The Servant of Yhwh, Part 5: The Servant’s Success – Isaiah 53:10-12

This final stanza of Isaiah’s fourth Servant Song is a perfect conclusion. The song began with a wide angled lens view of victory and exaltation (52:13) yet was immediately followed with a puzzling statement of suffering (52:14) before hinting back to final victory (52:15). As the conclusion, this stanza is tightly connected with the opening stanza of 52:13-15 and makes clear what the introduction only hinted at. Here the enigma is explained for here we know for certain that the Servant’s suffering will be turned to success. These three final verses contain three final points that confirm Yhwh’s Servant was successful, was exalted, and will return to rule and reign.


There are a few things to take note of in this stanza. As the conclusion, we would expect the song to find a sense of closure. This stanza will deliver in full as it makes several connections back to the introduction (52:13-15) as well as using the same language from the main arguments found in the body of this song. But a conclusion serves to not only wrap up the existing argument but also must answer any questions that remain from the argument. This stanza does so in several areas. The concept of a substitutionary sacrifice, Isaiah has already made connections with the annual Day of Atonement (vv. 4-6) and Passover (v. 7). There is one more connection to be made with the Levitical sacrificial system, but this one does not look back to a specific festival. Keep your eyes open and read carefully as we jump into this final stanza of Isaiah’s song The Servant of Yhwh.


The Nation’s Closing Confession (v. 10)

The Nation continues their confession which began in 53:1. Here the confession turns from their personal guilt in rejecting their Messiah to a confession of understanding. This future generation of regenerate and repentant Israelites have put all the pieces of the puzzle together to finally understand three things: (1) The Servant’s death was by Yhwh’s design. (2) The Servant’s death served tremendous purpose. (3) The Servant’s death was only a doorway to the Servant’s exaltation.


Yhwh’s Pleasure (v. 10ab) – “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief


The language here is unambiguous and straightforward. It was Yhwh who crushed Him, and it was Yhwh who caused Him grief. In a sense the nation was correct when they figured that the Servant was smitten by God (v. 4) though they completely missed the point and purpose. While it is true that God Himself crushed this One, it could not have been because He was a rebel who deserved to be crushed. The previous verse (v. 9) made clear the fact that Yhwh’s Servant was without guilt. Yet it was no fluke that brought about this innocent One to suffer as if He were guilty. Yhwh brought this about and was pleased to do so. It is not because Yhwh is a capricious or psychotic god but because He has a specific purpose for which His Servant is perfectly suited.


Yhwh’s Purpose (v. 10c) – “If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring


Here we make the connection back to Leviticus and the sacrificial system. The term “guilt offering” (אָשָׁם) does not refer to a special day of the year dedicated for a special feast like the Day of Atonement, Passover, or the Feast of Booths. Rather, this offering refers to those a worshipper would offer at any time of the year and as many times as needed. Leviticus 5:14-19 explains the procedure of the guilt offering, an offering designed to repay and restore. If a person realizes that they have violated God’s law or God’s tabernacle in any way, he bears his guilt until he comes to offer this guilt offering. God will see this form of restitution, pass over the man’s guilt, and his relationship with God will be restored.


The phrasing of Lev. 5:17 is most interesting as it refers to a hypothetical person or individual. The Hebrew נֶפֶשׁ (usually translated as “soul”) is used to identify this person on an individual basis. But Isaiah writes this future confession of Israel’s realization to mirror this ancient text to show that Yhwh’s Servant not only was the sin offering for the nation’s atonement (vv. 4-5) and the lamb of redemption (v. 7) but also the offering of guilt which restores mankind to God from broken fellowship due to unwitting sins from daily experience.


The NASB’s translation of “If He would render Himself as a guilt offering” is more accurately translated “If You will place His soul as a guilt offering.” There is some debate as whether to translate תָּשִׁים (from שׁים – to place/set/arrange) as a 2nd person masculine verb (“You” referring to God) or as a 3rd person feminine verb (“it/she” referring to the Servant’s soul (נֶפֶשׁ). Yhwh has already been established as the One who crushed His Servant, so it is most natural to translate this as a 2nd person masculine. But it is the soul (נֶפֶשׁ) in combination with guilt offering (אָשָׁם) that draws our attention.


