Though the boundaries of the passage are disputed, many commentators see Isaiah 49-54 as a discrete unit of the prophecy. Chapter 49 starts off in a new voice - the first person of the Servant of Yahweh. Chapter 54 ends on a triumphant note, describing the construction of a new Zion and bringing to a close the theme of “justification”: “Their vindication is from Me,” Yahweh says about Yahweh’s sons.

In those chapters, the word “servant” (Heb. ebed ) is used eight times (49:3, 5, 6, 7; 50:10; 52:13; 53:11; 54:17). Seven are in the singular, culminating with the declaration that the righteous Suffering Servant will by His suffering “justify many” (53:11). The next use of the word (54:17) is plural describing the servants of Yahweh who are “vindicated.” Through the righteous One , Yahweh forms a righteous many; the one Servant is a seed cast into the ground, dying to produce abundant fruit, to replicate Himself. Insofar as the Servant is a new Adam, His offspring is a new Adamic race; insofar as He is Moses, He produces a prophetic people; insofar as He is priest and sacrifice, He produces a nation of priests who are living sacrifices. The numerology underscores the point: After the one Servant completes His week, on the eighth day He becomes many.

If one were being speculative, one might be tempted to match the uses of “servant” to the days of creation. And such a speculative commentator might note that the third use of the word (49:6) speaks of Jews and Gentiles, land and sea; and that the fourth use (49:7) mentions kings (ruling like stars); and that the sixth use (52:12) describes a prudent Servant who will be exalted (like a new Adam?); and that the seventh use (53:11) talks about the Sabbatical satisfaction of the Servant. Or such a speculative commentator might hear faint echoes of Genesis 2, as the Servant, like Adam formed from the womb of earth, is named from the inner parts of His mother, and might note that Adam is also a servant of Yahweh created to serve ( abad ) the garden. And then one might push the analogy forward into chapter 54, where Zion is a new Eve, born from the suffering of the Servant, surrounded by her resurrected children.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart