What is the meaning of "And his grave was set with the wicked, and with the rich in his deaths" (Isaiah 53:9)?
Answer: The suffering servant's "deaths" as well as the description of his subsequent revival are metaphors for the fortunes of Israel. The phrases "for he was cut off out of the land of the living" (verse 8), "his grave was set" (verse 9), and "in his deaths" (verse 9) are not to be taken literally. The metaphor "his grave was set" describing an event in the life of God's suffering servant, is similar to the statement, "for he was cut off out of the land of the living" (verse 8). Metaphors of this type, used to describe deep anguish and subjection to enemies, are part of the biblical idiom. Similar metaphorical language is used, for example, in Ezekiel 37 to express the condition preceding relief and rejuvenation following the end of exile. Ezekiel provides the clues needed for understanding the phraseology used by Isaiah. The metaphorical images employed by Isaiah-"cut off out of the land of the living" and "grave"-are used in Ezekiel's description of the valley of the dry bones, where the bones symbolize the exiled Jewish people. Lost in apparently hopeless exile, the Jewish people exclaim: "we are clean cut off" (Ezekiel 37:11). In reply, God promises: "And I will put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land" (Ezekiel 37:14). It is now clear that Isaiah's phrase, "for he was cut off out of the land of the living," refers to the deadly condition of exile. Similarly, the term "grave" in Isaiah-"And his grave was set with the wicked"-refers to life in exile as used in Ezekiel: "I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves" (Ezekiel 37:12), where "graves" is a metaphor for the lands of exile.
The messages of these two prophets are addressed to God's suffering servant. The sovereign national entity was destroyed but the Jewish people survive, albeit in exile from which God will restore them to their land. Although "cut off out of the land of the living" and now living in the lands of exile, the "grave set with the wicked," God will free the servant from this fate and restore him to the "land of the living," the Land of Israel. That Isaiah speaks in the singular and Ezekiel in the plural is of no consequence, for the people of Israel may be spoken of in both forms (for example, Exodus 14:31, Psalms 81:12-14).
Paralleling "grave set with the wicked" is the phrase "with the rich in his deaths." "Rich" here refers to the powerful men and institutions of the Gentile nations among whom the personified people of Israel are exiled.
"And his grave was set with the wicked" describes an imposed fate and not something accepted voluntarily by the servant. Furthermore, this was not a literal death, as the servant was alive when "his grave was set" (cf. Genesis 30:1; Exodus 10:17; Numbers 12:12; 2 Samuel 9:8, 16:9; Jonah 4:9 for examples of figurative death). This verse informs us that despite the imposed fate of exile, Israel continued to be faithful to God. Accordingly, Israel is to afterwards enjoy the fruits of his sacrifice. The phrase "in his deaths" signifies that the suffering servant of the Lord experienced figuratively many "deaths" in exile. His anguish was multiplied exceedingly by the constant harassment of his enemies. Jewish history shows us how often Israel, hounded by its enemies, seemed to be in its last throes only to rise again.