The “suffering servant” passage in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is not referring…
The “suffering servant” passage in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is not referring to Jesus. It is not a messianic prophecy. As a matter of fact, the suffering servant is actually a personification of the nation of Israel. Here are 5 reasons why I believe this to be the case…
1. The servant’s suffering is described in the past tense, meaning it has already occurred at the time Isaiah was writing. Now, you might argue that sometimes prophecies are stated in the past tense, rather than future tense. Okay, but then why does the tense change to future in verses 10-12? It says here the servant will be vindicated for his suffering in the future. It distinguishes between past and future here.
2. Isaiah 53:3 describes the servant as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” This does not seem to describe Jesus very much. Yes it’s true that Jesus experienced suffering at the end of his life, but that wouldn’t make him “a man of sorrows.” This phrase describes someone who has experienced pain and hardships throughout his whole life. I think the description fits Israel much better, considering how many times throughout history the Jews have been oppressed or enslaved by surrounding nations.
3. Isaiah 53:10 says the Lord would “prolong his days,” which sounds more like preserving someone’s life, rather than raising him from the dead. It also says the servant would “see his offspring,” and Jesus did not have offspring. The Hebrew word used in this verse, zera (זֶרַע) always refers to biological offspring, so it can’t be referring to the disciples, or the Christian church, or anything like that.
4. In Isaiah 53:8, the pronoun at the end is actually plural. Lamoh (לָֽמוֹ) means “them.” The same word is used in Psalm 99:7, and is also translated as “them.” So the correct translation is “because of my peoples’ sin they were afflicted.”
Now of course, there are many Christian arguments against the interpretation of this text as referring to the people of Israel. One is that the speaker seems to be distinguishing himself from the servant. So if the speaker is from the nation of Israel, why would he be talking about afflicting the nation of Israel? Well the answer is actually very simple: the speaker is not from the nation of Israel. The speaker is meant to represent the gentile nations who oppressed the Israelites, not realizing that they were God’s chosen people. And when it says “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (verse 5), this is not a correct translation. The text actually says “because of” not “for.” So it should be “he was pierced because of our transgressions.” In other words, the nations that oppressed Israel sinned, and their sin caused harm to the people of Israel. The Christian Standard Bible, Contemporary English Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible, NET Bible, and JPS Tanakh 1917 all translate this verse correctly.
You may have noticed how I said at the beginning that there were 5 reasons I believe Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is referring to Israel instead of Jesus, yet I only listed 4. That’s because I saved the best for last. In no less than 6 places in the preceding chapters of Isaiah, the servant is explicitly referred to as “Israel” or “Jacob.” And in one verse, Isaiah 43:10, the servant is addressed as a group of “witnesses.” There is no way around this. The suffering servant of Isaiah is definitely not Jesus…
Isaiah 41:8 “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend”
Isaiah 43:10 “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.’“
Isaiah 44:1-2 “But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.“
Isaiah 44:21 “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.“
Isaiah 45:4 “For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me.“
Isaiah 48:20 “Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it out to the end of the earth; say, ‘The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!’”
Isaiah 49:3 “And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’”