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Ten Reasons Why Isaiah 53 is not about Israel

Hint: It's actually about the Messiah of Israel.
Ten Reasons Why Isaiah 53 is not about Israel

Hint: It's actually about the Messiah of Israel.


Note: If you are not familiar with Isaiah chapter 53, it is reprinted at the close of this article.

Full Disclosure:  We are Messianic Jews (yes, with Jewish parents) and We believe that Jesus (Yeshua) is the Messiah spoken of in this chapter.

Before we begin, it is important to note that virtually without exception, the earliest written Jewish sources interpret Isaiah 53 with reference to an individual.  (See point #10 below.)


  1. Some Jewish sources will say, “Israel is the Servant” in the book of Isaiah, but that is only partly true.

Those who oppose Yeshua/Jesus as the Messiah will quote a passage like Isaiah 41:8 “But thou, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My friend” to show how Israel is the Servant in the book of Isaiah, and that is partially true.  However, here is the complete truth – did you know that Israel is only one of the servants mentioned in the book of Isaiah. 

There are clearly several servants in the book, for instance:  Someone named Eliakim is called God’s servant (Isaiah 22:20), King David is called God’s Servant (Isaiah 37:35), King Cyrus is called God’s anointed (Isaiah 45:1).  The Messiah is also traditionally looked in classical Judaism as God’s Anointed – Servant, as we shall soon see.

And notice this important fact they will not tell you: In Isaiah 49:5, this unnamed servant has a very important job.  And what is that job?  To bring Israel back to God.

And now the Lord says –he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, (Isaiah 49:5)

So this is proof positive that this servant, in Isaiah 49:5, cannot be Israel.   This same servant is also the one spoken of in Isaiah 53.  His mission is the same there.  To bring Israel back to God.  Isaiah 49:5 and Isaiah 53 – the same servant!

Also notice – why in Isaiah 49:5, it cannot be Israel.   The word “Womb”  בֶּטֶן in Hebrew always means a woman’s womb/belly.  This servant has a body formed in the womb.  Therefore this servant is absolutely not Israel as a whole.

Additionally, ancient Jewish commentators clearly stated that prophecies about the Messiah are in the book of Isaiah. (see point #10)

So Isaiah 53, being about an individual, is not simply a “Christian interpretation” as they say.  Please realize, you are only being told a half-truth when you hear someone say: “Israel is the servant in Isaiah.”


  1. The consistent use of pronouns in the passage makes it clear that the suffering servant is an individual – who is distinct from the Jewish people – to whom Isaiah was speaking.

Throughout the passage, the suffering servant is always referred to in the singular (he, him, himself, and his), while the people of Israel are referred to in the plural (we, us, and our) or simply as “my people.” Thus, the suffering servant cannot be Israel. For example, Isaiah 53:5 states:

But he (the Servant) was wounded because of our (Isaiah’s people – Israel) transgressions, he (the Servant) was crushed because of our (Isaiah’s people – Israel) iniquities: the chastisement of our (Isaiah’s people – Israel) welfare was upon him (the Servant), and with his stripes (the Servant’s stripes) we (Isaiah’s people – Israel) are healed.

This can be seen throughout the chapter as well.  The Servant is clearly an individual and “our” is the people of Isaiah (for Isaiah is writing) – “our” is therefore the people of Israel.

Additionally, look at 52:14:

Just as many were appalled at You—
His appearance was disfigured more than any man, His form more than the sons of men. – Isaiah 52:14

If Israel was who Isaiah had in mind, the ‘you’ here (‘appalled’ or ‘astonished at you’), should have been in the plural.  It’s singular.

What we find is the second person singular, masculine form: ָ( עָלֶיך ae-leh-hah) ‘at you’. The primary meaning, and the one we should take unless ruled out by some other factor, is that the ‘you’ is a man, just as the text states. Reading it literally, with the rest of the phrase, also strengthens this: ‘so disfigured from (a) man was his appearance’ and ‘his form from the sons of man.’

The language certainly presents a person, not a nation, suffering.  Add to this that Israel has been spoken of in the feminine form since Isaiah 51:17 and one is very hard-pressed to think the ‘you’ here is Israel.  It is a male person suffering and beaten to the point of no longer looking like a normal human.


  1. In Isaiah 53, the Servant is ‘uniquely righteous’.

In the book of Isaiah, Israel is God’s dearly loved people; there is no argument on that, God forbid.  However, they are not called a perfect people. Case in point, Isaiah 1:4 says of the nation: “Alas sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity. A brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters!” He then goes on in the same chapter to characterize Judah as Sodom, Jerusalem as a harlot, and the people as those whose hands are stained with blood (verses 10, 15, and 21). What a far cry from the innocent and guiltless sufferer of Isaiah 53:9 who had “done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”

Additionally, the suffering servant is the most righteous person described in Scripture. Why do we say that? Not only is he called a Servant (of God), in Isaiah 53:11, he is called “Tsadeek ahvdee” צַדִּיק עַבְדִּי, or “My righteous servant.” This is the only place in the entire Hebrew Bible where this phrase is used. It certainly is never used of Israel. In addition, neither Abraham, Moses, David, nor any other prophet or ruler was ever called “Tsadeek ahvdee”, or “My righteous servant” in the Hebrew Bible.

