Isaiah 53: The Servant refers not to Israel
<quote> II. Who does Isaiah 53 refer to?
<quote> Before we can discuss intelligently the meaning of this prophecy we must clarify the difference between a Messianic prophecy and a prophecy about the Messiah. Although many think they are the same, they are not. A Messianic prophecy describes what will occur in the Messianic period and what it will look like. This does not mean that the Messiah, himself, is described. For example, Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48 are clearly Messianic. They describe the temple that shall be built, the redistribution of the land and a number of other events. But we do not see any description of the Messiah himself. On the other hand, Isaiah 11 is a Messianic prophecy, that ALSO describes what the Messiah will be like.
So the writer distinguishes between a prophecy about the messianic times, and a prophecy about the Messiah Himself.
<quote> We shall see that Isaiah 53 is a Messianic prophecy of the first type (Ezekiel 40-48) and that there is almost no disagreement among Jewish and Christian scholars as to it's being Messianic. (There are two major exceptions among Jewish commentators, one refers it to the prophet Jeremiah and the other to the King Josiah).
How is it ever possible that the writer says that Isaiah 53 is a prophecy about the messianic times! This would mean that Isaiah 53 says nothing about the Messiah Himself! But this is flatly against the text. How is it ever possible that the writer makes such an obvious error! Read now how much the text of Isaiah 53 says about the Messiah Himself. 3. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. 6 The LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment. He was cut off out of the land of the living. Now when you have read this selection of verses you will agree that Isaiah 53 is clearly describing the Messiah.
<quote> To understand this prophecy is not really difficult. The problem is: how to approach it so that the true meaning of the prophet appears. While a good translation or a knowledge of Hebrew is needed, the ONLY way of understanding the prophecy is by trying to understand the context. What is the context of this passage? You have read it once and seen that it cannot refer to J.
Here 's an error in his statement. He says that it cannot refer to Jesus. But the opposite is proved in the previous parts. Making this prophecy refer to Jesus is well possible. Everything fits well.
<quote> Consider it again. Do you know who is the speaker? The speaker(s) tells us much. Look it over again to see who is speaking. Actually if you noticed there are a number of speakers. Did you notice that the speaker of 52:13 is NOT the speaker of 53:1?
We will go through all the text and consider who is/are the speaker(s).
52:13 Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
The Lord speaks. When speaking about the Servant, He calls Him My Servant. So without doubt here the Lord speaks.
52:14 As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:
There is no indication for a change of speaker. So the Lord speaks here too.
52:15 So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
No change of speaker; the Lord speaks.
53:1 Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
Here one speaks using the word our. He speaks about the LORD in the third person. So here the Lord doesn't speak Himself. There has been a change of speaker. Who will then be the speaker? This verse is a prophecy of Isaiah. So the first person that comes to our mind, who could be the speaker, is Isaiah. He did write and declare many reports. He had a public office. It is well possible that he says that not many believed his reports: "who has believed our report?" He does not say, "who has believed my report", but our report. He speaks in the plural form. So we understand that here speaks a group of people, of whom Isaiah was the spokesman. We assume therefore that the Jews are the speakers here.
53:2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
There is no change of speakers. So the Jews still speak.
53:3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
53:4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
Jews still speaking.
53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
The Jews are still speaking.
53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
53:8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
Jews are still speaking.
53:9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
Jews are speaking.
53:10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
The Jews are speaking here.
53:11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
Here is a change of speaker. The Servant of the Lord is referred to as My Servant. So here the Lord speaks again, as He did in 52:13,14,15.
53:12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
There is no change of speaker. So the Lord keeps speaking here.
<quote> Did you see the change from the singular of 52:13 to the plural of 53:1? It can't be the same person, since the last verses of Isaiah 52 are singular and the first verses of Isaiah 53 are plural. If it is plural it cannot be Isaiah.
Yes, I saw the change from singular in 52:13 (the Lord speaking there) to the plural of 53:1 (the Jews speaking there with Isaiah as their spokesman). Shulman says that since the first verses of 53 are in the plural, it cannot be Isaiah. This is not entirely right. It can be Isaiah, but as included in the group of the Jews. So the Jews are speaking, with Isaiah as their mouth.
<quote> Since it discusses the speakers sins it cannot be G-d.
Agreed. They are the Jews, speaking about their sins.
<quote> Do you notice that verses 10, 11 and 12 do not appear to be spoken by the same persons as 1-9?
