Isaiah 53:1-12

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53:1. Masoretic Text: Who has believed in the thing heard [from] us, and to whom has the arm of YHWH been revealed?

Septuagint: Lord, who has believed the thing heard [from] us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?


The plural first person pronoun (“us”) may be understood as an editorial plural applying to the prophet. Initially, the “thing heard” would have been the message that had been divinely communicated to him and which he then would have proclaimed to the people. The question suggests that the prophet found it hard to understand why comparatively few put faith in the divinely revealed report.

The expression “arm of YHWH” designates YHWH’s might. In the context of the message about the servant, this could relate to the divine power that would be manifested in highly exalting him from a state of humiliation. Only persons who believed the message would perceive the greatness of YHWH’s power. They would have the unshakable conviction that the prophetic message would unerringly be fulfilled.

It is also possible to understand the “arm of YHWH” to be revealed in the miracles and activity of the Messianic servant. Whereas his enemies did not see the “arm of YHWH” or divine power at work in Jesus, persons who put their faith in him did. (Compare John 9:24-38.)

53:2. Masoretic Text: And he will grow up like a young plant before his face and like a root from dry land. No [dignified] form or comeliness does he have, and we shall look at him, and no beauty [is there] that we should desire him.

Septuagint: We announced before him like a male child, like a root in thirsty land. [There] is no form nor glory to him, and we saw him, and no form nor beauty did he have.

The rendering in the Septuagint of the first half of the verse is obscure. Possibly on account of the lack of positive response to the prophet’s proclamation of the message, the announcement is represented as having been made like that of a boy, an announcement that would not be taken seriously. It was like an announcement that appeared as insignificant as what might be expected from a root in dry soil. Another meaning could be that the prophet announced before the appearing of the servant that he would be unassuming like a boy and outwardly unpromising like a root in arid ground.

In its interpretation, the Targum of Isaiah does not represent lowliness and distress as applying to the Messianic servant but focuses on his appealing attributes. The portrayal of the Targum is the opposite of the description in the Hebrew text and the Septuagint. “And the righteous will grow up before him even as budding shoots; and as a tree that sends forth its roots by streams of water, so will the holy generations increase in the land that was in need of him. His appearance will not be that of a common man, nor the fear of him that of an ordinary man; but his countenance will be a holy countenance, so that all who see him will regard him earnestly.”


Based on the reference to the “arm of YHWH” in the previous verse, the antecedent for the third person pronoun (“him”) apparently is YHWH. Before the “face” or the person of YHWH, the servant is represented as sprouting like new growth or a shoot. Alongside a large mature tree, a young plant would appear as insignificant. If the new growth is a mere sucker, it would be regarded as undesirable. From a root in dry and unproductive soil, one would not expect any remarkable growth. Although developments regarding the Messianic servant are depicted as not suggesting anything about a glorious future, he is nevertheless identified as being before or in the presence of YHWH, indicating that he is under direct divine care and guidance.

The prophetic portrayal fits the circumstances relating to the Messianc servant, Jesus of the royal line of David. The royal line was then in obscurity, and Jesus was born into a family of limited means. (Luke 2:22-24; compare Leviticus 12:8.) It appeared that he was just an insignificant shoot and that he had sprouted from a root in dry ground. During the course of his ministry, the prominent members of the nation maligned and misrepresented him. He had no noble standing nor the influence and wealth that are commonly associated with royalty. Lacking the kind of trappings that impress people generally, he had no dignified form or appearance. He was regarded as just a Galilean carpenter, the son of a carpenter. (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3) Not having the outward manifestations of the prominent and powerful members of society, he was looked upon as being neither attractive nor desirable.

53:3. Masoretic Text: [He was] despised and rejected by men, a man of pains and acquainted with sickness, and from whom [there was] the covering of faces, he being despised, and we did not esteem him.

Septuagint: But his form [was] not honorable, being inferior beyond all men, a man being in calamity and knowing [how] to bear infirmity, for his face was turned. He was dishonored and not esteemed.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” precedes “man of pains.” Instead of the participle for “he being despised,” this scroll says, “and we despised him.”

The interpretation of the Targum of Isaiah departs considerably from the wording of the Hebrew text and the Septuagint. “Then will the glory of all the kingdoms be despised and come to an end. They will be infirm and sick even as a man of sorrows and as one destined for sicknesses, and as when the presence of the Shekinah was withdrawn from us, we will be despised and of no account.”


