Fourth Servant Song

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The Fourth Servant Song is the fourth (obviously) of four poems in the Bible written by the prophet Isaiah concerning the hardships of one unnamed servant. Spanning the Book of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (NIV), it is claimed to be one of the most striking examples of biblical prophecy.

The quote itself[edit]

Isaiah 52:13-53:12:

13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness— 15 so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. 1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 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. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 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. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 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 her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9 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 his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, 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.

As a messianic prophecy[edit]

New Testament writers claim the verses of Isaiah contain prophecies of Jesus. For example Isaiah 52:15:1, is inaccurately quoted in Romans 15:20-21 wherein it is alleged by Paul that the verse applies to Jesus:

It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation. Rather, as it is written: "Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand." (NIV)

Chapter 53, verse 1, is quoted in John 12:37-38 where it is alleged that it is a fulfilled prediction of Jesus:

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (NIV)

Verses 1 through 3 are identified by biblical inerrancy website as predicting that Jesus would be rejected. [1] The passage containing the alleged fulfillment of this prophecy is likely Luke 18:31-32:

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. (NIV)

Isaiah 53:4 is loosely quoted in Matthew 8:17, which reads, "This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.'"

53:5 are alleged in Christians' statements of faith to acknowledge that Jesus' crucifixion served "as a representative, vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice,"[2] although Jesus is obviously not mentioned by name in the verses. Furthermore cites 53:4 as a prophecy that "God's servant would die for our sins" and as evidence that this was fulfilled claim that "we are healed through the wounds that Jesus suffered."[3]

53:7 is incompletely quoted in Acts 8:32-35, identifying Isaiah's statement as a prophecy of Jesus:

The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth." The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. (NIV)

Furthermore cites Isaiah 53:7 as predicting that Jesus would remain silent before his accusers and alleges that this was fulfilled in Matthew 27:12-14:[4]

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, "Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?" But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. (NIV)

However, according to John 18:33-37 Jesus had lots to say to his accusers:

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Is that your own idea," Jesus asked, "or did others talk to you about me?" "Am I a Jew?" Pilate replied. "It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?" Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." (NIV)

53:7 is listed on as a fulfilled prophecy that Jesus would be buried in a rich man's tomb, [5] apparently alluded to in Matthew 27:57-60:

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. (NIV)

It is unclear, however, why the Matthew passage should fulfill a prophecy of being "assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death," with the exception of it being noted that the tomb belonged to a rich man.

53:7 is also quoted, albeit imperfectly, in 1 Peter 2:22, referring to Jesus: "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." Note, however, that "had done no violence" from the original is replaced with "committed no sin" in the quote.

53:7 is cited on as a prediction that "God's servant would be 'numbered with the transgressors'" and "bear the sins of others" and that this "was a prophecy that was fulfilled during the life of Jesus Christ." 53:7 is quoted by Jesus in Luke 22:37:

It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment." (NIV)

In fact it is explained in Matthew 27:38 that, "Two robbers were crucified with him." However, it was uncommon for criminals, especially citizens, to be crucified in ancient Rome as this was a penalty generally reserved for slaves and enemies of the State. [6]

However, there arise contextual inconsistencies when one attempts to interpret the servant of Isaiah as representing Jesus. Language such as that in Isaiah 53:2-3 suggest that the servant was "despised" for a long period of time. This does not seem to apply to Jesus. Compare this, for example, to Luke 2:52, which asserts, "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

Also Jewish scholars explain that the term "land of the living" is understood to refer to Israel. [7] The phrase "cut off from the land of the living" (v. 8) then is interpreted to mean exiled from the Land of Israel, which Jesus never was.

Additionally, it is unclear that Jesus was ever seen as being "stricken by God, smitten by him" (v. 4) or that "it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer." (v.10) Jesus saw neither offspring nor prolonged days. (v.10) It was supposedly Jesus' death that brought vindication and not his knowledge. (v.11) Jesus never shared in any reward of "spoils." (v.12) In the New Testament, Jesus is not often identified as being God's servant.

