The Anonymous Servant


Dennis McCallum



Isaiah recorded four unique prophetic messages about one called the servant of the Lord. However, none of the messages identify the servant by name. The four passages are Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; and 52:13-53:12. Therefore, they are called the "anonymous servant" passages. The New Testament identifies these passages as referring to Jesus Christ (see Matthew 8:17; 12:18-21; 27:43; Acts 8:32-33). The following analysis of the songs gathers their content together under logical headings.

  1. Person of the Servant 
    1. He is a man 
      1. Isaiah 49:1 - "called and formed from the womb"; no evidence of personification or anthropomorphism
      2. Isaiah 53:2,3 - The contrast is made between "he" and "him" vs. "we". The term "man" is used in vs. 3. The contrast is between the servant and the Jews. (see also v.8,11,& 52:14)
      3. Isaiah 53:8 - The servant dies. This is never taught of the Jewish people -- only the opposite, that they will never pass away.
    2. He is wholly obedient and righteous, unlike Israel. 
      1. Isaiah 50:5 - "I was not disobedient"
      2. IIsaiah 53:9 - "He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit found in his mouth"
    3. He is Spirit-filled. 
      1. Isaiah 42:1 - "I will put my Spirit upon Him"
  2. The Ministry of the Servant 
    1. He will begin His ministry in obscurity and seeming failure. 
      1. Isaiah 49:2 - "In the shadow of His hand he has concealed me... he has hidden me in his quiver"
      2. Isaiah 49:4 - "I have toiled in vain"
      3. Isaiah 53:2 - "he has no stately form or majesty ... nor appearance that we should be attracted to him"
    2. The Servant executes a prophetic or teaching ministry. 
      1. Isaiah 42:1,3 - "He will faithfully bring forth justice"--carries the idea of definitive decision or judgment
      2. Isaiah 42:4 - they "will...wait for his (oral) teaching"
      3. Isaiah 42:6 - "a light to the nations"--to bring God's knowledge to Gentiles (49:6)
      4. Isaiah 50:4 - his obedience results in the ability to teach faithfully and effectively
    3. The Servant is humiliated and persecuted 
      1. Isaiah 50:6 smitten, beard plucked, spat upon, humiliated
      2. Isaiah 52:14 - appearance marred
      3. Isaiah 53:3 - despised, forsaken, sorrowful, grievous
      4. Isaiah 53:4 - afflicted, bearing grief and sorrows
      5. Isaiah 53:7 - oppressed, afflicted
      6. Isaiah 53:8,9 - killed and buried
      7. Isaiah 53:10 - put to grief
      8. Isaiah 53:5 - crushed, scourged
    4. Yet the servant is not disheartened or discouraged 
      1. Isaiah 42:2,4 - He will not lament, be dishearted or crushed.
      2. Isaiah 49:4 - first part of the verse is answered by the second
      3. Isaiah 50:7-9 - shows his trust in God in the face of disgrace and opponents.
    5. He atones by substitutionary death. 
      1. Isaiah 52:15 - "sprinkles nations" - ritual blood sprinkling would be the only interpretation possible
      2. Isaiah 53:4 - bears griefs and sorrows
      3. Isaiah 53:5 - pierced, wounded for other's transgressions (also, 3 more statements)
      4. Isaiah 53:6 - our iniquity falls on Him
      5. Isaiah 53:8 - dies as substitution for the Jews ("my people")
      6. Isaiah 53:10 - is the guilt offering for others sins
      7. Isaiah 53:11 - bears iniquities
      8. Isaiah 53:12 - bore sin
    6. His death is redemptive: on this basis the servant justifies, reconciles, heals, sprinkles, becomes a guilt offering and intercedes for "his offspring" from all nations. 
      1. Isaiah 53:12 - He will "justify the many"
      2. Isaiah 53:12 - "interceded for transgressors"
      3. Isaiah 42:7; 49:9; 42:22 - "sets captives free" - more apt to be a spiritual "freeing" because of 42:1-4,6. Both passages are spiritual as opposed to political. However, he will a keep the captives from hunger and thirst, and will lead them. This could be a reference to a regathering of the Diaspora (49:8-12).
      4. Isaiah 42:6; 49:8 - He will establish a New Covenant with the Jews.
      5. Isaiah 49:5,6 - He will reconcile both Jews and Gentiles to God. Although there is a transition from Jews (5) to Gentiles (6), it does not revoke the Jews' covenant. According to other passages, he will still reconcile the Jewish nation as a whole.
    7. He is raised from the dead. 
      1. Isaiah 53:10 - "He will prolong his days" - this, after the servant is dead, would be hard to explain any other way.
    8. He is glorified 
      1. Isaiah 49:7 - "Kings shall see and rise" --standing up was (and is) a way of paying tribute. Kings never stood for a visitor -- the visitor never sat down.
      2. Isaiah 52:15 - "Kings will shut their mouths on account"
      3. Isaiah 53:12 - "I will allot him a portion with the great"


There is not one character trait or part of the ministry except B-3 which in any way applies to the Jewish nation. Most are decidedly impossible. However, every part was fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth except the ruling-kingship, which is to come.