Isaiah 53 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 53
Pulpit Commentary
Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
Verse 1. - Who hath believed? Isaiah felt that he spoke, mainly, to unbelieving ears (see above, Isaiah 28:9-15; Isaiah 29:10-15; Isaiah 30:9-11; Isaiah 42:23, etc.). The unbelief was likely to be intensified when so marvellous a prophecy was delivered as that which he was now commissioned to put forth. Still, of course, there is rhetorical exaggeration in the question, which seems to imply that no one would believe. Our report; literally, that which has been heard by us. But the word is used technically for a prophetic revelation (see Isaiah 28:9, 19; Jeremiah 49:14). Here it would seem to refer especially to the Messianic prophecies delivered by Isaiah. To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? The "arm of the Lord," which has been "made bare in the eyes of all the nations" (Isaiah 52:10), yet requires the eye of faith to see it. Many Jews would not see the working of God's providence in the victories of Cyrus, or in the decision to which he came to restore the Jews to their own country. Unbelief can always assign the most plainly providential arrangements to happy accident.
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
Verse 2. - For he shall grow up; rather, now he grew up. The verbs are, all of them, in the past, or completed tense, until ver. 7, and are to be regarded as "perfects of prophetic certitude." As Mr. Cheyne remarks, "All has been finished before the foundations of the world in the Divine counsels." Before him; i.e. "before Jehovah" - under the fostering care of Jehovah (comp. Luke 2:40, 52). God the Father had his eye ever fixed upon the Son with watchfulness and tenderness and love. As a tender plant; literally, as a sapling, or as a sucker (comp. Job 8:16; Job 14:7; Job 15:30; Psalm 80:12; Ezekiel 17:4, 22; Hosea 14:6). The "branch" of Isaiah 11:1, 10 - a different word - has nearly the same meaning. The Messiah will be a fresh sprout from the stump of a tree that has been felled; i.e. from the destroyed Davidic monarchy. As a root (so Isaiah 11:10; Revelation 5:5). The "sapling" from the house of David shall become the "root" out of which his Church will grow (comp. John 15:1-6). Out of a dry ground. Either out of the "dry ground" of a corrupt age and nation, or out of the arid soil of humanity. In the East it is not unusual to see a tall succulent plant growing from a soft which seems utterly devoid of moisture. Such plants have roots that strike deep, and draw their nourishment from a hidden source. He hath no form nor comeliness; rather, he had no form nor majesty. It is scarcely the prophet's intention to describe the personal appearance of our Lord. What he means is that "the Servant" would have no splendid surroundings, no regal pomp nor splendour - nothing about him to attract men's eyes, or make them think him anything extraordinary. It is impossible to suppose that there was not in his appearance something of winning grace and quiet majesty. but it was of a kind that was not adapted to draw the gaze of the multitude. And when we shall see him. Some connect this clause with the preceding, and translate, "He hath no form nor comeliness, that we should regard him; no beauty, that we should desire him" (Lowth, Vitringa, Gesenius, Ewald, Knobel, Henderson, Urwick. But Stier, Delitzsch, Kay, and Mr. Cheyne prefer the construction found in the Authorized Version). No beauty; literally, no sightliness; i.e. nothing to attract the eye or arrest it. The spiritual beauties of holy and sweet expression and majestic calm could only have ben spiritually discerned.