No, I do not notice that. The boundary lies not between the verses 1-9 and 10-12, but between 1-10 and 11-12. For in verse 10 the Jews still speak about the LORD in the third person; and the LORD Himself speaks in verse 11. See this:
10 Yet it pleased the LORD (3rd person) to bruise him; he hath put [him] to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see [his] seed, he shall prolong [his] days, and the pleasure of the LORD (3rd person) shall prosper in his hand.
11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, [and] shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many (Servant of the LORD, so "My" is God; God does speak here); for he shall bear their iniquities.
<quote> These facts must be considered to understand the context and the speaker.
Except that also the modifications must be considered. The Lord speaks in 52:13-15 and in 53:11,12. The prophet Isaiah speaks on behalf of a part of the Jews in the remaining verses.
<quote> The main portion of this prophecy is verses 1-9 of chapter 53. Let's look at this passage for a moment and try and see who the speaker is. Verse 1 of 53 has the speaker showing astonishment, it is in the first person plural. Who is astonished in the first verses of Isaiah 53?
Correction: the main portion consist not of verses 1-9, but of the verses 1-10 of chapter 53. So, who is astonished in the first verses of the chapter? The prophets among the Jews are astonished: "who did believe our report". Has then nobody, or very few, believed our report of the suffering Servant of God?
<quote> Who are they astonished at?
According to the verse itself, they are astonished as the people that didn't believe their report. For the text has, Who hath believed our report? This already began in the time of Isaiah. They didn't believe him and his fellow preachers. That is the first and most literal interpretation. Isaiah, as spokesman of other Jewish preachers, says to the bystanders, the Jews: "Who has believed our report?" These bystanders were the Israelites of that time. So apply this 53th chapter to the relation between Jews and Christians is not possible. Isaiah simply says, "nobody believes what I say".
<quote> Let's look at the context. In verse 52:14, we see that many people are astonished at the servant. In verse 15 we see that the kings are taken with shock. According to the context who is astonished: the kings and the people!
Shulman says, let's look at the context. But he wisely skips the nearest context: the first verse itself. This context shows that Isaiah and the other preachers are astonished. They are astonished at why so few believed their report.
What Shulman is going to do now, is that he looks up all astonished people in the context, and says that these are the speakers. He throws all astonished people on one heap, regardless of what they are astonished at. But the Scriptures cannot be explained this way.
To get a good view on what Shulman is doing wrong: here follows the text again.
52:13 Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
52:14 As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:
52:15 So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for [that] which had not been told them shall they see; and [that] which they had not heard shall they consider.
53:1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
According to Shulman the nations and the kings in 52:14 are the same as the people that brought forth the report in 53:1. But this is not possible. For in verse one a preacher speaks whose words and reports were not believed. "Who hath believed our report?" So he spoke to people that did neither accept nor believe it. But verse 15 is about nations to which has not been preached in the past. That's what the text has: which had not been told them, and: which they had not heard.
<quote> Are there other prophets who have described this same type of event? YES!!
<quote> Let's examine a few other Messianic prophecies that relate the same ideas. Micah 7:15-16: 'Just as in the days of your coming out of Egypt, will I show him marvelous things (lit. wonders). The NATIONS shall see and be put to shame for all their might, THEY SHALL PUT THEIR HANDS ON THEIR MOUTHS, their ears shall be deaf.' Here we see again that the nations, when the messianic period comes, will cover their mouths with wonder. What does Isaiah say here? Isaiah 52:15 "... the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for [that] which had not been told them shall they see; and [that] which they had not heard shall they consider." Who is bewildered? Who covers his mouth in wonder? The NATIONS OF THE WORLD. These are the people meant here.
This is true. The nations will be astonished at the things God will do to His people. In the mean time, as already said and proved, it remains impossible that these nations speak also in Isaiah 53. It's true that the nations in Micah 7:15,16 are the same as those in Isaiah 52:15 (the kings shall shut their mouths at him). But they are not the preachers in Isaiah 53:1 (who hath believed our report?). This is what Shulman is trying to prove. But he will not succeed in doing that.
<quote> In another Messianic prophecy we read: Isaiah 41:11 'All those who incensed against you shall be ASHAMED and CONFOUNDED...' Who is confounded? Who is ashamed? The NATIONS OF THE WORLD. Yes, the nations, the gentiles (and specifically their leaders who represent them) are the ones speaking here. They have just seen something they would never have imagined. They are the ones astonished.
