The most well-known and quoted Song of the Servant is the one found in Isaiah chapter 52 verse 13 through to chapter 53 verse 12. The oldest Jewish interpretation of the song, held for many centuries, is that it is Messianic. This is the only view that makes sense when the song is studied in detail, yet it is now most strongly denied by Jewish scholars.1
This song is unique to all other Songs of the Servant in that it is the only one containing Israel’s responsive confession. In all four songs Israel hates and rejects the Servant of Jehovah; however, in this fourth song, communication between God and Israel is restored through the acknowledgement and acceptance of the Servant by the Jewish people.
This song can be seen as having five stanzas:
A. The Servant’s exaltation, v. 13;
B. The Servant’s rejection and suffering, v. 14;
C. The Servant’s ultimate vindication, v. 15.
A. They confess that the report was meant for them, but they did not receive it, v. 1;
B. Jehovah’s Servant was not attractive to them, v. 2;
C. They rejected God’s suffering Servant, v. 3.
A. Their Messiah was personally carrying their griefs and sorrows; not His own, v. 4a;
B. Instead of appreciating this, they thought that His suffering came from God for some atrocious evil that He committed, v. 4b;
C. Confession that the Servant’s sufferings at Calvary were vicarious; for them and for their sins, vv. 5, 6.
A. Israel acknowledges the ‘mock trial’, and marvels at His behaviour under injustice, v. 7;
B. God states why His Servant was rejected by Israel and put to death, v. 8;
C. The Servant is vindicated for His innocence by being given a burial suitable for a sovereign, v. 9.
A. It was God’s purpose to crush His Servant as an offering for sin, v. 10;
B. Prophecy of the Messiah’s resurrection and the many who will be justified through His propitiation, v. 10-11;
C. The Servant will ultimately be satisfied with the results of His sacrifice, by which He bore the sin of many, v. 12.
This section of prophecy has been termed ‘the Gospel in the Old Testament’. The name Isaiah means ‘the salvation of Jehovah’. It is no accident that he was chosen to speak more about God’s salvation than any other Old Testament prophet. In this book we are given details of the sufferings of Christ that are not revealed in any other passage of scripture.
The five stanzas in the Song of the Suffering Servant preview the first five books of the New Testament:
I. Isaiah chapter 52 verses 13-15 present the King of kings before whom other kings stand in awe and silence – The Gospel of Matthew.
II. Isaiah chapter 53 verses 1-3 tell of the lowly Man – unnoticed, unattractive, and despised – The Gospel of Mark.
III. Isaiah chapter 53 verses 4-6 reveal the intense sufferings of the Man who was rejected by the people – The Gospel of Luke.
IV. Isaiah chapter 53 verses 7-9 correspond with the Gospel of John, where the uniqueness of the Son of God is brought out – The Gospel of John.2
V.Isaiah chapter 53 verses 10-12 explain the far-reaching effects the Servant’s death would have on mankind, providing salvation for both Jews and Gentiles – The Acts of the Apostles.3
Each stanza also portrays one of the five Levitical offerings that picture Christ’s suffering:
I. Isaiah chapter 52 verses 13-15 – the Peace Offering, speaking of fellowship and relationship between God and the offerer.4
II. Isaiah chapter 53 verses 1-3 – the Meal Offering, with no blood shed in the sacrifice. It pictures the character and obedience of the perfect Servant – the message of these three verses in the stanza.
III. Isaiah chapter 53 verses 4-6 – the Sin Offering, offered for the sins of the congregation of Israel. This stanza tells of a greater Lamb, who died to take away the sin of the world.
IV. Isaiah chapter 53 verses 7-9 – the Burnt Offering, given voluntarily by the offerer’s desire. The Servant is pictured here as offering Himself voluntarily.
V. Isaiah chapter 53 verses 10-12 – the Trespass Offering. The word translated in verse 10 as ‘offering for sin’ is believed by some Hebrew scholars to be the technical word for ‘trespass offering’. This offering reveals the truths of substitution and restitution.5
Each section of this fifteen-verse poem corresponds to one of the five books of the Torah:
I. Chapter 52 verses 13-15 contain the seed of all that follows, like the book of Genesis. The character described in these verses was dimly pictured by Joseph.
II. Chapter 53 verses 1-3 tell of the deliverer rejected by His own countrymen, foreshadowed by Moses in Exodus.
III. Chapter 53 verses 4-6 unfold in detail the agony of His sufferings as the sacrifice is slain. This links up with Leviticus and the offerings.
IV. Chapter 53 verses 7-9 report His tribulations and the significance of His silence as He is led like a lamb to the slaughter. This most closely connects with the book of Numbers, telling of the trials and testings of the Israelites.6
V. Chapter 53 verses 10-12 sum up the prophecy of the song. Deuteronomy recapitulates Israel’s desert experience, with the Promised Land in sight over Jordan.7
Introduction by Jehovah the Father, 52. 13-15.