No normal human was ever considered righteous on his or her own. (See, for example, Psalm 14:2-3 and Isaiah 64:6.) This suffering servant must, therefore, be someone greater than Abraham, David, or even Moses to be called such a name. It is no wonder that the great majority of rabbis throughout the ages concluded that this righteous servant was none other than the Messiah of Israel. (See point #10)


  1. Isaiah said in verse 10: “It pleased the LORD to bruise him.”

Has the awful treatment of the Jewish people, (contrary, by the way, to the teachings of Jesus’ to love everyone), really been God’s pleasure, as is said of the suffering of the servant in Isaiah 53:10?

If, as some rabbis contend, Isaiah 53 refers to the holocaust, can we really say of Israel’s suffering during that horrible period, “It pleased the LORD to bruise him?” Did God take pleasure with the holocaust?  Yet it makes perfect sense to say that God was pleased to have the Messiah suffer and die as our sin offering to provide us forgiveness and atonement.


  1. The figure described in Isaiah 53 is to atone for his people’s sins.

The Hebrew word used in Isaiah 53:10 for “sin-offering” is “asham,” אָשָׁם which is a term meaning guilt and used of an offering for a sin or trespass.  The exact same Hebrew word is used 27 times in Leviticus, the main book in the Torah about sin/trespass offerings.   Therefore, how can Israel be a sin offering for themselves? 

The guilt offering, or “asham,” was always offered on behalf of or in place of the one who had committed the trespass or sin.  Isaiah 53 describes a sinless and perfect sacrificial lamb who takes upon himself the sins of others so that they might be forgiven. Can anyone really claim that the terrible suffering of the Jewish people, however undeserved and unjust, atones for the sins of the world? Whoever Isaiah 53 speaks of, the figure described suffers and dies in order to provide a legal payment for sin so that others can be forgiven. This cannot be true of the Jewish people as a whole, or of any other mere regular human.


  1. The “asham” אָשָׁם (verse 10) always had to die. Likewise, the suffering servant clearly died.

See Isaiah 53:8, 9, 10, and 12. He was “cut off out of the land of the living,” he had a grave; he was with the rich “in his death;” and he “poured out his soul unto death.” However, Israel as a whole never died. In fact, it is impossible for Israel to ever die, because God promised Israel that she would live forever. (See, for example, Jeremiah 31:35-37.) 


  1. The Jewish people (Israel) were promised that if they obeyed God, they would be greatly blessed, not suffer.

This is the whole basis for Torah.  Only if Israel was disobedient would they suffer or be cursed. This is a specific promise of the Torah. See, for example, Deuteronomy 28:2 “All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God” and then verse 15 “However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:”

If Israel were the righteous servant of Isaiah 53, it would have been impossible for her to have suffered and died under the conditions and in the manner described in this passage.  This is the opposite of what God told them would happen if they were righteous.  So this passage cannot be about Israel being the righteous suffering servant as it would plainly contradict the promises God made to us.


      8. Isaiah 53:1 refers to the suffering servant as “the Arm of the Lord.”

There are 37 references to “the Arm of the Lord” in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Never does that phrase refer to Israel. The Arm of the Lord acts on behalf of Israel, but is never Israel. Among other things, the Arm of the Lord redeems and delivers Israel when Israel is not able to deliver herself. (See, for example, Exodus 6:6, Exodus 15:16, Deuteronomy 4:34, 5:15, 9:29, 26:8, II Kings 17:36, Psalm 44:3, and Ezekiel 20:33-34.) Clearly, the suffering servant, the Arm of the Lord, cannot be Israel.     


      9. It has been said the gentile nations are speaking about Israel’s suffering in Isaiah 53.

Again, upon closer look, this is not possible for several reasons. 

a) The text in Isaiah 52:15 specifically says the goyim (gentile) kings will shut קָפַץ (ka-fats) their mouths because of this servant. It would not then be logical to have them speak one of the longest servant passages in Isaiah after saying this.

b) If kings are speaking – then they had already known about Israel’s sufferings. Yet Isaiah 52:15 tells us, “for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they perceive.” To say that gentiles kings are speaking about Israel’s sufferings in chapter 53, then say they had not known of Israel’s sufferings a few verses before that (in verse 15) makes no sense since they are the ones who caused Israel’s sufferings to begin with.  In other words, if they caused the suffering, then how can it be said in 52:15 they did not know Israel suffered?

c) The Tetragrammaton (יהוה‎ translated into English as all capital letters – LORD), is used four times in Isaiah chapter 53. It is unthinkable that a group of pagan idolatrous kings would use God’s covenant name (told to Israel) when speaking in such a passage. If they were speaking, they would certainly have used the Hebrew “Elohim” each time instead.  Elohim, used only once in the entire chapter, is a more general word for God.  The Tetragrammaton יהוה‎ is almost always used in the Hebrew Bible by Jewish speakers, and rarely by gentiles.  In this chapter, it is used several times.  This would make perfect sense if Isaiah, who knew the name very well, was the one speaking in chapter 53.


