In Isaiah 52-13 – 53:12 we find, as already mentioned in the foreword, the last of the four so called songs about the Servant of the LORD in the Bible book of Isaiah. The first songs are registered in 42:1-7, 49:1-9a and 50:4-11. The fourth song, that we study, is clearly the highlight. It is the longest, most detailed and profound of the four songs.
The original text consists of five parts. In other words, the song contains five stanzas. Every chapter we will discuss one stanza.
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13 “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently,
he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
14 As many were astonied at thee;
his visage was so marred more than any man,
and his form more than the sons of men:
15 So shall he sprinkle many nations;
the kings shall shut their mouths at him:
for that which had not been told them shall they see;
and that which they had not heard shall they consider.”
Who is speaking?
Every stanza we will start with finding out who is the speaker. For interpreting a specific verse in the Scriptures it is often essential to know who is speaking. This also applies for this part from Isaiah. That is why we will start every stanza with this question. Who is saying what about Christ?
Let us look with this in mind to the first stanza. Who is speaking? The answer to this question is easy. Here in Isaiah 52:13-15 God is the speaker. There can be no doubt about this. After all, besides God there is nobody that – as happens in verse 132 – calls the Messiah his Servant: “Behold, my servant…”. God speaks in these verses and He speaks about His Servant3. After all, was this not the fourth song about the Servant of the LORD4?
Christ, model of the prudent servant
Subsequently we read that this Servant would deal prudently: “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently”. In other words: the Messiah will prove to be a prudent Servant. According to a number of places in the New Testament a prudent servant is a devoted and obedient Servant (Matt. 24:45-46; 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17). He is devoted and obedient to fulfil the will of his lord fully. Wasn’t this devotion and obedience characteristic of Christ? Were not these qualities exactly found in Christ, more than in anyone? (See also John 5:30b; 6:38). Wasn’t it, according to John 4:34, His meat to do the will of Him that sent Him and to finish his work. Christ was, more than anyone, a model of a prudent servant. And here in Isaiah 52:13 God expresses this seven centuries in advance. In the further course of this prophecy we will discover the unfathomable depths in which the Lord has descended in his devotion and obedience to the will of God.
In the second part of this verse we find the exaltation of the Messiah: “he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.” Through the ascending importance in the words emphasis is very clearly put on this exaltation: exalted – extolled – very high. Clearly it speaks about an exceptional exaltation. This exaltation follows, as the text tells us, on His earlier prudent dealing. In that lies the reason for His exaltation. In that God finds grounds to exalt Him.
It is remarkable that here in the opening verse of our part no details are described. It only gives a broad outline: after having dealt prudently, Gods Servant will be exalted exceptionally. Only after that, in the following fourteen verses, the details are mentioned, about the prudent dealing as well as the exceptional exaltation.
The first details follow directly after the opening verse. Details about what the prudent dealing would involve for the Servant of the Lord. Reading those details we see that they cause many to be astonished. “As many were astonied at thee…”. According to some interpreters the original word that has been translated with ‘astonished’ has the meaning of ‘frightened’, ‘confused’, ‘petrified by paralysing dismay’. The reason for this dismay follows after that, in a parenthesis. God predicts that the face as well as the body of the Messiah will be marred exceedingly: ‘- his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men – ‘. Especially the New Testament sheds light on this twofold prediction. On this place in Isaiah’s prophecy it is predicted that He will be marred. Isaiah has foreseen the fact; others have described the cause and way it happened.
We will look closer at this. First at the marring of is face, after that of his body. Because it has been predicted in this order and has been fulfilled in this order.
The marred face
Why did the face of the Messiah look so exceedingly marred? How did that happen?
To start with, after Jesus was captured in the garden of Gethsemane, they played a cruel and sick blindfolded game with Him in the house of Caiaphas, the high priest. He has been stricken several times with the fists in his face. Amongst others Mark reports this: ‘And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands’ (14:65). Without a doubt this created distensions and bruises.
Later they put a crown of thorns on his head in the Roman judgment hall: ‘And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand’ (Matthew 27:28-29a). Likely this was a kind of hat or crown from branches of the Zizyphus Spina, a tree that has razor-sharp thorns of about 2,5 centimetre long, that can easily pierce through the scalp and temples. This created heavy bleeding.
Then we read that he has been hit on his head with a reed. ‘And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head’ (27:30). That surely made the wounds on his scalp worse. Likely a lot of blood will have flowed downwards over his face. In the third song about the Servant of the Lord Isaiah mentions they plucked off the beard hairs (Isaiah 50:6a). Probably that also happened at this last occasion.
Certainly all these ill treatments made that the face of Jesus looked extremely marred, as was predicted in Isaiah 52:14.
The marred body
We continue with the marring of the body. Why did the body of the Messiah look extremely marred? How did that happen? What else can be the reason other than the scourging and the crucifixion?
Especially through the scourging extremely heavily physical harm had been inflicted. “Except for the Roman crucifixion”, someone stated, “… nothing was more excruciating than the Roman scourging”. The details were revolting. Somebody wrote about this:
“The convicted would be bound to a pillar with two ropes completely naked. The arms stretched up, the face to the pillar. Mostly there were two soldiers that executed the scourging by turns. They had different whips on a table, the so-called Roman flagrum. These consist of a short handle on which three leather belts that end in a point were attached. At the end of the belts there were attached leaden balls as large as a hazelnut or the tarsal bones of a sheep. There was also a solid elongated whip. With this horrendous instrument the skin of the convicted would be literally flayed to pieces. The strikes were handed out systematically from the shoulder to the calves. To the Romans the number of strikes was basically unlimited. They just looked how much a convict could bear. Sometimes the number could rise to hundred. Then there was hardly any skin left on the backside of the victim, that would mostly hang unconscious on the ropes, surrounded by a large pool of blood.”