Behold: This Hebrew word corresponds to the phrase often stated by the Lord Jesus, ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear’. It is a command to consider closely what follows. There are depths of meaning that a casual reader or hearer will miss.
my Servant: (ebed) a public servant as a king, his ministers or officers. It is one who rules under another. God’s Servant is rightfully a king, yet He submitted Himself to His subjects. They did not understand that He was doing so out of strength, not weakness, and in submission to His Father.
shall deal prudently: (sokhal) 1) to behave wisely, acting skillfully and with intelligence; 2) to prosper. The Lord Jesus would act wisely and intelligently, with resulting prosperity.
he shall be exalted: (room) to be high or lifted up, to triumph. This was fulfilled when the Father exalted Him, Phil. 2. 9-11.
and extolled: (noso) to lift up. This is fulfilled through the believers, as we lift Him up in worship to the Father. We cannot exalt Him any higher than He is, but we can extol Him by our praises.
and be very high: (gabahh) to soar, be lofty, rise or be elevated to a great height. This may look to a future day when all things shall be subdued under His feet, 1 Cor. 15. 24-28; Heb. 2. 5-9.8
As many were astonied: (shomam) primarily, to be silent or dumb; hence, to be amazed, astonished, or even frightened. Note the centurion and those that were with him, Matt. 27. 54.
at thee: Jehovah addresses the Son, referring to this astonishment of those who witnessed the crucifixion.
Note that the past tense is used. When God prophesies a future event, it is the same as already accomplished. God also recounts what no mortal was able to see during the hours of darkness on the cross. He allows us to know His thoughts about what He alone could see.
his visage: (mareh) 1) countenance, appearance; 2) vision – the act of seeing.
was so marred: (shokath) to destroy, spoil, corrupt.
more than any man’s: the appearance of Christ, and possibly also His vision, were destroyed more than any man’s. The Lord Jesus suffered the eternal blackness of darkness, where nothing can be seen, while on the cross.
and his form: (toar) outline, shape, form. It implies ‘a beautiful form’. This was God’s estimate of His Son’s appearance before Calvary. What a contrast to man’s viewpoint – ‘He hath no form nor comeliness’, 53. 2.
So shall he sprinkle many nations: Sprinkle: (nozoh) 1. to leap up, to spring – hence, to leap up in amazement, to startle, to cause to tremble in astonishment. The One who astonished people at His first appearing, v. 14, now astonishes nations by His exaltation at His second coming. They are electrified at the change that has come over Him. This first meaning points our minds to the future when ‘every eye shall see Him’ coming ‘in power and great glory’, Rev. 1. 7. 2. to spurt, to scatter, to sprinkle; the word is used of the sprinkling of blood in sacrifice, Lev. 4. 6, 17; the sprinkling of water for purification, Num. 8. 7; the sprinkling of the anointing oil, Lev. 8. 11, 30; and the splattering of Jezebel’s blood, 2 Kings 9. 33. The act of sprinkling was always done by the priest. If the meaning here is ‘sprinkling’, the Lord Jesus is seen as the High Priest who will cleanse many from every nation by His blood.
Kings shall shut their mouths at him: They will be awed into silence. It is the involuntary effect of His overall impression as He descends from heaven, followed by His heavenly armies, as ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’.
for that which had not been told them shall they see: Like the queen of Sheba after seeing all the glory of Solomon, the world rulers will have to admit, ‘I believed not the words until … mine eyes had seen it; and behold, the half was not told me’, 1 Kgs. 10. 6-7.
And that which they had not heard shall they consider: (hithbonahu) to understand. The astonished viewers of the stupendous glories of the descending Lord will be made to grasp the full significance of what they see. What they see will make clear to them what could never have been expressed in words, Matt. 24. 29, 30.
According to Victor Buksbazen, a converted Jew, the Messianic view was first denied near the end of the 11th Century, when Jewish scholars began to assert that the song spoke of Israel, who suffers innocently for the sins of all nations. This interpretation was the result of a strong reaction against so-called Christians who killed and tortured countless Jews during the Crusades and onward. It was further reactivated by the Nazi holocaust against Jews, which was supported by the Roman Catholics. See Victor Buksbazen, Isaiah’s Messiah, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry Inc, 2002, pp. 8-13.
Only John tells of both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea giving the Lord Jesus a rich man’s burial. Only in John’s Gospel is He called the Lamb of God.
Acts is the New Testament book that outlines the spread of the gospel, and the blessings it brought to Jews and Gentiles.
God’s portion and the priest’s portion of the sacrificed lamb are enjoyed together. In this stanza God expresses His thoughts and feelings of His Servant’s sufferings, communicating these to both His Son and believing Israel.
In this section, the Servant is the substitute that bears others’ iniquities, and He restores fellowship between God and man, adding more than the ‘fifth part thereto’ as required under law, Lev. 6. 4-5.
This stanza has the only mention of the Lamb in the song. The lamb appears more in Numbers than in the other books.
This stanza concludes the path of the Suffering Servant and gives a glimpse of His promised reward in the future.
The cycle of submission in the Godhead: The Father extols the Son, subduing all under His feet; the Holy Spirit extols Him through the believers; the Son puts down all rule, authority, and power, and commits everything back to the Father.