IS LAMO THE SMOKING
GUN OF ISAIAH 53?
Rabbi Singer claims to have powerful evidence that the servant of Isaiah 53 is collective -- the
Hebrew word lamo in verse 8. Translated literally it could read: “For the transgression of my people a plague
was upon them” (the servant). The servant, then, must stand for a people rather than an individual.
The issue is whether lamo is third person singular, meaning to or for him or whether it is
third person plural, to or for them. The usual Hebrew words are lo (to him) and lahem (to them).
Lamo is an old poetic form which actually looks like a lengthening of the singular form lo, though its meaning
is generally plural. Analytical dictionaries are divided as to whether it is plural or or singular or both.
John Joseph Owens, in his Analytical Key to the Old Testament (Baker Book House, 1991), and
the Gramcord Bible computer program both parse lamo in Isa. 53:8 as singular. The standard Brown, Driver,
and Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament indicates that the 55 occurrences of lamo include a few cases where,
“according to many, it stands for lo” (p. 510, under the word le).
Benjamin Davidson’s monumental Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon parses it both as singular and plural. The detailed discussion of lamo
on p. 14 notes that many grammarians say lamo is singular as well as plural because it is used with singular nouns.
However, he quotes Gesenius that where it appears to be singular it actually has a collective meaning as in Gen. 9:26 of Shem
(meaning his descendants), Pss. 28:8-9 and 73:10 (referring to the collective noun for people); and Isa. 44:15 (referring to a
god and an idol which together can be collective). On Isa. 53:8 Gesenius adds: “Though the subject of this last
chapter is throughout given in the singular, yet the change to the plural form in ver. 8 is fully accounted for, when the
servant of God (chap. 51:13, like 42.1, and 49.3, 6) is considered to stand collectively for the prophets,
which to me seems quite evident.” He acknowledges that some manuscripts have the singular, lo, in Isa.
44:15 and 53:8 but regards these as exegetical glosses (editorial changes made by the copyists).
In response Davidson argues that lamo in Isa. 44:15 is clearly singular, and is confirmed by the
repetition in v. 17, using lo.
He makes a god and worships it, he makes it [into] a graven image and falls down before it (Heb.
And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol; and falls down to it and worships it (Heb.
Davidson is correct that in Isa. 44:15 lamo is unequivocally singular. Gesenius’ argument
that god and graven image together make a plural is indefensible since the two are referring to the same thing.
A later edition of Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, p. 302, agrees that Isa. 44:15 is clearly singular -- “its explanation
as plural would be extremely forced.”
Davidson goes on to say that the singular is justified in Isa. 53:8 not only because all the nouns and verbs
are singular, but because some ancient manuscripts, including the Ethiopic, actually read lo instead of lamo in
44:15 and 53:8.
To summarize: lamo is an old poetic form that seems to be a lengthening of the singular lo.
But it is often used with a plural meaning. It is used with singular nouns that have a collective meaning (Rabbi Singer’s
point in Isa. 53). But Isa. 44:15 is a clear instance where it is used in the singular for a singular noun. That it also has a singular
meaning in Isa. 53:8 is confirmed by ancient copies that use lo instead of lamo.
There is also strong evidence from the text of Isaiah to believe that the Righteous Servant is singular. The
following description could apply only to an individual:
I gave my back to the smiters,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard:
I hid not my face
from shame and spitting (Isa. 50:6 of the servant--v. 10).
This is the same figure who is beaten in Isa. 53:5:
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.
These passages describe accurately the treatment suffered by Jesus:
Then they spat in his face, and struck him; and some slapped him, saying “Prophesy to us, you
Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Matthew 26:67-68).
Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head
... and struck him with their hands (John 19:1-3).
For these reasons we must conclude that lamo in Isa. 53:8 is singular.
1 Produced by the GRAMCORD Institute, 2218 NE Brookview Drive,
Vancouver, WA 98686, USA.
2 Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1974.
3 London: Samuel Bagster & Sons, reprinted by Zondervan in 1970.
4 Edited and enlarged by E. Kautzsch (London: Oxford University Press,
1910, reprinted in 1976).