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God is the ultimate cause behind the servant’s suffering (53:12)—it was in His will (Isa 53:10)—but Zion or Jerusalem (who symbolize God’s people) make the servant a “guilt offering.” In ancient Israel, a “guilt offering” was made by someone who had deceived, robbed, defrauded, lied, or swore falsely. In addition to making things right with other people, the Israelites needed to make things right with Yahweh; hence the offering (Lev 5:20–26). Guilt offerings of bulls (or goats) died when offered. So the servant, as the “guilt offering” for God’s people, dies in Isa 53:10. But something miraculous happens: The servant “sees offspring” and “prolongs days.” Both of these things happen in life (e.g., Gen 48:11; Isa 61:9; and Exod 20:12; Deut 4:40; 5:16; 17:20; 25:15; Josh 24:31; All Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) contain the word“light.”


All translations in this article are my own or adapted from the nrsv.


Judg 2:7; Prov 3:1–2). The servant is alive—he is resurrected. Everything in Isa 53:11 also points to resurrection: “he will see light” (compare Isa 9:6; Psa 36:10; 49:20; Job 3:16; 33:28), and “he will be satisfied in his knowledge.” “Because the servant exposed his life to death,” and was resurrected, he was able to “carry the sin of many and intercede for transgressors” (Isa 53:12). It is because of the servant’s death and resurrection that God’s relationship with Israel, and with all of us, is reconciled. Now what man does that sound like? Who was killed in Zion by the Jerusalem priesthood? More than 500 years before Jesus, this was prophesied (Acts 2:14–39).

The servant in Isa 49 may be the second-generation of Israelites living in Babylon. For a discussion of this, see my book The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah (forthcoming, Paternoster Press, 2010).


Renew Now!

Orlinsky, The So-Called “Servant of the Lord” and “Suffering Servant” in Second Isaiah (Vetus Testamentum Sup 14, Leiden: Brill, 1977) and Whybray, Thanksgiving for a Liberated Prophet: An Interpretation of Isaiah Chapter 53 (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Sup 4, Sheffield: Sheffield, 1978).


5 For the full analysis of Isa 49 forward and an identification of all the characters involved, see The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah.

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