DOES ISAIAH 53 SPEAK OF JESUS
Much has been written about the passage in Isaiah 53 which speaks of an outstanding servant of the Lord who is afflicted and stricken through the transgressions of the prophets people, Israel. This servant has not deserved any pains or wounds but was wounded because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; and with his stripes we are healed.
Among the ancient Jewish commentators, there is a consensus of opinion regarding these passages. The Aramaic translation ascribed to Rabbi Jonathan ben Uzziel, a disciple of Hittel who lived early in the second century C.E. begins with these words; BEHOLD, MY SERVANT MESSIAH SHALL PROSPER; HE SHALL BE HIGH, AND INCREASE, AND BE EXCEEDINGLY STRONG: AS THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL LOOKED TO HIM THROUGH MANY DAYS, THEIR COUNTENANCE WAS DARKENED AMONG THE PEOPLE, AND THEIR COMPLEXION BEYOND THE SONS OF MEN.
The same interpretation is found in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98b: WHAT IS HIS (the Messiah’s) NAME?..THE RABBI SAID: HIS NAME IS “THE LEPER SCHOLAR” AS IT IS WRITTEN, SURELY HE HATH BORNE OUR GRIEFS, AND CARRIED OUR SORROW:YET WE DID ESTEEM HIM A LEPER, SMITTEN OF GOD, AND AFFLICTED. Although ancient authorities interpreted the fifty-third
chapter of Isaiah as referring to the Messiah, some of the later Rabbis began to interpret the passage as referring to Israel. They knew the older interpretations of the passage referred it to the Messiah, but (probably) because of the pressures of a degenerate medieval Christianity, they wanted to preserve their people from accepting such a faith.
The intentions of the Rabbis were no doubt sincere; however, other prominent Jewish Rabbis and leaders were aware of the inconsistencies in there interpretation of Isaiah 53, and presented a three-fold and justified objection.
First, they pointed out the consensus of ancient opinion. Second, they pointed out that the text is in the singular. Third, they pointed to Isaiah 53… through the transgressions of of my people was he stricken, “saying that “My people” must be Israel for whom the Lord’s servant suffers.
Much to the point is the commentary of the great Jewish educator Herz Homberg (1749-1841), who says:
2 ACCORDING TO THE OPINION OF (Rabbis) RASHI AND IBN EZRA, IT (ISAIAH 53) RELATES TO ISRAEL AND THE END OF THEIR CAPTIVITY…BUT IF SO, WHAT CAN THE MEANING OF THE PASSAGE, “HE WAS WOUNDED FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS ?” WHO WAS WOUNDED ? WHO ARE THE TRANSGRESSORS ? WHO CARRIED THE SICKNESS AND BORE THE PAIN ?
Rabbis try to discredit Isaiah 53 by saying that this prophetic chapter refers to a “Messianic age” or the Jewish people Nevertheless, it does not make since to substitute the words “Messianic age” for “He” since the singular, personal pronoun is used throughout the chapter. And if “He” refers to Israel, whom does “My people”(53:8) refer to ?
Similarly, the passage cannot refer to the Jewish people. Israel has not made atonement for the world… only the Messiah does. The Jewish people are not unblemished.
Israel has not been a silent sufferer (53:7). Hanukkah, for instance, commemorates the rebellion of the Jewish people against the heathen king Atiochus Epiphanes in 165 B.C. Neither were the Jewish people silent sufferers during the six day war of June 1967.
Nor has Israel been without deceit or sin (53:9). The book of Hosea pictures Israel as an unfaithful wife. The history of Israel– from the time she worshiped the golden calf (Exodus 32) while God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments, through her Babylonian captivity is filled with examples of her sin.
The authors of rabbinic literature written to prove that Yeshua (Jesus) is not Messiah will often select certain key words from Isaiah 53 and attempt to prove that these words do not express the kind of experience Yeshua went through. The two Hebrew words they most often use to strongly argue their points are “makov” and “choli” words found in verses three and four. In the Hebrew Publishing Company’s Holy Scriptures these words are translated as “sorrows” and “grief”and “sorrows” (verse four) respectively.