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Verse 3. - He is despised; rather, was despised (comp. Isaiah 49:7 and Psalm 22:6). Men's contempt was shown, partly in the little attention which they paid to his teaching, partly in their treatment of him on the night and day before the Crucifixion (Matthew 26:67, 68; Matthew 27:29-31; Mark 14:65; Mark 15:18, 19, etc.). Rejected of men; rather, perhaps, forsaken of men - "one from whom men held themselves aloof" (Cheyne); comp. Job 19:14. Our Lord had at no time more than a "little flock" attached to him. Of these, after a time, "many went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:66). Some, who believed on him, would only come to him by night (John 3:2). All the "rulers" and great men held aloof from him (John 7:48). At the end, even his apostles "forsook him, and fled" (Matthew 26:56). A Man of sorrows. The word translated "sorrows" means also pains of any kind. But the beautiful rendering of our version may well stand, since there are many places where the word used certainly means "sorrow" and nothing else (see Exodus 3:7; 2 Chronicles 6:29; Psalm 32:10; Psalm 38:17; Ecclesiastes 1:18; Jeremiah 30:15; Jeremiah 45:3; Lamentations 1:12, 18, etc.). Aquila well translates, ἄνδρα ἀλγηδόνων The "sorrows" of Jesus appear on every page of the Gospels. Acquainted with grief; literally, with sickness; but as aeger and aegritudo are applied in Latin both to the mind and to the body, so kholi, the word here used, would seem to be in Hebrew (see Jeremiah 6:7; Jeremiah 10:19). The translation of the Authorized Version may therefore be retained. We hid as it were our faces from him; literally, and there was as it were the hiding of the face from him. Some suppose the hiding of God's face to be intended; but the context, which describes the treatment of the Servant by his fellow-men, makes the meaning given in our version far preferable. Men turned their faces from him when they met him, would not see him, would not recognize him (comp. Job 19:13-17; Job 30:10). Despised. A repetition very characteristic of Isaiah (see Isaiah 1:7; Isaiah 3:12; Isaiah 4:3; Isaiah 6:11; Isaiah 14:25; Isaiah 15:8; Isaiah 17:12, 13, etc.).
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
Verse 4. - Surely he hath borne our griefs; or, surely they were our griefs which he bore. The pronouns are emphatic. Having set forth at length the fact of the Servant's humiliation (vers. 2, 3), the prophet hastens to declare the reason of it. Twelve times over within the space of nine verses he asserts. with the most emphatic reiteration, that all the Servant's sufferings were vicarious, borne for him, to save him from the consequences of his sins, to enable him to escape punishment. The doctrine thus taught in the Old Testament is set forth! with equal distinctness in the New (Matthew 20:28; John 11:50-52; Romans 3:25; Romans 5:6-8; Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 2:24, etc.), and forms the hope, the trust, and the consolation of Christians. and carried our sorrows. The application which St. Matthew makes of this passage to our Lord's miracles of healing (Matthew 8:17) is certainly not the primary sense of the words, but may be regarded as a secondary application of them. Christ's sufferings were the remedy for all the ills that flesh is heir to. Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God. They who saw Christ suffer, instead of understanding that he was bearing the sins of others in a mediatorial capacity, imagined that he was suffering at God's hands for his own sins. Hence they scoffed at him and reviled him, even in his greatest agonies (Matthew 27:39-44). To one only, and him not one of God's people, was it given to see the contrary, and to declare aloud, at the moment of the death, "Certainly this was a righteous Man" (Luke 23:47).
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
Verse 5. - But he was wounded for our transgressions. This verse contains four asseverations of the great truth that all Christ's sufferings were for us, and constituted the atonement for our sins. The form is varied, but the truth is one. Christ was "wounded" or "pierced"