Shulman has perfectly taken this verse out of its context! Look now to what the verses really say. 41:11 Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish. 41:12 Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, [even] them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought. It isn't even so that Isaiah 41 particularly deals with the nations of the world in general, as Shulman wants us to believe. But the verses are about the enemies of Israel in general. Further, these enemies shall be as nothing and as a thing of naught, according to the text. But then they cannot be the same as those mentioned in Isaiah 52:15. For those will not be as nothing neither as a thing of naught. On the contrary those will see new things that had not been told them, and consider those unheard things. So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for [that] which had not been told them shall they see; and [that] which they had not heard shall they consider (Isaiah 52:15). They will not be as nothing, but they will now understand things before unheard. It is clear that the text of Isaiah 41 is of a totally different import. Shulman has taken the quote out of context. Again, the essence of the argument is this. Isaiah 41 is about enemies that will become as nothing, but Isaiah 52 is about nations and kings who will hear and understand. These are two different groups of people. Shulman always keeps harping on that word "astonished" without paying attention to the context. He just gathers some verses with "astonished" in it, and connects them.
<quote> Now that we know who is astonished, we must ask: who is the servant that they are astonished at?
The writer says that we know who is astonished. For clarity I will repeat it. In 52:15 the nations and the kings are astonished. Yet they will believe it. In 53:1 the preachers are astonished at so much unbelief.
<quote> This is a Messianic prophecy, that is clear.
This is yet another error. This is not a prophecy merely about the messianic times, but a prophecy about the Messiah. The Messiah Himself is described. I have this proved above. Shulman without proof states that this is a prophecy about the messianic times, and not about the Messiah.
<quote> Who is going to be the cause of astonishment to the gentiles? Let's see what the Tenach says. Who is Isaiah 41:11 talking about?
As already said, Isaiah 41 is about the enemies who will be destroyed, and Isaiah 52:5 about nations and kings who will join the faith. This means that Isaiah 41 cannot be used to interpret Isaiah 52 and 53.
<quote> Look at verse 14: "Fear not worm of Jacob, men of Israel." The same appears in verse 8 "But you, ISRAEL, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the SEED of Abraham My friend.".
True, here the servant is Israel. But that does say nothing about who the servant is in Isaiah 53.
<quote> Look at Micah 5:6 which is a little before the above passage: The REMNANT OF JACOB; verse 7: The REMNANT OF JACOB. The nations as described in Micah are surprised at the great miracles that will occur with the coming of the Messianic age to the remnant of Jacob.
The question was who is going to be the cause of astonishment to the gentiles. Well, if this is the question, and Shulman uses Micah 5:6 to answer this question, then one might expect some astonishment in the verses. But we see no astonishment at all. We see no astonishment in verse 6 neither in verse 7. Moreover, the term "Servant of the LORD" is not used here. So nothing can be used from these verses to interpret Isaiah 53. There is simply no connection.
<quote> Who and what has confounded the nations? Israel and their redemption from the exile in the Messianic period has caused this astonishment and confusion.
This is invented. It's a cooked up dream. Micah 5 does not speak about the redemption of Israel from the exile. On the contrary, not their return, but their exile is described.
7 And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the LORD, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men. 8 And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver. 9 Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off. (Micah 5)
<quote> The servant is Israel, and specifically the righteous remnant of Israel and the nations are confused.
It is rashly stated, without ground or proof. This seems to be wishful thinking; it is no reality. From nothing appears that the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53 is Israel, and specifically the righteous remnant of Israel.
<quote> Why should they be confused? Imagine what it will be like when the Messiah comes. How will the Christians and Muslims react when they will see that the Messiah has come, and it is not J. It is some Ultra Orthodox Rabbi with a long beard! A funny looking person who, until very recently, was the butt of their jokes and derision.
This is pure speculation to mislead many, and to keep multitudes of Jews off from the true Messiah, Jesus Christ.
<quote> As the prophet predicted: Jeremiah 16:19: "The NATIONS shall come to you from the ends of the earth and shall say, 'SURELY OUR FATHERS HAVE INHERITED LIES, VANITY, AND THINGS WHEREIN THERE IS NO BENEFIT.'"
Yes, the nations will come. But to whom will they come? The nations shall come unto thee, says the text. According to the context this thee is not Israel, but the LORD. To be convinced of that, read the whole verse.
O LORD, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee (this refers back to the LORD) from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and [things] wherein [there is] no profit. (Jeremiah 16:19)
In his zeal to force his opinion through, Shulman takes a text out its context and misapplies it to his own purpose.