While seeking to prove that Isaiah refers to Israel, the writers point out that these words are more literally translated as “pains” and “disease”–not the kind of pains and diseases Yeshua suffered when crucified, but some long termed illness. According to their logic, some Israelites suffered long-termed illnesses so that others somehow would be blessed. Yeshua, 3
according to these writers, never suffered a long term illness; therefore, He could not be the one referred to by the prophet.
In response, we must make several points: First, God promised Israel that no disease would cling to her if she obeyed Him (Deut. 7:15). But if she disobeyed, her people would suffer disease (Deut. 28:59-60). Nowhere is it stated that the Jewish people, in whole or in part, would be without any deceit (Isaiah 53:9) and still suffer long termed illnesses. This is not part of God’s covenant promise to Israel for obeying the law.
The next point we must make before looking at these two words (“makov” and “choli”) more closely is that no mere man or group of men from Israel could by any amount of sickness or personal suffering redeem the lives of their brethren. This point is made in Psalm 49:8. No one is righteous enough not even Noah, Daniel or Job (Ezekiel 14:20). The suffering servant in Isaiah 53 does atone for the lives of many others. He bears their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11) and sprinkles His blood on many nations (Isaiah 52:15). These two words, bear (nasah) and sprinkle (yazeh) are the same Hebrew words found in Leviticus 16, the chapter on the atonement.
The high priest was to sprinkle the blood of atonement on the alter (Leviticus 16:18). The person in Isaiah 53 provides atonement as a perfect sacrifice–fulfilling Leviticus 16—but He sprinkles all nations… not just Israel !
Yon Kipper (Day of atonement) provides forgiveness of sin annually to those who truly repented and trusted in the work of Israel’s high priest, as long as the Temple and its sacrificial system existed. The Messiah provides forgiveness of sin for all Jew and Gentiles and not just for one year. He is the fulfillment of the high priesthood and Temple sacrificial system which foreshadowed Him. No mortal man could accomplish this; but Yeshua was no mortal man !
One final point regarding the words “makov” and “choli” relates to their usage elsewhere in the Bible as well as to their meaning in Isaiah 53.
The person in Isaiah 53 does not die by disease, but by piercing, (53:5–the word “michalal” in Hebrew). Although many believe that Messiah did not take on our sickness as well as our sins on the tree, others do not agree that these two words (as used in verses three and four) refer to simple physical illness.
“Makov” is used in Exodus 3:7 where it does not refer to pain from illness but to the affliction and burden of slavery: And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters for I know their sorrows.”
We find many other references in the Bible where the word ” makov is used to refer not to physical pain but to the sorrow caused by oppression.
Ecclesiastes 1:18 says, “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth sorrow” Psalm 32:10 speaks of the woes that the wicked must endure. The word for “woes” here as well as the word for “sorrow” in Ecclesiastes is “makov”. Other examples of this word being used where it does not refer to physical pain can be seen in Jeremiah 30:15 and Lamentations 1:18
Lets now look at the word “choli”. Sometimes it does refer to physical disease but to the heaviness and grief resulting from man’s separation for God. In Ecclesiastes 6:2 we read, A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth and honor, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.” The word for “evil disease” here is “choli”
Other examples of where “choli” is used to express man’s spiritual dilemma can be seen in Jeremiah 6:7 and 10:19 among others. According to Isaiah 53:3, Messiah knew about the sufferings of men. He acquainted with their sufferings physically, of course, but primarily spiritually. Isaiah is not trying to say that this person was a sick man when he says, “He was acquainted with grief.” He was burdened with our burdens and felt and experienced our sufferings. This did not occur only during the Messiah’s crucifixion, but all during His ministry. He wept over Jerusalem and over the sheep without a shepherd. He felt the full weight of mankind’s spiritual dilemma. This is the real meaning of the phrase, “Surely he hath borne griefs inflicted by us, and suffered sorrows we have caused.”
We know that the main point of Isaiah 53 is that this person took on only the consequences of our transgressions and sins,but our transgressions and sins themselves !