On account of the lowly standing of the Messianic servant and his being maligned and misrepresented, he was looked down upon with contempt and rejected. By reason of what Jesus, the Messianic servant, endured, he proved to be a man subjected to pains or sorrows. Though he personally was sinless, he bore the infirmities of sinful humans in his own body, drawing heavily on his vitality to bring relief to them. His acquaintance with sickness came about through the affliction he observed among the people. When healing them, he appeared as one who took their illnesses upon himself. (Matthew 8:16, 17)

Jesus did not turn away from the people. Because they rejected him, he, however, appeared as one from whom their faces had been covered or concealed. In view of the response of the people, the effect was as if “his face was turned” away from them (LXX). They despised him, looking down on him and accounting him as possessing no honor.

53:4. Masoretic Text: Surely our griefs he has borne, and our pains he carried, and we esteemed him [as] being stricken, being smitten by God, and afflicted.

Septuagint: This one bears our sins and suffers for us, and we accounted him to be in distress and in calamity and in affliction.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” appears after the participle for “stricken.”

Although applying to the Messianic servant, the interpretation in the Targum of Isaiah does not agree with the actual words of either the Hebrew text or the Septuagint. “Then he will pray on behalf of our transgressions, and our iniquities will be pardoned for his sake, though we were accounted smitten, stricken from before YHWH and afflicted.”


Jesus, the Messianic servant, did carry the griefs and pains of the people. He looked compassionately upon them as sheep without a shepherd and brought relief and comfort to the afflicted. As expressed in the Septuagint, he served as a sin bearer. Although himself sinless, he suffered for the sins of the people, making it possible for them to be forgiven of their transgressions on the basis of their faith in him and in what his suffering and dying for them accomplished.

Among the people, Jesus functioned as a lowly servant, unlike the nation’s prominent and influential members who acted like domineering or harsh masters. On account of his outward lowly status and the misrepresentation of the leading members of the nation, the people generally came to have a wrong estimation of him. They viewed him as one who was smitten by God and afflicted instead of as the Messianic servant who did God’s will in a flawless manner.

53:5. Masoretic Text: And he was being pierced for our transgressions and was being crushed for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace [was] upon him, and with his stripes we are being healed.

Septuagint: But he was wounded because of our lawless deeds and made sick because of our sins. The discipline of our peace [came to be] upon him; by his stripe we were healed.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” precedes the Hebrew participle for “being crushed” and also the phrase about “chastisement.”

The interpretation in the Targum of Isaiah continues to avoid any reference to the suffering of the Messianic servant. “But he will build the sanctuary that was polluted because of our transgressions and given up because of our iniquities; and by his teaching will his peace be multiplied upon us, and by our devotion to his words our transgressions will be forgiven us.”


A Roman soldier pierced the side of the crucified Jesus, the Messianic servant. (John 19:34) His death provided the basis for the forgiveness of sins, fulfilling the prophetic words that the servant was pierced or wounded for the transgressions or lawless deeds of the people. The crushing of the servant apparently refers to his being put to death, with his crushing or dying being for the purpose of forgiving iniquities. According to the Septuagint, he was made sick on account of the sins of the people. This suggests that he came to be in a weak state so that he could surrender his life.

On account of being sinners, the people merited discipline or punishment and needed to be restored to a state of peace with God, for they had been alienated from it through their transgressions. The discipline that would result in peace came to rest on Jesus, for he, by his death, paid the penalty that sinners merited.

The crucifixion process to which Jesus was submitted included scourging, and so the stripes or lashes inflicted on him brought healing to those who accepted him and his sacrificial death for them. The forgiveness of sins constituted the healing, for it made those whose sins were pardoned whole, no longer in a ruined state on account of the stain of sin.

53:6. Masoretic Text: All we like sheep have gone astray; we, each man, to his way have turned. And YHWH caused the iniquity of us all to meet him.

Septuagint: All we like sheep have gone astray, [each] man gone astray in his way. And the Lord delivered him up for our sins.


Without the guidance of a shepherd, sheep stray. The Israelites generally disregarded the commands of God, their Shepherd. Like sheep, they strayed from the divinely approved path. All of them, as individuals, chose to follow their own way, rejecting the guidance that YHWH had made available to them.

On account of their sinful state, the people needed to be liberated from it by having their sins forgiven. Therefore, in his great mercy, YHWH caused the full burden of iniquity to meet up with his servant. This meant that the servant became the sin bearer, taking upon himself the full penalty for all the transgressions of sinful humans. The Septuagint rendering indicates that God delivered up his servant to die sacrificially for the sins of the people. According to the Targum of Isaiah, it was “YHWH’s good pleasure to forgive the transgressions of us all” for the sake of the Messianic servant.