Likely because of these atrocities Roman law prohibited the scourging of Roman citizens (see Acts 22:25-29). Probably to be safeguarded from this torment some people bought the Roman citizenship for a considerable amount of money. The voluntary surrender of the Son of God to be scourged, contrasts sharply with this. Christ chose to let Himself being scourged in obedience to the will of God. Christ, so states Isaiah 50:5-6a, gave his back voluntarily: “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters…”. Unbelievable, what obedience. All the more because Psalm 129:3 seems to predict that Christ would be scourged less mercifully than usual, since we hear the LORD say: “The plowers plowed upon my back say, they made long their furrows.”
After the scourging follows the crucifixion. “… and when he (Pilate) had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified”. (Matt. 27:26b). This would cause further marring of Jesus’ body. At a crucifixion for example the wrist and ankle were pierced. We will see that the details of crucifixion were just as horrible as of scourging. Josephus, the Jewish historian, called it “the most miserable death a man can die”. Crucifixion was not a Roman invention. The Romans first came to know it in Cartago from the Phoenicians. They took it over and perfected it to an almost scientific method to cause maximum pain and the possibility to dose the length of suffering before death. Therefore Roman law also prohibited crucifixion of Roman citizens. According to a reconstruction the Lord had to endure the following:
“The road from Pilate’s headquarters (‘Praetorium’) to Golgotha later known as the ‘Via Dolorosa’, is hardly six hundred meters long and could be done in 12 minutes. The road however is narrow and inclining and badly paved with big stones. Furthermore a large crowd of Pharisees, Sadducees, robbers and weeping women, that were beating their breasts in sorrow, followed. Along this road Jesus had to carry the heavy cross bar on his smashed shoulders, his arms fastened with ropes to the bar. He couldn’t. Probably he fell a few times on his face, with the bar in His neck, and he didn’t manage to get up again. Soldiers were constantly beating the condemned ones. Although it isn’t written in the Scriptures, however it is mentioned that the Roman commanding officer forced a random passer by, Simon the Cyrenian, to carry the cross bar. The commander probably didn’t give this order out of compassion, but just because he was responsible for the condemned to arrive at Golgotha alive, and not letting them die half way by exhaustion. On the way to His execution, Jesus was allowed to wear his own clothes. This was a concession to the Jewish law, in which nudism was prohibited. Roman convicts were stumbling totally naked to their death. And so they arrived at Golgotha, which means ‘the place of a skull’. This is how they nailed the victims. The ropes were made loose. The convicts were able to wave their arms for a little while. Then Jesus’ clothes were drawn from His body. Without a doubt they stuck to His smashed back, that started to bleed again. And so He stood completely naked in front of the crowd. The cross bar, or patibulum was put on the ground. The convict also had to lay down on the ground, with his scourged shoulders on the bar. His head was hanging backwards and the arms were spread out widely. While one or two soldiers were holding an arm by the hand or elbow, another soldier put a nail with the point in the wrist. Exactly where the forearm goes over into the hand, underneath the ball of the thumb and exactly in the middle. With one hammer-stroke the nail was pierced through the wrist and with some more strokes the wrist was firmly fixed to the bar. Then the other wrist was fixed. This whole procedure took only a few minutes. It is not correct that the nails were hammered through the palm of the hand. It is proven that the weight of the body couldn’t be carried in that way. Then the hands would just tear in length. The nail was exactly placed in the, by the French anatomist Destot described, split between the so-called wrist-bones. As a result these wrist-bones were disrupted and moved, but not shattered. Everyone who has ever shattered, sprained or broken his wrist can imagine how that feels. But that wasn’t all. Through the wrist goes an important nerve, the so-called nervus medianus. This nerve has a double function. It serves for moving the thumb as well as for the feeling of a part of the hand. The nail almost always hit this nervus medianus. Touching and damaging a nerve causes one of the most severe pains there is. The nerve was tightened across the sharp sides of the nail, like a string across the bridge of a stringed instrument. Moreover, by this nervous impulse the thumb bent in a convulsive state, making the thumbnail push into the hand. After both wrists were attached to the wooden cross, the soldiers lifted it up. The convict had to sit first and then he had to get up and stand with his back against the pole (the stipes). The cross bar (patibulum) with the convict on it, was taken up on both sides and placed on the pole (stipes). It is clear that the pole usually wasn’t higher than two meters. Higher wasn’t necessary and would be very inconvenient for the soldiers. Such a relatively low cross in T-shape was called a crux humilis, literal a ‘low cross’. When the convict was hanging on the cross bar, his legs were bent by the soldiers, until one of the feet could be pushed flat to the pole. Then a nail with a length of 20 centimetres was hammered right through the instep of the foot, right between the second and third metatarsal. When the nail came out of the back of the foot, the other leg was bent in such a way, that the nail could also be hammered through the second foot into the wood of the pole. In that way Jesus was hanging on three nails. Although the blood loss was minimal, the pain was unbearable and the death-struggle began: a torturing choice between suffocation and horrible pain. Stretching knees, breathing, burning pain in the feet, bending knees, letting the body down, horrible pain in the wrists, severe tightness of the chest and then stretching the knees again in a slow, deadly rhythm”.
Jesus’ body and face were severely marred by the punches, the crown of thorns, the scourging and crucifixion. That’s where the words of the parenthesis in Isaiah 52:14 talk about. These words are completely fulfilled in the marring of Jesus’ body and face.