The guilt offering described in Leviticus 5 is for the hypothetical individual or soul (נֶפֶשׁ) who finds himself out of fellowship with God. Here we see that God has arranged to restore His people by placing the individual or soul (נֶפֶשׁ) of His Servant as the guilt offering. This substitution not only purchases Israel’s redemption like the Passover lamb. The Servant’s suffering is not limited to the atonement made for past sins committed which were “born away” by the sin offering and the scapegoat. He, Yhwh’s Servant, also is the substitute that restores men to God on a daily basis.


The Servant’s Prosperity (v. 10de) – “He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.


This is the second half of a conditional clause. The sense is not hypothetical (If Yhwh places the Servant’s soul as a guilt offering then the Servant will prosper) but simply shows the logical and unbreakable connection between these two actions. There was no doubt that the Servant would serve as a guilt offering and it is because that is an actual historical event, He will see His seed. The NASB translates זֶרַר as “offspring” but a more precise rendering would be seed. This is the same seed promised to Eve (Gen. 3:15), Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-5; 17:1-8), Isaac (Gen. 26:1-5), and Jacob (Gen. 28:10-17; 35:9-15). The difference here is that we are no longer talking about THE seed (for the Servant is the fulfillment of that seed) but rather those who will come forth from THE seed.


The result of the Servant becoming a guilt offering is that He will see His posterity and will live indefinitely. How can this be if He has already died? Did the prophet not already tell us that He would be raised (52:13)? For Yhwh’s pleasure will prosper in His hand. This verse begins and ends with the pleasure of Yhwh. Both in His substitution and in His exaltation, the Servant is concerned with and is rewarded according to Yhwh’s pleasure. Israel now knows this and joyously confesses it.


Yhwh’s Confirmation (v. 11)

The speaker turns from the nation to the nation’s God. Yhwh Himself now provides His perspective on His suffering and successful Servant.


The Satisfied Sufferer (v. 11ab) – “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied


The word “anguish” (עָמָל) here does not necessarily indicate the pain and torment of His death but refers to the toilsome anguish of the human experience. Again (after correcting the translation of v. 10) we see the Servant’s soul (נֶפֶשׁ) referenced as an indication of the totality of His being. For 30+ years Jesus suffered the anguish of humanity as a human. He never ceased being the second person of the Godhead, God the Son, yet He became a man in all that it means to be man. What is the connection between what He sees and this anguish?


The subject of “He will see” and “He will be satisfied” goes back to v. 10 and the successful seed and the prosperity contained in Yhwh’s pleasure. It is because of the Servant’s humiliation and anguish of taking on flesh and dwelling among us that He will see (experience) His mission come to success. The source of satisfaction is the understanding that His mission will be successful. The verse concludes with specific details regarding this mission.


The Just Justifier (v. 11c ff.) – “By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities


If ever the innocence of Yhwh’s Servant was in question, these lines should clear away any and all doubt as Yhwh Himself calls Him “righteous.” This Servant, who is a righteous Servant, will be the One who justifies (or makes righteous) the many by bearing their guilt. This is exactly what Paul meant in Romans 3:26 when he said that Christ might be “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” The righteous (or just – צַדִּיק) Servant will justify (or make righteous – צדק). But how does this happen and for whom does it happen?


The text declares that it is by His knowledge (בְּדַעְתּוֹ) that He makes others righteous, but how does the Servant’s knowledge make others righteous? There are two nouns that share the same consonantal root of דעת and are in fact pointed the same way (דַּעַת). These different terms have very different meanings. The first, as is rendered here, means “knowledge” while the other means “sweat.” If we take this second option, then Yhwh would be declaring that the sweat or effort of the Servant is the means by which the many are made righteous. Once again, it is as if Paul knows Isaiah 53:10-12 with this understanding: “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:27-38).


As for the many, we must reach back to the introduction in 52:13-15. It was there we were told that the many were astonished or appalled on account of Yhwh’s Servant. It was there that Isaiah made a distinction between the many, who rejected Messiah, and the many nations, who stood in awe at the marvelous and gracious sprinkling that brought about their salvation. If the many are people and yet distinct from the many nations, then this must be a reference to the nation of Israel. It is by the effort of Yhwh’s Servant that Israel is made righteous, for Yhwh’s Servant will bear Israel’s guilt.


With this explanation finished, Yhwh continues to reveal His Servant’s coming rule and reign.


Yhwh’s Crown (v. 12) Yhwh continues to be the voice in this final verse, and what a verse it is! Here we finally read the exaltation that we have been waiting for since we began this song in 52:13.


The Servant’s Reward (v. 12ab) – “Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong


These lines reveal the Servant’s reward, what He has coming to Him as His own possession based on what He has paid. But to understand this, we must amend the given translation.


First, the term “the great” (רַבִּים) is the same term used in 52:14 (“many”) and earlier in v. 11 (“the many”). There is no good reason to translate this any differently, but with that comes implications. As we have already argued, “the many” in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is a reference to the nation of Israel. These many are here distinct from the strong and yet both will be part of the Servant’s portion. Just as this song begins with the many and the many nations, so it concludes.


Second, the intention is not to say that His portion will be with or among the many and the many nations but that they are His portion. The particle את is not the preposition “with” but the marker of the direct object. With this understanding we would translate these lines something like, “Therefore I will apportion the many to Him and He will apportion the strong as booty.” This is kingly language whereby Yhwh declares that His Servant will return to reign and rule over all peoples. They are all His possession to do with as He pleases. Why is He given such an honor? Because He purchased them.


The Servant’s Review (v. 12c ff.) – “Because He poured out Himself to death and was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many and interceded for the transgressors.


The construction אֲשֶׁר תַּחַת is often translated as because or in as much but always with an underlying nuance of substitution. It is not that the translation of “because” is incorrect, but a wooden rendering may be helpful here. We could just as easily translate this line as “in place of whom He poured out His soul.” Once again, the NASB fails to translate נֶפֶשׁ, the term that indicates the totality of the Servant’s being.


The point is this: The Servant is allowed to rule and possess the peoples (Jew and Gentile) because He purchased them via His substitution. His mission was a success and therefore He gets to reap the spoils. What follows are four elements that together conclude the success of the Servant’s mission.


Successful Substitution

There is no clearer way to state that the Servant of Yhwh died other than to say that He poured out His soul, the totality of His being, to death. But it was in place of those whom He will receive as a portion that He died. His successful substitution secures them as His possession.


Successful Representation

Though He was not ever a transgressor or sinner, He was numbered among them. In fact, a better understanding is that He numbered Himself among them. Not that He considered Himself a transgressor, but that He stood as a perfect representative for them when He poured out His soul to death. He died in their place as a perfect representative, not just a symbolic representative.


Successful Atonement

Again, we see the language of Leviticus 17 that was used in vv. 4-6 with the same reference to the nation made in 52:13-15 and just earlier in the verse. It was the sins of Israel that He bore just as the scapegoat was to bear the sins of the nation away into the wilderness. When Jesus said, “It is finished!” He meant it.


Successful Intercession

The Hebrew term behind “intercession” (פגע) was used in v. 6 to describe Yhwh placing the iniquities of the nation on His own Servant. This is a wonderful translation for it accurately describes how He meets for transgressors. The imperfect tense does not describe a completed and historic action like the descriptions of His suffering. This verb is left incomplete in scope for His ministry of intercession is ongoing and continuous. He will continue to intercede for the transgressors.


Conclusion


From these 15 verses we can know for certain several things. (1) Jesus of Nazareth is the only One in history who has met this description with perfect precision. (2) Based on the accuracy of the suffering portions having already been fulfilled, we must expect all other portions of this song to be fulfilled with the same level of precision. (3) This means that the nation of Israel will certainly and without a doubt one day repent and trust Him whom they once pierced. (4) This also means that we anticipate a future kingdom with Christ as King after Israel repents.


For the Gentile Christian, we are humbled and awed by this text but what do we do with it? It is a wonderful apologetic for Jewish people as it perfectly explains the role of Yhwh’s Servant being fulfilled in the person of Jesus. But the word of God is not just an apologist’s cheat sheet. This Servant song contains Israel’s confession and anticipation. That is where we too must join the chorus. Are we living in anticipation of Israel’s repentance and the return of Christ to reign and rule? Are we living in such a way that we might be snatched away in a moment? Will our Lord and Master be pleased with the condition in which we come before His throne? For He is coming. Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Soli Deo Gloria!

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