The Suffering Servant: Part II

The Suffering Servant: Part II
Find other posts in this series by clicking here

In this second article in the series on the Suffering Servant, we move to Isaiah 53, and focus on the vicarious nature of our Redeemer’s sacrifice. We also consider the Jewish perspective.

Cowles, regarding the vicarious nature of Christ’s sacrifice, writes: “We cannot be too grateful for these amplified, varied, and yet marvelously coincident and unanimous declarations to the effect of vicarious atonement—Christ suffering for his people … and here it cannot be said too emphatically that these numerous, various, yet equivalent forms of expression are all borrowed from the Hebrew sacrificial system, and therefore must be interpreted in the light of that system … that suffering must first be borne by some innocent being for the guilty before he can be forgiven … Hence in this great illustrative sacrificial system, the Lord selected those animals which best personify innocence, gentleness, meekness, e.g., lambs, goats, heifers, bullocks, doves; and made them symbols of the suffering, atoning ‘Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.’”

Kay notes: “There are no fewer than eleven expressions in Isaiah 53 which clearly describe the vicarious character of the sufferings endured by the Lord’s Servant: (1) ‘He bore our griefs;’ (2) ‘He carried our sorrows;’ (3) ‘He was wounded for our transgressions;’ (4) ‘Bruised for our iniquities;’ (5) ‘The chastisement of our peace was upon Him;’ (6) ‘By His stripes we are healed;’ (7) ‘The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all;’ (8) ‘For the transgression of My people was He stricken;’ (9) ‘When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin;’ (10) ‘He shall bear (or, carry) their iniquities;’ (11) ‘He bare the sins of many. In [the 9th item in this list] the sacrificial nature of these sufferings is directly stated … The terms ‘iniquities,’ ‘transgressions,’ and ‘sins,’ which all occur here, gather in like manner around the work of the high priest on the ‘Day of Atonement’ (Leviticus 16:16, 21, 22, 30, 34).

“The expressions in vv. 11–12, ‘carry their iniquities,’ and ‘bare the sin of many,’ are parallel to the one used in Leviticus 16:22; where it is prescribed that the scape-goat (over whose head Aaron had confessed ‘all the iniquities of the children of Israel and all their transgressions in all their sins,’ v. 21) should bear upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited.’”

Finally, McDonogh and Manton write that Isaiah 53: “is so full and clear, that it rather needs meditation than comment—faith more than learning to conceive it, to admire it, and to learn from it.”

We will also quote extensively from the Jewish writings of former ages to show the Jewish belief that Isaiah 53 points to the Messiah. Many of these come from Neubauer and Driver’s book, The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah according to Jewish Interpreters, Volume II, printed at Oxford in 1877.

The purpose of Neubauer and Driver’s book was to deny the Messianic significance of Isaiah 53, and certainly, there are plenty of quotes and allusions to shore up that perspective. But the reader who is filled with the Holy Spirit will be pricked in the heart to know that these scriptures testify of the Messiah.

The number of references to the Messiah quoted from the Talmud and other Jewish writings are extensive. One can clearly see, however, a transition between a belief in the Messiah, to a belief in two Messiahs—one who suffered and one who did not—to a number of other beliefs, including making Jeremiah, Hezekiah or Josiah or the nation of Israel the subject of these verses.

¶ “WHO hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” —Isaiah 53:1

“WHO hath believed our report?” Paul makes reference to these scriptures: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?” (Romans 10:13–16).

Elder McConkie taught: “Will you join with me in considering these questions: If you had lived in Jerusalem in the days of Jesus, would you have accepted him as the Son of God as did Peter and the Apostles? Or would you have said he had a devil and wrought miracles by the power of Beelzebub, as Annas and Caiaphas claimed? … If you believe the words of Joseph Smith, you would have believed what Jesus and the ancients said. If you reject Joseph Smith and his message, you would have rejected Peter and Paul and their message.”[1]

“And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” The LXX (????) reads, “And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been made manifest?” Jenour has: “The arm of Jehovah] i.e., the salvation of Jehovah, the power of Jehovah to save man exhibited in the gospel, which is called by the apostle, ‘the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth’ (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:24).”