(1) by the thorns;

(2) by the nails; and

(3) by the spear of the soldier.

The wounds inflicted by the nails caused his death, He was bruised; or, crushed (comp. Isaiah 3:15; Isaiah 19:10; Isaiah 57:15. Psalm 72:4). "No stronger expression could be found in Hebrew to denote severity of suffering - suffering unto death" (Urwick). The chastisement of our peace was upon him; i.e. "the chastisement which brought us peace," which put a stop to the enmity between fallen man and an offended God - which made them once more at one (comp. Ephesians 2:15-17, "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the Law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off;" Colossians 1:20, "Having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself"). With his stripes we are healed; rather, we were healed (comp. 1 Peter 2:24, "By whose stripes ye were healed"). Besides the blows inflicted on him with the hand (Matthew 26:27) and with the reed (Matthew 27:30), our Lord was judicially scourged (Matthew 27:26). Such scourging would leave the "stripe-marks" which are here spoken of.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Verse 6. - All we like sheep have gone astray. "All we" means either the whole nation of Israel, which "went astray" in the wilderness of sin (Psalm 107:4; Psalm 119:176; Ezekiel 34:6), or else the whole race of mankind, which had wandered from the right path, and needed atonement and redemption even more than Israel itself We have turned every one to his own way. Collectively and individually, the whole world had sinned. There was "none that did good" absolutely - "no, not one" (Psalm 14:3). All had quitted "the way of the Lord" (Isaiah 40:3) to walk in their "own ways" (Isaiah 66:3). The Lord hath laid on him; literally, the Lord caused to light upon him. God the Father, as the primary Disposer of all things, lays upon the Son the burden, which the Son voluntarily accepts. He comes into the world to do the Father's will. He prays to the Father, "Let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). So St. John says that the Father "sent the Son to be the Propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). And St. Paul tells us that God (the Father) "made him to be sin for us who knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21). It does not lessen the Son's exceeding mercy and loving-kindness in accepting the burden, that it was laid upon him by the Father. The iniquity of us all (compare the initial "All we"). The redemption is as universal as the sin, at any rate potentially. Christ on the cross made "a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice... for the sins of the whole world."
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
Verse 7. - He was oppressed. As Israel under the Egyptian taskmasters (Exodus 3:7). The cruel ill usage in the high priest's house, and before Herod is, perhaps, specially pointed at. He was afflicted; rather, he abased himself (comp. Isaiah 31:4 and Exodus 10:3). The position of the emphatic pronoun (hu) between the first participle and the second detaches the second clause from the first and conjoins it with the third. Otherwise the rendering of the Authorized Version might stand. Translate, He was oppressed, but he abased himself and opened not his mouth. The silence of Jesus before his judges (Matthew 26:62, 63; Matthew 27:14), when he could so easily have vindicated himself from every charge, was a self-abasement. It seemed like an admission of guilt. He opened not his mouth (comp. Psalm 38:13, 14; Psalm 39:2, 9). The contrast of the Servant's silence and passivity with men's ordinary vehemence of self-assertion under ill usage is most striking. Who was ever silent but he under such extremity of provocation? (For a contrast, see the account of the Jewish martyrdoms in 2 Macc. 7.) He is brought as a lamb; rather, as the lamb. The Paschal lamb is, perhaps, intended, or, at any rate, the lamb of sacrifice. The prophet has often seen the dumb, innocent lamb led in silence to the altar, to be slain there, and thinks of that touching sight. It was probably the use of this imagery here which caused the Baptist to term our Lord "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). As a sheep before her shearers. A second image, a reflex of the first, somewhat weaker, as so often in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:22, 30; Isaiah 5:18, 24; Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 10:24, 27, 34; Isaiah 11:8; Isaiah 13:14; Isaiah 24:13; Isaiah 25:7, etc.).
He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
Verse 8. - He was taken from prison and from judgment; rather, by oppression and a judgment was he taken away; i.e. (us Dr. Kay says) "by a violence which cloaked itself under the formalities of a legal process." The Septuagint Version, which is quoted by Philip the deacon in the Acts (Isaiah 8:33), must have been derived from quite a different text. It preserves, however, the right rendering of the verb, "was he taken away," i.e. removed from the earth. Who shall declare his generation? literally, his generation who considereth? The meaning is obscure. Dr. Kay understands by "his generation," his lifetime or his life, comparing Isaiah 38:12, "Mine age is departed," where the same word is used and accompanied by a pronominal suffix. Mr. Urwick suggests that it includes

(1) his origin;

(2) his earthly life; and

(3) his everlasting reign in heaven.

