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I want to get the most accurate and non biased understanding of the verse of Isaiah 53:10

“ויהוה חפץ דכאו החלי—אם תשים אשם נפשו יראה זרע יאריך ימים וחפץ יהוה בידו יצלח” (ישעיהו 53:10, Aleppo)

Does the word תשים means "you will put" or "she (his soul) will put"?

Is it possible to read the section אם תשים אשם נפשו as "If his soul would confess its guilt", or similar alluding that the suffering servant has a guilt, and thus, he is not sinless?

Note:

In chabad translation it is:

And the Lord wished to crush him, He made him ill; if his soul makes itself restitution, he shall see children, he shall prolong his days, and God's purpose shall prosper in his hand.

https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15984

Jonathan Aramaic translation goes like

וּמִן קֳדָם יְיָ הֲוָת רַעֲוָא לְמִצְרַף וּלְדַכָּאָה יַת שְׁאָרָא דְעַמֵהּ בְּדִיל לְנַקָאָה מֵחוֹבִין נַפְשֵׁיהוֹן יֶחֱזוּן בְּמַלְכוּת מְשִׁיחֵיהוֹן יִסְגוּן בְּנִין וּבְנָן יוֹרְכוּן יוֹמִין וְעָבְדֵי אוֹרַיְתָא דַייָ בִּרְעוּתֵהּ יִצְלְחוּן.

"And before God was the desire to refine and oppress the rest of the people in order to cleanse them of the sins of their souls, they would see the kingdom of their Messiah, they would multiply sons and daughters, they would live longer, and those who study God's Torah willingly would succeed"

The word אשם may be used as either guilt or guilt offering. Guilt:

כִּי אַרְצָם מָלְאָה אָשָׁם מִקְּדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל (Jeremiah 51:5)

Guilt offering:

וְהִקְטִיר אֹתָם הַכֹּהֵן הַמִּזְבֵּחָה אִשֶּׁה לַיהֹוָה אָשָׁם הוּא (Leviticus 7:5)

It can also be used as offering of money:

וְאֵת כְּלֵי הַזָּהָב אֲשֶׁר הֲשֵׁבֹתֶם לוֹ אָשָׁם תָּשִׂימוּ בָאַרְגַּז מִצִּדּוֹ וְשִׁלַּחְתֶּם אֹתוֹ וְהָלָךְ (1 Samuel 6:8)

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  • 1
    Green's Literal If He should put His soul as a guilt offering, Young's Literal If his soul doth make an offering for guilt,
    – Nigel J
    Jul 9, 2023 at 20:06
  • Where do you see the verb "confess"?
    – Dottard
    Jul 9, 2023 at 22:35
  • @Dottard interpretation wise
    – Kapandaria
    Jul 10, 2023 at 4:26
  • @Kapandaria - OK, then how do you get any kind of confession out of the text without forcing that idea on the text when it is completely absent?
    – Dottard
    Jul 10, 2023 at 6:34
  • As Shadal commentary says, guilt offering is only brought by the sinner on his own sins, so the fact you bring a guild offering, means that you admit your guilty-ness
    – Kapandaria
    Jul 10, 2023 at 11:53

2 Answers 2

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Isa 53:10 has 16 words that essentially consists of five short clauses with the first two connected by a conjunction.

  1. וַיהוָ֞ה חָפֵ֤ץ דַּכְּאֹו֙ הֶֽחֱלִ֔י = yet YHWH (it) pleased to bruise/crush Him to sick/grief
  2. אִם־תָּשִׂ֤ים אָשָׁם֙ = when You make/set a sin/guilt offering
  3. נַפְשֹׁ֔ו יִרְאֶ֥ה זֶ֖רַע = His soul [He] shall see [His] seed [ie, He shall see His seed]
  4. יַאֲרִ֣יךְ יָמִ֑ים = He shall prolong [His] days
  5. וְחֵ֥פֶץ יְהוָ֖ה בְּיָדֹ֥ו יִצְלָֽח = and the delight/will of YHWH in His hand shall prosper

Now to the OP's specific questions:

Clause #3 - נַפְשֹׁ֔ו יִרְאֶ֥ה זֶ֖רַע

While it is true that the word "soul" is feminine, there is a masculine pronoun present, and the verb "shall see" is masculine. There is no verb meaning "to confess" here. Indeed, all the verbs and pronouns here are masculine, except for the noun "soul" and the verb "make". Thus, it can only mean that clause #3 can be translated similar to above. This is common Hebrew idiom to refer to the soul as oneself in the 3rd person.