There is a final proof which clearly shows that Isaiah 53 must refer to Messiah and not Israel, and to a Messiah who is the 5
Divine Saviour of all people. This proof involves a word which is the very title and definition of the person described. It is contained in the first verse and is confirmed, as we shall see, in the twelfth. The word is “zroah,” meaning arm. It is used to refer to the arm of the Lord, the “zroah adonai” Isaiah 53:1.
There are 37 references to the arm of the Lord in the Tenach These references are not to be taken literally, as if God has an arm like we do. Instead, His right arm always refers to His own Divine person as the source of strength and salvation. He’s involved in creation and redemption. God’s arm, according to the teaching of the Tenach, is very much a part of Himself. We can easily discover this by studying the 37 passages in the Old Testament which speaks of the “zroah adonai”.
Of the passages, seven refer specifically to Israel’s delverance from Egypt. Let us look at some of these references and see what they can teach us about the arm of the Lord:
Job 40:9 teaches us that God’s arm is very special and definitely a part of Him, just as his voice is. Psalm 44:3 shows shows that it is God’s arm, not our power, that brings us victory. In Psalm 77:15, 98:1,Isaiah 51:16, 52:10 (as well as elsewhere) we see that God’s arm is His salvation and our redemption.
Look at Psalm 98: We see that His right arm brings salvation to Israel and to the nations ! In Isaiah 30:30 we find that God’s arm will come down from heaven. Isaiah 40:10-11 show that the arm of the Lord will rule…as a shepherd. Isaiah 52:10 further tells us why God will bring this about: so that all of the ends of the earth can see the salvation of God (“yeshuat adonai.”)
Specific scriptrual reference to the arm of the Lord follow. Those which refer specifically to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt are asterisked.
*Exodus 6:6 “Wherefore, say unto the children of Israel,and I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with grate acts of judgment”; Psalm 44:3 ,98:1, Isaiah 52:10, 53:1, 59:16, Jeremiah 27:5
The rest of the references in the Tenach to the arm of the Lord are Exodus 15:16 * Deuteronomy 4:34, *5:15, 9:29, 11:2, 6
*26:8, 33:27, 1 Kings 8:42, *11 Kings 17:36, 11 Chronicles 6:32 Job 40:9, Psalm 77:15, 89:10, 13, and 21, 136:12, Isaiah 30:30, 33:2
Lets now take a closer look at Isaiah 59:16 God knew that no man was righteous enough to intercede for the sinful men. All of Israel’s intercession could not bring salvation. But God’s own arm could, coming in the form of a man. And this is what He says, And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessior: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him.”
The Hebrew word for “intercession “in this verse is(maphgeah) and it is the same word we find in Isaiah 53:12, “he made intercession for the transgressions.” So Isaiah 59:16 confirms that the arm of the Lord is the spoken of in Isaiah 53. The arm of the Lord is the Messiah and Saviour not the Jewish people or the nation ,of Israel.
Isaiah 63:11 and 12 indicate that God revealed ,Himself to Moses in three ways: from heaven; by His spirit among the people; and by His glorious arm of power. Yeshua Himself said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Study Isaiah 63:11-12 for yourself in any language– including Hebrew- and compare it to Isaiah 53:1 or other verses. It is remarkable passage revealing the triunity of the Godhead in the Tenach.!
In Jeremiah 27:5 and 32:17, we learn that God actually made the heavens and the earth by his outstreched arm, the same which was pierced for our transgressions and interceded for us (Isaiah 53).
We can see that Isaiah 53 speaks of the glorious right arm of God, Yeshua, our Messiah and Saviour Jesus Christ the Son of God. He is sitting at God’s right hand now and providing salvation for all who will put their trust in Him and His atonement. Why is this fact kept from us ? Why, it may be asked, is the prophecy of Isaiah 53 ignored in the Haftorah reading in connection with the Pentateuchal lessons ?
Rabbi Alsheck, in the 16th. century, said that “Our rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet (Isaiah) is speaking of King Messiah. “One of the Thirteen Articles of faith authored by Moses Maimonides in the 12th. century states, “I believe with perfect faith in the comming Messiah.” Jews still beleve this.
The great sufferer of the human race who brings redemption through his vicarious atonement has been fulfilled in Yeshua ha’Mashiach. The truest portrait of the Messiah, wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, is recorded in Isaiah 53.