Many Gentiles astonished
As we have seen before this parenthesis, it says that this marring would cause by many an enormous astonishment: “As many were astonied at thee…” In this case I think this refers to the Gentiles, because in the following verse, where we find the continuation of this sentence, this is also the case: “So shall he sprinkle many nations …” Gentiles would be astonished at Him and Gentiles would be sprinkled.
The humiliation of Israel’s Messiah would cause an enormous astonishment for many Gentiles. Many out of the nations will receive the message of the suffering and death of the Messiah with astonishment. An enormous harvest would be gathered from the Gentile nations. The Roman Centurion, eyewitness of Christ’s crucifixion, was one of the firstfruits (Matt. 27:54: Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47).
Considering the context I think this refers primarily to Gentiles that will be born during the Messianic Kingdom. After all the parts before and after our passage (Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12) are about the definitive restoration of Israel, leading to the Messianic Kingdom. There it speaks about a redeemed Israel. Jerusalem is restored again. The joy returned, because Israel has returned to God. Only during the Messianic Kingdom this blessed situation will be reality. But, with Romans 15:21 in mind, which quotes the last verse of this stanza, we may also think in the second place of Gentiles who come to faith during our present age of the church.
But, again, considering the direct context, this text speaks in the first place about converted Gentiles during the Messianic Kingdom. Mostly these will come to faith by the preaching of Jewish believers. During the Messianic Kingdom the people of Israel will finally fulfil their call to be a missionary nation (Isa. 43:10-12; 44:8). We will see that from the second stanza these Jewish believers are allowed to speak extensively.
Many Gentiles sprinkled
Let’s go back to our text. When we leave out the parenthesis of verse 14, we read: “As many were astonied at thee; … so shall he sprinkle many nations”. Just as many Gentiles would be astonished because of Christ’s unprecedented suffering, many Gentiles would leap for joy (be sprinkled) because of the same suffering. How can we explain this? How can the suffering of Christ cause astonishment and joy in the same time?
Wouldn’t that be because their salvation is the result of His suffering? In my opinion that’s the explanation for this text. That is where “… so shall he sprinkle many nations” speaks of. The shed blood of the Messiah would sprinkle many Gentiles and cleanse them from sin5. That’s the cause of their joy.
“For that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.” In this verse the word ‘that’ refers to the good tidings of atonement through the suffering and death of Christ.
In Romans 15:20-21 the same words of Isaiah are applied to the present age: “Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation: But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand”. In Isaiah 52 verse 15b it is the unreached Gentiles who are reached by converted Jews (the remnant of Israel); in Romans 15:20-21 it is also the converted Jew (Paul) who tries to reach the unreached Gentiles.
In the last dispensation, the dispensation of the Kingdom - in the words of Matthew 9:37-38 - labourers will be sent forth into His harvest, in order to harvest as much as possible. In this we can see the hand of God, stretched out to sinners. Because God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (Ezek. 18:32; 33:11, 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9b). With this beautiful look into God’s heart the first stanza finishes.
2. Just like at the end of the song in 53:11b.
3. See also Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30.
4. See also 42:1a (first song); 49:3a, 5a, 6a, 7 (second song); 50:10a (third song).
5. Compare with 1 Peter 1:2b: “… unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ …”
1. “Who hath believed our report?
and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
2. 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.
3. 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.”
As was said in the first section, we start each section with the question about the speaker(s). In the first section it was God. Here in the second section it is, as far as I have understood, primarily the remnant of Israel. More specifically: the future remnant of Israel. By that I mean those Jews who, during the seventieth week of years (Daniel 9:24-27), between the Parusia of the Church and the return of Christ, will convert to God and accept Christ. From the first till the sixth verse of Isaiah 53 they look back to this and speak about it. We see that clearly in the transition from the fourth to the fifth verse: “Yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.” In the fourth verse they speak of their ‘insight’ from before their conversion and in the fifth verse about their insight after their conversion. Apparently they have heard about the story of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Before their conversion these Jews would mean that this Rabbi out of Galilee had suffered because of His own guilt of sin; after their conversion they began to see, however, that it was because of their guilt of sin.
Let us now dwell upon their words.
“Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” With these words commences the second section. To understand what is meant here, we consider the two quotations of this in the New Testament, namely in John’s Gospel and the letter to the Romans.
Confronted by their unbelief the Holy Spirit applies these words of John to the Jewish contemporaries of Christ: “But though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him; that the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled which he spake: “Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12:37, 38) According to this quotation the words of Isaiah speak of the unbelief of the Jews.
The same we see in Romans 10:16: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel, for Isaiah sayeth, Lord, who hath believed our report.” Thus it was in the last age, so it is in the present age, and so it will also be in the future age. During the week of tribulation (or rather the seventieth week of years) the testimony of the remnant will also often be rejected in unbelief. With this in view the Lord says in Matthew 10:23: “But when they persecute you in this city. flee ye into another; for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of men be come.”
As in all ages, in the week of tribulation, before the return of the Messiah, the Jewish people will consist of an unbelieving majority and a believing minority. With that the last will evangelise the first. Unfortunately they will, as did their Lord in former times, find little response. Therefore also their complaint, put into words in Isaiah 53:1”Who hath believed our report?” Have you noticed the tragic contrast to the first phrase? Where there is spoken of the faith of the gentiles, here is spoken of the unbelief of the Jews. Likewise it is noticeable that the first verse of this phrase is closely connected to the last verse of the previous phrase. Both verses speak about – though to a different audience and with a different reaction – the preaching of the remnant. We find this connection also in the following phrases. Again and again the first verse of the following phrase links up to the last verse of the preceding phrase. Each following phrase begins where the preceding phrase is ended. Each time there is a distinct connection.
