Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah

John Barry's The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah (Biblica/Paternoster 2010) is an important and, from what I can tell, neglected monograph on Isa 52-53, with special emphasis on messiah's resurrection. Although I don't agree with the entirely of his argument, he makes a strong case for the primary thesis. I'll quote some representative excerpts. These are backed up by detailed supporting arguments that I won't be quoting. (For that, you have to read the book!)

Isa 49:5 distinguishes between Israel and the servant: "And now Yahweh says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my refuge". Here Jacob and Israel (which may be synonyms) and the servant are separate figures…In Isa 49:5-6, Jacob and Israel are being gathered by the servant, raised up by him, and restored by him. The juxtaposition of Israel and Judah against the servant suggests that we should understand Isa 49:3's line, "You are Israel my servant," as an annunciation of a new servant, who will fulfill all or part of Israel's role.

It should be mentioned that the majority of times this inflected form of "guilt offering" is used in the Hebrew Bible it evokes the priestly sense of an offering (e.g. Ezk 40:39; 43:13; 44:29; 46:20) and even atonement (e.g., Lev 5-7; and Num 5:8). If Isa 53:10 is placed within a priestly context, as it seems it should be based on this analysis, we may be able to even assert, once again, that the servant's act has atoning affects [effects?]. In other words, as once thought, he may be a vicarious sufferer….In summary, the cultic idea of "sprinkling" in 52:15 and possibly Zion/Jerusalem being the group that makes sacrifice suggests that the events in 53:10 should be understood particularly in light of the cultic and priestly spheres. This presents the option that the servant could be both priest (Isa 52:15) and offering (53:10)…

Isa 53:10c also states that the servant will "prolong days"…It is difficult to determine which of these ideas is being referenced in Isa 53;10, but no matter which specific idea is being referenced it is clear from this examination that the servant will life a long life after he is made a guilt offering. 

Isa  53:11a also emphasizes the servant's postmortem life when it says, "out of trouble (anguish labor, or toil) of his life [the servant] will see [light]…It will be argued in chapter three that.. the most probable Urtext says that the servant "will see light." Every instance in which "light" follows "to see" in the Hebrew Bible…is a reference to something that occurs in life…Ps 49:20 (49:19 in English) uses the same metaphor to illustrate the opposite concept (death) when it speaks of people who "go to the company of their ancestors, who will never see the light". Likewise, Job says in Job 3:16, "why was I not buried like a stillborn child, like an infant that never sees the light?" At the end of the book, Job rejoices by saying the opposite–God has kept "my soul from going down to the Pit, and my life shall look upon light [33:28]…Thus, the "light" variant is a very clear reference to the servant's resurrection. 

In Isa 53:1 and 12 some of the language evokes war imagery…Isa 53:1 sets up the way that "Yahweh's arm" appears or is revealed. The phrase "Yahweh's arm" is used in Exod 15:16 to describe Yahweh's victory over the Egyptians and his future victories over Edom, Moab and Canaan…Yahweh's arm is spoken about in descriptions of the Exodus event (e.g., Exod 6:6; Deut 26:8; 2 Kgs 17:36); and the same imagery is evoked to describe Yahweh's plan to be victorious in the battle against other gods for his people (Deut 4:34)….In light of passages like these, it is clear that "Yahweh's arm" would have evoked images of him battling for his people. Thus, the one through whom his arm is revealed would be viewed as Yahweh's divine warrior in battle. 

In Isa 53:12, the prophet states: "with [the] strong ones [the servant] shall divide bounty, because he exposed his life to death and was counted with the transgressors, and…carried the sin of many and will intercede for transgressors." Every time "divide" and "bounty" are coupled together, there is an actual or hypothetical bounty from a battle being divided (e.g., Gen 49:27; Exod 15:9; Josh 22:8; Judg 5:30; Zech 14:1; cf. Ps 68:13; Prov 16:19). The servant is likely being given the bounty of the people's reconciled relationship with Yahweh–the idea being that he shares in it. This war is not only Yahweh's but is also the servant's–they are battling together for God's people and God's land. 

It has been demonstrated in this book that the "he will see light" or "he will show him light" variant in the DSS and the LXX, respectively, in Isa 53:11 is the most probable Urtext. It has been suggested that this variant is a sign that the servant experiences postmortem life, though it is not the only sign.  

After a long battle as Yahweh's warrior, the servant vicariously suffers and dies (53:10a). He is then resurrected (53:10b). In his long postmortem life, he sees how his death as a guilt offering carried the sin of his offspring, restoring them to their land (possibly), and witnesses their relationship with Yahweh subsequently reconciled (53:10-12). The servant is a warrior for Yahweh, a bringer of righteousness to many (53:11b), and an intercessor. In this regard, after the servant has seen light (life again)… Ibid. 32, 65, 69-72,139-41, 144.


  1. Thanks for this. What's your take on Is 53:10 - "He shall see his offspring..." Perhaps some would try to use this to enforce the conspiracy theory that Jesus had children.

    1. I discuss that in a recent post. Offspring can have a figurative meaning. Indeed, Isa 1 describes Israel as Yahweh's children.

    2. I'm not Steve, but I thought I might give a brief answer nonetheless. In broads strokes, Id say it highlights the accomplishment by Christ what Adam should have done - create offspring to reflect the glory of God and expand the garden temple such that it encompasses the world. Christ actually does this through the "birth pangs" of His passion. His death and resurrection are the means of inaugurating the new creation. Reading a lot of Beale and Vos helps to fill out the exegetical details on this. I'd also compare it to Hebrews 2:13 where it seems clear Christ's offspring are those whom He sanctifies.

  2. Ah Steve, beat me to it as I was typing ;)

    1. This enforces the conspiracy theory that "Steve" is really just a rogue calvinist AI housed in a supercomputer in John Frame's basement.