The Suffering Servant of Isaiah has always been a point of contest between the Jewish and the Christian reading of the Old Testament
One traditional Jewish interpretation is that he is a representative figure, standing for the sufferings of Israel, exiled in Babylon. From my
previous survey of the chapters around these passages, it seems that they might have a point. They could at least be half-right.
Old Testament version
On the other hand, there is also a New Testament dimension to the interpretation of this theme.
It begins with the baptism of Jesus. The voice which Jesus hears (Mark ch1 v11), combines the declarations of Psalm 2 v7 (“my beloved son”) and of
Isaiah ch42 v1; “Behold, my servant whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my Spirit delights”.
This sets up a combined “Son and servant” understanding of Jesus. The first four verses of Isaiah ch42 are also quoted by Matthew as fulfilled by
Jesus (ch12 vv18-21). Paul tells us that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians ch2 v7). Acts frequently calls him
PAIS, as in “they were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus” (ch4 v27). In the Septuagint, I understand, the word PAIS is used to
“servant” and “son”.
When Simeon calls the baby Jesus “a light to the Gentiles”, that is echoing Isaiah ch49 v6.
The Servant says “For the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I
shall not be put to shame” (Isaiah ch50 v7). This is echoed in the statement that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke ch9 v51).
But the real clue is the way that the main Suffering Servant song has been built into the New Testament. Taking the key verses;
Ch52 v15 “For that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.”
This is directly quoted by Paul, Romans ch15 v21.
Ch53 v1 “Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
This is directly quoted in John ch12 v38, and also in Romans ch10 v16.
V4 “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
This is quoted in Matthew ch8 v17
Vv5-6 “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his
stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Peter echoes these verses; “He himself bore our sins in his body… that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you were
healed. For you were straying like sheep” (1 Peter ch2 vv24-25).
Paul uses the same idea; “For our sake him made him to be sin who knew no son, that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2
Corinthians ch5 v21).
Vv7-8 These are the verses which were being read by the Ethiopian eunuch, as quoted in Acts;
“As a sheep led to the slaughter, or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who
can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth” (Acts ch8 vv32-33).
The eunuch asks who is meant by these words, and of course Philip responds by teaching him about Jesus.
These verses may also be part of the inspiration behind John’s term “Lamb of God”.
V9 “And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his
Peter says “He committed no sin, no guile was found on his lips” (1 Peter ch2 v22)
V12 “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
Because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sins of many and made intercession for the
Jesus quotes “numbered with the transgressors” as fulfilled in his person (Luke ch22 v37). The same thought is in Paul’s “he was put to death
for our trespasses” (Romans ch4 25). It is the implied basis of the statement that “Christ died for our sons according to the scriptures” (1
Corinthians ch15 v3), which is quoted by Paul as the starting-point of the gospel message handed down by the church.
This is all summed up in the declaration made by Jesus about his own mission;
“The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark ch10 v45).
Jewish and Christian theologians spent much time in the Middle Ages arguing about the application of the “Servant” theme in Isaiah.
It might be better to accept the exiled community of Jacob/Israel, as the initial subject of the address, and then, on the authority of the Holy
Spirit, to add Jesus Christ as the ultimate subject.
edit on 3-4-2020 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)