The Career of the Servant – Isaiah 53:2-9

Verses 2-9 describe the career of the servant. We begin by looking at his humanity, starting at his birth and growth to ministry and death.

  • Isaiah 53:2
  • For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

We start with his birth and early years in verse 2. It states that he grew up before him like a tender shoot (NASB) or tender plant (KJV and ASV). In Hebrew the word is literally “suckling.” In horticulture, a suckling is a baby plant, a tender twig that grows out of the tree or bush and is going to be a new branch. However, if it is a fruit tree, the sucklings are going to take the energy out of the tree and the tree will put all of its resources into building new branches instead of producing good fruit. For example, if you had an apple tree, you’d take the suckling off in order for the tree to produce decent apples. Leaving the sucklings on the tree will not yield much fruit because sucklings are parasitical. Those experienced with horticulture and fruit trees do not look upon sucklings as positive things.

The point here is that the suffering Servant, Yeshua, is considered a destructive parasite. He came out of the tree of Israel but caused nothing but problems. He was something that should be chopped off and thrown away.

This verse is also a time indicator, “and like a root out of parched grounds,” a reference back to Isaiah 11:1 where we learn

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.

These phrases are time indicators because they tell us of the lowly condition of the house of David when the Messiah would appear. The idea behind Isaiah 11:1 is that the glorious tree of David will be reduced to a mere stump. In Isaiah 53:2 the Messiah will appear when the house of David experiences the plight of a plant living in parched ground. The Messiah will not appear if the house of David is in its glory; He will only appear when it’s been reduced to poverty.

We know that these things came to pass through Luke’s account in Luke 2:22-24 where Miriam (Yeshua’s mother) and Joseph (Yeshua’s guardian) are going to take him up to the temple in order to give sacrifice for the birth of a new child.

When the days of their purification according to the Law of Moses were completed, they brought him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “every first-born male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.”

They brought Yeshua to the temple and offered a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons as sacrifice. The offering of turtle-doves and pigeons refers to offerings of poverty. Yeshua did come when the house of David has been reduced to a stump.

Isaiah 53:2 states that he had no stately form or majesty. There was no outward physical beauty to the Messiah; He was an average man and had nothing unusual about his stature. There is nothing in his outward appearance to attract men to him. This is contrary from the portrayals of Yeshua in modern depictions. Isaiah’s point is that Yeshua was a very common man at best and at worst he was homely or ugly.

  • Isaiah 53:3
  • He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

One key word in this verse is that he was rejected of men. The key word is “men.” The Hebrew word is often used when referring to “men of rank” or “great men.” In the Gospels we see that it was the religious leaders who led Israel to reject the Messiahship of Jesus – the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and even the political leaders the Herodians. He was rejected by men of rank.

He is also described as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. This description is probably better rendered as “a man of pains,” or “acquainted with diseases.” Throughout his ministry, we see that Yeshua healed many from the pain and sorrow of serious disease. Healing is a key part of his ministry and is one of the many ways that he identifies himself as the Messiah.

Not only did he not attract men to him, men were also repulsed by him and his teachings. Men were not simply indifferent to him, they disliked him. This is true today in the Jewish community; we are still despising him and feeling revulsion when he is mentioned.

An example of our dislike of Yeshua is seen through the many derogatory names we give him. The following are references to him throughout Jewish history:

This name sounds like Yeshua but it is an acronym for thesentence “may his name and memory be blotted out.” This is how he is known in Israel today.
This word means the “hanged one.” The rabbis would not even mention his name but they use this term to refer to the disgrace of crucifixion.
Ben Stada:
We do not know what this means but it may mean “one who turns aside,” a reference to Miriam. He is the son of one who turned aside. It was taught that Miriam turned aside to immorality and he was the product. It may mean “seditious one,” referring to him betraying the nation. Or it can also be a reference to “that Egyptian” because rabbinic legend says Jesus went down to Egypt and got all his magical powers there. This is a Talmudic reference.
Ben Pandera:
We are not sure what this means as well. It may mean “son of Pandora,” a reference to Pandora’s box from Greek mythology. In Greek mythology all the evils in the world came out of Pandora’s box. In the same way, all the troubles of the world came upon Israel because of Jesus. It is also a name in rabbinic literature for “Mary’s paramour.” It was said that Mary had an elicit relationship with a Roman soldier named Ben Pandera and the product was Yeshu.
Ha’ish HaHu:
This means “that man” in Hebrew. Again, they refused to give him a name but refer to Jesus as indirectly as possible.
Avon Gilyon:
This means “the role of sin.” It is a play on the Greek word “evangelion” – the Gospel. The rabbis refer to the New Testament as “the role of sin.”
Tolodot Yeshu:
This refers to a legend that says Jesus was a magician and he seduced Israel.

