The Examination of Biblical Passages and Themes
by WordExplain

Explaining the meaning of the text.

“As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities." Isaiah 53:11

The Identification of the Servant in the Book of Isaiah


Reference in Isaiah




Isa. 20:3

“And the LORD said, ‘Even as My servant Isaiah has gone naked and barefoot three years as a sign and token against Egypt and Cush,”

Isaiah, the prophet


Isa. 22:20

“Then it will come about in that day, that I will summon My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah”

Eliakim ben Hilkiah, apparently the palace administrator (see Isa. 36:3, 11, 22; 37:2)


Isa. 24:2

“And the people will be like the priest, the servant like his master, the maid like her mistress, the buyer like the seller, the lender like the borrower, the creditor like the lender.

This is not a special servant of Yahweh, but a generic servant, as the context indicates.


Isa. 37:35

“For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.”

David, the king

Israel, Jacob

Isa. 41:8

“But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham My friend,”

Israel, a.k.a. Jacob

Israel, Jacob

Isa. 41:9

“You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its remotest parts and said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you.’”

Clearly Israel-Jacob, from the context of the preceding verse (Isa. 41:8)


Isa. 42:1

“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him”

The Anointed One (Messiah – “I have put My Spirit upon Him”), Jesus, as identified in Matt. 12:17-21, quoting Isa. 42:1-4


Isa. 42:19

“Who is blind but My servant, or so deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me, or so blind as the servant of the LORD?”

Jacob-Israel, so identified in Isa. 42:24


Isa. 43:10

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me.”

Jacob-Israel, so identified in Isa. 43:1, 22, 28. The servant is also identified as “My chosen people,” “the people whom I formed for Myself” (Isa. 43:20-21).

Jacob, Israel

Isa. 44:1

“But now listen, O Jacob My servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen:”


Jacob, Jeshurun

Isa. 44:2

“Thus says the LORD who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; and you Jeshurun whom I have chosen.”

Jacob-Jeshurun. Jeshurun is another name for Israel – used elsewhere only in Deut. 32:15; 33:5, 26.

Jacob-Israel; Israel

Isa. 44:21

“Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant, O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me.”

Jacob-Israel; Israel


Isa. 44:26

“Confirming the word of His servant and performing the purpose of His messengers. It is I who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited!’ and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built.’ And I will raise up her ruins again.”

“His Servant” probably refers to Isaiah; “His messengers” to various prophets.

Jacob, Israel

Isa. 45:4

“For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel, My chosen one, I have I have also called you [Cyrus] by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me.”

Jacob-Israel. (Yahweh called Cyrus by name in Isa. 44:28 and Isa. 45:1 some 150 years ahead. This is not a later editorial gloss, or addition!)


Isa. 48:20

“Go forth from Babylon! Flee from the Chaldeans! Declare with the sound of joyful shouting, proclaim this, send it out to the end of the earth; say, ‘The LORD has redeemed His servant Jacob.’”

Jacob, meaning Israel.


Isa. 49:3

“…The LORD called Me from the womb; from the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of His hand he has concealed Me; and He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, ‘You are My Servant, Israel, in whom I will show My glory.’” (49:1b-3)

On the face of it, Israel is the servant, so named. Yet there are other factors [1] present in this extended passage which necessitate the view that Messiah is the Servant as the ultimate embodiment of the nation of Israel. Notice the consistent capitalization of “Servant” by NASB editors in this passage.

Unnamed; other than Jacob-Israel

Isa. 49:5

“And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him…”

Clearly, the Servant is other than Jacob-Israel. He must then be the Messiah, the Redeemer who brings Zion-Jacob back to Yahweh forever (Isa. 49:5-6; 59:20-21).

Unnamed; other than Jacob-Israel

Isa. 49:6

“He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’”

Clearly, the Servant is other than Jacob-Israel. Not only does He restore Jacob-Israel; He serves as a light to the nations (Isa. 42:6; Luke 2:27-32; Acts 13:23, 47-48; 26:23). He is the Messiah.


Isa. 49:7

“Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, to the despised One, to the One abhorred by the nation, to the Servant of rulers, ‘Kings will see and arise, princes will also bow down, because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.’”

Yahweh speaks to the Servant of rulers. Since He is abhorred by the nation (Israel), He must be other than Israel, the Messiah, chosen by God. Yet to Him Kings and princes will defer.


Isa. 50:10

“Who is among you that fears the LORD, that obeys the voice of His servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.”

Though unnamed, the Servant must be the same person who speaks in Isa. 50:4-9, whose back was scourged and who was spat upon (Isa. 50:6; Matt. 26:67; 27:26, 30; Mark 14:65; 15:15, 19; Luke 22:63; John 19:1), Messiah.