<quote> It is interesting to note that in the Tenach there is one place where the same theme of this prophecy appears. It is in Psalm 44:9-26 which parallels the main ideas of this prophecy. It should be kept in mind while you look at each of the verses: 9. But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not forth with our armies. 10 Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy: and they which hate us spoil for themselves. 11 Thou hast given us like sheep [appointed] for meat; and hast scattered us among the heathen. 12 Thou sellest thy people for nought, and dost not increase [thy wealth] by their price. 13 Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us. 14 Thou makest us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people. 15 My confusion [is] continually before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me, 16 For the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth; by reason of the enemy and avenger. 17. All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. 18 Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way; 19 Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death. 20 If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; 21 Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart. 22 Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter. 23 Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast [us] not off for ever. 24 Wherefore hidest thou thy face, [and] forgettest our affliction and our oppression? 25 For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the earth. 26 Arise for our help, and redeem us for thy mercies' sake.
This Psalm seems to be composed when Israel was in extremely difficult circumstances. It describes, in contrast to Isaiah 53, a history. It is no prophecy of future events. It is true that this Psalm is about Israel; it is also true that some similar expressions are found in it. But this says nothing about the interpretation of Isaiah 53. Psalm 44 does not and cannot say that the suffering Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53 is Israel.
On the basis of some astonished people, the author has tried to prove that "My Servant" in Isaiah 52 and 53 is Israel. However he has miserably failed in doing that. Taking verses out their context does not prove anything. Gathering all astonished people on one heap, and saying that these are the same as those in Isaiah 52 and 53, also doesn't help.
It becomes time to start a more thorough investigation of this servant. To do that we look up all verses that describe this servant. We explain this servant as Israel, except when it appears from the context that the servant must be somebody else. In that case we interpret "My Servant" as the Messiah.
In some verses "My servant" is neither Israel nor the Messiah. Examples of such verses follow.
Isa 20:3 And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia.
Isa 37:35 For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
In these verses it is very clear who the servant is. The names Isaiah and David are added to make it clear that these men are the servants in these verses.
In many verses "My servant" means Israel. Examples of such verses follow below.
Isaiah 41:8,9 But thou (singular), Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee (singular), Thou (singular) art my servant; I have chosen thee (singular), and not cast thee away.
Isaiah 42:19 Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the LORD'S servant?
Isaiah 44:1,2 Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith the LORD that made thee (singular), and formed thee (sg) from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen.
Isaiah 44:21 Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou (sg) art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.
Isaiah 44:26 That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof.
Isaiah 45:4 For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee (sg) by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
Isaiah 48:20 Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob.
In some verses "My Servant" can only be the Messiah. This appears from the context. Examples of such verses follow below.
Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
Why is this Servant the Messiah? This is because of the context. In 42:6 you read: "I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people ('am), for a light of the Gentiles (goyim)." In this verse the Servant is given for a covenant of the people. With these people are meant the Jews, and the gentiles are the goyim. When this servant would be Israel, then the verse would go: "I will give Israel for a covenant of Israel", which gives no sense. When you take the servant for the Messiah, then the sentence runs without problems and gives sense. Then is will be, "I will give the Messiah for a covenant of Israel, for a light of the gentiles". So, from the context appears that the Servant of the LORD is the Messiah here.
Isaiah 49:3 And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.
Here we see a person described as My Servant and as Israel. When you read the verse in its context the Servant must be the Messiah. The Messiah is here called Israel and My Servant. But why is the Servant the Messiah? This is because of verse 5: "And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him. Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength." In this verse the Servant is commanded to bring Jacob, the Jews, again to the Lord. Were this Servant Israel, then the Jews would be commanded to bring the Jews back. This gives no sense. Therefore the Servant is the Messiah in this verse. Also in verse 6 the same reasoning applies. "And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." Here the Servant is commanded to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel. Jacob cannot raise up the tribes of Jacob, nor can Israel restore the preserved of Israel. Only the Messiah can do this. Moreover the Messiah is here given for a light to the gentiles unto the end of the earth. Clearly, the Servant of the LORD is the Messiah in these verses.
Isaiah 50:10 Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.
Here the prophet addresses his listeners, the Jewish people. He says: "Who is among you, (Jews) that obeys the voice of His Servant?" Would the Servant be Israel, then the sentence would be, "Who is among you (Israelites) that obeys the voice of Israel?" This gives no sense. Therefore also here the Servant of the Lord is the Messiah. The Servant is distinguished from the Jewish hearers. He is not Israel but the Messiah.
