Isaiah 52. 13 to 53. 12 – Part 1

Isaiah 52. 13 to 53. 12 comprises the last of Isaiah’s four so-called “Servant Songs”, cf. 42. 1-4; 49. 1-6; 50. 4-9. That Messiah is the subject of the passage can be established in at least two ways. Firstly, the passage provides a description of character and conduct, a depth of suffering, a completeness of glory, a height of dignity which has never been, nor ever will be, true of any other. Secondly, the passage is frequently quoted in the N.T. as a prediction of the Lord Jesus as the Messiah; see Matt. 8. 17; Mark 15. 28; Luke 22. 37; John 12. 37, 38; Acts 8. 32, 33; Rom. 10. 16; 1 Pet. 2. 24, 25.

Three distinct voices can be discerned in the passage. They are those of Jehovah, Isa. 52. 13-15; 53. 11-12, of the apostolic preacher, 53. 1, and of the converted Jew, 53. 2-10. The Song can be divided very simply as follows:

  1. The communications of Jehovah, 52. 13-15.
  2. The complaint of the apostolic preacher, 53. 1.
  3. The confession of the converted Jew, 53. 2-10.
    1. Pre-conversion experience, 53. 2-4.
    2. Post conversion experience, 53. 5-10.
  4. The confirmation of Jehovah, 53. 11-12.

We will consider each of these sections in detail.

1. The Communications of Jehovah, 52. 13-15

This section describes the height of Messiah’s exaltation and the depth of His degradation. In a sense, therefore, it provides a brief summary of the contents of the next chapter. We note:

(i) The Command, v.13. The word “Behold” calls special attention to Jehovah’s Servant. When used of the Lord Jesus, “Servant” does not indicate essential inferiority. Jehovah’s Servant is Himself divine. The relationship of “Servant” is official. See Philippians 2. 6-7, where the One in the form of God took the form of a servant. Two things are foretold of the Servant:

(a) His work—“deal prudently”. This clause refers to what the Servant of Jehovah was to do, whereas what follows refers to what was to be done for Him. The word translated “prudently” often adds the idea of prosperity to that of wisdom; see Josh. 1. 8; 1 Kings 2. 3; Prov. 17. 8 and Jer. 10. 21 (in each of which it is translated “prosper(eth)(ous)”). The reason for this probably lies in the fact that, as a rule, wisdom leads to success. The word, therefore, denotes a wisdom which results in prosperity. Compare Jeremiah 23. 5, where the same word is used to describe the Lord Jesus as the Branch, and is rendered “prosper”. Christ’s wisdom can be seen in the way in which He accomplished redemption, which has resulted in prosperity, not only for Himself but, by grace, for His people also. We are “joint-heirs” with Him!, Rom. 8. 17.

(b) His rewards—“exalted … extolled … very high”. These three expressions again remind us of Philippians 2, now verses 9-11. Messiah’s rewards consist in His being raised, being raised still higher and being made to stand on high. W. E. Vine links the three expressions with distinct stages in our Lord’s experience:

“Exalted”, answering to His resurrection. The word translated “exalted” signifies to be raised up in exaltation. God’s satisfaction with the finished work of Christ was expressed by His raising Him from the dead.

“Extolled”, answering to His ascension; cf. “lifted up” R.V. Christ was “received up in glory”, 1 Tim. 3. 16 R.V. It was the glory cloud of God (called by the Jews the Shekinah) which “received him out of” the disciples’ sight, Acts 1. 9.

“Very high”, answering to His coronation. This suggests His position on God’s throne. He has been “exalted exceedingly” (Zu.), having sat down by divine invitation, Heb. 1. 13.

It should be noted that each of the three Hebrew expressions is used elsewhere in Isaiah’s prophecy of God Himself. He is “high” (i.e., exalted) and “lofty” (i.e., extolled), 57. 15; 6. 1, and He is “exalted” (i.e., very high), 5. 16.

(ii) The Contrast, vv. 14-15. Isaiah predicted that Messiah’s exaltation and glory would be reached by the way of suffering. This he did by means of a threefold contrast.

(a) The contrast between the “many” who would be “astonied”, v.14, and the “many” who would be “sprinkled”, v.15. The word translated “astonied” means rather more than our word “astonished”. It can carry the idea of being startled and shocked, 1 Kings 9. 8; Ezek. 26. 16, and of contempt and derision, Jer. 18. 16. As surely as many were astonied at Him when He was cruelly marred, so many nations will leap for joy (R.V. marg.) when He is acknowledged as rightful and universal Ruler. The word translated “sprinkled” is so rendered in almost every other occurrence in the O.T. Yet in each of these cases the verb is followed by a reference to the substance sprinkled, i.e. dust, water or blood. In Isaiah 52. 15 no substance is mentioned. Many scholars claim that the word is derived from another with the meaning, “to cause to leap, to spring up”, and adopt this meaning in Isaiah 52; cf. “startle”, R.V. marg. That is, as many were startled (shamem, LXX: existemi) at Messiah’s humilation, v.14, so many will be startled (nazah, LXX: thaumazo) at His glory, v.15.

(b) The contrast between Messiah’s depth of humiliation and His height of exaltation. Note “As”, v.14, and “So”, v.15. Messiah’s debasement consisted in His visage being so marred and disfigured as no longer to retain the appearance of a man, cf. Psa. 22. 7. For the fulfilment of Isaiah’s words see Matthew 26. 67; 27. 26-30; John 18. 22; cf. Isa. 50. 6. How great the contrast when kings will be dumb with reverence and amazement because of Him! Compare Micah 7. 16. A feint illustration of the silence in view can be found in Job 29. 9-10. Observe that it is “kings” who are silent before Him. Just as Christ’s humiliation was the most shameful possible, so His exaltation will be the most glorious possible.

(c) The contrast between ignorance and understanding. Israel’s contempt for, and rejection of, Jehovah’s Servant, Isa. 52. 14, sprang from their “ignorance”, Acts 3. 17. The same ignorance caused the majority of the nation later to spurn the preaching of the gospel, Rom. 10. 1-3; 1 Tim. 1. 13. In contrast, Isaiah 52. 15 speaks of those who “see” and “consider” (meaning “understand”, as does the word suniemi used in the LXX). Paul’s quotation of this verse in Romans 15. 21 shows that it is the Gentiles who are now in view. The apostle cited the verse to explain his policy of extending the knowledge of Christ where His name was not known previously; see vv. 19-20. Do we share the burdens of those who follow in Paul’s footsteps?

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