Isaiah 53 part 1

Isaiah 53

By Menashe Dovid (מנשה דוד בן אברהם)

©by Menashe Dovid ben Avraham

The “tour de force” of the Messianic Jew or Christian missionary is often the use of Isaiah chapter 53 in the conversion of Jews to ‘Yeshua’ or “Jesus” respectively. The use of Isaiah chapter 53 sometimes works on the unsuspecting secularized Jew in the culturally ‘Christian’ western world. The use of Isaiah chapter 53 only sometimes works because of the Messianic Jew’s or Christian missionary’s basis for proof lies squarely in the evidence[1] and validity of the New Testament (NT) or Brit Chadashah, which even those most assimilated Jews with a good amount of self esteem knows to avoid like the plague. Christians’ lack of successes in converting Jews are often because of taking the NT statements at face value without asking in what particular sense Isaiah’s prophecies of the servant of the L-rd apply to Jesus which is a next phase in the missionary approach. The next phase in the missionary approach teaches that the death of Jesus is the universal vicarious substitution for the death penalty which all sinners deserve. The earliest ‘biblical’ expression of a vicarious substitution for universal sin ONLY occurs within New Testament[2] and not within the Hebrew Bible. It is however, the Christian’s prior doctrinal commitments projected onto and applied to the Hebrew Bible in general and Isaiah 53 in particular which Christians assume is G-d’s message to every sinner and to the Jews especially.

“Yet it was our sickness he was bearing, our sufferings he carried. But we accounted him plagued, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced on account of our rebelling, crushed on account of our iniquities, the chastisement that brought us peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. All of us like a flock had gone astray, we had turned each to his own way, and the L-rd interposed on him the iniquity of all of us.” [53:4-6]

If the first person plural language in the above is taken universally, then the servant of the L-rd necessarily must be Jesus, because nobody else but Jesus bears universal sin. But within the biblical context of the prophecy, the “we” is not universal. In context, the “we” is in the mouth of the non-Jewish kings who have despised and taken advantage of Israel in exile. The kings whose report of Israel’s success would not have been believed had the kings (see chapter 52) not seen Israel’s ultimate success with their very own eyes.

“Kings shall shut their mouths at him. For what was not told them, they shall see. And what they did not hear, they shall observe. ‘Who would have believed our report? Upon whom has the arm of the L-rd been revealed?’ He arose before him like a sucker, like a root out of dry ground. He had no visage and no majesty. ‘We saw him, and there was no appearance that we should find him pleasing. He was despised and shunned by men, a man of sufferings and familiar with sickness; like one who hides his face from us. He was despised, and we held him of no account.’” [52:15b-53:3]

In view of context, if the “we” of the prophecy is not referring to all sinners ever born on planet earth, then the suffering servant is not Jesus or necessarily any would be messiah. Israeli kids learn Isaiah 53 in school, along with all the rest of Isaiah. Israelis know chapter 53 goes with the rest of the book! It may well be only people unfamiliar with the Book of Isaiah, ‘Christianized’ people who have read only chapter 53, who jump to the conclusion that this is all about Jesus because secular Jews who participate in Western civilization are for all intents and purposes culturally Christian. Some Jews who are won over to the Christian understanding of Isaiah 53 are therefore, being won over to majority Christian culture, rather than to fulfillment of Bible prophecy or simply because of a lack of self esteem and/ or lack of Jewish identity.

Taking a look at context, Isaiah 53 obviously prophesies that non-Jews will someday repent of their mistreatment of Israel, recognize that in God’s mysterious plan Israel’s sufferings have been to the benefit of others, and acknowledge that Israel has been the true servant of God all along. The problem however, is with those ‘Jesus glasses’ on, seeing Israel as the true servant of God certainly is not obvious to many non-Jews!

Certain of the prophetic specifications, which Christians often view as pointing exclusively to Jesus, are in fact borrowed from biblical descriptions of Israel’s experience. For example, in Isaiah 53:7 the servant of the L-rd is said to be like a flock led to the slaughter. In Psalms 44:22 Israel is said to be like a flock led to the slaughter.

“For on your account we are killed all the day; we are considered as a flock for the slaughter.”

To give another example, Isaiah 53:11 says “my righteous servant shall make many righteous.” We have just such an expression in the Book of Daniel regarding Daniel’s people Israel. Daniel 12:1b-3.