53:7. Masoretic Text: He was oppressed and he was afflicted, and he does not open his mouth. Like a lamb is led to the slaughter and like a ewe is silent before her shearers, so he did not open his mouth.

Septuagint: And he, because of being done evil, did not open the mouth. Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb before its shearer [is] silent, so he does not open his mouth.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” is missing before the words rendered “like a ewe.” For the second occurrence of the phrase “he did not open his mouth,” this scroll has a different form of the verb.

In its interpretation, the Targum of Isaiah applies the words to the Messianic servant but presents a significance that departs from the wording of the Hebrew text and the Septuagint. “He was praying, and he was answered, and before he opened his mouth he was accepted. The mighty ones of the peoples he will deliver up like a lamb to the slaughter, and like a ewe that before her shearers is silent, and there will be none before him opening his mouth or speaking a word.”


Jesus, the Messianic servant, experienced ill treatment. He endured oppressive suffering and affliction or distress. Whereas he had brought relief to many who were afflicted, he became the object of hostility. His good deeds were repaid with evil. Prior to his crucifixion he was reviled, taunted, and abused and then led off to the place of execution. (Matthew 27:27-31; Luke 22:63-65, 23:11, 26-31; John 19:1-3) Jesus did not open his mouth to utter bitter complaint or to call down evil on anyone. Without offering any resistance and by enduring patiently, he proved to be like a silent sheep being led to slaughter or like a silent ewe that is being sheared. (Acts 8:32-35; 1 Peter 2:23)

53:8. Masoretic Text: By restraint and judgment he was taken away. And as for his generation, who considered? For he was cut off from the land of the living. A stroke [fell] on him for the transgression of my people.

Septuagint: In the humiliation, his judgment was taken away. Who will relate his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth. He was led into death because of the lawlessness of my people.

Instead of the noun for “stroke,” the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah has a form of the verb that may be rendered “he was struck.”

The Targum of Isaiah represents Israel in the afflicted state and the servant as the one who effects deliverance. “Out of chastisements and out of punishment he will bring our exiles near. And the wondrous things that will be wrought for us in his day, who will be able to recount? For he will take away the dominion of the peoples from the land of Israel, and the sins that my people sinned he will transfer to them.” Again, this is not a meaning that can be drawn from the Hebrew text nor from the Septuagint rendering.


His being taken away “by restraint,” oppression, or compulsion could refer to his being seized or arrested. Upon having judgment pronounced against him, he was taken away to be executed. The “generation” could refer to his contemporaries who gave no consideration to what happened to him. A number of translators, although making an application to the contemporaries, word the question differently. “Yet who of his generation protested?” (NTIV) “Who among those who were living at that time could have understood those things?” (NIRV) Other translators represent the question as applying to the destiny, offspring or the future of the servant. “And who can speak of his descendants?” (NIV) “Who would have thought any more of his destiny?” (NAB) “No one believed that he would still have a future.” (Niemand glaubte, dass er noch eine Zukunft haben würde. [German, Hoffnung für alle])

By being put to death, the servant was “cut off from the land of the living,” entering into the realm of the dead. The stroke denoted the death blow to which he was submitted. Although he was sinless, he died for the transgression of the Israelites, God’s people.

The Septuagint rendering could be understood to mean that, during the course of his being humiliated, abused, or mistreated, he was denied a just judgment. In the case of Jesus, there is no record about any inquiry respecting his ancestry or birth that would have linked him to the royal family of David. So the question could imply that no one recounted any details about his generation. In their renderings of the quoted text of the Septuagint in Acts 8:33, translators often, as in the case of the Hebrew text in Isaiah, interpret the generation to be offspring. “Who will tell of his posterity?” (NAB) “Who will be able to speak of his posterity?” (REB) “How can he have children if his life is snatched away?” (CEV) “He died without children to continue his family.” (NCV)

Like the Hebrew text, the Septuagint indicates that the servant was deprived of his life on earth. The reason he was led to death was because of the lawlessness of God’s people, which may be understood to mean that he would die for their wrongdoing. Another meaning is also possible. The Greek word rendered “because of” is apó and basically means “from.” By being led to death, the servant was taken away from the lawlessness of the people.

53: 9. Masoretic Text: And he will make his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and [there] was no deception in his mouth.

Septuagint: And I will give the wicked instead of his grave and the rich instead of his death, for he did not practice lawlessness nor was deception found in his mouth.