After the opening verse, in which we find the topic of their preaching, some five verses follow, in which we find the contents. In these it concerns a review of the first coming of the Messiah. At the same time it was, at the time it was written, a prophetic preview to this coming. Mostly with concrete details and framed in chronological order. Without saying an intriguing part. Enough reason to meditate upon it.
It starts at the beginning: the birth and the growing up of Christ. “For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,” we read, “as a root out of dry ground.” Here in the second verse we find the answer to the question put forward in the first verse – here is pointed to a cause for the much found unbelief of Israel. “For,” the prophet declares: “He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground.” Someone wrote: In speaking about ‘tender plant’ and ‘root’ the thought of insignificance and humility lies implied. The word ‘shoot’ literally means ‘infant’, that means a shoot which sucks the life saps from the tree (Job 14:7) or from the earth (Ezekiel 17:22 vv.). Such shoots are unimportant and even reprehensible in the eyes of people; they are cut from the tree as they suck the life out of the tree. Also
root-shoots in the earth are unsightly, f.i. not to be compared to the mighty cedars.” Because they fixate(d) on the messianic ruler-prophecies, but prove(d) to be blind for the messianic prophecies of suffering, most Jews did (do) not expect a humble Servant, but a mighty King.
Apparently also the prophecies of reign will be fulfilled, at the second coming of the Messiah, when in fact He will come as the mighty King to rule the world from Jerusalem. But the first coming was a coming in humiliation. Was not that obvious from the beginning? Really everything breathed humility. After all, Christ did not come to this world in the power of a full grown man, but was born in all the weakness of a vulnerable baby. His place of birth was not Jerusalem, “the town of the great King” (Psalm 48:3b; Matth.5:35b) but Bethlehem, “little amongst the thousands of Judah” (Mica 5:2). He was also not born in a wealthy, but in a poor family (compare Luke 2:24 with Lev. 12:8). Furthermore after His birth He was not laid in a richly endowed cradle, but in a manger for animals. Entirely according to the character of this coming, this entrance of the Messiah into the world, two-thousand years ago, was combined with appalling poverty.
Following, so we read, this tender plant, this root, would grow up. Exactly according to the natural process the Messiah would gradually grow up into a full-grown Man. He became a toddler, He became a pre-schooler, He became a teenager.
In all these phases, according to the verse, Christ grew up before the countenance of God. By this, as far as I can see, is meant, that God’s eye would rest watchfully and with pleasure on Him. Watchful because of His vulnerability. By that we may remember for instance, the flight to Egypt was initiated by God because of the child-killer Herod (Matth. 2:13-15). With pleasure, for how much unimaginable delight it must have brought God the Father to see how His eternal Son, Who became flesh, grew up like a green, fresh root-shoot out of the unfruitful, barren earth of the people of Israel. Is not that also confirmed in Matthew 3:17, where we read the following: “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” At that moment, at the dawn of the public service of Christ, the Father looks back to His ‘hidden’ years – of which is spoken in Isaiah 53:2 – and almost euphoric exclaims: “…My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased!” In Him God was well pleased in His hidden years. Christ proved to be a green, fresh root, coming up out of unfruitful, dry earth.
Later, at the end of His public service, as He was led to Golgotha, the Lord probably referred also to these words from Isaiah 53:2, as He answered some women, who lamented Him : ”Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.(…) For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:28, 31) In the meantime the Lord had become a grown Man. Or – to remain with the language of the metaphor – had grown up into a full-grown tree. But the Lord has always remained green and fresh. Unchangeably the Father could look down on Him with pleasure.
Where above, in the first part of the verse, we read how God saw the Messiah, we read in the second part of it how the mass of the people saw Him: “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” A sharper contrast is hardly imaginable. For the splendour which God saw, the people was blind. Evidently it does not concern the physical but the spiritual form, not the outward, but the inner glory of Christ. Apparently – maybe you noticed already – the prophet does no longer speak about the ‘hidden years’, but Isaiah casts our glance now to the period of the public service of Christ. The public service of Christ began when He had become about thirty years old. (Luke 3:23a).
After the already serious condition in the second verse, the prophet describes an even worse condition in the third verse. Twice we read the uttermost tragic conclusion: “He was despised”. Already before in the prophecy of Isaiah, in the second phrase about the Servant of the LORD, the Messiah was called “the despised Soul”, “Him Whom man despiseth…”(Isaiah 49:7a; see also Psalm 22:7). God’s Messiah, sent to, is despised by God’s people. Unarguably an uttermost tragic factor!
What the prophet writes next: “He was forsaken” or “rejected of men” (footnote R.K.J.) follows on this contempt. The first often leads naturally to the second. He, who is despised, often is shunned also. Because He was despised, He was also rejected.
The characterisation “a Man of sorrows” simply means (as hereafter is also explained) : “acquainted with grief (sickness)”. Probably not as someone who has known much sickness himself – at least we do not read anything about it in the Gospels – but rather like a doctor, who has seen much suffering. These sufferings touched Him. For instance, did not the Lord cry seeing the sorrow following the passing away of Lazarus (John 11:33, 35, 38)? But also the rejection grieved Him. After all, our Lord also wept over the unbelieving Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Dwelling in a broken and rejecting world made Him into a Man of sorrows. Again, it is in connection with the public service of the Messiah that Isaiah wrote these words. Expressly in this context - and not in the context of His later suffering on the cross – the Messiah is called a Man of sorrows.
In the same context we read after that , about Christ “and we hid as it were our faces from Him”. Words that, as far as I see it, need little explanation. After all, until the present time, people turn away their heads from others, as expression of contempt. Whom one despises, one does not deign a glance. When someone is despised, one does not deign a glance at him.
Following the prophet repeats: “He was despised”, to which the remnant confesses: “and we esteemed Him not.” Once they also looked to Christ with other eyes . Once they did not see Who He was. Until they were converted and God opened their eyes.
