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Isaiah's Prophecy of the Suffering Messiah

What Part of the Jewish Bible Will Not Be Read in the Fall?
The Missing Chapter: Isaiah 53

Ron Elkin
Ammi Ministry


At Sabbath services throughout the world, usually in August or September, an important section of Scripture is not read from the Haftorah (selections from the books of the Prophets). At the prior Sabbath service, the prophet Isaiah chapter 51 to verse 12 will be read, and at the next Sabbath service Isaiah 54:1-10 will be read. The section not read is Isaiah 52:13-53:12 It will not be read at Sabbath services this year or any year.

The Rabbis have chosen to ignore these verses, in spite of the fact that previous generations of Rabbis believed they gave a picture of the promised Messiah. Take the time to read what the verses say.

The passage really begins in chapter 52 with verse 13. We quote from The Holy Scriptures, published by the Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955 edition.

Isaiah 52:13-15

"Behold My servant shall prosper, He shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high. According as many were appalled at thee, so marred was his visage unlike that of a man, And his form unlike that of the sons of men; So shall he startle many nations, Kings shall shut their mouths because of him; For that which had not been told them shall they see, And that which they had not heard shall they perceive."

Isaiah 53:1-12

"Who would have believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he shot up right forth as a sapling, and as a root out of a dry ground. He had no form nor comeliness, that we should look upon him, nor beauty that we should delight in him. He was despised, and forsaken of men. A man of pains, and acquainted with disease. And as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he earned. Whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded because of our transgressions; He was crushed because of our iniquities. The chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed.

"All we like sheep did go astray. We turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath made to light upon him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, though he humbled himself, and opened not his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; yea, he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And with his generation who did reason? For he was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due. And they made his grave with the wicked and with the rich his tomb; although he had done no violence, Neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to crush him by disease; to see if his soul would offer itself in restitution, that he might see his seed, prolong his days, and that the purpose of the Lord might prosper by his hand. Of the travail of his soul he shall see to the full, even My servant, Who by his knowledge did justify the Righteous One to many, and their iniquities he did bear. Therefore will I divide him a portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty; because he bred his soul unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. Yet he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."

The Historic Rabbinical View of These Verses

For centuries, the Rabbis taught and believed that these verses referred to the Messiah. The Targum (Jewish paraphrase of the Scriptures) of Jonathan ben Uziel, written in the 2nd century C.E., reprinted by Oxford at the Clarendon Press in 1953 and titled The Targum of Isaiah, translates Isaiah 52:13: 'Behold, my servant, the Messiah, shall prosper; he shall be exalted, and increase, and be very strong.

Rabbi Mosheh el Sheikh, commonly known as Alshech, was the Chief Rabbi of Safed in the 16th Century. He wrote in his commentaries on the earlier prophets, concerning Isaiah 53, "Our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of King Messiah, and we shall also adhere to the same view" Also Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin of Cordova and Toledo, Spain, wrote in the 14th Century C.E., "I am pleased to interpret the passage in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis of the King Messiah."

The historic rabbinic understanding was challenged by Rashi (Shlomo Isaac) in the 12th century. Rashi developed the view that the suffering servant pictured in these verses was not the Messiah but Israel. He was vigorously rebuked by rabbis of his day and later centuries because of this interpretation. Rabbi Crispin said regarding Rashi's interpretation of Isaiah 53, "Those, who for controversial reasons, apply the prophecy of the suffering servant to Israel, find it impossible to understand the true meaning of this prophecy, having forsaken the knowledge of our teachers, and inclined after the stubbornness of their own opinions ... " What did he mean "for controversial reasons?"

Rabbi Kimchi gives us an explanation. He embraced Rashi's teachings, admitted that Rashi wrote controversially "in answer to the heretics." The heretics were Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians who believed that these verses were fulfilled by Jesus. Rashi and Kimchi abandoned the grammatically correct understanding of the Hebrew text as a way of opposing these people. Is it any wonder that Rabbis who were faithful to the Scriptures disputed Rashi and Kimchi? Rabbi Naphtali Ben Asher Altschuler (late 16th to early 17th century CE) wrote this: "I am surprised that Rashi and David Kimchi have, with the Targum, not also applied them [Isaiah 52:13-53:12] to the Messiah."

Until the 19th century the majority of Rabbis remained convinced that Isaiah 52:13- 53:12 was speaking of Messiah: a suffering Messiah. Modern Rabbis have chosen to accept Rashi's view. Today the ancient teachings of the Rabbis have been abandoned. Why did centuries of them believe these verses were Messianic?

  1. They were convinced because the text clearly contrasts a righteous individual with the sinful citizens of Israel. It would be grammatically incorrect to translate as Rashi and the present day Rabbis do.
  2. God never told Israel they would suffer for being innocent; rather He promised to bless them when they obeyed Him.
  3. Israel was never silent before her enemies. She often rebelled and fought against those who oppressed her.
  4. Israel was never wholly innocent as was the Suffering Servant. Isaiah said this regarding Israel when in the presence God. "Woe to me ... I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5). Because of Israel's frequent idolatry, God caused the ten northern tribes of Israel to be destroyed, and the slightly more faithful southern tribes of Judah to be exiled to Babylon tor 70 years.

A Summary of Isaiah 52:13-15

A Summary of Isaiah 53:1-12

Of whom does Isaiah 52:13-53:12 speak?

Why isn't this important section of Scripture read in the synagogue? If Rashi's view is correct why avoid these verses? Could it be that the religious leaders are afraid to see who has fulfilled them?

"So shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they perceive" (Isaiah 52:15).

What does all of this mean? Are you truth seeker?
Are you seeking about God and His Messiah?

Call Ron Elkin at 215-843-1764 to discuss this and other prophecies. You owe it to yourself to examine the Scriptures; there are eternal consequences to your decision.

Psalm 119:105: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path."

Proverbs 8:17: ". . . those that seek me . . . shall find me."

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