In the phrase about the grave, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) has the third person plural verb, not the third person singular. Instead of the singular “rich man,” this scroll has the plural “rich people,” and instead of “his death,” the scroll reads “his tomb.”

The Targum of Isaiah interprets the text as applying to what the Messianic servant does instead of what happens to him. “And he will deliver the wicked to Gehenna, and those who are rich in possessions that they have obtained by violence to the death of destruction, that those who commit sin may not be established, nor speak deceits with their mouth.”

The Septuagint rendering suggests that God would not let the servant experience going into the grave and dying, but would let the judgment of going prematurely into the grave befall the wicked and a premature death befall the corrupt rich. The reason for this is that the servant did not engage in lawlessness nor was he deceitful in his expressions. Based on the context, the reading of the Hebrew text is to be preferred, for the previous verse is specific in referring to the servant’s death.


As the Messianic servant, Jesus did die among the wicked, for he was crucified with two malefactors. (Luke 23:32) On this basis, one could say that he made his grave with the wicked. Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man, arranged for Jesus to be buried in his own new tomb. (Matthew 27:57-60; John 19:38-41) Whereas Joseph of Arimathea was an upright man, the reference in Isaiah is likely not to be understood as including this aspect, for the wealthy were often unjust and oppressive. Even though Jesus himself was sinless, never having committed any transgressions and never uttering anything of a false or deceitful nature, he appeared as a man who had made his grave with the wicked and his death with the rich. One of the malefactors came to recognize that Jesus was different, reproving the other evildoer when telling him that Jesus had not done anything wrong. (Luke 23:40, 41)

53:10. Masoretic Text: And YHWH delighted to crush him. He made him sick. If you will set his soul as a guilt offering, he will see [his] seed; he will lengthen his days, and the delight of YHWH will prosper in his hand.

Septuagint: And the Lord desires to cleanse him of the blow. If you give [an offering] for sin, your soul will see your seed long-lived, and the Lord desires to take away from the misery of his soul,

The Hebrew verb that is here rendered “you will set his soul” (second person singular) is commonly translated as a third person singular, with “he” replacing “you.” Besides being a second person singular, the form of the verb in the text is also a third person singular in the feminine gender “she will set his soul.” The word “soul” is feminine gender and so it is possible to understand “she will set his soul” to mean “a soul [a person] will set his soul.”

For the Septuagint rendering, the words “from the misery of his soul” are included as part of verse 11. To complete the thought they have been repeated here and part of verse 10 will be repeated for verse 11 to complete the entire sentence.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) says, “and he made him sick.” In this scroll, the conjunction “and” also precedes “he will lengthen his days.”

The Targum of Isaiah interprets this to apply to the Israelite remnant, not the Messianic servant. “And it was YHWH’s good pleasure to refine and to purify the remnant of his people, in order to cleanse their soul from sin. They will look upon the kingdom of their Anointed One; they will multiply sons and daughters; they will prolong days, and those who perform the law of YHWH will prosper in his good pleasure.”


The Hebrew word translated “delight” is not to be understood as meaning that YHWH took pleasure in seeing Jesus, the Messianic servant, suffer. He was pleased with the servant’s willingness to surrender his life and lay the basis for humans to be forgiven of their sins. The reference to crushing the servant and making him sick applies to all the suffering that he endured, terminating in the surrender of his life. According to the Septuagint, God wanted to cleanse the servant from the blow that had been inflicted on him, which may be understood to indicate that he would be restored to life after having been dealt the mortal blow.

The setting of the soul as a guilt offering is commonly understood to apply to what the Messianic servant does. This is evident from the renderings found in numerous translations. “Yet the LORD took thought for his oppressed servant and healed him who had given himself as a sacrifice for sin.” (REB) “If he gives his life as a sin offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his life.” (NJB) “If he made himself an offering for guilt, he might see offspring and have long life.” (Tanakh)

If the Hebrew word for “set” is considered to be a second person singular verb, God could be understood to set the soul of the servant as a guilt offering, constituting him the means for the forgiveness of sins. “The LORD decided his servant would suffer as a sacrifice to take away the sin and guilt of others.” (CEV) “The LORD made his life a penalty offering, but he will still see his descendants and live a long life.” (NCV)

Although the servant’s life or soul is offered up for sinful humans, he was to be restored to life, for only then would he be able to see “seed” or offspring. This “seed” would include all whose sins had been covered and been reconciled to God as beloved children. As these “children” would come into being on account of what the servant had done by sacrificing his life for them, they would be his “seed,” for they received their newness of life from him. The Messianic servant’s life would be prolonged by reason of his having his life restored.