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4. “Surely He hath borne our griefs,
Yet we did esteem Him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted.
5. 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.
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the LORD hath laid on Him
the iniquity of us all.”
We still hear the same speakers in the third phrase as in the second phrase. Primarily it concerns then the remnant of Israel, which will be converted in the last week of years of Daniel. In the second place many things apply, however, to believers out of other ages. As already said, think of the fifth verse. Undeniably the Messiah was wounded and bruised for the transgressions and iniquities of believers from other ages. Indeed here lies the salvation for every believer. Here lies also my salvation. I, a believer, not out of the Jews, but from the Gentiles, not from the week of tribulation, but from the age of the Church.
As said, the beginning of each following phrase connects closely to the end of each previous phrase. So here, as proves directly from the opening. “Surely (nevertheless)”
Isaiah begins (or rather continues). Herewith is clearly created a contradiction with what we saw before.
“Nevertheless,” the prophet prophesied, “He bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” Some have an opinion that these words state that on the cross the Lord took upon Him our sickness and weaknesses. But these words should not be explained literally and not in connection with the crucifixion of Christ. Matthew 8:16, 17 , where we find the fulfilment, teaches something different: “When the even was come, they brought unto Him many that were possessed with devils; and He cast out the spirit with this word, and healed all that were sick. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.” Christ was touched by the sorrow He saw and in that way took it upon Him, that He had mercy upon the sick and tormented. Not literally but figuratively speaking, not during but before the crucifixion of Christ. That is the interpretation of the Scriptures, that is what Isaiah meant.
The contrast to that which is mentioned before is sharp and distressing. Christ took upon Him the sorrow of others, but they let Him bear His burden alone. Christ turned His face towards the wretched, for Him they hid their faces.
Following Isaiah states in the second part of the verse: “We did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” It is harder to place these words. Are they – as the verses before – connected with the public service, or – as in the verses after that – with the crucifixion of Christ? Maybe to both, to create in that way a change over. What is evidently clear is, that many Jews held suffering – that of Christ also – apparently as a direct punishment from God. Of course because of (alleged) sin(s). The same we see for instance in the story about the healing of the man born blind in John 9:1-41) In the second verse namely the disciples asked: “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” In that way the Messiah was in fact held for a sinner by many Jews. As Someone who suffered because of His own guilt of sin. However, nothing was less true. “But,” the remnant following states: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.”
Without dispute these words are of extraordinary importance. Probably we can conclude this from the place where these words are written down: exactly in the middle of the song – in the middle of the verse of the middle phrase. In the Scriptures who or what is in the middle is often of most importance. But whatever, the importance of these words is unmistakeable. That is why we want to go more closely in the matter. What does this verse actually say?
“….wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities: apparently the Messiah (expressively from God’s side, compare verse 10a) would undergo severe suffering;
“….wounded for our transgressions; This wounding and suffering took place because of transgressions and iniquities.
“….wounded for our transgressions. bruised for our iniquities: herewith it proves to concern vicarious suffering. Christ would be wounded and bruised for the transgressions and iniquities of others. That is what these words imply.
Seven centuries later this prophecy is fulfilled. We write the fourteenth of the month Nisan of, probably the Jewish calendar year 3793. According to sources it concerns a Friday at the beginning of April in the year 32 after Christ of our era. Just outside the walls of Jerusalem, at Golgotha, three men were crucified. Over the middle cross the following inscription was placed: “Iezus Nazarenus Rex ludaeorum”, or: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”. The last was a title of the Messiah. By means of a series of interrogations by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Counsel, and Pilate, a Roman prefect, it had come to a conviction. In spite of the fact that no guilt was found. In the Gospels a strong emphasis is laid on this fact. Just listen to the testimony of Jesus’ traitor, Judas Iscariot: “I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood “(Matth. 27:4a) Just listen to the testimony of the judge of Jesus, Pontius Pilate: “I find in Him no fault at all”. (John 18:38b, compare 19:4, 6) Just listen to the testimony of Pilate’s wife: “Have thou nothing to do with that just Man”.(Matth. 27:19b). Listen also to the testimony of the converted man, who was crucified with Him: “…this Man has done nothing amiss.” (Luke 23:41b). In conclusion listen to the testimony of the Roman centurion: “…certainly this was a righteous Man”. (Luke 23:47b). This Jesus, so the apostles would confirm later on, had never known or done any sin. (1 Peter 2:22). Christ was completely holy. Both in being (no sinful nature) and in way of life (without sinful deeds). Only One like that could serve as a sin-offering. Only One like that could suffer vicariously for sins of others. Only One like that could fulfil the words from Isaiah 53:5.
Christ was able to do so and did it – namely in the hours of darkness. For our salvation these hours were of crucial importance. For during these hours our Lord – to say it with an image of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:21a) – was made the scapegoat. During these hours our sins were laid on Him. During these hours these were judged in Him. During these hours He was wounded and bruised because of them. By God. “It pleased the LORD”, it says explicitly in the tenth verse of our passage in Isaiah – “to bruise Him.” In that way in these hours – again with an image from the Day of Atonement before our eyes – all our sins were carried away (Lev. 16:21b-22). Carried away from before God’s countenance. Therefore these hours were of essential importance for our redemption. Without these hours no one could have been saved. Forgiveness of sins could not have been accomplished for anyone.
