Isaiah 53 is about the Jewish people (the Jewish position):
In Isaiah the words ”my servant Israel/Jacob mean the Jewish people, where Jacob was the name of the son of Isaac which was later changed to Israel. So they say Isaiah 53 which has ” my servant ” 2X is about the Jewish people.
Earliest Jewish Interpretations of Isaiah 53
1.But the earliest Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 53, and also of Isaiah 9, in the Aramaic Targum( 1st century AD ) says it is about the Messiah.
2.ALL the interpretations of Isaiah 53 in the Talmud ( 500 AD ), except for one, say it is about a man, not the Jewish people. One says it is about the Messiah, another about Jeremiah, and so on. And the exception says it is about a righteous remnant of the Jewish people, not all of them.
3.Even today, the Lubavitchers,an Orthodox group,founded in Eastern Europe,that speaks Yiddish,say Isaiah 53 is about the Messiah.
The contrary Jewish position
The modern Jewish argument is that the prophecy begins in Isaiah 52:13 and ends in Isaiah 53:12 ( which is the end of Isaiah 53 ). We have:
1. From Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 52:15 GOD speaks. ( I agree ).
2. From Isaiah 53:1-8 it is the Gentile Nations or non-Jews who are speaking.
3. From Isaiah 53:9-12 it is God again. But the speaker in Isaiah 53:9-12 is Isaiah in other Jewish interpretations.
Jewish interpretation says the servant is innocent and I agree, the text makes that very clear. The detail that ruins the Jewish interpretation is that of Isaiah 53:6,which can be given two different translations.
They both go contrary to Judaism if you accept that Isaiah 53:1-8 is the GENTILES SPEAKING.
IT IS BECAUSE OF THE PHRASE ” TRANSGRESSION OF MY PEOPLE ” THAT OBLIGATORILY ISAIAH 53:1-8 HAS TO BE THE GENTILES SPEAKING IF ONE ACCEPTS THAT THE SERVANT=JEWISH PEOPLE:
I agree that Isaiah 53:1-8 are the words of a man since it has words like:
” Surely he ( Note: the servant ) took our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him…the punishment that brought us peace was upon him….we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us turned his own way. ”
GOD would NOT say ” we all have gone astray. “
Then if it is by Isaiah ( according to Christians ) we have that ” transgression of my people “ in Isaiah 53:8 means ” transgression of my people, of me Isaiah, who are the Jews. “
So that would eliminate the idea that in Isaiah 53 servant= Jewish people since in Isaiah 53 we have ” he had done no violence nor was any deceit in his mouth ” making the servant innocent of transgression.
So that is why they have to say that Isaiah 53:8 is the Gentiles and not Isaiah who is speaking. There the Gentiles say ” trangression of my people” meaning ” trangression of my people, of the non-Jews ( like in the Spanish Inquisition, Russian pogroms, Holocaust, etc ) against the innocent servant ( Jewish people ). ”
The 2 Texts of Isaiah 53:6 in the Jewish Translations
” We all went astray like sheep, we have turned, each one on his way:
1.And the LORD ” inflicted upon him “( Note: the servant= innocent Jewish people )
2.The iniquity of us all. ” ( Note: the persecution of the Jews by us, non-Jews ).
” We all went astray like sheep, we have turned, each one on his way, and the LORD:
1.Accepted his prayers ( Note: the prayers of the servant=Jewish people )
2.For the iniquity of all of us. ”
” THE LORD INFLICTED UPON HIM ( servant= Jewish people ) THE INIQUITIES ( sins, crimes ) OF US ALL. ”
Rabbis it talks at length about the unjust persecution of the Jews by the non-Jews. And they say the servant in Isaiah 53 means the Jewish people and that the servant is innocent ( I agree with the second part ).
The theological problem
The phrase ” the Lord inflicted “ means God punishes the servant even though he is innocent. That is theologically contrary to Judaic theology. In the OT God punishes the Jews when they have been evil, NEVER when they are innocent.
The phrase ” the iniquities of us all “ means, accepting it is the Gentiles speaking, that here the Gentiles are referring to crimes that they commited against the Jews ( the Spanish Inquisition, Russian pogroms, the Holocaust, etc ).
Then, why would God punish the servant ( Jewish people ) for crimes commited by the non-Jews? In Judaic theology he is supposed to punish the non-Jews, the sinners, for their sins, not the innocent part.
Can it apply to Jesus?Where the Servant=Jesus
If one says ” the Lord inflicted upon Jesus the iniquities of us all “ then it is in concord with the atonement, where an innocent man bore the sins of the whole world.
” THE LORD ACCEPTED HIS PRAYER ( the prayer of the servant, Jewish people ) FOR THE INIQUITIES ( sins, crimes ) OF US ALL. ”
Isaiah 53 is a prophecy and it is supposed to obligatorily come true since it is the past tense. There in Isaiah 53:6 we have the passage just quote and in the end of Isaiah 53, Isaiah 53:12 it has ” by his knowledge my SERVANT will justify many and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion with the great….for he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors. ”
So we have the servant=Jewish people. In the past the Jews have been persecuted and attacked: by the Spanish Inquisition, Russian Tsars, German Nazis, Soviet Communists and now by the Islamic terrorists. Never have they as a people directed prayers to God in favor of their persecutors. Never as a people have they ” made intercession for the transgressors “.