Isaiah 52:13 Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
Who is this Servant? It is said of this Servant that He shall deal prudently. Of who is this also said? The people are urged to deal prudently, Deut. 29:9, Joz. 1:7,8. Salomon is urged to deal prudently, 1 Kings 2:3. Rehoboam dealt wisely, 2 Chron. 11:23. Dealing prudently means that one observes the law of God, or that he deals with a wise policy. It is also said of this Servant that He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. Of who is this also said? The king will be exalted, together with his kingdom, Num. 24:7. In Isa. 33:10 the LORD will rise up, and be exalted and extolled. The LORD will be very high, Ps. 97:9; 113:5. Until now, and after looking up people who will deal prudently, and who will be very high, it cannot be determined whether this Servant is Israel or the Messiah. Therefore the solution is to be found in the context and the connection of the text. In chapter 53 it is very clear that the things which are described therein, cannot apply to Israel. They only can apply to the Messiah. What these things are, will be said in the explanation of this chapter.
Isaiah 53:11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
The Servant, as individual, is distinguished here from the many whom he will justify. As individual he is put against the many. This makes us think that the Servant is not Israel in this context. It seems that He is the Messiah. That will give a better sense.
There are also verses wherein more servants occur. These servants are interpreted as the Israelites.
Isaiah 54:17 No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.
Isaiah 63:17 O LORD, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants' sake, the tribes of thine inheritance.
Isaiah 65:8 Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sakes, that I may not destroy them all.
Isaiah 65:13,14 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty: behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed. Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit.
Isaiah 66:14 And when ye see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb: and the hand of the LORD shall be known toward his servants, and his indignation toward his enemies.
From the study of the places where the servant of the Lord occurs, we may conclude this. From the use of servant of the LORD, or My servant, cannot be determined who is meant with that term in a certain chapter where the words occur. For example when we read about the servant of God in Isaiah 53, we cannot determine, merely on basis of the occurrence of the words, who is meant. Both Israel and the Messiah are indicated with this servant. Therefore we have to look to other things also; to indicators in the chapter itself.
In Isaiah 53 we read that the Servant of the Lord is despised and misunderstood to a large extend. Verse 2, He hath no form nor comeliness; - [There was] no beauty that we should desire him. - 3 He is despised and rejected of men; - a man of sorrows, - acquainted with grief: - and we hid as it were [our] faces from him; - he was despised, - we esteemed him not. - 4 we did esteem him stricken, - smitten of God, - afflicted. - 5 he was wounded for our transgressions, - [he was] bruised for our iniquities: - the chastisement of our peace was upon him; - with his stripes we are healed. - 6 the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. - 7 He was oppressed, - he was afflicted, - he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, - 8 he was cut off out of the land of the living: - for the transgression of my people was he stricken. - 10 It pleased the LORD to bruise him; - he hath put [him] to grief. - Then matters begin to change. It begins to be better with the Servant. - 10 he shall see [his] seed, - he shall prolong [his] days, - and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. - 11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, - shall be satisfied: - by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; - 12 He shall divide the spoil with the strong. In short we see in this chapter a suffering and despised Servant of the LORD, who is extolled at the end.
When servant means Israel, what then are the characteristics of this servant, according to the above mentioned verses? The servant is chosen (Isaiah 41:8,9; 44:1,2), blind and deaf (Isaiah 42:19), formed by God, not forgotten of God (Isaiah 44:21), has his word confirmed by God (Isaiah 44:26), elect and called (Isaiah 45:4), redeemed (Isaiah 48:20).
When the Servant is the Messiah, what then are the characteristics of this Servant, according to the above mentioned verses? He is elect, has God's Spirit, and shall bring forth judgment to the gentiles (Isaiah 42:1). He glorifies God (Isaiah 49:3), brings Israel back, is a light to the gentiles (Isaiah 49:5,6), and has some but not all that listen to Him (Isaiah 50:10).
The servant of the Lord, when he occurs in Isaiah 53, what characteristics does he have there? Does he have the characteristics of the servant when it means Israel, or does he have the characteristics of the servant when it is the Messiah? We have looked up those characteristics above. Let's see what qualities the servant in Isaiah 53 has. In 52:15 shall He "sprinkle many nations". This looks like Isaiah 42:1. In Isaiah 53 the Servant appears to be misunderstood. This looks like 50:10, where he has some but not all that listen to Him. In 53:10 shall "the pleasure of the LORD prosper in his hand". This looks like 49:3. There appear to be many similarities between the servant in Isaiah 53, and between those verses where the Servant is the Messiah. This seems to indicate that the servant in Isaiah 52 and 53 is also the Messiah. The description of the work of the Messiah, as mentioned in 42:1; 49:3 and 50:10 has many similarities with the work of the Servant in 52 and 53.