The Suffering Servant of Isaiah

At the end of the first section of our online Learn to Read the Bible Effectively course students are asked who the prophet Isaiah is talking about in Chapter 53 when he says things like “he was despised and rejected” and “he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows“. The answer expected is that it’s a prophecy of Jesus and his suffering to save others on the cross, however one of the most fascinating aspects of Bible study is that the text will almost always connect to events at the time it was written as well as speaking of God’s grand plan of salvation in Jesus.

Isaiah 53 is like this. The prophet was a contemporary of King Hezekiah (Isa 1:1) and Isaiah’s words in chapters 52 and 53 would have resonated with his immediate audience in Hezekiah’s reign when Jerusalem unexpectedly escaped from an Assyrian siege and King Hezekiah himself recovered from a terrible, disfiguring illness. “Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.” (Isa 52:9)

The section of text from Isa 52:13 to the end of chapter 53 is known as one of Isaiah’s Servant Songs. In this one, the Servant is described as having a marred visage and form (52:14), he is considered to be stricken (53:4) for the transgression of his people (53:8).

The particular hebrew word for stricken is used peculiarly to describe disfiguring skin conditions under the Law of Moses (Leviticus 13 & 14) and shows that the backdrop to this prophecy of Messiah was Hezekiah’s illness and his recovery. Hezekiah’s recovery from a life threatening illness (scholars think it may have been Elephantiasis) meant that he was able to marry and have a son and heir. So Isaiah says “he who was cut off out of the land of the living…shall see his seed” (Isa 53:8,10).

There is a further connection however, revealed by the Apostle Paul when he said that Christ “rose again the third day according to the scriptures” 1 Cor 15:4. Where do the scriptures predict that Christ would rise the 3rd day? Well, we find that when Hezekiah had been healed he went up to the House of the Lord “on the third day” (2 Kings 20:8). Here then the scriptures predict, through the experiences of King Hezekiah, that the greater Servant of the LORD, Jesus himself, would rise again the 3rd day.

What grace is given to us that “by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous” (Isa 53:11). As Hezekiah bore his terrible disease, in effect as a symbol of the wrongdoing of his people, Jesus Christ also bears our iniquities, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

We think the Bible and its story-line centred in Jesus is the most wonderful thing.  We would love to learn with you and enrich your appreciation of the Scriptures, whatever your current level of knowledge!  We provide remote learning courses and materials so that you can read, study and enjoy the Bible at your own pace.  Please take a look at them here.

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