“At that time your people will escape, everyone found written in the book. Many among those sleeping in the dust of the ground will awake, some to the life of eternity and others to shame and to the contempt of eternity. And the prudent will shine like the brilliance of the firmament, and those who make many righteous like the stars, for eternity and ever.”

To give another example, Isaiah 53:11 says “my righteous servant shall make many righteous and carry their iniquities.” This language comes from the operation of Israel’s sanctuary. It was the duty of Israel’s priests to carry[3] the iniquity of others. Leviticus 10:16-17.

“Concerning the goat of the sin-offering Moshe diligently inquired. There it was ― ablaze. He was angry with Elazar and with Itamar the surviving sons of Aaron. He said, ‘Why did you not eat the sin-offering in a sacred place, for it is most holy? And it was given you in order to carry the iniquity of the congregation, to make expiation on them before the L-rd.’”

Numbers 18:1 is also explicit in this connection.

“The L-rd said to Aaron, ‘You, your sons, and your father’s house with you shall carry the iniquity of the sanctuary; you and your sons with you shall carry the iniquity of your priesthood.’”

Carrying the iniquity of others is also a prophetic gesture. Ezekiel 4:4-6.

“And you shall lie on your left side and place the iniquity of the house of Israel on it, the number of which you lie on it you will carry their iniquity. I have given you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of days, three hundred and ninety days. And you shall carry the iniquity of the house of Israel. And you shall finish these, then you shall lie on your right side, and you shall carry the iniquity of the house of Judah, forty days, a day for a year, one day per year I have imposed on you.”

During the exile, the children of Israel complain that their punishment is too severe, because they’re carrying the iniquity of previous generations.

“Our fathers sinned and they are no more, and we are carrying their iniquities.” [Lamentations 5:7]

In order to end the exile, the L-rd calls his righteous servant to resume Israel’s original mission task of carrying the iniquity of others. This is what priests do, and Israel is a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6).

In addition to the prophetic specifications borrowed from biblical descriptions of Israel, certain of the prophetic specifications do not seem applicable to Jesus at all. For example, Isaiah 53 verse 3 describes the servant of the L-rd as,

“A man of sufferings and familiar with sickness; like one who hides his face from us. He was despised, and we held him of no account. Yet it was our sickness he was bearing.”

Verse 10 adds,

“Yet the L-rd was pleased to crush him with sickness.”

The New Testament accounts relate numerous instances of Jesus healing people, but never is it told in the NT that he got sick in their place. If his work load and hiking itinerary is anything to go by, Jesus seems to have been a robustly healthy individual. If Jesus was characterized by sickness, the gospel writers do not note the fulfillment of prophecy.

Another particular which does not easily fit Jesus is in Isaiah 53:3,

“like one who hides his face from us.”

Hiding the face from others is the behavior proscribed by the Torah for a leper (Leviticus 13:45). We have no record of Jesus hiding his face. In fact, Christian teaching emphasizes the opposite: that Jesus is the disclosure of God; that in seeing Jesus’, God’s face is seen[4].

Another particular which does not easily fit if the servant of the L-rd is Jesus comes in verse 8. It is evidently one of the astounded non-Jewish kings who confesses,

“On account of my people’s rebellion he plagued them.”

Within the framework of standard Jewish interpretation the statement makes good sense. If “my people” refers to the said king’s misbehaving subjects and “them” refers to the children of Israel, the prophecy is then saying that the L-rd plagued his servant Israel on account of these other people’s rebellion. But if, as Christians commonly claim, “my people” refers to Israel, who then can the antecedent of “them” be? Can Israel be both the referent of “my people” and the antecedent of “them?” Of course, it is a biblical truism that when God’s people Israel misbehave he punishes them, but why would the prophecy bring that up in connection with vicarious substitution? It is not vicarious substitution when people get what they deserve. Unless Jesus is the antecedent of “them,” it is difficult to construe this statement as referring to Jesus.

Another particular which does not easily fit, if the servant of the L-rd is Jesus, comes in verse 10.

“Yet the L-rd was pleased to crush him with sickness, that should he make his soul a guilt-offering, he would see offspring, he would prolong his days, and the pleasure of the L-rd would prosper in his hand.”

Unless you believe Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, Jesus did not produce offspring and he did not enjoy a full lifespan. Some Christians have argued that since Jesus is God and God is infinite, that Jesus enjoys prolonged days. Infinity however, is not what the Bible means by prolonged days. The Bible never attributes prolonged days to God. Furthermore, in the prophecy the servant’s prolonged days are predicated on the L-rd crushing him with sickness and making his soul a guilt-offering. God’s infinity is not predicated on what he does to his servant.