Throughout our history, these names emphasized the fact that we do not esteem him. This is what the faithful remnant will realize when they read this section of Scripture at the end of the tribulation. They will say that this is the truth, we esteem him not.

Isaiah 53:4 enlarges the revelation:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

Now we come to the substitutionary suffering of the Messiah. Now we focus in on the crucifixion itself. We see here in verse 4 that His sufferings were substitutionary. He bore punishment in place of others. However, while he bears these griefs and sorrows, Israel thought he was getting what he deserved. The word “stricken” means to be afflicted with shocking affliction. The crucifixion is a shocking affliction. One of the most famous commentators Rambam (Maimonides) says “he deserves his violent death.”

This identification of the Messiah, being associated with the griefs and sorrows is brought out in Matthew 8:17:

…in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “He Himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases.”

In Matthew 8:14-17 Yeshua physically healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Matthew is saying that Yeshua identified with the physical sufferings of man and He dealt with them as well, thus identifying himself as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:4.

Let us continue to verse 5:

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.

Substitutionary sacrifice is also the main idea in verse 5. Some translations uses the word “wounded” in place of “pierced.” The word means “to pierce through” and is always used in reference to a violent death, not a reference to merely a flesh wound. Through this passage we know that this is a very serious injury. Looking forward from Isaiah’s vantage point, we know Yeshua was pierced through by the Roman spear in his side and the Roman nails through his hands and feet.

The phrase “crushed for our iniquities” is well translated here. He was literally crushed. In His body He was bearing the punishment that led to our peace. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament develops the force contained in the word “crushed.”

daka and its derivatives are applied only to people except for Ps 89:10 [H 11], which mentions the crushing of Rahab, probably a reference to God’s victory over Egypt. God is frequently the subject of the verb. He is the one who crushes the oppressor (Ps 72:4) and the wicked (Job 34:25), but he does not crush the prisoner underfoot (Lam 3:34). Job requests God to crush him and put an end to his misery (6:9). According to Isa 53:10, God did crush his servant. Verse 5 indicates that he “was crushed for our iniquities.” This emphasizes the emotional and spiritual suffering of the Savior as he became sin for us (cf. Ps 51:8 [H 10]).[1]

Isaiah 53:5 states that the Messiah was “scourged.” The Hebrew word underlying that translation means an injury caused by a stripe or a blow. It refers to a severe beating. We will see clearly that the physical “scourging” led to spiritual healing. The main point of His suffering was our spiritual healing. He was bearing the punishment that we deserve.

  • Isaiah 53:6
  • All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

In this verse, we return to Israel’s condition. Here the faithful remnant realizes that we are the wrong ones. It is not the servant who is in the wrong, it is Israel who is in the wrong, the Jewish people. Yet the Messiah, the suffering Servant, steps in and Israel’s iniquity is credited to His account.

Peter depicts this idea of substitution very clearly in I Peter 2:24

…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

Yeshua was wounded so that we might die to sin. The emphasis here is spiritual healing. The rabbis would declare that this is the suffering Messiah. The first Messiah comes, they would say, and he suffers in the wars of Gog and Magog. However, the rabbis are inconsistent. They say, on one side, that this does not apply to the Messiah but, on the other hand, they have a suffering Messiah concept. They also say that this refers to the suffering nation of Israel instead of the suffering Messiah.

  • Isaiah 53:7
  • He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.

Now we see the silence and quietness of the servant in verse 7. In spite of suffering unjust oppression, he remained quiet and is submissive to it. This does not mean that he never said anything to anybody; he did converse with the high priest and Pilate. However, in regard to the unjust oppression he was suffering, he submitted quietly. His submissiveness was remarkable in the eyes of Pilate. All the four Gospels agree and point out very clearly that Jesus suffered the injustice quietly. For example, Mark 14:60-62:

And the high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying “Do You make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But He kept silent, and made no answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I AM; AND YOU SHALL SEE THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.”

He remained quiet through questions pertaining to his suffering and unjust accusations. He responded when the high priest asked him for his identity. We see here that Jesus is not absolutely quiet, he is submitting to the unjust punishment.

