Isaiah 53 (A Commentary)


by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler

“Mi heemin lishmuateynu uzroa al-mi niglatah?” “Who has believed our report? To whom is the arm of Adonai revealed?”

These words open the 4th and last of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs”, 4 prophecies describing the “Eved Adonai”, the “Servant of Adonai”, Who suffers and dies.

Iconic rabbinic commentator Rashi interpreted this figure as Israel, suffering because of the evil in the world. The text, however, clearly shows Israel needing and benefitting from what the Servant accomplishes.

Other commentators see the prophet referring to himself; however, Isaiah openly describes himself as being included in the rewards of the Servant’s work.

Instead, to this reader, at least, the most reasonable subject of the passage is the Messiah.

In the opening line, Isaiah marvels at the ironic and unusual way in which Elohim sends His Anointed One; who could or would believe that God’s deliverance would come in such a way?He appears with little fanfare: “a tender shoot” or “a root out of dry ground”. One would need to know what to look for in order to recognize this divine intervention. Messianic prophecy lays out the credentials for the Messiah and the criteria for recognizing Him. Contrary to some, we won’t “just know Him”; we know Messiah because we know the Scriptures. The very fact that God chooses to circumvent our expectations and send the Messiah so discreetly is amazing!

“He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, nor beauty that we should desire Him.” Typically, royal arrivals are accompanied by splendor and pageantry, but, Mashiach’s contains none of those trappings.

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, One from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” The recent royal wedding in the United Kingdom was accompanied with excitement and thrill, with many rushing to attend or watch every possible moment and detail. Messiah’s arrival would carry none of this worldwide acclaim.

The irony of all this is that Mashiach’s arrival carries the ultimate benefit: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our pains. Yet we esteemed Him stricken, struck by God, and afflicted”. The suffering of the Servant Messiah would be seen widely as retribution for some unseen evil conduct.

“But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities. The chastisement for our shalom was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Mashiach Yeshua suffers for our sins, taking the bullet in our place. “Pesha” is a very strong Hebrew word for sin, probably the strongest. The Toraic sacrifices generally qualify by being available for one who sins in ignorance. What, however, if we defiantly reject obedience to the Lord’s Laws? Psalm 103:12 hints that Adonai has a response to these: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions (peshaeynu) from us.” Our passage here makes the same declaration, that Messiah’s death is in payment for these strongest, most defiant of sins, as well as all others. “The chastisement for our shalom was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Shalom and healing with God result from Messiah’s sufferings.

Verse 10 states that Elohim, Himself, is behind the Servant’s suffering! How often throughout history have the Jewish people been blamed for Yeshua’s death! Anti-semitism has claimed this as a basis for justification of unspeakable horrors perpetrated against the Chosen People, but, here, some 700 years before Yeshua’s trial and death, Elohim takes responsibility for what would transpire. Only the sinless, Divine, Messiah could make atonement fulfilling the Toraic requirement for spotless, innocent, blood sacrifice. The 10th verse also describes Yeshua’s sacrifice as an “asham”, a “guilt offering”, a sacrifice also entailing attending payment of damages for the loss incurred by the one against whom the sin has been perpetrated. Messiah’s death pays the complete debt and requirement for restitution for our sins.

The Servant, after dying, is raised anew to life: “He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the will of Adonai will succeed by His hand.”

Verse 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 make many righteous and He will bear their iniquities.” The atonement of Yeshua satisfies the entire desire of Adonai for Justice and punishment- nothing is left to those receiving to pay.

Verse 12: Therefore I will give Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the spoil with the mighty- because He poured out His soul to death, and was counted with “peshaim” (“transgressors”, worst of sinners). For, He bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.” Ultimate rule and honors to the faithful, obedient Messiah/King. Though it seems hard to conceive that God would work this way, the payoff is infinite!

Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.