|Book||Book of Isaiah|
|Bible part||Old Testament|
|Order in the Bible part||23|
He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.— Isaiah 53:8 KJV
It is argued that the "servant" represents the nation of Israel, which would bear excessive iniquities, pogroms, blood libels, anti-judaism, antisemitism and continue to suffer without cause (Isaiah 52:4) on behalf of others (Isaiah 53:7,11–12). Early on, the servant of the Lord is promised to prosper and "be very high". The following evaluation of the Servant by the "many nations, kings", and "we" Isaiah 52:15 is quite negative, though, and bridges over to their self-accusation and repentance after verse 4 ("our"). Then, the Servant is vindicated by God, "because he bared his soul unto death". On the other hand, it is argued that the "servant" in this song might be an individual. And because of the references to sufferings, many Christians believe this song, along with the rest of the servant songs, to be among the Christian-messianic prophecies of Jesus.
The passage survives in a number of autonomous and parallel manuscript traditions, primarily: the Masoretic text that is the most familiar one, the Septuagint text, and the Qumran community's Great Isaiah Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, dated to the 2nd century BCE
Some most ancient manuscripts containing this chapter in Hebrew language:
Ancient translations in Koine Greek:
Much of the meaningfulness of Joseph of Arimathea's role (q.v. for discussion) hinges upon the words of Isaiah 53:9, "And he gave his grave to the wicked, and to the wealthy with his kinds of death, because he committed no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth." (JPR)
The Talmud refers occasionally to Isaiah 53:
Both the Talmud and Midrash apply Is 53 to the sick:
Six things are a good sign for a sick person, namely, sneezing, perspiration, open bowels, seminal emission, sleep and a dream. Sneezing, as it is written: His sneezings flash forth light.15 Perspiration, as it is written, In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.16 Open bowels, as it is written: If lie that is bent down hasteneth to be loosed, he shall not go down dying to the pit.17 Seminal emission, as it is written: Seeing seed, he will prolong his days.18 Sleep, as it is written: I should have slept, then should I have been at rest.19 A dream, as it is written: Thou didst cause me to dream and make me to live.20 (15) Job XLI, 10. (16) Gen. III, 19. (17) Isa. LI, 14. E.V. "He that is bent down shall speedily, etc." (18) Isa. LIII, 10. (19) Job. III, 13. (20) Isa. XXXVIII, 16. V. p. 335, n. 10.
Midrash Rabbah—Genesis XX:10 five things which are a favourable omen for an invalid, viz.: sneezing, perspiring, sleep, a dream, and semen. Sneezing, as it is written, His sneezings flash forth light (Job XLI, 10); sweat: In the Sweat of Thy Face Shalt Thou Eat Bread3; sleep: I had slept: then it were well with me (Job III, 13)4; a dream: Wherefore make me dream [E.V. 'recover Thou me'] and make me live (Isa. XXXVIII, 16); semen: He shall see seed [i.e. semen], and prolong his days (Isa. LIII,10)
The midrashic method of biblical exegesis, is "... going more deeply than the mere literal sense, attempts to penetrate into the spirit of the Scriptures, to examine the text from all sides, and thereby to derive interpretations which are not immediately obvious":
Midrash Rabbah—Exodus XIX:6 In this world, when Israel ate the paschal lamb in Egypt, they did so in haste, as it is said: And thus shall ye eat it, etc. (Ex. XII, 11), For in haste didst thou come forth out of the land of Egypt (Deut. XVI, 3), but in the Messianic era, we are told: For ye shall not go out in haste, neither shall ye go by flight (Isa. LII, 12).
Midrash Rabbah—Numbers XIII:2 Israel exposed (he'eru) their souls to death in exile-as you read, Because he bared (he'era) his soul unto death (Isa. LIII, 12)- and busied themselves with the Torah which is sweeter than honey, the Holy One, blessed be He, will therefore in the hereafter give them to drink of the wine that is preserved in its grapes since the six days of Creation, and will let them bathe in rivers of milk.
Midrash Rabbah—Ruth V:6 6. And Boaz said unto her at meal time: come hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar. And she sat beside the reapers; and they reached her parched corn, and she did eat and was satisfied and left thereof (II, 14). R. Jonathan interpreted this verse in six ways. The first refers it to David.... The fifth interpretation makes it refer to the Messiah. Come hither: approach to royal state. And eat of the bread refers to the bread of royalty; And dip thy morsel in the vinegar refers to his sufferings, as it is said, But he was wounded because of our transgressions (Isa. LIII, 5).
"The Lord trieth the righteous" (Ps. XI, 5). For what reason? Said R. Simeon: "Because when God finds delight in the righteous, He brings upon them sufferings, as it is written: 'Yet it pleased the Lord to crush him by disease'" (Is. LIII, 10), as explained elsewhere. God finds delight in the soul but not in the body, as the soul resembles the supernal soul, whereas the body is not worthy to be allied to the supernal essences, although the image of the body is part of the supernal symbolism.
Observe that when God takes delight in the soul of a man, He afflicts the body in order that the soul may gain full freedom. For so long as the soul is together with the body it cannot exercise its full powers, but only when the body is broken and crushed. Again, "He trieth the righteous", so as to make them firm like "a tried stone", the "costly corner-stone" mentioned by the prophet (Is. XXVIII, 16).
R. Simeon further discoursed on the text: Behold, My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high (Is. LII, 13). "Happy is the portion of the righteous", he said, "to whom the Holy One reveals the ways of the Torah that they may walk in them."
