Isaiah 53 Explained In Context

When looking at any passage of scripture, we must read it in context to have any hope of understanding it. This article will not be about the debate as to whom the suffering servant is. Rather, it will be about reading Isaiah 40-53 in historical context to see what is going on in this portion of Isaiah. After that has been accomplished, the reader can make their own determinations as to how to apply it.

Isaiah 40:

This passage is about comforting Israel after some military defeat. See verse 1 which tells us that “her warfare has ended” offering comfort. As we read on, we will see which defeat is being referenced.

Isaiah 41:

God reassures Israel that he is on their side, even after this defeat would imply the opposite. Verse 9 assures Israel that they are God’s servant, and he has not cast them off.

Isaiah 42:

God continues his reassurance of Israel, while pointing out why this military defeat has come upon them. Verse 19 says “who is blind but my servant?”, referring to their role in the destruction they have experienced.

Isaiah 43:

God declares that he will save Israel. Here we also learn which military action is being referenced. Verse 14 says that for the sake of Israel, he will bring down Babylon.

Isaiah 44:

This chapter presents a juxtaposition of the true God against idols. It then reaffirms Israel’s status as God’s chosen servant. God will redeem Israel from Babylon, it tells us in closing.

Isaiah 45:

God introduces himself to Cyrus the Great, called here God’s Messiah (anointed in many translations).

Isaiah 46:

God declares that Cyrus is the bird of prey, the man of his counsel that he has called from a far country. Cyrus is acting at the behest of God. See verse 11.

Isaiah 47:

God will humble Babylon. Verse 3 tells us that he is the actor exposing their disgrace to the eyes of the world.

Isaiah 48:

God presents himself as the one who directs the events of history. He establishes that it is he who is rescuing Israel from Babylon. Verse 20 informs Israel that they will go out from Babylon shouting that YHWH has redeemed his servant Jacob.

Isaiah 49:

God will restore Israel to a place of world prominence. Kings will be like fathers to them, and Queens their mothers. Verse 25 says that Israel, the prey of the tyrants, will be rescued. God will contend with those who contend with Israel,

Isaiah 50:

Israel is informed that they were defeated as a punishment from God for their iniquities. However, God is still on their side. He asks to see his bill of divorce from their mother in verse 1.

Isaiah 51:

God will comfort and redeem Israel. He has taken from their hand “the cup of staggering” and they will no longer drink from the “bowl of his wrath,” verse 22.

Isaiah 52:

Verse 3 says they were sold for nothing, and will be redeemed without cost. Isaiah breaks in with a short poem about the beautiful message of deliverance. Verse 12 tells them they will go out from Babylon in haste.

Isaiah 53:

Now we have arrived at the heart of the matter. So before we read the following information, let’s review the information we have consumed in the preceding passages.

  • The servant is the nation of Israel.
  • The messiah is Cyrus the Great.
  • The punishment of the servant is the Babylonian captivity.
  • Salvation is the rescue of the servant from captivity.
  • Exaltation is the servant being restored to the land of Israel.

Now, read the suffering servant poem from Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12. Once you understand what the poet is actually saying in the poem, feel free to add your own interpretive lense. Is there a second, deeper meaning? Does the prophet want you to read more into this text? We will discuss these possibilities in part 2 of this article.


I was raised a Christian, turned atheist as a teenager, and became a Noahide in my 40's. Here I will share what I have learned, and look forward to what you can teach me. Thank you for stopping by Biblical Anarchy. Feel free to leave a comment.

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