The Forgotten ‘HE’ of Isaiah 53


(1) Who would believe what we have heard! For whom has the arm of G-d been revealed!
Throughout the Jewish Scriptures, God’s ‘arm’ (זרוע) is synonymous with His agency of strength and omnipotence. Some suggest that the arm of God is Israel. Yet the arm of God clearly redeems Israel. How can this ‘arm’ then be Israel?

Isaiah makes reference to the blindness that comes upon Israel (only for a time however), regarding the identity of their Messiah (Isaiah 6:10). Jewish writer John quotes Isaiah in the Brit Hadasha (New Testament), and declares that Yeshua (Jesus) has fulfilled this prophecy:

John 12:37-38 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?”

In addition, Matthew records that this blindness is brought upon national Israel (not individual Jews), following a national rejection of the Messiahship of Yeshua, attributing the Messianic signs and miracles carried out by Him to the power of Beelzebub (Matthew 12:9-30).

(2) He formerly grew like a sapling or a root from dry ground; he had neither form nor beauty. We saw him, but without a desirable appearance.

The ‘He’ spoken of here must be primarily identified. The imagery given here points us to the Root of Jesse – the lineage of Messiah found in Isaiah 11:1-2, 10. Maimonides in a letter to Rabbi Jacob Alfaumi wrote: “Likewise said Isaiah that He (Messiah) would appear without acknowledging a father or a mother: ‘He grew up before Him as a tender plant and as a root out of dry ground’ etc”.

The Davidic dynasty was to be cut down in judgement like a felled tree, but it was promised to Israel that a new sprout would shoot up from the stump. The Messiah was to be that sprout was He not? Several Hebrew words are used to refer to this undeniably Messianic image. Isaiah 11, which virtually all rabbis agreed refers to the Messiah, uses the words ‘shoot’ (hoter) and ‘branch’ (netzer) to describe the Messianic King. Isaiah 11:10 calls Messiah the ‘Root (shoresh) of Jesse’. Isaiah 53 describes the suffering servant as a root (shoresh) from dry ground, using the very same metaphor and the very same word as Isaiah 11. Is it not fair to suggest that the current testimony of national Israel to date (‘we’ of verse 2) acknowledges nothing in Yeshua, be it greatness, charisma, power or beauty that they had expected to see in the Messiah?

(3) He was despised and rejected of men, a man of pains and accustomed to sickness. As one from whom we would hide our faces, he was despised, and we had no regard for him.
This verse describes the Servant despised and rejected. While this has been a historical theme for the Jewish people, the context is Messianic. While large congregations of Jews came to hear Yeshua (Mark 3:7-9, Luke 4:14-15) and even blessed him as ‘Son of David’ (Matthew 21:9), did not those same crowds later shouted ‘crucify Him, crucify Him’ (Luke 23:21)?

Yeshua was rejected by Israel nationally (Mark 3:22-4:34 and Luke 11:14-12:59). This rejection has not just been for a few hours but for almost 2000 years. This ties perfectly with the fact that Isaiah is describing someone for whom rejection has spanned the ages! Isaiah is looking at the national position of Israel regarding Yeshua as their Messiah.

(4) Indeed, he bore our illnesses and carried our pains – but we regarded him as diseased, stricken by G-d and afflicted.
Messiah Yeshua is the complete atonement for our sins. He embodied each aspect of the Day of Atonement. In Hebrews 4:14 we are told that He is our great High Priest ( who forever lives to intercede for those who are His (Hebrews 7:25). He is also the ‘Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ ( – Revelation 13:8) as a sacrifice for our sins. He is also our scapegoat. It is written in 2 Corinthians 5:21 God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.(

Our sins were laid on Messiah – He bore our sins just as the scapegoat bore the sins of the Israelites. Yeshua was the final sin offering and the scapegoat bearing the sins for all mankind.  As it is written:

Isaiah 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

(5) He was wounded as a result of our transgressions, and crushed as a result of our iniquities. The chastisement upon him was for our benefit; and through his wounds we were healed.
It must be made clear that the redemptive work of Messiah is one of dying and atoning for sin AND dying because of our sins. Both aspects of the salvic work of Messiah are intrinsically tied together. If mankind was without sin there would be no need for a suffering servant.

Yeshua was wounded as a result of our transgressions, exactly as the scriptures declare.

Isaiah 50:6  I gave My back to those who struck Me, And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.

For those who believe that the ‘He’ of Isaiah 53 is Israel, how are we to understand the clear reading of the text: ‘and through his wounds we were healed’?

(6) We have all strayed like sheep, each of us turning his own way, and G-d inflicted upon him the iniquity of us all.

According to the Scriptures we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). And as the Psalmist wrote, if the Lord kept a record of sins, who could stand (Psalm 130:3)? Indeed we can read that the iniquity of all people separates them from God (Isaiah 59:2) and furthermore as Ezekiel wrote, the consequence of sin and iniquity is death (Ezekiel 18:20). Yet God wishes that we should turn from our wicked ways and live (Ezekiel 18:21-23), through the provision that He has provided. If Israel herself is the person identified with in this chapter then logically she must suffer for the iniquity of us all to bring us atonement.

