Isaiah 52.13 – 53.12: The servant.
One of the most difficult and contested passages in the Bible, these fifteen verses have attracted an enormous amount of attention from ancient, medieval, and modern scholars. In particular the identity of the servant is vigorously debated. Although the servant is spoken of as an individual, the reference may well be to the collective nation (or the remnant).
Thus, many argue that the servant symbolises the entire Jewish people. The passage, then, describes the nation’s unjust tribulations at the hands of the Babylonians (and later oppressors) as well as the nation’s salvific role for the world at large.
Others maintain that the passage describes a pious minority within the Jewish people; the minority suffers as a result of the sins committed by the nation at large. (Bolstering these interpretations is the fact that the term “servant” in Deutero-Isaiah generally refers to the nation as a whole or an idealised representation of the nation; cf. 42.1-9n; 42.18-22 nn; 49.1-13 n.). Other scholars argue that the servant in this passage is a specific individual (cf. 50.4-11n.). Targum and various midrashim identify the servant as the Messiah but this suggestion is unlikely, since nowhere else does Deutero-Isaiah refer to the Messiah, and the absence of a belief in an individual Messiah is one of the hallmarks of Deutero-Isaiah’s outlook (in contrast to that of First Isaiah).
Because of marked similarities between the language describing the servant and Jeremiah’s description of himself (see Jer. 10.18-24; 11.19), Saadia Gaon argued that the text refers to Jeremiah, while the Talmud (b. Sot. 14a) records the opinion that it describes Moses. Both opinions have been echoed by modern scholars. On the other hand, equally impressive parallels between the servant and First Isaiah can be observed (see ch 6). Furthermore, many passages in Deutero-Isaiah view the prophet Jeremiah as a model for the nation as a whole without equating the nation and that prophet.
Christians have argued that this passage in facts predicts the coming of Jesus. Medieval rabbinic commentators devoted considerable attention to refuting this interpretation. The passage is deeply allusive, drawing on the texts from Jeremiah and Isaiah noted above and also on Isa. 1.5-6; 2.12-14; 11.1-10; Ps. 91.15-16.
~ Extract from The Jewish Study Bible p. 872 ~
The Jewish Publication Society TANAKH translation produced by a committee of esteemed biblical scholars and rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism movements. A translation from the Masoretic (Hebrew) text of the Scriptures.