Wordsworth writes: “The Prophet asks, Who hath recognized God’s glorious working in Christ, delivering the World from a worse bondage and exile than that of Babylon? The Prophet takes up the word of Isaiah 51:9: ‘Awake, awake! put on strength, O arm of the Lord;’ and of Isaiah 52:10: ‘The Lord hath made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all Nations.’”

Govett says: “It is adduced, most justly, by St. John, among his closing observations on the public ministry of our blessed Lord, and its results, as regarded his nation. ‘But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him; that the saying of Esaias might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?’[2] This prophecy, therefore, was fulfilled by the general unbelief of the Jews, and the fewness of those who believed the Saviour’s miracles and doctrines.”

Jenour notes: “And so it is now; the doctrine of salvation through a crucified Saviour has no more attractions in the eyes of the self-righteous, nominal Christian than it had in the eyes of the Jews.” Keith explains that the time will come when many shall accept the Gospel: “… he shall make bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see his salvation” (Isaiah 52:10). Henderson notes that just as the hand, the arm “denotes power [to] act.”

“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.” —Isaiah 53:2

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.” Instead of tender plant, the Peshitta (????) has infant. Cheyne suggests that this is in the perfect prophetic certitude (see Isaiah 30:7; 42:16; Mosiah 16:6, that is, when written as if it had already happened, so sure is the word of prophecy about a future event). Leeser translates as: “Yea, he[3] grew up [וַיַּעַל] like a small shoot before him, and as a root out of a dry land: he had no form nor comeliness, so that we should look at him; and no countenance, so that we should desire him.” Others who also use the prophetic perfect include AMP, ASV, BBE, Bishops, CEV, CJV, ERV, ESV, GW, HCSB, ISV, JPS, LBP, LBLA, LEB, LHI, NASB, NBLH, Rotherham, RV, TLV, WEB and WEBA.

Driver & Neubauer quote Yepheth Ben ‘Ali as saying that this verse is of the Messiah, as rather the whole of the chapter. Urwick writes: “… the figure [of a tender plant] is not intended to describe a feeling or estimate, but a fact—the lowly birth and youth of the Servant.” Christ Himself says: “I Jesus … I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star” (Revelation 22:16, also see Isaiah 11).

Wordsworth suggests: “Christ, Who has been described as the Arm of the Lord, revealed from heaven by reason of His Godhead, is now represented as a Shoot growing out of the earth by reason of His Manhood … Then He, Who is ‘the Branch,’ sprouted forth from it [i.e., from the trunk that had been cut down.”

Birks explains these expressions as: “The figures of the tender plant or sucker, and the root or shoot, are resumed from Isaiah 11:1, and express the low estate of the house of David when He appeared. The dry ground is expounded by the question of Nathanael, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’”

Govett suggests: “… also to the lowly and degraded state of the family of David, whence the Lord was to spring.” Jenour has: “The low condition of the parents of Christ, the obscurity of his birth, and the meanness[4] of his education, are principally intended. In propagating and establishing his doctrines he was wholly unsupported by human power; indeed both the Jewish and Gentile authorities were opposed to him; and thus with his little band of followers he might well be likened to a tender plant, exposed to the rude blasts of the north[5] wind.”

President Brigham Young observed: “Christendom now acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God; they look upon him as God manifested in the flesh according to the New Testament; yet the generation in which He lived did not see these tokens of divinity which this generation recognize. To them he was ‘a root out of dry ground’— ‘a stumbling block,’ ‘a rock of offense.’”[6]

Elder Bruce D. Porter said: “In the premortal realm, he had been the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator of the earth, the great I AM. From these exalted heights, he descended, coming to earth in the most humble of circumstances … Instead of worldly station, he chose to be born in a lowly stable and live the simple life of a carpenter. He grew up in an obscure village in a despised precinct of Palestine. He made himself of no reputation, and was ‘a root out of a dry ground,’ having ‘no beauty that we should desire him.’”[7]