Yet Moses was very clear how to be clean from sin before the holy God of Israel. The prophets never changed or altered this truth. Their ministry was to turn Israel from sin to repentance and to come back under God’s law which included the blood.
Leviticus 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
Could it not be that today this redemption has been fully realised in the propitiatory work of Yeshua?

(7) He was persecuted and afflicted, but he did not open his mouth. Like a sheep being led to the slaughter or a lamb that is silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth.

The person mentioned in this passage suffers silently and willingly. Yet all people, even Israelites, complain when they suffer! Brave Jewish men and women fought in resistance movements against Hitler. Remember the Vilna Ghetto Uprising? Remember the Jewish men who fought on the side of the allies? Can we really say Jewish suffering during the holocaust and during the preceding centuries was done silently and willingly? Yet it is written:

1 Peter 2:21-24 For to this you were called, because Messiah also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.

(8) He was released from captivity and judgment; who could have imagined such a generation? For he was removed from the land of the living; because of my people’s sin they were afflicted.
Some scholars interpret ‘He was removed from the land of the living’, not to mean that the servants life was ‘terminated’, but rather that there is an ‘exile from the land of Israel’. One reason for this is because the Art Scroll version translates the Hebrew word lamoh’ (לָמוֹ) in the plural, shown above as ‘they were (afflicted)’. Yet ‘lamo’ can also be translated in the singular as ‘He was (afflicted)’ as shown in other reputable translations. Thus the Art Scroll Translators have assumed that the ‘He’ spoken of within this verse is national Israel, as opposed to Messiah.

Again from a clear rendering of the text, the prophet speaking is Isaiah, who says the sufferer was punished for the transgression of ‘my people’. Who are the people of Isaiah? Surely this is speaking of Israel. So if the sufferer of Isaiah 53 suffered for Israel, how could the ‘He’ be Israel?
Furthermore the figure of Isaiah 53 dies and is buried according to verses 9. The people of Israel have never died as a whole. They have been out of the land on two occasions and have returned, but they have never ceased to be among the living. Far from failing in His Messiahship, Yeshua died necessarily to fulfil the scriptures, was buried, but rose from the grave. He is alive!

(9) He submitted his grave to evil people; and the wealthy submitted to his executions, for committing no crime, and with no deceit in his mouth.

Most scholars would agree (whether they believe He was the Messiah or not) that Yeshua was wholly Torah obedient. The confusion lies in the anti missionary understanding that to break rabbinical law constitutes breaking of Gods law. Yeshua was accused of breaking the Sabbath by the Pharisee, but in what way did he? By performing miracles of healing on the Sabbath? By Messianic testimony?

The servant of Isaiah 53 is an innocent and guiltless sufferer. Israel is never described as sinless. 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 who had ‘done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth!’.

1 Peter 1:18-19 Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Messiah, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

(10) G-d desired to oppress him and He afflicted him. If his soul would acknowledge guilt, he would see offspring and live long days, and G-d’s purpose would succeed in his hand.

Has the awful treatment of the Jewish people throughout history really been God’s pleasure? If as some Rabbis contend, Isaiah 53 refers to the holocaust, can we really say of Israel’s suffering during that horrible period, pleased the Lord?

The figure described here suffers as an ‘asham’ (אָשָׁם) which is a technical term meaning ‘guilt-offering’, used also in Leviticus chapters 5 & 6. The figure described suffers and dies in order to provide a legal payment for sin so that others can be forgiven, but further more even after death (see verse 8) and His days have been prolonging, He will see His ‘seed’ (zera – זֶרַע).

The scriptures declare that those who believe upon Yeshua as Messiah become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). They become adopted sons and daughters of the living God.

(11) He would see the purpose and be satisfied with his soul’s distress. With his knowledge My servant will cause the masses to be righteous; and he will bear their sins.

What did Abram discover about being made right with the Lord? – If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way.  For the Scriptures tell us:

Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the L-RD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.


When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in G-d who forgives sinners. David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who are declared righteous without working for it:

The principle of righteous imputation parallels that of Adam’s sin. When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, and so death spread to everyone, because all sin.  But there is of course a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. The sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is the Lords wonderful grace and His gift of forgiveness to many through this other Man, Yeshua the Messiah.  And so the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. Truly Yeshua has made the masses righteous through His sprinkling upon them (Isaiah 52:13).

(12) Therefore, I will assign him a portion in public and he will divide the mighty as spoils – in return for having poured out his soul for death and being counted among the wicked, for he bore the sin of the many, and prayed for the wicked.

Psalms 32:1-2  Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Scripture declares there is but one saviour – God Himself (Isaiah 43:11). Salvation is entirely His work, specifically that of King Messiah Yeshua. Because of His work He is promised the nations as His inheritance (Psalm 2:8, 110:1-2). He is the first born, the highest of the kings, of the earth (Psalm 89:27). It was He who was prophesied to suffer and die to pay for our sins and then rise again. He now serves as a Melkizedekian High priest to the nations of the world and applies His blood (so much better that the blood of bulls and goats) to continually cleanse those who believe, through simple childlike faith. May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him (Psalm 72:11).

Date : 30/11/-0001    

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