What does Isaiah mean about the Suffering Servant receiving a “portion” and “spoils”?

Q. What do these lines in Isaiah mean: “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong?”

The specific meaning of those lines is that this person will get a share in the plunder from a battle. The “great” and “strong” are the victorious warriors, and the “portion” and “spoils” are the plunder that the victors divide up among themselves.

There is a paradox, however. Those two lines are paired with the two lines that follow:

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.

So somehow, even though this person died in the battle, and seems to have done something wrong, he will still get the rewards of the victory. How can that be?

Those four lines continue a paradoxical theme in one of the passages where Isaiah talks about the “Suffering Servant.” In that passage, the servant suffers to the point of death for the sake of others, but then seems to live again: “he was cut off from the land of the living,” but “he will see his offspring and prolong his days.” “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.”

Christians who read this passage see in it a prediction of the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They believe that Jesus not only suffered for the sins of the world, he was considered a sinner so that he could represent guilty humanity. “He poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.” But because he gave his life to become the Savior of the world, in a supreme example of sacrificial love, as the Bible says elsewhere, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.”

In other words, God gave Jesus the rewards of victory, because even though his death seemed to be a loss and a defeat, it was really the culmination of all of God’s work to bring salvation to the world. “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong.”

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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