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IV. Isaiah 52:13-53: The Song of the Suffering Servant

IV.(C) The Suffering Servant Is the Messiah in Place of Israel

In Isaiah 52:13-15(JPT), God distinguishes the Servant from Israel when He says:
13. Behold My servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and he shall be very high.
14. As many wondered about you[Israel], "How marred his appearance is from that of a man…”
15. So shall he[God’s Servant] cast down[literally “sprinkle”] many nations ; kings shall shut their mouths because of
him

Here in the song, God appears to be addressing “you”, Israel. That’s because Isaiah 52:14-15 analogizes people’s surprised reactions to the audience and Servant, and Isaiah 52 describes Israel as changing from being persecuted to being redeemed, and Isaiah 53 describes the Servant’s suffering and exaltation. Plus, throughout Isaiah 51:17 - 52:12, God addresses "you" as Jerusalem and Zion.

Further, verse 15 speaks of “him”, the Servant, “sprinkling” the nations. That’s because it uses the word “yazzeh”, which is the third-person singular form of the verb “nazah”, meaning “to sprinkle.” In all other 20 times when the Scriptures use the verb “nazah”, it clearly refers to sprinkling a liquid. (Exodus 29:21; Leviticus 4:6,17, 5:9, 6:20(2x), 8:11,30; 14:7,16,27,51 16:14(2x) 16:15,19; Numbers 8:7; 19:4,18,19, 21 ; 2 Kings 9:33; Isaiah 63:3). So by comparing “you”, Israel, to “him”, the Servant, in a single analogy, Isaiah 52:13-15 shows they are 2 distinct entities.

Further, since the singers in Isaiah 53:1-10 are the vessel-bearers of a collective Jerusalem, the Messiah suffers instead of Israel. Isaiah 53:8(JPS) says: “he was cut off from the land of the living Through the sin of my people, who deserved the punishment." This passage uses the Hebrew phrase "nega'lamoh" (for them), so verse 8 more accurately reads: "there was injury for [because of] them." In other words, the Servant was injured because of /for the singer's people Israel.

Isaiah 53:9,11(JPT) says that the Servant "committed no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth." Yet Isaiah does not see Israel as nonviolent or deceitless. Isaiah 48:1,8(JPT) says "Hearken to this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who... make mention of God of Israel, neither in truth nor in righteousness... I knew that you would deal treacherously, and you were called transgressor from the womb." Isaiah 59:2(JPT) says of God's people: "your iniquities were separating between you and between your God." Isaiah 59:4-11(JPT) continues, speaking of everyone collectively: "No one calls sincerely, and no one is judged faithfully; trusting in vanity and speaking lies... their deeds are works of wickedness, and there is a deed of violence in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they hasten to shed innocent blood... We all growl like bears." So in chapters before and after Isaiah 53, Isaiah calls Israel deceitful.

Further, Isaiah 53 compares the Servant to a lamb led to slaughter and speaks of Him as making an "asham," which can mean either made “guilt” or made a sacrificial "guilt offering" (53:7,10). It doesn’t make sense that the Servant would “make guilt” and be rewarded for it. But the context of a lamb led to slaughter and the Servant bearing others’ sins matches the translation that the Servant made a sacrificial guilt offering.

Plus, a guilt offering must be blameless, as Deuteronomy 17:1(JPT) says: ”You shall not sacrifice to the Lord, your God, an ox or a sheep that has in it a blemish or any bad thing, for that is an abomination to the Lord, your God.” So for example, Leviticus 14:4 specifies that the birds used for a certain sacrifice must be “clean.” This goes against Israel acting as an asham, because Isaiah says that Israel’s hands were defiled with blood and its fingers with sin (Isaiah 59:3).

After describing Israel's transgressions in Isaiah 59, Isaiah prophecies that God will wear "garments of vengeance... distress shall come like a river... And a redeemer shall come to Zion, and to those who repent of transgression in Jacob." (59:18-20) In other words, Israel's guilt and distress would continue at least until the Messianic Redeemer came to those who repented in Jacob. So Israel, with its guilt, could not serve as a guilt offering before the Redeemer came. And since the Redeemer is one who gathers Israel, he would not allow a redeemed Israel to be "cut off from the land of the living" like the Servant in Isaiah 53:8.

Even assuming that in the future Israel became blameless and faithful, God would not allow Israel to bear others' sins or be destroyed as an "asham" like the Suffering Servant, since in Deuteronomy 28 and Ezekiel 34, God's covenant was a promise that He would protect Israel if it followed Him. Deuteronomy 28 says:
1. it will be if you obey the Lord, your God, to observe to fulfill all His commandments which I command you this day, the Lord, your God, will place you supreme above all the nations of the earth.
2. And all these blessings will come upon you and cleave to you, if you obey the Lord, your God
7. The Lord will cause your enemies who rise up against you, to be beaten before you; they will come out against you in one direction, but they will flee from you in seven directions.


Likewise, Hosea 5 and Zechariah 13 say that if Israel sought Him, he would call them "my people" again. Likewise, Jeremiah 50:5 predicts that Israel's return to God would include an "everlasting covenant."

The Midrash Tanchuma, a 7th-9th century AD rabbinical commentary, similarly considers the Servant to be a man because it calls him a "man." It records that: <<Rabbi Nachman says: The Word “man” in the passage, “Every man a head of the house of his father” (Num.1,4), refers to the Messiah, the son of David, as it is written, “Behold the man whose name is Zemach” (the Branch) where Jonathan interprets, “Behold the man Messiah” (Zech.6:12); and so it is said, “A man of pains and known to sickness” (Isa. 53:3).>>

Midrash Tanchuma also comments that the words "Behold, My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high" in Isaiah 52:13(JPT) mean that "He was exalted higher than Abraham, and was raised higher than Moses, and was made greater than the archangels."

Thus, the suffering Servant cannot be Moses, since God rejected his request to atone for Israel in Exodus 30-33, and in Numbers 20:12 God said Moses "did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel." The Servant neither refers to the prophet Israiah, nor to a “righteous remnant“ of good Israelites like Isaiah, since Isaiah spoke of everyone including himself when he criticized the Israelites: “No one calls sincerely, and no one is judged faithfully; trusting in vanity and speaking lies, conceiving injustice and begetting wickedness… We all growl like bears”, etc. (Isaiah 59:4,11 -JPT). Plus, Isaiah 53:2 refers to the Servant as a root’s twig (verashoresh) rather than several twigs, just as Isaiah 11 refers to the Messiah as a root’s twig, rather than several twigs. And God continues to addresses his words in Isaiah 48 to “you”, Israel, when the chapter refers to Israel as deceitful, when it describes Israel’s refinement, and when it describes the Servant Israel’s redemption, instead of dividing Israel into an unrighteous Israel and a separate, righteous one (eg. they vs. you).

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