Further, the verb יִרְאֶ֥ה = "see" only ever means just that and never "confess".

Clause #2 - אִם־תָּשִׂ֤ים אָשָׁם֙

Further the verb שׂוּם (= put, place, make, set) does not mean to confess.

Therefore, clause #2 is saying that the suffering servant is made/set a sin/guilt offering.

Other Information

If we accept that this fourth suffering servant song in Isa 52:13 - 53:12 is a prophecy about Messiah, then we are also told the following:

  • Isa 53:4 - Messiah took our infirmities and carried our sorrows
  • Isa 53:5 - But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him
  • Isa 53:6 - the LORD has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all
  • Heb 7:26 - Messiah was "is holy, innocent, undefiled, set apart from sinners"

Thus, there was nothing innately sinful about Jesus except for the guilt and sin of the world that was placed upon Him. That is, Jesus did not need to confess His own sin, else He would need a savior Himself.

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  • There is a problem with saying that תשיםis in 2nd person, because it changes immediatly to 3rd person without supplying a body
    – Kapandaria
    Jul 10, 2023 at 4:18
  • @Kapandaria - was this comment meant for me as I never said anything was 2nd person
    – Dottard
    Jul 10, 2023 at 6:32
  • you wrote אִם־תָּשִׂ֤ים אָשָׁם֙ = when You make/set a sin/guilt offering... The word you is second person but then it moves to third person without changing the body.
    – Kapandaria
    Jul 10, 2023 at 11:49
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The verb תָּשִׂים is conjugated in binyan Paʿal (Kal), imperfect aspect, and can either be 2nd person, masculine gender, singular number (“you”) or 3rd person, feminine gender, singular number (“she”/“it”). Either translation appears to be tenable, although admittedly, the latter translation does not suffer from the abnormal change in person.

If we understand תָּשִׂים as 2nd person, masculine gender, then it would be referring to Yahveh. However, notice the following abrupt change in person:

  • A. Yet it pleased Yahveh [3rd person] to bruise him
  • B. He [3rd person] put him to grief
  • C. When You [2nd person] shall make make his soul an offering for sin

In both A. and B., the subject is Yahveh, and the narrative is referring to Yahveh in the 3rd person. Then in C., the narrative still refers to Yahveh but in the 2nd person. That’s an unusual change of person if indeed the narrative is still referring to Yahveh. Why wouldn’t the narrative continue speaking of Yahveh in the 3rd person?

As such, it’s likely that the latter translation is the correct translation:

If he makes himself a guilt offering, he shall see seed.

Note that while the noun נֶפֶשׁ can be translated as “soul” or “life”, it can also be translated as the reflexive “self”.1

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Thus, נַפְשׁוֹ would be “himself”. Also, while נֶפֶשׁ is a grammatically feminine-gendered noun, the natural gender of its referent is masculine, since the word is referring to the masculine servant. Hence, we translate נַפְשׁוֹ as “himself” in accordance with the word’s natural gender in context, rather than the word’s grammatical gender.

Many English translations2 and [at least one] Jewish website3 prefer the latter translation, so it is not a novel translation.


Footnotes
1 BDB, p. 660, נֶפֶשׁ, 4., b.
2 ESV (2016), NASB (2020), RSV (1971), YLT (1898)
3 Sefaria: “That, if he made himself an offering for guilt,”
References
Brown, Francis; Driver, Samuel Rolles; Briggs, Charles Augustus. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Cambridge: Riverside, 1906.
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