As a metaphor for Israel[edit]

Many bible scholars claim that Isaiah's "servant" rather represents the nation of Israel.[8] Isaiah 43:10 states in part, apparently speaking to Israel, "'You are my witnesses,' declares the LORD, 'and my servant whom I have chosen,'" implying the servant in that context is a group. Isaiah 49:3 states plainly that the servant in that context is Israel: "He said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.'" Chapter 52 of Isaiah is addressed to "Zion" and "Jerusalem" (v. 1) in which God laments that "my people have been taken away." (v. 5) Reread the Fourth Servant Song with the understanding that it refers to the nations' regret for their treatment of the people of Israel, and see if it does not make more sense.

There exist many allegations of mistranslation that, when corrected, indicate Isaiah meant to refer to Israel and not to Jesus or any messiah for that matter. For example the Jewish translation from Hebrew for Isaiah 53:5 renders it thusly:

But he was pained because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his wounds we were healed.[9]

Note the significant differences from the Christian translation. The Jewish translation uses "pained" in place of "pierced." The phrase "because of" is used instead of "for," which indicates an effect of wrongdoing rather than vicarious atonement for it. Similarly "chastisement of our welfare" replaces "punishment that brought us peace." The verb tense used in the phrase "we were healed" rather than "we are healed" implies a single past event as opposed to a continuing condition.

Consider also the Jewish translation for Isaiah 53:8:

From imprisonment and from judgment he was taken, and his generation who shall tell? For he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the transgression of my people, a plague came upon them.[9]

The Jewish translation again uses "because of" instead of "for." Also the phrase "a plague came upon them" replacing "he was stricken" appears to imply the servant is a group and no longer suggests vicarious atonement by an individual.

Jewish scholars assert that a proper translation of verse 9 includes, "And he gave his grave to the wicked, and to the wealthy in his deaths," which implies that the servant is a group. [10] The Jewish translation for verse 10 includes "if his soul would acknowledge guilt" in place of "and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering," implying not vicarious atonement but rather a condition for the indicated rewards of descendants and long life.[10]


To prove that the circumstances of Jesus' death fulfilled prophecies made in the Fourth Servant Song, however, it is insufficient to demonstrate Isaiah's intent to foreshadow the event. It must also be demonstrated that the event of Jesus' death as a vicarious atonement for others' sins actually occurred, and the only real evidence of that is that the Bible says so. In fact the Old Testament seems to indicate that such an event is impossible. Per Ezekiel 18:20:

The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. (NIV)

Why is it easier to believe that the fantastic circumstances of Jesus' death were predicted by Isaiah, in a passage that gives no contextual indication of being a messianic prophecy, than it is to believe that the New Testament accounts were simply made up to make it look as though they were?

Apologetic responses[edit]

John Oakes:[11]RationalWiki:

Jewish scholars may be correct in part.Great! Then this isn't a prophecy of Jesus.

Isaiah 52 and 53 are a prophecy of God saving Israel, and it is also a prophecy of God saving all mankind in Jesus. This is one of many examples of a prophecy in the Old Testament which is fulfilled in multiple ways. I do not deny that the Jews would have understood parts of this passage this way, and God did in fact save Israel.There's no evidence that the passage is meant to have a dual fulfillment, and Oakes doesn't present any.

Jewish scholars may not be completely misunderstanding this passage, but clearly they are not going to see Jesus as the fulfillment of this passage, no matter how obviously he fulfilled this prophecy.Yeah, those Jews really need to reject their religion-driven interpretation and accept Oakes' religion-driven interpretation.

This passage also applies to Jesus, as anyone can see, when it continues to describe one who is pierced, who is despised and rejected and who is silent when accused. This certainly applies to Jesus and not to Israel. This prophecy is about Israel, but even more so it is about Jesus as anyone can see. Israel was never pierced. Israel was never silent when accused. Israel never poured out its life or bore the sins of many (Isaiah 53:12). Surely no scholar will claim that this applies to Israel better than it applies to Jesus.And now Oakes completely changes his strategy and argues that the Jews were wrong. For bonus points, look above to see how many of those statements about Israel were true (the crushing of the Great Revolt and the destruction of the Second Temple could certainly count as "piercing" the nation of Israel, the diaspora was wrongly accused of all kinds of things in the following centuries, yet remained largely silent, the nation of Israel did pour out its blood and has repeatedly borne blame for the sins of many…), and how many did not apply to Jesus.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Why Isaiah 53 is not about Jesus