Isaiah 53 Study Notes


53:1 The speakers of these verses (we) are likely the prophet and the community that he represents. The arm of the Lord refers to his victorious power, ironically revealed through a suffering servant. This verse is quoted in Jn 12:38 and Rm 10:16.

53:2-3 A young plant growing up in dry ground would be withered, thus providing an appropriate image of the man of suffering. Just like a withered plant is uprooted and thrown away, so the suffering servant was rejected by men.

53:4-6 For the first time the reader learns that the servant suffered on behalf of others. Even so, people did not recognize it, and he was rejected as one struck down by God for his own supposed sins. Verse 4 is quoted in Mt 8:17.

53:7 Though not suffering for his own sins, the servant suffered silently and willingly. Philip used this passage to tell the Ethiopian eunuch the good news about Jesus, who silently bore his crucifixion (Ac 8:31-35; 1Pt 2:22-23).

53:8 For the first time the passage reveals that the servant’s suffering culminated in death.

53:9 The servant died unjustly and was buried as if he were an evil man. The pairing of the wicked with the rich man implies that the wealthy man got his riches by deceit. This may be confirmed by the final statement of the verse that the servant had not spoken deceitfully. Jesus was literally buried by a rich man when he was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Mt 27:57-60).

53:10-11 That God was pleased to crush the servant sounds mean-spirited, but his pleasure is explained by the fact that the servant’s suffering will justify many. What seems harsh will turn out to be gracious. The servant’s pain, suffering, and death will function like a restitution offering (Lv 5:14-6:7; 7:1-10)—a sacrifice offered when there was a “transgression against the sacred things of the Lord” (Tremper Longman, Immanuel in Our Place). The sin of God’s people was such a transgression.

53:12 Returning to the theme at the beginning of the poem (52:13), the suffering of the servant will give way to his exaltation. Jesus’s suffering culminated in the crucifixion but gave way to the resurrection. This verse is quoted in Lk 22:37.