Would it surprise you to know that Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:2 says not one word about the servant growing up in a poor family?
Read it for yourself. The kings and nations say "Formerly he grew like a sapling or like the root from arid ground; he had neither form nor grandeur; we saw him, but without such visage that we could desire him." Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:2.
Not one word about growing up in a poor family.
Isaiah is saying that the servant whom the nations thought was subhuman, horrible, disgusting, was not given an easy life. The servant grew in drought like conditions -- very little to sustain life, but like weeds growing up in cracks of a sidewalk stubbornly hung on to life and grew despite the conditions.
Making the eventual rise of the servant that much more shocking in the eyes of kings and nations.
Let's read this in context.
Remember, Isaiah has identified the speaker as the gentile nations and kings ("so will the many nations exclaim about him, and kings will shut their mouths"). Y'shayahu / Isaiah 52:15.
The gentile nations have expressed astonishment of the sudden elevation to lofty heights of one they had thought was subhuman. They find it hard to believe that someone they thought was so disgusting is actually G-d's chosen (never divorced, never rejected). The nations say Who would believe what we have heard! Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:1 The gentile nations literally cannot believe the identity of the servant.
The kings and nations say "Formerly he grew like a sapling or like the root from arid ground; he had neither form nor grandeur; we saw him, but without such visage that we could desire him." Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:2.
Not a word about growing up in a poor family, is there?
It says ""Formerly he grew like a sapling or like the root from arid ground"
Luke 2:7 has Jesus being born in a manger -- it does not refer back to Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:3.
The imagery in Isaiah is that of a baby plant trying to survive in desert like conditions -- "arid" -- drought conditions. Jesus supposedly grew up poor, but there is no inkling in the Christian bible that he struggled just to survive (as does a sapling from arid ground).
It also says "he had neither form nor grandeur".
This passage echoes "Just as multitudes were astonished over you (saying) "His appearance is too marred to be a man's, and his visage to be human" in Y'shayahu / Isaiah 52:14.
as Jesus ever been described as struggling to grow in "dry earth" (struggling to grow, like a tree without enough water or fertilizer)?
Although the Christian bible states that Jesus' life was threatened at birth, supposedly so were other male babies. This would not be unique to Jesus if it were about him.
There is no mention of Jesus' childhood being an ongoing struggle any more so than any other Jewish boy under Roman rule either. More telling is Isaiah's statement in the same verse that the servant is unattractive ("he had neither form (תֹ֥אַר) nor beauty / attractiveness (הָדָ֑ר)", Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:2).
Jesus is never described as unattractive -- consider any picture you've ever seen purporting to be Jesus. People do not turn away from him as if he were undesirable -- the opposite is true. We are told that Jesus was immensely popular with large crowds following him -- in other words the opposite of the repulsive, unattractive servant in Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:2.
Isaiah has identified the servant as the Jewish people (Israel). Missionaries will proclaim that "not all Jews are" (fill in the blank: righteous, perfect, died in horrible circumstances, etc.). To the missionary one Jew who doesn't fit the definition disqualifies Israel (the Jewish nation) from being G-d's servant.
Although, mind you, Isaiah and other prophets totally disagree and actually identify the servant as Israel.
The missionary who begins by stating "Isaiah 53 can't be about Israel (the Jews) says this, normally with a comment such as "servant of Isaiah 53 is an innocent and guiltless sufferer. Israel is never described as sinless." Actually, the servant is never described as sinless. Missionaries tend to lump every Jew who ever lived into their analysis -- including apostate Jews who became atheists, or Christians. If one Jew who ever lived wasn't murdered (as the servant is said to die multiple deaths in executions) these missionaries will declare that the servant cannot be the Jews.
Does this missionary argument hold up on inspection?
Read D'varim / Deuteronomy 30. Moses tells the people that there will come a time when the Jewish people will exiled from the land, and only a remnant (a small number) will remain faithful to G-d. Even Y'shayahu / Isaiah (chapter 10:20) states "the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob."
The servant in Isaiah 53 is the righteous remnant of Jews who, throughout history, have remained faithful to G-d and His covenant with us. This is not some "excuse." Time and again the T'nach (bible) tells us that the Jews will be exiled as a punishment and that over time only a few, a "righteous remnant" will remain. It is this righteous few who are the suffering servant of Isaiah.
The missionaries should read a prophet they rarely if ever mention, Tzefaniah / Zephaniah, who wrote (chapter 3) a passage which echoes Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53 and Y'rmiyahu / Jeremiah's "new" covenant as well "And I will leave over in your midst a humble and poor people, and they shall take shelter in the name of the L-rd. The remnant of Israel shall neither commit injustice nor speak lies; neither shall deceitful speech be found in their mouth, for they shall graze and lie down, with no one to cause them to shudder. Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Rejoice and celebrate wholeheartedly, O daughter of Jerusalem!"
Tzefaniah / Zephaniah 3:13 "neither shall deceitful speech be found in their mouth"
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:9 "there was no deceit in his mouth."
Time and again the prophet Y'shayahu / Isaiah declares that Israel (the Jewish people) are G-d's servant. Y'shayahu / Isaiah 41:8 - 9. "But you, Israel My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, who loved Me, Whom I grasped from the ends of the earth, and from its nobles I called you, and I said to you, "You are My servant"; I chose you and I did not despise you."
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 44:1. "And now, hearken, Jacob (Jacob's name was changed to Israel and Jews are often called "Jacob" and "Israel") My servant, and Israel whom I have chosen. 2. So said HaShem your Maker, and He Who formed you from the womb shall aid you. Fear not, My servant Jacob, and Jeshurun (the Jews) whom I have chosen."
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 44:21 "Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you."
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 45:4. "For the sake of My servant Jacob, and Israel My chosen one, and I called to you by your name; I surnamed you, yet you have not known Me."