Others (Delitzsch, Gesenius, Cheyne) take "his generation" to mean "the men of his generation," and join the clause with what follows: "As for those of his generation, which of them considered that he was cut off," etc.? He was cut off; i.e. taken away before his time, cut down like a flower (comp. Job 14:2; Lamentations 3:54; Ezekiel 37:11). The land of the living. The present world, the earth (see Isaiah 38:11; and comp. Job 28:13; Psalm 27:13; Psalm 52:5; Psalm 116:9; Psalm 142:2; Jeremiah 11:19). For the transgression of my people was he stricken. The sentiment is the same as in ver. 5, but with the difference that there it was suffering only, here it is death itself, which the Servant endures for man. "My people" may be either "God's people" or "the prophet's people," according as the speaker is regarded as Isaiah or Jehovah. Jehovah certainly becomes the Speaker in vers. 11, 12.
And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
Verse 9. - And he made his grave with the wicked; rather, they assigned him his grave with the wicked. The verb is used impersonally. Those who condemned Christ to be crucified with two malefactors on the common execution-ground - "the place of a skull" - meant his grave to be "with the wicked," with whom it would naturally have been but for the interference of Joseph of Arimathaea. Crucified persons were buried with their crosses near the scene of their crucifixion by the Romans. And with the rich in his death; or, and (he was) with a rich one after his death. In the preceding clause, the word translated "the wicked" is plural, but in the present, the word translated "the rich" is singular. The expression translated "in his death" means "when he was dead," "after death" (comp. 1 Kings 13:31; Psalm 6:5). The words have a singularly exact fulfilment in the interment of our Lord (Matthew 27:57-60). Because. The preposition used may mean either "because" or "although." The ambiguity is, perhaps, intentional. He had done no violence; or, no wrong (see Genesis 16:5; 1 Chronicles 12:17; Job 19:7; Psalm 35:11 (margin); Proverbs 26:6). The LXX. give ἀνομία while St. Peter renders the word used by ἀμαρτία (1 Peter 2:22). The sinlessness of Christ is asserted by himself (John 8:46), and forms the main argument in the Epistle to the Hebrews for the superiority of the new covenant over the old (Hebrews 7:26-28; Hebrews 9:14). It is also witnessed to by St. Peter (1 Peter 2:22), by St. Paul (2 Corinthians 5:21), and by St. John (1 John 3:5). As no other man was ever without sin, it follows that the Servant of the present chapter must be Jesus.
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Verse 10. - Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him (see the comment on ver. 6, ad fin.). The sufferings of Christ, proceeding from the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23), and being permitted by him; were in some sort his doing. It "pleased him," moreover, that they should be undergone, for he saw with satisfaction the Son's self-sacrifice, and he witnessed with joy man's redemption and deliverance effected thereby. He hath put him to grief; rather, he dealt grievously - a sort of hend-adys. "He bruised him with a grievous bruising." When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin. It is proposed (Ewald, Cheyne), by the alteration of a letter, to make the passage run thus: "When he shall make his soul an offering," etc., and argued that "he who offers the Servant's life as a sacrifice must be the Servant himself, and not Jehovah" (Cheyne). No doubt the Servant did offer his own life (see Matthew 20:28," He gave his soul a ransom for many"); but that fact does not preclude the possibility of the Father having also offered it. "Believest thou not," said our Lord to Philip, "that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works" (John 14:10). This perienchoresis, as the ancient theologians called it, makes it possible to predicate of the Father almost all the actions which can be predicated of the Son - all, in fact, excepting those which belong to the Son's humanity, or which involve obedience and subordination. As the Father had "laid on Christ the iniquity of us all" (ver. 6), as he had "bruised him and put him to grief," so he might be said to have "made his soul an offering for sin." All was settled in the Divine counsels from all eternity, and when the ideal became the actual, God the Father wrought with God the Son to effectuate it. "Offerings for sin," or "guilt offerings," were distinct from "sin offerings." The object of the former was "satisfaction," of the latter "expiation." The Servant of Jehovah was, however, to be both. "As in ver. 5 the Divine Servant is represented as a Sin Offering, his death being an expiation, so here he is described as a Guilt Offering, his death being a satisfaction" (Urwick, 'The Servant of Jehovah,' p. 151). He shall see his seed. The "seed" of a teacher of religion are his disciples. St. Paul speaks of Onesimus as one whom he had "begotten in his bends" (Philemon 1:10). He calls himself by implication the "father" of his Corinthian converts (1 Corinthians 4:15). Both he and St. John address their disciples as "little children" (Galatians 4:19; 1 John 2:1, 18, 25 I:3:7, 18 I:4:4 I:5:21). It had long previously been promised that "a seed should serve" Messiah (Psalm 22:30). Our Lord himself occasionally called his disciples his "children" (Mark 10:24; John 21:5). He has always "seen his seed" in his true followers. He shall prolong his days. A seeming contradiction to the statement (ver. 8) that he should be "cut off" out of the land of the living; and the more surprising because his death is made the condition of this long life: "When thou shalt make his soul an offering [or, 'sacrifice'] for sin," then "he shall prolong his days." But the resurrection of Christ, and his entrance upon an immortal life (Romans 6:9), after offering himself as a Sacrifice upon the cross, exactly meets the difficulty and solves the riddle (comp. Revelation 1:18). The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. "In his hand" means "by his instrumentality." The "pleasure of the Lord" is God's ultimate aim and end with respect to his universe. This would "prosper" - i.e. be advanced, wrought out, rendered effectual - by the instrumentality of Christ. "Taking the verse as a whole, it sets forth

