Ok, let’s preface this because now I realize people might get mad. You see, in my reread through the Bible, I was paying attention to the identity of the “Servant” in Isaiah, and it seemed pretty obvious to me it was a reference to Israel. I couldn’t wrap my mind around this thought, though, with Isaiah 53. That is, until I continued reading to Lamentations – more on that in a second. I had looked nothing up about this conclusion except about three minutes before I started typing these words, and I realize there is a lot of fuss about it. So, let me make something clear: I believe that Isaiah 53 has its ultimate fulfilment in Jesus as most of the New Testament writers teach. I don’t have any intention of changing my mind on that.
Now, that being said, let’s have some fun.
I highlighted multiple instances where the expression “servant” refers to Israel as I read through Isaiah.
But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend, You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, And called from its remotest parts And said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you.’Isaiah 41:8–9
But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, And Israel, whom I have chosen…Isaiah 44:1
Remember these things, O Jacob, And Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant, O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me.Isaiah 44:21
For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me.Isaiah 45:4
He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory.”Isaiah 49:3
Undoubtedly, the servant refers to Israel in the above texts. You’ll notice that sometimes the word “servant” starts with a capital “S” sometimes, while in other cases, the translators used a lowercase “s.” This is an example of how translation is also interpretation.
So, when one reads the Suffering Servant passage, how could they see that as being anyone or anything but Jesus? That’s where Lamentations comes in.
Our fathers sinned, and are no more; It is we who have borne their iniquities.Lamentations 5:7
The fathers sinned, but it was individuals like Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel who lived in exile for forty years. They experienced slavery, oppression, and even persecution on behalf of Israel. Thus, the Suffering Servant has certain applications to the righteous remnant, but it finds its fulfillment in Jesus because He is the One who died for sins in a way no other could.
This is where it gets interesting.
After Jesus raised Lazarus, the leaders of the Jews got together to see what they could do about Jesus, and the High Priest that year said something that should catch our attention:
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.”John 11:49–50
There were high tensions between Jerusalem and Rome because of the various insurrectionists like those Jesus died among. Jesus’ death then could almost be seen as a sacrifice made to Rome on behalf of the Jewish people. Jesus’ crucifixion was an offering made by the Jewish leaders to pacify Rome and show that the Jewish consensus concerning their relationship was peace and servitude. In shouting “we have no king but Ceaser,” they demonstrated their loyalty to Rome while rejecting Jesus.
Jesus, then suffered the ultimate exile on behalf of the people, but God, through Jesus’ resurrection, condemned their actions, their scapegoating of Jesus, and their feigned solidarity with Rome while, He was initiating an Exodus from the city which they themselves doomed for destruction while trying to avoid destruction.
Anyways, I found the passage from Lamentations enlightening. I hope you enjoyed it too.
Note: This wouldn’t be the only time New Testament authors drew upon a context that was initially about Israel. See Hosea 11:1 for instance.