Part II: Why Isaiah 53 Cannot be Referring to Israel
I can see how someone at first glance might think this could be referring to Israel. However with deeper scrutiny, it becomes clear there is NO WAY THIS COULD REFER TO THE NATION OF ISRAEL AS A WHOLE.
Part One will deal with “Why it cannot be Israel” and Part Two will reveal “Why it is Yeshua.”
1. Why it cannot be Israel
A. Starting with Isaiah 52:9, the prophet writes, “Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” Who has the Lord redeemed, “Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is not the redeemer, but the redeemed.
B. Isaiah 53:5 states, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Clearly this is a reference to one group of people receiving peace for an individual’s suffering. “…the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Again this him takes on the sin of a group.
i. Israel’s role, as defined by Scripture, was to be a blessed nation if she were obedient:
All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you IF YOU OBEY THE LORD YOUR GOD: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. (Deut. 28:2-6)
However, the very same passage teaches that Israel would suffer greatly, not for the sins of others, but for her own, if she did not fully obey the Torah:
However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country…The fruit of your womb will be cursed…You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. The LORD will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. (Deut. 28:15-22)
ii. Israel was called to be a light to nations, not to suffer for the nations. Nowhere in the Torah does it teach that Israel, by her suffering, would redeem the nations. What other Scripture backs this theory? Until Rashi (c. 1040-1105), the dominant rabbinic interpretation was that this was the Messiah, not the people. And there is significant proof, that he only adopted this view later—he earlier believed it was referring to a man.
C. The most powerful proof however would be obvious. “We have sinned!” to quote both Daniel and Isaiah (Is. 42:24, Dan. 9:5). The one suffering in Isaiah 53 is guiltless:
v. 9: …though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.
v. 11 my righteous servant will justify many…
In order for the Lord “to lay upon Him the iniquity of us all” He would have to be perfect. That is why in Leviticus the Lord said that He would never accept a lamb that had any spot, blemish or defect. (Lev. 1:3)
So the question is “Was Israel blameless in the eyes of the Lord?” Let us see what Isaiah has to say elsewhere:
Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. (Is. 1:2-4 )
How can a nation “loaded with guilt” suffer for the nations and be a “guilt offering?” (v. 10)
A few verses down Isaiah makes it clear as to why our people have suffered so much, but it is not because of the sins of the nations. “Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.” (Is 1:5-6) The implication is, “Shuv (Repent) so your suffering will stop!”
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. (Is. 59:2-3)
Rather than saying your righteous suffering has served as an offering for the nations, he says, “your iniquities have separated you from your God.”
Please don’t misunderstand me. I love Israel. I am a Jew. I think Israel is one of the most humane nations on earth, compared to other nations. However, that doesn’t make us guiltless.
D. Verse 8 seems to be saying that the person suffering is suffering for the sins of Israel.
“…for the transgression of my people He was stricken.”
“My people” and “He” could not be the same. It would read like this: “for the transgression of my people were my people stricken.” That makes no sense as they would be suffering for their own sins, whereas in Isaiah 53, the righteous servant suffers for the sins of others. The “He” is the Messiah, Yeshua, who dies for the sins of Israel.