Isa. 52:13

“Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.”

Though unnamed, this ultimately exalted [2] Servant is He who died for the sins of the nation of Israel, as expressed by the plural pronoun “our,” representative of the believing remnant (Isa. 53:1-12), Messiah.


Isa. 53:11

“As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.”

The Messiah, the “Righteous One” whose sacrificial death atoned for the sins of “the many.”

Summary: This document represents an attempt to identify every occurrence in the singular of the word “servant” (Heb. ebed) in the book of Isaiah. The servant is named on several occasions: Isaiah, Eliakim, David, and Israel, often also identified as Jacob, once as descendant of Abraham, and once as Jeshurun. Of particular interest is the identification of the “servant” in the so-called “Servant Songs” found in Isa. 41-53. There follows a representative table produced by Thomas Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on Isaiah. Contable actually includes a 5th "Servant Song" he says is found in Isaiah 61:1-3, with a postscript in Isaiah 61:4-9. However, the word "servant" does not appear there, so I have declined to include it.




Post Script


Isa. 42:1-4

Isa. 42:5-9


Isa. 49:1-6

Isa. 49:7-13


Isa. 50:4-9

Isa. 50:10-11


Isa. 52:13—53:12

Isa. 54—55

There are some, Jewish people for example, who see only the nation of Israel as being the servant in these songs. There are others who see both Israel and the Messiah denoted in these “servant songs.” While it is true that God intended Israel to be a “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:5-6) that would bring the nations of the world into fellowship with Him, sadly, too often Israel has not fulfilled that role. The reality is that there are servant references which cannot possibly refer to Israel. How can the servant be Israel when He is distinguished from Israel and actually restores Israel (Isa. 49:6)? In what sense has Israel given “his back to those who strike” him, his “cheeks to those who pluck out the beard,” and left his face uncovered “from humiliation and spitting” (Isa. 50:6)? In what way has Israel’s appearance been “marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14)? In what way will Israel “sprinkle many nations” (Isa. 52:15)? In what way has Israel been “pierced through for our transgressions,” “crushed for our iniquities,” borne “the iniquity of us all,” or borne “the sin of many” (Isa. 53:5-6, 11-12)? In the “Servant Songs” it is better to see the servant in some instances as referring to Israel, while in other instances as referring only to the Messiah. At the same time, there is a sense in which Jesus, the Messiah, is the ultimate embodiment of Israel. As John A. Martin summarized, “Which servant Isaiah was referring to in each passage must be determined by the context and the characteristics assigned to the servant. Israel as God’s servant was supposed to help bring the world to a knowledge of God, but she failed. So the Messiah, the Lord’s Servant, who epitomizes the nation of Israel, will fulfill God’s will” (John A. Martin, “Isaiah,” Introduction to Isaiah 42, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament).

1 Other factors that warrant identification of the “servant” in Isa. 49:3 as Messiah embodying the ultimate manifestation of the nation of Israel: (1) His mouth is likened to a sharp sword, a theme specifically stated about Messiah (Isa. 11:4; Rev. 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15). (2) The Servant is specifically distinguished from Jacob-Israel in Isa. 49:5. He is, in fact, the one who not only restores Jacob-Israel, but is a light to the nations to extend on behalf of Yahweh His global, not merely Israeli, salvation (Isa. 49:6). (3) He is despised by the nation (of Israel), yet revered by kings and princes (Isa. 49:7). (4) Messiah is the one who successfully guides His flock so that His sheep neither hunger nor thirst, are protected from the sun, and find plenty of water (Isa. 49:10, quoted in Rev. 7:13-16). Commenting on Isa. 49:3, John Martin (Isaiah, The Bible Knowledge Commentary) states, “The Messiah is called Israel because He fulfills what Israel should have done. In His person and work He epitomizes the nation.” Text

2 “The terms high, lifted up, and greatly exalted describe God elsewhere (cf. Isa.2:17; 6:1; 33:10; 57:15). ... Thus the Servant would take a place of equality with God (cf. Acts. 2:33; 3:13, 26; Phil. 2:9; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22). This could in no way refer to Israel, the remnant in Israel, or any merely human person” (Thomas Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on Isaiah). Text

The Identification of the Servant in the Book of Isaiah

Prepared by James T. Bartsch

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Email Contact: jbartsch@wordexplain.com

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE , Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

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WordExplain by James T. Bartsch

Scriptures Taken from the New American Standard Bible 1995 Update

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Published November 3, 2010

Updated March 21, 2014; October 29, 2021