There is a distinction of utmost importance between the first three hours of Christ’s suffering on the cross and the second three hours of it. Or rather between the hours of light and the hours of darkness. During the hours of light our Lord suffered because of His righteousness, from the side of men. The world hated Him because He bore witness that her works were evil. He was the light that came into the world. Bur everyone who does evil, hates the light, and does not come to the light, because his works are evil. In short, (during the hours of light) Christ suffered because of righteousness. This has been so since the beginning of history, for Cain slew Abel because his works were evil and those of his brother righteous. During these hours Christ did not bear any sins. Only in the hours of darkness our sins were laid upon Him. Then these were judged in Him. Then He was bruised for this by the holy God.
It goes without saying that it is important to have a clear view of the difference between the first three hours of Christ’s suffering on the cross and the second three hours of it. Unfortunately, however, it is often not seen.
In the second part of the fifth verse our gaze is directed to two consequences of the vicarious suffering of Christ for the remnant. What has the suffering of Christ accomplished for the remnant during the hours of darkness? First we read about peace: “The chastisement of our peace was upon Him”. It speaks here of peace with God. Because Christ was punished by Him, the remnant was reconciled to God. Christ accepted the punishment, the remnant receives the peace. Undeniably this is the most baffling exchange thinkable. Only God could have thought of this.
Secondly we read about healing: “…and with His stripes we are healed”. Christ’s stripes brought healing for the remnant. By that not literal stripes are meant nor literal healing. Just remember after all the context in which it stand: the vicarious suffering the Messiah went through by God during the hours of darkness. Also 1 Peter 2:24 sees these words in the same context. There is absolutely no reason for the explanation of some groups in which is stated that believers , by the stripes of Christ, caused by the flogging, in principal have received already healing of each sickness. Either of physical, or of psychic nature. If we become sick after all, they say, we should only claim the healing. But this can never be the meaning. Not only because the salvation of our bodies is still in the future (Rom. 8:23b; Fil 3:21a|), but at the same time because this explanation is in contradiction with the context. No, much more it concerns here the healing of the universal sickness of the human race, in fact the sickness of a sinful state of heart. Of that the remnant was healed when they were born again. As also – applied to our age – is explained by the apostle: “…that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness . by Whose stripes ye were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) Do you see it is about a spiritual healing?
Now they are healed. Now they are dead to sin to live unto righteousness. But once, before their conversion, it was different. Once, so the remnant testifies, they strayed on paths, independent from God, chosen by themselves. Sins were the only fruit thereof. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;” “But”, they tell in the sixth verse again the miracle of the vicarious suffering of Christ, “the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Someone once wrote that avon, the Hebrew word for ‘unrighteousness’, applies to the unrighteousness itself as well as to the negative consequences thereof. In that way their sins have been carried away and is the judgement over them disappeared for all eternity.
(ISAIAH 53:7 – 9)
7. “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 opened not his mouth.
8. 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.
9. 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.”
Who is speaking here?
With exception of the last sentence of verse 8, we hear, in my opinion, the prophet Isaiah.
In the already reviewed verses 1 to 6, we read time and again the words ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’. But in the verses 7 to 12 it’s completely different; in these verses we don’t find these words at all. Because of this it sounds more like an historical account than that of an eyewitness. This suggests indubitably a change of speaker. We don’t hear any more the remnant of Israel, but the prophet Isaiah. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, this man prophesied the future as if it had already taken place. (Compare this with other Scriptures, such as Isaiah 46:10).
Payment demanded, Christ oppressed
Just as by the previous couplets, there is a distinct connection between the end of the third couplet and the beginning of the fourth. Once again the last verse of couplet 4 is closely linked to the first verse of couplet 5. The following passage should make that clear. When payment was demanded, as stated in verse 7, “He was oppressed.” For what was payment demanded? Without a doubt it was for our sins. When did the payment take place? During the three hours of darkness when our Lord took our place on the Cross and suffered in accordance with the will of the Father. Then – not earlier and not later – the ransom for our sins was paid. In the previous verses we have explained this quite extensively. Because of the recurring connection between the end of the previous couplet and the beginning of the next one, we keep this in mind.
Suffering in Silence
For the sins of others the Lord has suffered, for the guilt of others He has paid the ultimate price. Nevertheless no word of protest came over the lips of The Son of God: “but He opened not His mouth.” We don’t read anything about that in the Gospels. Only once we read of Christ in deep misery crying out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46b; Mark 15:34b). But no more than that. And certainly there is not a word of protest towards God. No, the Lord was in perfect harmony with God, as well in the hours of darkness as in the preceding hours of light.
Typologically we already notice that in Genesis 22. Isaac doesn’t utter a word of protest to Abraham. Both the sixth and eighth verses end with the significant words – “so they went both of them together.” Isaac is clearly depicted as being in perfect agreement with his father. In this, Abraham was a perfect image of The Son of God.
Some people think that these words predict Jesus’ silence during His interrogation before the Sanhedrin – (the chief priests and the elders of the people) - and Pontius Pilate. It is indeed so that the Lord, several times on such occasions remained silent. (Matt. 26:63a; 27: 12,14; Mark 14:61a; 15:5; Luke 23:9; John 19:9b). But it was not a total silence, because occasionally the Lord did speak. (Matt. 26:64; 27:11b; Mark. 14:62; 15:2b; Luke 22:67b-69, 70b; 23:3; John 18:20-21, 23, 34, 36, 37bcd; 19:11). This is why I am convinced that this passage means, in the first place, that the Lord uttered not one word of reproach or protest. Was Christ here in fact not depicted as the perfect Servant? And a servant is not expected to protest but to obey! Doubtless was that the reason of Christ’s silence.
Moreover, the first time that we read this in verse 7 is strictly speaking not in the context of the hours preceding the crucifixion, but of the hours during the Crucifixion. This differs to the second time at the end of this verse where the same words were uttered. In my opinion it concerns there the whole way of the Cross - from Gethsemane to Golgotha. It does at least relate to Isaiah 53:7b, “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” We’ll come back to this later.