In Mark 15:3-5, we see that Pilate was amazed by Jesus’ reaction:

And the chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. And Pilate was questioning Him again, saying “Do You make no answer? See how many charges they bring against You!” But Jesus made no further answer; so that Pilate was amazed.

Pilate has never seen anybody act like this. The average criminal in the same situation did not act like this. Jesus acted like a lamb. Other verses which depict the same event are: Matthew 26:62-63, Matthew 27:12-14, Luke 23:8-9 and John 19:10.

Many rabbis often claim that the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 is Israel. However, we see that the Servant’s suffering is voluntary, willing and silent, which has never been true of Israel. Leo Trepp wrote in A History of the Jewish Experience:

Courage, determination, military toughness have always been prime characteristics of the Jews. When Abraham learned that his nephew Lot had been made a prisoner, he armed the men of his clan and defeated a vastly superior army (Gen. 4). The Scripture is so confident of the courage among Israel that it makes the ruling to issue a call before battle: let those who are afraid stay home, we do not want them lest they discourage others (Deut. 20:8)…. We are reminded of the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto, when a small band of starving Jews took on the entire Nazi might with arms smuggled in from outside…. The victories of the Israelis over large armies are by recent history; and he who wishes to lay eyes on a soldier whose toughness is written right on his face and body need only to go to Israel today.

This incident was also noted in Acts 8:30-38. Here we have an example of the use of this prophecy in the life of the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip was transported to the Negev in Southern Israel and sees the eunuch in a chariot in the distance. Philip approached and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet. He asked the eunuch if he understood the passage. The eunuch replied “well how could I, unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip into the chariot and questioned him. The eunuch did not know who Isaiah was talking about but he saw it as a singular personality. The eunuch does not see it as the nation Israel. He is reading the plain meaning of the text and he simply does not know if the person is Isaiah or someone else. Philip then opened his mouth and beginning from this Scripture, he preached Jesus to him and the man came to faith in Yeshua.

A good application for us is to use Isaiah 53 while witnessing to your Jewish friends. Simply read Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 to them and ask them to tell you who it is about and where it is written. They will say that this is about Jesus and it is out of the New Testament. You can tell them it is from Isaiah the prophet and it is about Jesus. Although the plain meaning of the text is very clear, most Jewish people have never read this section of Scripture and many do not know that it is in the Bible. In synagogues, only certain sections of the Prophets are read in the Bible and this is not one of them.

  • Isaiah 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, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?

In verse 8 we encounter the trial and death of the servant. Here, He is taken from prison and judgment. In other words, He went through a judicial trial, was confined and then led away to be crucified. It says “who considered,” the Hebrew word “consider” there means to give thoughtful consideration to something, to think about something deeply. Who in his generation gave thoughtful consideration of what happened? Very few people did.

Then he was cut off from the land of the living, a reference to physical death. In fact, the term “cut off” means to be judged in a legal sense. So why did he undergo this legal punishment? It was “for the transgression of my people.” Whose people are these? Isaiah’s people, and it can only be Israel. He went through the suffering for Israel’s transgressions; it was upon Israel that the penal judgment should have fallen. Instead, it fell on Jesus. Again, this is the remnant’s great confession, they will realize the truth at the end of the Tribulation period.

  • Isaiah 53:9
  • His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

In verse 9, we come to the burial of the servant. He should have died as a criminal, He should have been buried as a criminal but He was not. He was not buried as a criminal, He was buried in a rich man’s tomb. Then His sinlessness is brought out. The phrase “he had done no violence” refers to outward sin. He never committed outward acts of sin. “There is no deceit in His mouth” speaks of inward sin: sins of the heart, sins of attitude and thought. Both outwardly and inwardly, He had no sin.

Paul picked up this idea in II Corinthians 5:21 when he says:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Here, we see the clear concept of substitution. Peter also picked this up in I Peter 2:21-22:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH.

Now, how is Isaiah 53:9 fulfilled? Matthew says in Matthew 27:57-60:

And when it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given over to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.

Isaiah 53:9 would be a very puzzling verse if not for the explanation found in Matthew 27, Mark 15:42-46, Luke 23:50-54 and John 19:38-42. Verse 9 is a very confusing verse that has a very clear explanation in the New Testament.

  1. ^ Harris, R. L., Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., & Waltke, B. K. (1999, c1980). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed.) (Page 188). Chicago: Moody Press.