In Deuteronomy, Moses details the necessary behavior of Israel’s future king. The monarch must not acquire too much wealth, return the people to Egypt, or exalt himself over his fellow Israelites. If the king follows God’s commands, he will ensure a lengthy reign. Isaiah recalls Moses’ words with reference to the “servant” (עבד; eved) whose suffering and death will provide the atonement necessary for Israel’s return from exile. The prophet’s repurposing of Moses’ language suggests that the servant performs a royal act. In giving his life for his people, Isaiah’s suffering servant gains the reward of Israel’s king. Jesus follows this model when he dies as a servant-king and enacts salvation from sin.
On the cusp of Canaan, Moses tells his people, “When you come into the land (ארץ; erets)… you may appoint over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose” (Deut 17:14). This king must have a copy of the Torah written in the presence of the priests, which he will read “all the days of his life” (כל ימי חייו; kol yamey hayyav) to ensure that he keeps God’s commands (17:19). Provided that the royal leader does not deviate from the divine regulations, he will “lengthen [his] days” (יאריך ימים; ya’arikh yamim) as the king of Israel (17:20). Deuteronomy establishes the requirements for the most exalted figure among the people of Israel.
Isaiah describes a servant whose suffering and death will result in his being “high and exalted” (Isa 52:13)—terms usually reserved for God (cf. Isa 6:1; 57:15). This servant will give his life as a “guilt offering” (אשׁם; asham) for his people in order to enact the return from exile. The prophetic portrayal of the servant echoes Moses’ description of Israel’s king (53:10): “The Lord was pleased to crush and afflict [the servant]; when he appoints his life (נפשׁו; naphsho) as a guilt offering, he shall see seed and prolong [his] days (יאריך ימים).” Deuteronomy’s king would read Torah “all the days of his life” and thereby prolongs his days in the land, but Isaiah’s servant prolongs his days after he dies, having been “cut off from the land of the living (ארץ חיים; erets hayyim)” (Isa 53:8). By echoing Deuteronomy, Isaiah suggests that the servant’s sacrificial death leads to his crowning as a king. This paradoxical picture of a sacrificial servant-king reemerges in the Gospels: Yeshua declares that he came “to serve (διακονῆσαι; diakonesai), and to give his life (ψυχὴν; psuchèn) as a ransom [sacrifice] (λύτρον; lútron) in exchange for many” (Matt 20:28; Mk 10:45). As with Isaiah’s servant, Jesus is crowned “King of the Jews” in the midst of his suffering and death, and he prolongs his days when God raises him from the dead.