“He hath no form [לֹא־תֹאַר] nor comeliness.” Alexander writes: “Form is here put for beautiful or handsome form, as in 1 Samuel 16:18 [where] David is called a man of form [אִישׁ תֹּאַר], i.e. a comely person.” President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “There was nothing about [Christ] to cause people to single him out. In appearance he was like men; and so it is expressed here by the prophet that he had no form or comeliness, that is, he was not so distinctive, so different from others that people would recognize him as the Son of God. He appeared as a mortal man.”[8] On this expression, please see my paper, “Witness the Condescension of the Son of Man,” as it relates to The Ascension of Isaiah and also 1 Nephi 11.

In the “Bread of Life Discourse” in John 6, we see multiple allusions to the condescension of Christ. The Savior proclaims: “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38). Many of those who surrounded Him did not recognize Him for He had no external form or comeliness: “The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? (John 6:41–42).

“The Savior then teaches that He is the manna that came down from heaven: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:47–51). Even His own disciples were troubled by the Savior’s teachings about His condescension, to which He responded: “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” (John 6:60–62, emphasis added). Except the Holy Ghost bear witness, we could not see the Divinity and Sonship of the Holy One of Israel.

“And when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” Targum (????) has, “but a holy brightness shall be His brightness, that everyone who seeth Him shall contemplate Him (or, ‘consider’ or ‘meditate upon him’).” Instead of that we should desire him, the Peshitta (????) has we denied him (i.e., when man would see the Savior was as other men in appearance, they would deny Him).

Birks has: “Few will be found who have believed the prophet’s report; for, when the people look upon Messiah, He has no beauty in their eyes.” After I joined the Church I heard a lovely story about two men who had died and crossed the veil and were being interviewed. The first man shares his knowledge about the Savior and the restoration of the Gospel with the interviewer. When he is finished, he leaves the room and the second enters for his interview. As the second person enters the room and walks toward the interviewer “… he fell upon his knees and cried, ‘My Lord, my God.’”[9]

In the next article, we continue with Isaiah 53:3.


[1] McConkie, Elder Bruce R. “Who Hath Believed Our Report?” General Conference, October 1981.

[2] See John 12:37–38, there is also an allusion to Isaiah 6:8–11.

[3] The common י verb construction [וַיַּעַל] normally has us look at the person who is spoken off regarding the verb, but can also stand for the person. For instance, in Genesis 2:18 we have וַיֹּאמֶר יהוה אֱלֹהִים. And-(marker that indicates we should look for the person after the verb)-said-Lord Elohim, which means: “And the Lord Elohim said.”

[4] Meanness here signifies insignificant. Of course we know the Savior had no mean education, but rather, was taught from on high. So also the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was taught from on High by the Savior.

[5] In the Holy Land, better, east wind or sirocco (see Isaiah 27:8).

[6] Young, President, Brigham. “The True Church of Christ, Etc.” Journal of Discourses 12:206b.

[7] Porter, Elder Bruce D. “Redeemer of Israel.” October 1995 General Conference.

[8] Smith, President Joseph Fielding. Doctrines of Salvation 1:23. Compiled by McConkie, Bruce R.

[9] LDS Young Women Manual 3, (1994), 6–8. Lesson 2: “Coming to Know the Savior.”

Don't Miss a Post!

Stay up to date with the latest news, fulfilled prophecies, and study tips

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Gregorio Billikopf belongs to the Llanquihue Branch, Puerto Montt Stake, in the south of Chile. He is the author of Isaiah Testifies of Christ and an emeritus academic of the University of California and professor of the University of Chile; author of Party-Directed Mediation: Facilitating Dialogue between Individuals and other books. Gregorio’s paternal grandparents are Lithuanian Jews and German Jews and on his mother’s side of the family he is Chilean. He found Christ through reading the Book of Mormon. You may contact him through



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here