The above difficulties give at least a plausibility to the Jewish position that the servant of the L-rd in Isaiah 53 is Israel rather than Jesus.

1. See Acts 8:35, Luke 22:37 and Matthew 8:17.

2. Romans 5:18; John 1:29 and 1 John 2:2.

3. The goat [of the Day of Atonement] that was sent [into the wilderness] (Ley. xvi. 20, seq.) served as an atonement for all serious transgressions more than any other sin-offering of the congregation. As it thus seemed to carry off all sins, it was not accepted as an ordinary sacrifice to be slaughtered, burnt, or even brought near the Sanctuary; it was removed as far as possible, and sent forth into a waste, uncultivated, uninhabited land. There is no doubt that sins cannot be carried like a burden, and taken off the shoulder of one being to be laid on that of another being. But these ceremonies are of a symbolic character, and serve to impress men with a certain idea, and to induce them to repent; as if to say, we have freed ourselves of our previous deeds, have cast them behind our backs, and removed them from us as far as possible. CHAPTER XLVI, THE GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED, BY MOSES MAIMONIDES.

4. 2 Corinthians 4:6; John 14:9; 1:18

19 thoughts on “Isaiah 53 part 1

  1. This verse from Isaiah completely undoes the Christian claim to JC being the chosen Servant of God i.e., the Messiah.

    “Isaiah 41:8 But you, O Israel, My servant, Jacob, you whom I shall grasp from the ends of the earth and shall summon from among all its noblemen, and to whom I shall say, ‘You are my servant’ – I have chosen you and not rejected you……..”

    Collective Israel aka Jacob, is God’s chosen servant. No one else.


  2. yes…the suffering servant is Jacob and his offspring……..want to see how they suffered just in the past 100 years?……..go to W,DC and see the Holacaust Musuem………now that is suffering!………….it will chill your soul when you see what those N did to Jacob,,,,,,,,,,,they did more than pierce Jacob’s side!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think what is missing here Menashe is the fact that this “Christian” view was first and foremost presented by Jews. Were it not for the fact Jews believed Yeshua to be the suffering Servant, it would in no way ever have reached the Nations for them to believe. Pagans could not have come up with the concept presented in the Mosaic law that a sin sacrifice was required for sin atonement by the LORD. It is an issue that Rabbinic Judaism has to argue away since obedience to the law can no longer be fulfilled since 70 CE. The Rabbis lamented the the fact the Temple was destroyed yet Messiah had not come as Daniel prophesied. Something that has to be explained away by Rabbinism. Once again, no one will explain why we have this terrible judgement to come upon the Nation even in our days. How tragic.


    • The idea is very often presented by Christians to Jews and goes something like this:

      “The temple was destroyed in 70CE by Titus and therefore, Jews have not had a means for atonement for 1940 years because there is no temple. Moreover, as the book of Hebrews explains, a far superior priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus exists which atones completely for all sins unlike animal sacrifices which do not. Indeed Jesus’ sacrifice has also been applied to a ‘superior’ heavenly temple too!”

      In contradistinction, the Torah clearly states that all of a person’s sin may be forgiven entirely by virtue of atonement with animals with the often ignored proviso that an animal sacrifice without repentance is worthless. Indeed ample evidence in the Jewish Scriptures, show that repentance alone without blood atonement is sufficient to attain forgiveness and atonement for sin[1]. Moreover, the writers of the New Testament conveniently skip over the fact that there has been at least three time periods in biblical history where no temple or tabernacle has been in existence.

      The first case is in the time period from the time of Cain and Abel leading up to the time of the Exodus.

      The second case is the time period between the destruction of the first temple to the time of the rebuilding of the second temple. The prophet Daniel here provides an insight as to means of obtaining forgiveness and atonement right in a portion of chapter 9 prior to the much maligned and misapplied 70 weeks of Daniel 9 which Christians view as their ultimate proof for Jesus. Daniels prayer at the beginning of chapter nine precedes the revelation of the 70 weeks. Daniel’s prayers provide the context of a previously functioning Temple and a dysfunctional sinning people. The people persist in a willful deviation from G-d’s commandments and ordinances (v5) and G-d’s teachings (lit G-d’s Torah) with the subsequent destruction of Temple and City being a specific reference to a fulfilment of the curses found in the law of Moses (v10, v11, v13) along with the current exile in Babylon.