      10. Ancient Jewish interpreters looked at Isaiah 53 as being about the Messiah.

It is true that Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) and some of the later rabbis, though, interpreted the passage as referring to Israel, but they certainly knew that older written Jewish interpretations referred it to as the Messiah. Remember, Rashi lived at a time when a degenerate medieval distortion of Christianity was practiced. He wanted to prevent the Jewish people from accepting such a faith and thus came up with an alternate interpretation. Although his intentions were sincere, other prominent Jewish rabbis and leaders realized the inconsistencies of Rashi’s interpretation.

Moshe Kohen, a 15th-century rabbi in Spain, explains the section:

I am pleased to interpret it, in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah.

Quotes from: Driver, S.R. and Neubauer, A. The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, New York, 1969.

The Aramaic translation of this chapter, ascribed to Rabbi Jonathan ben Uzziel, a disciple of Hillel who lived early in the second century C.E., points to it as about an individual Messiah – though not Jesus.  It begins as follows:

Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: [note: he is quoting Isaiah 53] as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men. (Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 53, ad Iocum)

We find the same interpretation in the Babylonian Talmud:

The Messiah—what is his name?…The Rabbis say, the leprous one; those of the house of Rabbi say, the sick one, as it is said, “Surely he hath borne our sicknesses.” (Sanhedrin 98b) [note: Quoting Isaiah 53]

In the same manner also in a later midrash, the Midrash Tanhuma, parasha Toldot, end of section, it says:

“Who art thou, O great mountain?” (Zechariah 4:7) This refers to the King Messiah. And why does he call him the “great mountain?” Because he is greater than the patriarchs, as it is said, “My servant shall be high, and lifted up, and lofty exceedingly.” (Isaiah 52:13)  He will be higher than Abraham who said, “I raise high my hand unto the Lord” (Gen. 14:22), lifted up above Moses, to whom it is said, “Lift it up into thy bosom” (Numbers 11:12), loftier than the ministering angels, of whom it is written, “Their wheels were lofty and terrible” (Ezekiel 1:18). And out of whom does he come forth? Out of David.

Also, Maimonides relates Isaiah 53 to a Messiah in his Epistle to Yemen. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote,

“And Messiah of Ephraim died there and Israel mourns for him as it is written: ‘He is despised and rejected of men’, and he goes back into hiding, for it says: ‘and we hid, as it were, our faces from him’.” (Quoting Isaiah 53)

For more Rabbinic commentaries about how this passage was looked at as the Messiah click here:

For an Israeli Messianic view and teaching on Isaiah 53 click here:

Final conclusion

To say that Israel is the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 does not look deeply enough into our own Jewish history, nor does it look close enough at the text itself. It is grasping at straws by those who will say anything to prevent Jewish people from coming to Yeshua / Jesus.

The servant is an individual and as Messianic Jews, we believe that Suffering Servant was none other than the Messiah of Israel – Yeshua ha Mashiach  (Jesus the Messiah).

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

13 Behold, My Servant will prosper,
He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.

14 Just as many were appalled at you, So His appearance was marred beyond that of a man,
And His form beyond the sons of mankind.

15 So He will sprinkle many nations,
Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him;
For what they had not been told, they will see,
And what they had not heard, they will understand.

1 Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of dry ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we would look at Him,
Nor an appearance that we would take pleasure in Him.

He was despised and abandoned by men,
A man of great pain and familiar with sickness;
And like one from whom people hide their faces,
He was despised, and we had no regard for Him.

However, it was our sicknesses that He Himself bore,
And our pains that He carried;
Yet we ourselves assumed that He had been afflicted,
Struck down by God, and humiliated.

But He was pierced for our offenses,
He was crushed for our wrongdoings;
The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him,
And by His wounds we are healed.

All of us, like sheep, have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all
To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off from the land of the living
For the wrongdoing of my people, to whom the blow was due?

And His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

10 But it pleased the Lord To crush Him, causing Him grief;
If He renders Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

11 As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
For He will bear their wrongdoings.

12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the plunder with the strong,
Because He poured out His life unto death,
And was counted with wrongdoers;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the wrongdoers.