No doubt there are some groups of religious Jews who ask for God to make the enemies of the Jews change and see the light but they are a small group, not enough to actually say the constitute ” the people.” On the contrary the prayers have been for justice for the Jewish people, for punishment of the persecutors. In fact during the time of the Nazis, Communists and now the Islamic terrorists, the majority of Jews have been non-religious, and when they do petition God it certainly was not as intercession for their persecutors.
Can it apply to Jesus?
Where the Servant=Jesus
The death of Jesus, for a Christian, was foretold. A just God is NOT going to blame those who took part in it when their judgement comes. It was foretold he would be rejected. God would only judge them on how they reacted to Jesus after the death: did they reconsider his Messianic claims? He would not consider as punishable what Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate, the Jewish crowd that asked for his crucifixion, what the Roman soldiers did. On their judgement he would only consider how they reacted afterwards.
Here what one has in Isaiah 53:6 ( ” the Lord accepted his prayers ( Note: of Jesus ) for the iniquities of us all ” ) and in Isaiah 53:12 ( ” for he ( Note: Jesus )bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors ” ) would apply to Jesus. Why? Because on the cross he said in Luke 23:34: ” Father, forgive them,for they do not know what they are doing. ”
The Jewish Interpretation f Isaiah 53:10
The Jewish translation of Isaiah 53:10 is:
” And the Lord wished to crush HIM, ( My note: where crush the servant= crush the Jewish people )
He made him ill; if his soul would acknowledge guilt,( My Note: if the servant=Jewish people would admit having sinned and repent ) he shall have descendants [or, he shall see progeny], he shall prolong his days, and God’s purpose shall prosper in his hand. ”
The King James Translation
Isaiah 53:10( KJV ):
” Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise HIM ( My Note: meaning the Messiah ); he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an OFFERING for SIN, ( My Note: the Messiah will be a GUILT OFFERING or Offering for Sin ) he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. ”
The analysis of Messiahtruth(a Jewish website) concerning Isaiah 53:10:
” Significant discrepancies exist between the Jewish rendition and that of the KJV.
The portion of the verse that follows the initial declaration about G-d punishing the servant is constructed as a conditional statement, namely, IF (A) THEN (B). In other words, if Condition A is satisfied, then Outcome B will occur. The first significant discrepancy encountered between the two renditions of this verse is in the phrase “… if his soul would acknowledge guilt …” from the Jewish translation, and “… when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin …” from the KJV rendition. The statement in this phrase represents Condition A.
The KJV translation casts the phrase in such a way as to continue with its message of a VICARIOUS ATONEMENT by the SERVANT – a CONCEPT that is ANATHEMIC with respect to the TEACHINGS of the HEBREW BIBLE, wherein it is strictly forbidden. ”
The problem stems from the KJV translation of the Hebrew term ASHAM as an OFFERING for SIN, a word that has TWO distinct applications in the Hebrew Bible.
First, it is used to refer to a GUILT OFFERING brought by a SINNER for the atonement of any one of a number of sins committed with intent (Lev 5:15; Num 6:12).
Second, it is used to refer to a SIN or an INIQUITY committed with INTENT (e.g., Jer 51:5; Pr 14:9). In the correct context of the Hebrew phrase, and being consistent with the teachings of the Hebrew Bible, it is impossible for someone to bring himself or herself as a guilt offering. ”
The Dilemma of saying the Servant=JEWISH PEOPLE HAS TO ACKNOWLEDGE GUILT:
The word asham which means 2 things ” guilt offering “ and ” sin commited with intent “. So Messiahtruth says it has to be the second. To say ” his soul would be a GUILT OFFERING ” is against the OT is true in the sense that humans were never offered ( sacrified ) for guilt or sin. Only sheep and goats.
But that contradicts the idea in Isaiah 53 that the servant is INNOCENT. If that is so, then why acknowledge guilt? Guilty of WHAT? If the servant=Jewish people, according to their interpretation, is being PERSECUTED by the Gentiles. What sins did the servant=Jewish people do to merit it? And if they did and have to repent, then did they not bring punishment upon themselves by the Gentiles? But then that goes against the idea in Isaiah 53 that he is innocent.
It could have been other Sins of which they were Guilty,Minor Sins
I don’t have anything against that idea. It could very well mean that the servant ( Jewish people ) has to repent of sins that in no way merit persecution by the non-Jews ( by the Nazis and Communists for example ). But that still does not solve the problem posed in Isaiah 53:6 by making Isaiah 53:1-8 means it is the Gentiles speaking.
Both Sides regarding Isaiah 53:
Michael Brown,a Jewish believer in Jesus certainly knows the arguments concerning Isaiah 53, he has addressed them in his book Answering Jewish Objectons to Jesus, vol. 3. I just addressed the most important aspects. In his website he answers many details concerning Isaiah 53, though the book is more thorough. The general link to objections is:
It is very, very interesting: it is divided into various Jewish objections to Jesus:
For Isaiah 53:
The homepage is: