his day. It is no surprise that many, often those in power, rejected the Messiah when he came. Yet the faithful remnant among Israel believed and took the message of God's love through the Messiah to the known world of that day. How have you responded?

53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.

53:6 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.

Though many thought the Messiah was suffering for his own sin, what was actually going on was that God was providing atonement for us. Human nature is corrupt. We all go astray and wander from the Good shepherd. We all have guilt and sin. Can you admit that? The prophet Isaiah confessed that he was among those who needed healing and payment for our sins. He used the word "we." Do you recognize yourself among the we? Do you recognize and admit that you yourself are one of the ones who has gone astray? Will you receive the Messiah's payment for sin as your own, not just as a general payment for sin, but as the payment for your own personal sins? Will you receive God's loving offer of forgiveness through Messiah's suffering as the sin offering?

53:7 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 dumb, so he opened not his mouth.

53:8 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?

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.

The servant willingly accepts his suffering and death. Though he was mistreated and oppressed he never objected to the treatment he received. He even said "father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." Why was he so willing to suffer and die? Because he loves us and it was God's will for Messiah to suffer and die to provide payment and forgiveness for our sins. Jesus said "Greater love has no man than this than to lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) How have you responded to God's loving offer?

53:10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; he will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand;

53:11 he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. 53:12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, 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 made intercession for the transgressors.

God has provided a guilt offering (asham) for us through the Messiah. This is the same term used of the Levitical sacrifices made in the ancient Temple (Leviticus 5 & 6). If Moses said we needed a guilt offering, what does this imply about us? The guilt offering of Temple times was the sacrificial animal upon whom the sins of the worshiper were symbolically placed before it was slaughtered. God demonstrated through these sacrifices that guilt could not go unpunished. There was a principle of justice which had to be fulfilled. But could an animal really atone for a human's sin? Way before the Temple was built, Abraham was called to offer up his son Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22). This was the same place where the Temple was eventually built by David. The ram was provided as a substitute for Isaac, but does that hint to us that, in essence, God has the right to demand the sacrifice of a son? Only the death of a man satisfies the just punishment. Yet even then, how could one sinful man, worthy of his own punishment, offer himself in the place of another? God did not allow even Moses to sacrifice himself in place of Israel when Moses offered (Exodus 32:30-32). How can the sacrifice of one man be of enough value for his punishment to satisfy the judgement deserved by many? Only if that man were without sin. The Levitical sacrifices were to be spotless. They foreshadowed the sinless Messiah who would be the perfect sacrifice. Because the Messiah was perfect he could take the place in judgement and suffer our punishment. Because the Messiah was more than a man, he was God residing among us clothed in human nature, his sacrifice was of infinite value.

When you receive the Messiah as your guilt offering, in payment for your sin, your guilt is done away with. Will you receive the Messiah as your substitute sufferer punished in your place for your sins? The prophet said Messiah would justify many. This means that all who trust him are counted righteous before God because of their faith in Messiah's vicarious atonement. "Many" means not everyone, yes, a great number, but not everyone. Are you among the many?

The prophet said that after the death and burial of the Messiah he would see the light of life and be satisfied. Messiah rose again, just as Isaiah said he would. But there is more. Not only does Messiah satisfy justice by dying to pay for the sins of his people, he also provides something very wonderful. There is a reward to be distributed, the spoils of victory. What are the spoils he distributes? We are told Messiah has a kingdom for us, a great inheritance (Luke 12:32). When we receive the Messiah we are not only forgiven of our sins and counted as righteous before a Holy God, we also come into the Kingdom of God, spiritually speaking, and we have a new relationship with our Maker, a close friendship with all guilt and sin removed so that nothing comes between us. When Messiah returns we will be co-heirs with him, as it is written: "The meek will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5)

God is reaching out to you now. He is giving you a chance to come into a renewed relationship with him. How amazing that God would love us to this extent! The only obstacle that can get in the way is your unbelief, but God is able to overcome that, as well. Why not pray and ask the God of Israel to help you to believe whatever is the truth. 700 years before Jesus was born the Jewish prophet Isaiah spoke of one who would come to suffer and die for the sins of his people and then rise again. Could Jesus be the one Isaiah spoke of? Why not ask God to help you believe it?

If you now believe the prophet's message spoke of Messiah Jesus, tell God you receive his free gift of forgiveness today. Confess your sins to Him and then thank Him that Messiah came to suffer for your sins. Ask him to renew your heart so that you will live a life of grateful obedience as he enables you. God has shown his love and provided the way back to Him through Messiah Jesus. Will you turn to God and receive the love he offers?


To see quotations from ancient rabbinic sources that interpret Isaiah 53 as referring to Messiah click here.

To see why Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Israel, and who it must be, click here.

To learn about the curious idea of the Leper-Messiah click here.

To learn about the "Two-Messiah" theory of some rabbinic thinkers click here.

To see a list of resources for further study click here.

To return to the CHAIM home page click here.