(1) the origin,

(2) the nature, and

(3) the result of the Saviour's sufferings.

Taking the last clause by itself, we have

(1) the Divine complacency in the purpose of human salvation; and

(2) the successful issue of that purpose as administered by the Messiah" (Urwick, 'The Servant of Jehovah,' p. 153).
He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
Verse 11. - He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied; rather, because of the travail of his soul he shall see, and be satisfied (comp. Philippians 2:7-11, "He made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a Name which is above every name: that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father"). No cross - no crown. First, suffering, then glory. Because Christ suffered, and was bruised, and put to grief, and made a sacrifice for sin; because of all this "travail of his soul," - therefore it was given him to see the happy results of his sufferings - the formation of that Church which will live with him for ever in heaven (Revelation 7:4-17), and therewith to be "satisfied." By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; i.e. "by his knowledge of the Divine counsels and purpose, which he will impart to his disciples, shall my righteous Servant justify many" (literally, the many), or, in other words, "turn them from sin to righteousness" (comp. Daniel 12:3). Nothing is so effectual in turning men to righteousness as teaching them the true knowledge of God - his nature, his purposes with regard to them, his feelings towards them. Christ, from his own knowledge, gave men this knowledge, and so did all that could be done to draw them to his Father. And his efforts were not without result. The fruit of his teaching has been the justification of many - ay, of "the many," as both Isaiah and St. Paul (Romans 5:19) testify. For he shall bear their iniquities; rather, and their iniquities he himself shall bear. The initial part of the clause is not "causal," but merely connective. There are two main things which Christ does for his people - he makes them righteous by infusing into them of his own righteousness; and he bears the burden of their iniquities, taking them upon himself, and by his perpetual intercession obtaining God's forgiveness of them. As Delitzsch says, "His continued taking of our trespasses upon himself is merely the constant presence and presentation of his atonement, which has been offered once for all. The dead yet living One, because of his one self-sacrifice, is an eternal Priest, who now lives to distribute the blessings which he has acquired" ('Commentary on Isaiah,' vol. 2:p. 338).
Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Verse 12. - Therefore (see the comment on ver. 11, sub init.). Will I divide him a portion with the great; i.e. "I will place him among the great conquering ones of the earth" - an accommodation to human modes of thought analogous to the frequent comparison of Christ's kingdom with the kingdoms of the earth (Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:9-14. etc.). The apostle goes deeper into the true nature of things when he says, "Therefore also hath God highly exalted him, and given him a Name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:9). He shall divide the spoil with the strong. A repetition of the thought in the preceding clause (comp. Proverbs 16:19). Because he hath poured out his soul unto death. Christ not only died for man, but, as it were, "poured out his soul" with his own hand to the last drop. The expression emphasizes the duration and the voluntariness of Messiah's sufferings. And he was numbered with the transgressors; rather, and he was reckoned with transgressors (see Luke 22:37, Μετὰ ἀνόμων ἐλογίσθη where our Lord applies the words to himself). Christ was condemned as a "blasphemer" (Matthew 26:65), crucified with malefactors (Luke 23:32), called "that deceiver" (Matthew 27:63), and regarded generally by the Jews as accursed (Deuteronomy 21:23). And he bare the sin of many; rather, and himself bare the sin of many (compare the last clauses of vers. 6 and 11; and see also Hebrews 9:27). And made intercession for the transgressors. The future is used, with van conversive, instead of the preterite, to mark that the act, though begun in the past, is inchoate only, and not completed. The "intercession for transgressors" was begun upon the cross with the compassionate words, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). But it has continued ever since, and will continue until the last day (see Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).

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