Returning to the beginning of our text we see that the explanation of the silence of the Lord Jesus is confirmed by what follows. To clarify the meaning of this, we are reminded of two previous texts.
. “As a lamb He was lead to the slaughter” . “As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth”.
Without a doubt, these pictures were immediately recognizable in those days but probably not today. Many people nowadays have no idea of how a lamb that is being lead to the slaughter or a sheep that is being sheared shall react. So as Piet van der Lugt says: “In Isaiah 53:7 there is talk of a comparison. We read there: ‘as a lamb.’ In other words there is a resemblance between a lamb being lead to the slaughter and the Lord Jesus going to the Cross.
To get an impression of the manner in which a sheep reacts to its being slain, I once went to a slaughterhouse.The slaughter took place during a Muslim ritual and this shall in very many respects be similar to the Jewish way. Today an electric shock normally stuns the sheep. By ritual slaughter this method is not used (....). It is remarkable that a sheep makes no sound at all. It is completely silent before and during the slaughter. That was also the experience of the butchers: a goat squeals, but a sheep doesn’t. Just before a young ram was going to be slain, it broke loose and trotted through the slaughterhouse. It was very difficult to catch it again, but its reaction was not one of fear or panic. The animal was laid on its back and then its throat was cut with a sharp knife. Its eyes showed no sign of fear. What took my attention was the expression in its eyes, as if it would say: “What are you doing with me now?” This expression changed to a look of pity – not with itself, but with the one who was killing him. It is very difficult to describe what one sees at such a time, but I do see clearly what is meant in the Bible by the words: “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” The silence of the Lord on the way to Golgotha and by de crucifixion is to be seen in the lamb that is lead to the slaughter. The apostle Peter depicts this so: “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). During His hearing by the Jewish Council and by Pilate He did sometimes speak, but He did not protest against the death sentence and by the Crucifixion He made no resistance. We read that He said nothing, that He was silent (Matt. 26:63a; Mark 14:61a). He accepted everything, knowing that it was God’s will (...) Not only by the slaughter of a lamb is there no bleating to be heard, but also when it is being sheared. Someone who has been to a sheep shearer’s feast shall acknowledge that sheep don’t bleat whilst being sheared.” The shearing can be likened to “depriving someone of everything that is worthy,” as someone once remarked. Thereby, Christ did not protest against the inhuman treatment he had to endure.
Let us with this information return to our text, where I would like to attract your attention to the significant little word ‘so’ – “So” - like a lamb when it is led to the slaughter and a sheep before his shearers is dumb – “He opened not His mouth.” Without resisting, the Son of God allowed sinful people to lead Him to the cross of Golgotha – (see also Matt. 26:57; 27:2; 27:31b). And then, without any word of protest, Christ let His body be broken by the Holy God, for our sins. God’s Son became God’s Servant. Who can ever comprehend that?
Suffering unto death
In these Bible studies we have already pointed out the mostly chronological order in which this passage in Isaiah is built up. In succession we were confronted with details about the birth of Jesus, His growing up, His public ministry and His suffering as the Messiah, for us. Everything in chronological order. Then the chronological order is broken to tell us about the ‘slaughter house’ and His being ‘sheared’ by human beings. In the eighth verse the chronological order is resumed. Isaiah writes namely about the death of Christ as a consequence of the previous deeds mentioned. Let us now listen to what the prophet has to say about that. Concerning the translation, it isn’t an easy passage of Scripture, which is the reason why we quote various Dutch translations.
“He is taken away from the fear and the judgment” (HSV); “He is taken away from oppression and judgment” (NBG); “Through an unjust judgment He was taken away” (NBV); “Through a violent judgment He was taken away.” (WV).
These words are usually positively expounded. Namely in the sense that through His death the suffering of Jesus came to an end. Through His death He was saved from further suffering. In reality, on the ground of Hebrew and what we have just said, - according to the NBV and WV – we should sooner think of a negative than a positive implication. As someone says: “Verse 8 is translated in different ways. If we assume that this verse links up with the description of the suffering of the Servant, the things named here must have a negative meaning. The original text does not imply the sparing of suffering, but much more the unjust judgment that the Servant had to suffer. Through a false accusation “he was cut off out of the land of the living.”
But possibly the emphasis is not on the way in which Christ died, but simply on the fact that the Messiah would die. In other words: the suffering of the Messiah would end in His death. Christ, after much suffering, would die. The text leaves no doubt about that.
A question about posterity
After this a very difficult passage follows. Difficult to translate and therefore difficult to explain – the reason why we give various translations.
“...and who shall declare His age?” (HSV); “...and who of His generation thought...?” (NBG); “Who of His generation noticed all this?” (NBV); Who still thinks about his lot?” (WV); “Who shall tell about His birth” (DB); “...who shall declare His generation”(LB); “And who can speak of his descendants?” (NIV).
The differences in translation originate from the Hebrew word ‘dor’, which, according to the context can be translated in various ways. Among other things it can be translated as ‘age’, ‘contemporaries’, ‘descendants’, or ‘generation’. In my opinion the most plausible are the DB, LB and NIV – where there is referred to posterity. Through these translations two views are possible:
1). The thought of possible posterity, as Jongenburger puts it: “In Isaiah 53:8 we read: “...and who shall tell of His posterity?”, according to the Vulgate and Darby translations. See also the reference in Acts 8:33 (V 1966, TV, SV, LS & NIV (...). Strangely enough, the NBG, the HSV & JCvdH have translated posterity as ‘descent’. His descent was well known and in the NBG, HSV & JCvdH is that plain enough! In my opinion, the meaning can therefore only be that He died without having had children. Bemoaning this is customary in the tradition of Israel.
