Isaiah 52. 13 to 53. 12 – Part 2

2. The Complaint of the Apostolic Preachers, Isa. 53. 1

(a) The Speakers Identified. Clearly it is not the Lord Himself speaking, for He is spoken of—“the arm of the Lord”. Indeed the verse is quoted in the N.T. as addressed to the “Lord”, John 12. 38; Rom. 10. 16, as also in the Septuagint. The use of the plural “our” indicates that Isaiah is not speaking on his own behalf. I suggest that the speakers can be identified as the apostolic preachers of the gospel. Such are fittingly described earlier (“How beautiful… are the feet”, Isa. 52. 7) in words which, together with our text, are applied by the apostle Paul to gospel preachers, Rom. 10. 15-16. Isaiah 52. 7 describes the gospel messengers (note Paul’s change of “feet of him” to “feet of them”, Rom. 10. 15) and Isaiah 53. 1 describes the failure of the Jews generally to respond to their message; cf. Rom. 10. 19-21.

This, is not, of course, the only application of Isaiah 53. 1. For example the apostle John claimed a fulfilment of the verse in connection with the ministry of the Lord Jesus, John 12. 37-38.

(b) The Sentiment Expressed. The word translated “report” is passive in form: lit., a thing heard. It signifies “the report that reached us”, “that which was reported to us”. This is illustrated well by Paul’s claim that he had declared that which he had “received”, 1 Cor. 15. 3. The response noted in our verse was disappointing and the sad sentiment expressed has been shared by many preachers since. The expression “the arm of the Lord” can be understood in several ways. It could be taken as a title of Jehovah, or a designation of the Lord Jesus as the Administrator of God’s affairs in creation, salvation and judgment. Or again, it could denote the power of Jehovah. See Isaiah 51. 9; 52. 10, where it is employed as an emblem of power, and compare “the arm of his strength”, 62. 8. Isaiah also assures us that the power (“arm”) which the Lord God exerts to rule is the same power which He exerts to care for the very weakest of His people, 40. 10-11. How precious!

The Confession of the Converted Jew, 53. 2-10

These words are suited to the lips of converted Jews today, as they will be to the lips of the repentant nation when “all Israel shall be saved”, Rom. 11. 26. The words provide an answer to the question of the preachers in verse 1.

(a) Preconversion Experience, vv.2-4.

Three things gave rise to the unconverted Jew’s false opinion and assessment of Jehovah’s Servant,

  1. His humble origin, v.2a. The Lord Jesus is spoken of as “a tender plant” (young plant, sapling) and as “a root out of a dry ground”. He is also presented as “a root” in chapter 11. 10, the Septuagint of which is quoted in Romans 15. 12 and which undoubtedly is in view in Revelation 5. 5; 22. 16. Isaiah also refers to Him as “a rod (shoot) out of the stem (stock) of Jesse”, 11. 1. At the time of Christ, the house of David was sunk into complete obscurity. It was, in effect, like the dead and decayed stock of a tree which had been cut down. But from such an unpromising background, Christ came as the “Branch” (sprout, Heb. tsemach), 4. 2; Jer. 23. 5; 33. 15; Zech. 3. 8; 6. 12. Compare “Branch” (Heb. netser), Isa. 11. 1, from which may have been derived the name Nazareth and the title Nazarene, Matt. 2. 23. It is “before” the Lord that the Servant grows up. Although His growth did not attract the attention of His nation or its leaders, He enjoyed Jehovah’s watchful eye and protecting care and, in turn, afforded Him complete delight.
  2. His abject appearance, vv. 2b-3. It is often said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. As far as the unconverted Jew was concerned there was no “beauty” at all in the Lord Jesus. Three negatives are employed to describe how He appeared in the eyes of unbelieving Israel, v.2b. These expressions do not refer in any way to the Lord’s physical appearance; they build on the description given at the beginning of the verse. The Hebrew word translated “comeliness” is elsewhere rendered “excellency”, 35. 2, and “majesty”, Psa. 104. 1. The “carpenter” of Nazareth, Mark 6. 3, offered nothing of the outward splendour and glory which His people associated with the Messiah. He did not come as a great monarch, with royal pomp and ceremony. To all but the few who received the necessary revelation from the Father, Matt. 16. 17, He represented a most unlikely Messiah. To the few, of course, He was “the chiefest among ten thousand” and “altogether lovely”, Song 5. 10, 16. Verse 3 tells of the contempt in which the Servant was held. Twice He is said to be “despised”; cf. Psa. 22. 6. He was “rejected” by men. That is, they held themselves aloof from Him; they forsook Him. He was “a man of sorrows”, meaning, a man characterized by sorrows. His life was marked by sorrow and pain (see on verse 4). The sin and unbelief of those around Him accounted for no small part of this, Mark 6. 5; Luke 19. 41. The word “grief’ often indicates “sickness”, 1 Kings 17. 17; Isa. 1. 5, and “disease”, 2 Chron. 21. 18. The Lord knew and cared about the sickness of others. He was not indifferent to it and on no occasion did He refuse to help and heal. Yet He was spurned by men; they hid their faces from Him, as not wanting anything to do with Him. He, on the other hand, hid not his face from shame and spitting, 50. 6. The positive expression, “he was despised”, is reinforced by the negative expression, “we esteemed him not”. That is, He was reckoned of no account, as having no value and of being unworthy of notice. Truly, “his own (people) received him not”, John 1. 11.
  3. His severe sufferings, v. 4. The first part of the verse does not refer to the vicarious suffering of Christ, but to His miraculous healing of the sick, Matt. 8. 16-17. He bore the “grief’ or sickness (see on verse 3) of others, and carried their “sorrows”. This latter word carries the idea of pain or mental distress, Job 33. 19; Jer. 15. 18. He “lifted and carried away” men’s sicknesses and “bore as a burden” (see the use of the Hebrew word for “carried” in Neh. 4. 10, 17) their resulting pains and distresses. Three words are used to denote the severity of Messiah’s suffering. The first two (“stricken”, “smitten”) often describe occasions when God intervened in sudden judgment because of sin; see their use in 1 Sam. 25. 38; 2 Chron. 26. 20; Psa. 73. 14 and Gen. 19. 11; Num. 14. 12 and 1 Sam. 5. 6 respectively. “Smitten” sometimes involves a wound so serious as to result in death; see Gen. 4. 15; 37. 21; 1 Sam. 17. 9, in each of which it is translated “kill”. The third word (“afflicted”) means “bowed down” and suggests a deep humbling. It is rendered “submit”, Gen. 16. 9, and “humble” (thyself)”, Exod. 10. 3. We know that the One the Jews esteemed to be “humbled” by God for His own sins had, in fact, humbled Himself and submitted Himself to death on a cross for our sins!

Taking full account of the Servant’s humble origin, abject appearance and severe sufferings, the unbelieving Jews drew a wrong conclusion about the cause of His sorrows and suffering. It was not, however, that they erred in interpreting His suffering as a punishment for sin. Their error lay in their assumption that His suffering came as a punishment for sins He had Himself committed. In the next article we will see the radical change of opinion on this matter which accompanies conversion.