      The situation and context of Dan 9 serves to prove the point that even with a temple, a continuation in sinful behavior is unacceptable and blood atonement by the use of animals is worthless if not accompanied with true sincere repentance. Moreover, the situation and context of Daniel 9 also underscores the attitude of the Jewish Scriptures in the rejection [2] of the idea of penal substitutionary atonement, where the animal takes instead, the punishment for the sin of the sinner. Rather the focus and the teachings of the Jewish Scriptures for an individual and a community are to repent and keep G-d’s teachings (lit G-d’s Torah), commandments and ordinances (v5). In fact obedience to Torah has always been the desire of G-d and preferable to sacrifices:

      “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Sam 15:22,23)

      Not only are the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 an example of ‘holy’ mathematics gone astray but a chance to perform ‘holy’ theological gymnastics which projects onto Daniel 9 an idea from the New Testament that atonement is ‘finished’ ‘once and for all’ by The Messiah who does it all for each individual and/ or community and who takes all the punishment for each individual and/ or community too. In light of individual repentance and obedience being preferable to sacrifice, the so called classical verses of Daniel 9 used to prove the idea of Jesus performing the ultimate once and for all substitutionary atonement is eliminated.

      The highly emotional idea of a ‘wonderful does it all savior’ projected onto the ‘old’ testament from the ‘new’ testament serves as a strong delusion for the Christian mind! The strong delusion insists that the program must be completed within the 490 year time-frame mentioned in Daniel 9 by Jesus. The strong delusion also ignores the description of the destruction of the temple and city by the ruler (Dan 9:26), which should be within the 70 weeks or 490 years. According to Christian calculations, half way between the 69th week and the 70th week corresponds with the year 30CE or 33CE. The temple was in fact destroyed in the year 70CE some 40 years after 30CE!! Closer examination shows that the 490 year time-frame is a probationary period which must precede the implementation of God’s program. The probationary period of seventy weeks is a possible opportunity for the people:

      “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sin, and to forgive iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint the most holy place.” V24

      So God’s program continues in Daniel 11 verse 31, where Daniel describes the violation of the sanctuary and G-d’s people using the same terminology that he uses in the passage under discussion (9:26, 27). The violation of the sanctuary and G-d’s people is to take place at the close of the 490 years (Dan 11:31, 32), followed by a refining process (Dan 11:33-35). The refining process represents God’s program for the ultimate expiation of sin and for the salvation of mankind. The refining process by ‘flame, by captivity and by spoil‘, is for ‘many days‘; (verse 33) and continues ‘even to the time of the end‘, (verse 35).

      A further point to consider is if sacrifices are finished why do sacrifices continue in the messianic age? According to New Testament teaching in Hebrews 10, sacrifices are no longer needed since Jesus’ once for all self sacrifice is forever and perfects forever those who accept it [Heb 10:8-14]. Hebrews 10 adds further, that the sacrifice of animals can never take away sins [3]. The messianic age described in Jeremiah 33:14-18 has a messianic figure (David A Branch of Righteousness), a promise fulfilled to Israel and Judah who along with Jerusalem will dwell safely and a Levitical Priesthood offering the sacrifices prescribed by the Torah:

      ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah: ‘In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David A Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth. In those days Judah will be saved, And Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. “For thus says the LORD: ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; ‘nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually.’ ” Jer 33:14-18

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  4. The delusion Menashe as you put it, of a New Testament or covenant, as you are only too well aware, lies not the mind of “Christians” but in the writings of the prophets, in particular Jeremiah 31. We don’t have to go to the book of Hebrews to read about the need of a new and better covenant than that of Moshe, but merely read the words of Jeremiah. The necessity is because National Israel’ as opposed to individual Jews, “broke the covenant, even though I was a husband to them” says the LORD. Again with honest respect Menashe, the dangers that lie ahead for Israel remain unexplained. It is a truth that will not go away. “The fierce anger of the LORD will not turn back until He has performed and until He has accomplished the intent of His heart; In the latter days you will understand this.” – Jeremiah 30:24

    “Let few of you be teachers”, Jacov told the Jews of the time of Yeshua, “as their judgement would be harsher.” How much more does it apply to this generation that stands on the brink.