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 49:3 - 7. "And He said to me (Isaiah), "You are My servant, Israel, about whom I will boast. . . This is what HaShem says- the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel- to him who was despised and abhorred by the nations, to the servant of rulers: "Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of HaShem , who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."
Note one particular phrase in chapter 49 of Isaiah and contrast it with Isaiah 53:
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 49:7 "to him (my servant Israel) who was despised and abhorred by the nations"
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:3 "Despised and rejected by men."
and from Jeremiah:
Y'rmiyahu / Jeremiah 30:10 " 'So do not fear, O Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, O Israel,' declares HaShem."
Also see Isaiah 42:19-20; 43:10 to see that Israel is the servant, nowhere is this term used for the messiah. Jeremiah 30:10 also names Israel as the servant and Jeremiah 30:17 says that the servant Israel is regarded by the nations as an outcast, forsaken by G-d, just like in Isaiah 53:4.
For the purposes of examining the list maker's claims it is not necessary to identify the servant's identity -- merely to see if Jesus could be that servant. . . Missionaries will also point to Jewish sources who say the servant in Isaiah is Moses or David or moshiach ben Yosef (messiah, son of Joseph) or someone else. Most likely these missionaries make these claims from innocent ignorance. Most sages (not all -- after all opinion is opinion) agree that the servant is the Jewish nation (Israel) -- and an early church source confirms that this has been explained to Christians going back to the first century! Justin Martyr (100 CE, so VERY EARLY Christinan) wrote in "Trypho the Jew" that Jews of his era said: "you (Jews) and your teachers venture to affirm that in the prophecy of Isaiah it is not said, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive,' but, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son."
When sages refer to the servant in Isaiah as being other than Israel most often they are not being literal, but rather using allegory to make a moral point. Missionaries will often quote sources as if they are literal when they are not. The Ramban (Nachmanides) explained the concept of Jewish allegory (drash) to the King of Aragon (Spain) (when a missionary back in the 12th century tried to pull the same trick on him in person (misusing Midrashic interpretation) as if it were literal) The Ramban said to the King: "We have a third book called Midrash, meaning sermons. It is just as if the bishop would rise and deliver a sermon, and one of the listeners whom the sermon pleased recorded it." (Disputation at Barcelona).
Now they Here is the Artscroll Stone Edition translation along with their footnotes at the bottom of each response to aid in your understanding of the passage.
Isaiah 52:13 Behold, My servant will succeed; he will be exalted and become high and exceedingly lofty.
14 Just as multitudes were astonished over you (saying) "His appearance is too marred to be a man's, and his visage to be human,
15 so will the many nations exclaim about him, and kings will shut their mouths (in amazement) for they will see that which had never been told to them, and will perceive things they had never heard.
53:1 Who would believe what we have heard! For whom has the arm of HaShem been revealed?
2 Formerly he grew like a sapling or like the root from arid ground; he had neither form nor grandeur; we saw him, but without such visage that we could desire him.
3 He was despised and isolated from men, a man of pains and accustomed to illness. As one from whom we would hide our faces; he was despise and we had no regard for him.
4 But in truth it was our ills that he bore, and our pains that he carried -- but we had regarded him diseased, stricken by G-d and afflicted!
5 He was pained because of our rebellious sins and oppressed through our iniquities; the chastisement upon him was for our benefit, and through his wounds we were healed.
6 We have all strayed like sheep each of us turning his own way and HaShem inflicted upon him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was persecuted and afflicted but did not open his mouth; like a sheep being led to the slaughter or a ewe that is silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth.
8 Now that he has been released from captivity and judgment who could have imagined such a generation? For he had been removed from the land of the living, an affliction upon them that was my people's sin.
9 He submitted himself to his grave like wicked men; and the wealthy (submitted) to his executions for committing no crime and with no deceit in his mouth.
10 HaShem desired to oppress him and He afflicted him; if his soul would acknowledge guilt he would see offspring and live long days and the desire or HaShem would succeed in his hand.
11. He would see (the purpose) and be satisfied with his soul's distress. With his knowledge My servant will vindicate the Righteous One to multitudes; it is their iniquities that he will carry.
12. Therefore, I will assign him a portion from the multitudes and he will divide the mighty as spoils -- in return for having poured out his soul for death and being counted among the wicked, for he bore the sin of the multitudes, and prayed for the wicked.
Isaiah 52:13 i.e. G-d's servant the people of Israel (Rashi)
52:15 Just as Israel had once been astonishingly degraded, so it will astonish the nations by its exaltedness when the time of redemption arrives.
53:1-3 this is the prophecy foretelling what the nations and their kings will exclaim when they witness Israel's rejuvenation. The nations will contrast their former scornful attitude toward the Jews (vv. 1-3) with their new realization of Israel's grandeur (vv 4-7).
53:5 we brought suffering upon Israel for our own selfish purposes; it was not, as we had claimed, that G-d was punishing Israel for its own evil behavior.
53:6 We sinned by inflicting punishment upon Israel. Such oppression is often described as "Hashem's punishment" (see 10:5, Habakkuk 1:12), for He decreed that it should happen (Abarbanel).
53:8 When Israel's exile is finally ended the nations will marvel that such a generation could have survived the expulsion from "the land of the living, i.e. Israel, that the nations had sinfully inflicted upon it.
53:9 Ordinary Jews chose to die like common criminals, rather than renounce their faith; and wealthy Jews were killed for no reason other than to enable their wicked conquerors to confiscate their riches (Radak).
53:10 That is, Israel. G-d replies to the nations that Israel's suffering was a punishment for its own sins; and when the people realize this and repent, they will be redeemed and rewarded.
53:11 Israel will teach the nations of G-d's righteousness.