Observe the Scriptural text: "And Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah" (Gen. xxv, 1). Herein is an allusion to the soul which after death comes to earth to be built up as before. Observe that of the body it is written: "And it pleased the Lord to crush him by disease; to see if his soul would offer itself in restitution, that he might see his seed, and prolong his days, and that the purpose of the Lord might prosper by his hand." (Is. LIII, 10). That is to say, if the soul desires to be rehabilitated then he must see seed, for the soul hovers round about and is ready to enter the seed of procreation, and thus "he will prolong his days, and the purpose of the Lord", namely the Torah, "will prosper in his hand". For although a man labours in the Torah day and night, yet if his source remains fruitless, he will find no place by which to enter within the Heavenly curtain.
R. Simeon quoted here the verse: "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, because they were not" (Jer. XXXI, I5). 'The Community of Israel is called "Rachel", as it says, "As a sheep (rahel) before her shearers is dumb" (Isa. LIII, 7). Why dumb? Because when other nations rule over her the voice departs from her and she becomes dumb. "Ramah"
When the Messiah hears of the great suffering of Israel in their dispersion, and of the wicked amongst them who seek not to know their Master, he weeps aloud on account of those wicked ones amongst them, as it is written: "But he was wounded because of our transgression, he was crushed because of our iniquities" (Isa. LIII, 5). The souls then return to their place. The Messiah, on his part, enters a certain Hall in the Garden of Eden, called the Hall of the Afflicted. There he calls for all the diseases and pains and sufferings of Israel, bidding them settle on himself, which they do. And were it not that he thus eases the burden from Israel, taking it on himself, no one could endure the sufferings meted out to Israel in expiation on account of their neglect of the Torah. So Scripture says; "Surely our diseases he did bear," etc. (Isa. LIII, 4). A similar function was performed by R. Eleazar here on earth. For, indeed, beyond number are the chastisements awaiting every man daily for the neglect of the Torah, all of which descended into the world at the time when the Torah was given. As long as Israel were in the Holy Land, by means of the Temple service and sacrifices they averted all evil diseases and afflictions from the world. Now it is the Messiah who is the means of averting them from mankind until the time when a man quits this world and receives his punishment, as already said. When a man's sins are so numerous that he has to pass through the nethermost compartments of Gehinnom in order to receive heavier punishment corresponding to the contamination of his soul, a more intense fire is kindled in order to consume that contamination. The destroying angels make use for this purpose of fiery rods, so as to expel that contamination. Woe to the soul that is subjected to such punishment! Happy are those who guard the precepts of the Torah!
"It has been taught in the name of R. Jose that on this day of Atonement it has been instituted that this portion should be read to atone for Israel in captivity. Hence we learn that if the chastisements of the Lord come upon a man, they are an atonement for his sins, and whoever sorrows for the sufferings of the righteous obtains pardon for his sins. Therefore on this day we read the portion commencing 'after the death of the two sons of Aaron', that the people may hear and lament the loss of the righteous and obtain forgiveness for their sins. For whenever a man so laments and sheds tears for them, God proclaims of him, 'thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin purged' (Isa. Vl, 7). Also he may be assured that his sons will not die in his lifetime, and of him it is written, 'he shall see seed, he shall prolong days (Isa. LIII, 19).'"
When God desires to give healing to the world He smites one righteous man among them with disease and suffering, and through him gives healing to all, as it is written, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities... and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. LIII, 5)
Why is Israel subjected to all nations? In order that the world may be preserved through them.
One of the first claims in the New Testament that Isaiah 53 is a prophecy of Jesus comes from the Book of Acts, in which its author (who is also the author of Luke's Gospel ), describes a scene in which God commands Philip the Evangelist to approach an Ethiopian eunuch who is sitting in a chariot, reading aloud to himself from the Book of Isaiah. The eunuch comments that he does not understand what he is reading and Philip explains to him the teachings of Jesus.
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
This has been the standard Christian interpretation of the passage since Apostolic times.
But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:
“Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our report?"
that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: "He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses."
The earliest known example of a Jew and a Christian debating the meaning of Isaiah 53 is the example from 248 cited by Origen. In Christian church father Origen's Contra Celsus, written in 248, he writes of Isaiah 53:
The discourse between Origen and his Jewish counterpart does not seem to have had any consequences for either party. This was not the case for the majority of centuries that have passed since that time. In Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:24, written in the 700s, a debate about a much less controversial topic results in the arrest of the Jew engaging in the debate.
In 1263 at the Disputation of Barcelona, Nahmanides expressed the Jewish viewpoint of Isaiah 53 and other matters regarding Christian belief about Jesus's role in Hebrew Scripture. The disputation was awarded in his favor by James I of Aragon, and as a result the Dominican Order compelled him to flee from Spain for the remainder of his life. Passages of Talmud were also censored. In a number of other disputations, debate about this passage resulted in forced conversions, deportations, and the burning of Jewish religious texts.
The use of Isaiah 53 in debates between Jews and Christians still often occurs in the context of Christian missionary work among Jews, and the topic is a source of frequent discussion that is often repetitive and heated. Some devout Christians view the use of the Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53 in targeted conversion of Jews as a special act of Christian love and a fulfillment of Jesus Christ's teaching of the Great Commission. The unchanged common view among many Jews today is that Jews are threatened by evangelical Christian organizations which actively target Jews for conversion.
International Jewish counter-missionary organizations, like Outreach Judaism, founded by Rabbi Tovia Singer, or Jews for Judaism, respond directly to the issues raised by missionaries and cults, by exploring Judaism in contradistinction to Christianity and establishing lasting connections between Jewish families and Judaism.