    • The ‘new’ New Covenant?
      The writers of the New Testament (see Hebrews 10) would have us believe that the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 was fulfilled by Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, or ascension 2000 years ago. The New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 is however, in the future, in a messianic age. During the times of Jesus, there was no House of Israel in existence because Assyria had exiled the Kingdom of Israel more than 700 years earlier (approx. 732 B.C.E.). Moreover, in the first century CE the Jewish people were spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Thus, even the “House of Judah” was not all in the Promised Land during the times of Jesus. The giving of the New Covenant to the “House of Israel and the House of Judah” (v30) is obviously referring to a future event that clearly indicates that Jeremiah is speaking to a restored and fully ingathered people.

      7 Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the uttermost parts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together; a great company shall they return hither.

      Objections that Jeremiah 31 does not point to a yet future messianic age includes an argument that Jer 31:7 above, was fulfilled by the return of the House of Judah from the Babylonian exile. The argument however, goes against a theme often repeated throughout Jeremiah. The theme describes a future return far superior to the exodus from Egypt (see Jer 16:14; 23:7, 8; 31:32). The inferior nature of the return of the House of Judah from the Babylonian exile with that of the exodus from Egypt being expressed by Nehemiah 9:36 below:

      36. Behold, today we are slaves, and the land that You gave our forefathers to eat its fruit and its goodness-behold we are slaves upon it. (Nehemiah 9:36)

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  5. Once again Menashe this prophesy comes and will be fulfilled at a time of great judgement on the Jewish people which you continue to fail to give an explanation for. You of course are at liberty to reject Yeshua who is the only Jew who turned the hearts of the Gentiles (few who truly came to know the God of Israel), towards the God of Israel as the Hebrew prophets proclaimed would happen. You have been called to be a light to the Gentiles. I’m interested how you are fulfilling this call on your life as a Jew since you reject that which the 1st century Jews did in bring the besorah to the goyim.


    • Mark of course there will be a great judgement for the Jewish people. The mechanism for judgement has not changed. Unfortunately, Christianity and the NT propose a new mechanism: believe in a divine messiah that does it all for you. The Torah provides the details of the mechanism for judgement very succinctly.

      Perhaps you could furnish me with what you see as being a light to the Gentiles, when that light has been repeatedly murdered, persecuted and defamed for 2000 years.?


  6. if we looked to chapter 52 – it talks about messiah
    who is the (mebasher) with good tidings but for messiah ?
    the lord said that he will bare his holy arm to reveal his salvation — the salvation is done by the coming messiah – right?
    who is the servant that will be exalted and be high — the messiah
    the whole chapter 52 is talking about messiah
    and the prophecy continue in 53 — ancient rabbis agree with that
    so about what u arguing


  7. thanks menashe – (by the way i like this person in the bible – coz he repent)
    i read the 2 part – i already know that some of the late rabbis wrote that the prophecy is about israel – i dont deny that
    but there is aproblem still — there r older traditions (before rasi with centuries) that illudes this holy prophecy to the messiah – will we just ignore that as if to werent there !?
    in my last comment i asked some questions that i know that late rabbis said thsat it illudes to israel — but there r actually illudes to messiah >
    we both know that all the prophecies of the coming day is 4 messiah – rabbi hiah in talmud baracoth 34b said that all prophecies illudes to him and his salvation
    the problem still there –

    your quotations against mine – who is winning — i think that the older traditions the better is he >> right?


  8. my last comment was in wrong place
    plz respond to the previous comment wich is

    thanks menashe – (by the way i like this person in the bible – coz he repent)
    i read the 2 part – i already know that some of the late rabbis wrote that the prophecy is about israel – i dont deny that
    but there is aproblem still — there r older traditions (before rasi with centuries) that illudes this holy prophecy to the messiah – will we just ignore that as if to werent there !?
    in my last comment i asked some questions that i know that late rabbis said thsat it illudes to israel — but there r actually illudes to messiah >
    we both know that all the prophecies of the coming day is 4 messiah – rabbi hiah in talmud baracoth 34b said that all prophecies illudes to him and his salvation
    the problem still there –

    your quotations against mine – who is winning — i think that the older traditions the better is he >> right?


  9. I have been reading much about the Jewish, I have come to the conclusion that the Tanakh is true, the only Bible to much is different between the Tanakh,and the Christian bible, I was raised Baptist, all my life, I am nearly 60m next month, and have been out of the Christian church for about a year and a half. Pray for me.


  10. Pingback: Lies and Video | Menashe's Blog

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