Servant Song

Isaiah 53

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

53 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression[a] and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.[b]
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes[c] his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life[d] and be satisfied;[e]
by his knowledge[f] my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,[g]
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,[h]
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.


  1.  Or From arrest
  2.  Or generation considered / that he was cut off from the land of the living, / that he was punished for the transgression of my people?
  3.  Hebrew though you make
  4.  Dead Sea Scrolls (see also Septuagint); Masoretic Text does not have the light of life.
  5.  Or (with Masoretic Text) 11 He will see the fruit of his suffering / and will be satisfied
  6.  Or by knowledge of him
  7.  Or many
  8.  Or numerous

File:Paris cimetière Montparnasse780.JPGI cannot interpret this for you. I wish to do something more, and less: to react to it.

Parts of it are so familiar: “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”, I would say; and we like sheep– doesn’t everyone? I note that while my Isaiah quote from Sunday was in the first person, this is in the third: though the suffering is similar, this is a man whose sandals the prophet would hardly dare to untie.

I look at prophecy as about human beings, rather than divinity, and about earthly events rather than an unearthly spiritual realm. There is the penal substitution theory of Easter, that God demands a sacrifice for sin, and provides the Son to be that sacrifice. This contradicts “I desire mercy not sacrifice”, Hosea 6:6 which Jesus quotes in Matthew 12:7, and the story of Abraham and Isaac: it is not a sacrifice if you burn what you find. This Isaiah passage may be read along with that theory, but I do not think it supports it.

Isaiah realises that if there is a new paradigm, a new way of being, it will appear to everyone else like something crazy- or we would all be doing it. There is nothing in the Servant’s appearance that we should desire him, because we do not have eyes to see. So we despise him.

So he was pierced for our iniquities. There is no mention, here, of sacrifice. The Lord makes the Servant’s life an offering for sin, but an offering to whom? It is an offering to us, just as God offered the ram to Abraham. The punishment brings us peace because it is catharsis: we see the horror, and are changed by it. The change is in us, and not in God.

He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, but he did not open his mouth, leave alone give more active resistance. He has done no wrong, and that is what we cannot bear about him.

In verse 12, I prefer the footnotes: I will give him a portion among the many, and he will divide the spoils with the numerous. The sacrifice is for everyone. All may learn the lesson of non-violence that it teaches.

After he has suffered he will see and be satisfied. I give this a naturalistic interpretation too. On the Cross, It is finished. The work has been done. So I am left with no description of Resurrection at all, apart from in the hearts of those who have knowledge of Him.

This is my 600th post.

8 thoughts on “Servant Song

  1. Isaiah 53 was written for Christ, and for people like me, hated by an unregenerate world. Later this year, when I have my mandibular advancement surgery (for sleep apnea), I’ll offer the pain up to God. It’s the least I can do.


      • That’s actually a phrase I heard from an old priest some years ago. “Offer it up to God,” he used to say. The idea is that one can “let go” of one’s pain and resentments by “giving” them to God. It suggests a willingness to suffer for God.


        • Yes. I suppose it makes sense. You have the pain, or difficulty, and you accept it, and make something good of it. I have heard it from Catholics before, but it is not the kind of thing the evangelical right would come out with. That crack about me craving God’s mercy for pretending to be a woman is far more their line.

          This persona is not big enough for you. I read that strip-cartoon tract you linked to, the kind of thing “Pastor Cal” might inflict on his victims, and thought, Yuck. It is vile on so many levels. And the cartoon of the campaigning “sodomite” wasting away was his thing too. And then you come out with something more sane, like your article on debt. I really think you should have a blog of your own, to say whatever you think, and use Cal only for the jokes. And I am sure you could come up with other joke personae.


  2. Congratulations on your 600th post, Clare. I found this post fascinating. I think you’re probably right about the paradigm shift of which Isaiah speaks. True of most paradigm shifts – one has to change one’s consciousness in order to see/feel it.


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