Through the “hand” or the agency of the Messianic servant, YHWH’s delight, good pleasure, will, or purpose would prosper or be brought to a successful conclusion. In this context, his good pleasure primarily related to making it possible for humans to be forgiven of their sins and to gain an acceptable standing before him.

The Septuagint rendering represents God as the one who desires to cleanse or restore his servant from the mortal blow that had been dealt to him. This could be understood to refer to removing the deadly effect of that blow by bringing him back to life.

The Septuagint translator used the second person plural (“if you give”) and then continued with the thought that the result of giving for a sin offering would be to be able to see “seed” or offspring living a long time. This could be understood to mean that the second person plural would apply to anyone who might present a sin offering.

53:11. Masoretic Text: From the travail of his soul, he will see; he will be satisfied. By his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant, will make many righteous, and he will bear their iniquities.

Septuagint: …and the Lord desires to take away from the misery of his soul, to show him the light and to form [him] for understanding, to make the righteous one righteous, serving the many well, and he himself will bear their sins.

To complete the sentence, part of verse 10 has been repeated for the Septuagint rendering.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) includes the word “light” as the object of the servant’s seeing, and the conjunction “and” then follows. In this scroll, the conjunction “and” also precedes “by his knowledge.”

The interpretation of the Targum of Isaiah continues to focus on what the servant will do for the people. “From the subjection of the peoples he will deliver their soul. They will look upon the punishment of those who hate them. They will be satisfied with the spoil of their kings. By his wisdom he will justify the just, in order to subject many to the law, and for their transgressions he will make intercession.


Based on the reading of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the servant would see “light,” indicating that his suffering had a bright prospect in view. On account of having carried out YHWH’s purpose for him, he would be satisfied. Through the knowledge he would impart, the Messianic servant, the righteous one, would justify or make many humans righteous. Those who responded to his teaching and accepted the surrender of his soul or life as being for them would be the many who are accounted righteous, forgiven of their sins, and reconciled to God as beloved children. Jesus, as the Messianic servant, accomplished everything in his role as a teacher and a sin bearer, taking upon himself the iniquities of humans and the condemnation to which their transgressions would have led.

The Septuagint rendering indicates that it was God’s will to remove the misery the servant endured, which would signify that the suffering would be temporary and that the servant would be greatly rewarded for faithfully discharging the commission that had been entrusted to him. After enduring the misery, the servant would be shown the light or come to enjoy a bright future. Through his distress, the servant would be formed for understanding, coming to experience in his own person what it meant to suffer and equipping him to fully serve God’s purpose in the future respecting humans. (Compare Hebrews 2:10, 17, 18.) Through the servant, many would come to be accounted as righteous, and he would serve them well as their helper and their sin bearer.

53:12. Masoretic Text: Therefore, I will apportion to him [a share] with the great, and he will apportion the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with transgressors, and he bore the sin of many and interceded for transgressors.

Septuagint: Therefore, he will inherit many and divide the spoils of the strong, because his soul was delivered up to death, and he was reckoned among lawless ones, and he himself bore the sins of many and was delivered up because of their sins.

The Greek of the Septuagint could also be rendered, “he caused many to inherit, and he will divide the spoils of the strong.”

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll), the word for “sin” is plural, and it reads “for their transgressions” (not “for transgressors”).

The Targum of Isaiah is more specific in identifying what YHWH will do for the servant. “I will divide unto him the spoil of many peoples and the riches of strong cities. He will divide the booty, because he delivered his soul unto death, and subjected the rebellious to the law, and he will make intercession for many transgressions, and the rebellious will be forgiven for his sake.”


On account of having fulfilled YHWH’s purpose fully, the servant is portrayed as a conqueror, one who shares with the great ones in the spoils of his triumph and makes distribution to the strong ones or the mighty warriors of his force. In the case of Jesus, the Messianic servant, those who are accounted as righteousness and forgiven of their sins become sharers with him in all that he attained by his conquest through his suffering and death. As the text reveals, his reward as the triumphant one resulted from willingly pouring out his soul or life. He was then reckoned among the lawless, suffering a shameful death like a criminal along with two malefactors. (Luke 23:32) Jesus, the Messianic servant, died as a sin bearer, taking upon himself the transgressions of the many. On the basis of his sacrificial death for them, he intercedes or pleads for them that they may be forgiven of their transgressions. (Compare 1 John 1:7-2:2.)