2). Or the thought of spiritual offspring: who can count the number of those redeemed, thanks to His work? At that time it was not visible. In other words: who would ever have thought of that?
Although it isn’t easy to choose between these two possibilities, I find the thought of literal descent more plausible. Certainly if we read what follows: “he was cut off out the land of the living.” Important here is the reason given. The word ‘for’ connects this verse to the verse that follows. The meaning thus becomes: because He was cut off out the land of the living, who shall speak of descendants? According to my conviction, that is the aim of God’s Spirit in the middle part of verse 8.
Before we proceed with the last part of the eighth verse, we shall shortly consider the clearly negative insinuation of the words ‘cut off’. Indubitably it points to the violent way in which the Messiah was put to death. Just as a tree is cut down, so was the life of the Lord ‘cut off’. We find the same word in Daniel 9:26a where it is translated as ‘cut off’ meaning ‘pulled out of the ground with roots and all.’ “And after threescore and two weeks shall the Messiah be cut off, but not for himself”.
For the transgression of my people
The eighth verse ends with the reason why the Messiah was put to death: “for the transgression of my people was He stricken.” Once again the emphasis is on the fact that the Messiah did not suffer for sin that was found in Him, but He suffered, as this verse teaches us, because of the sins of others. We have already written much about that, so that we don’t need to repeat it.
We shall now examine the questions asked by the people. Who is speaking here? Is it still Isaiah or is it someone else? In my view it is someone else asking a question of primary importance. When we read the words “my people”, we think in the first place of God. In Daniel 9:24a we can also think of Isaiah, but in my conviction only secondary. Israel is in the first place God’s people.
“For the transgression of my people was he stricken”, says God. After the verses 5 and 6 speaking of ‘the remnant of my people,’ God confirms this truth in the eighth verse, which is not merely a repetition. No, behind all this is a Godly principle hidden, a principle that is found throughout the whole Bible. For instance in 2 Corinthians 13:1b: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established”. (See also Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15b; Matt. 18:16; John 8:17; Hebr. 10:28). Without a doubt, against this background, these words are not confessed by ‘the remnant’, but by God Himself. This reveals that two witnesses confirm the word, which shows the fact is established.
But also in another way these words are of great importance. Earlier in these studies – namely in the introduction – I have pointed out that the Servant in Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 is depicted by some people as ‘Israel’. But this view is refuted by the words “for the transgression of my people was he stricken.” Here God’s people are plainly not the same as His Servant. Logically speaking we cannot therefore maintain that the reference is to the Jewish people. Here we conclude our discussion over verse eight.
Buried with the rich
This couplet ends in the ninth verse with details of the burial of Christ: “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.”
We see here that no longer God is speaking, but Isaiah. Otherwise the tenth verse, if the same speaker continues, would certainly not have begun with: “but it pleased the Lord to bruise him”, but more likely with: “but it pleased Me”.
Concerning this ninth verse, we can simply cut it in three parts: In the first part Isaiah writes about the infamous way in which He was to be buried: “And he made his grave with the wicked...”;
In the second part the prophet foretells that the Messiah, on the contrary, in the grave of a rich person would be buried: “...and with the rich in his death...”;
Finally, in the third part, the reason is given for this honourable burial: “...because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.”
Those who were hanged were regarded as dishonourable and unjust. Their bodies were not usually buried. The bodies of those who were hanged for example remained hanging7,were put in a mass grave8, or were burned9.
Without a doubt something like that would have happened to the Lord, if God had permitted it. But He intervened and the body of His Servant had a honourable burial. Because, reasons the Bible, “he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.” Nor in words nor in deeds had the Lord ever sinned. To be buried with the godless was in God’s thoughts an unthinkable end to the perfect justifiable conduct of His Son.
From the Gospels we know that God, to fulfil the prophecy in Isaiah 53:9, has used the devout Joseph of Arimathaea. Doubtless through the leading of the Holy Spirit he, just after the death of the Lord, went to Pilate to ask if he and Nicodemus may bury His body. (Matt. 27:57-60; Mark. 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42). You know the story/ history. Important details are of course that this Joseph of Arimathaea was rich and the grave in the rock belonged to him. Noticeable is that Matthew first described him as being rich before mentioning his name. Seemingly he thought the first more important than the second. No wonder, when we understand that the Gospel of Matthew is the Gospel to the Jews. Matthew wrote, in the first instance, to the Jewish people of his time to witness to them that Jesus was the promised Messiah. This is the reason why we by Matthew, more often than in the other Gospels, find the words “that would be fulfilled”. Matthew referred repeatedly to the Old Testament Scriptures, which were well known to his Jewish listeners. Therefore, through the account of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:9, the name of Joseph of Arimathaea was less important than the fact that he was a rich man. That is why Matthew mentions that first.
Thus was Isaiah 53:9 fulfilled. So came the Lord “with the rich in His death". What a special honour Joseph of Arimathaea did receive!
7. Sometimes the Romans left the bodies hanging on the cross for days, whilst others were simply thrown in a heap to the dogs.
8. These decided that the grave amongst the graves of the wicked would be. That was commonplace by those sentenced to death; their bodies were put into mass graves. (Compare with Isaiah 14:19; Jer. 26:23)
9. The Tophet (= vomiting place) was a hill, respectively a place of cremation in the valley of Ben-Hinnom (= the son of Hinnom), later called Ge-Hinnom (= valley of misery). It lies so the south of Jerusalem. Today this place is called Wadi er-Rababi. There the refuse of Jerusalem was dumped and continually burned. At the time of Jesus, according to many researchers, the bodies of criminals were also burned here.