Isaiah 52. 13 to 53. 12 – Part 3

The previous article dealt largely with a Jew’s preconversion opinion of Jehovah’s Servant. Now we go on to consider his

(b) Postconversion Experience, vv. 5-10. The Jew had not been wrong in regarding Messiah’s suffering as a punishment for sins, but only in regarding it as a punishment for sins which He had Himself committed. The Jew’s radical change of opinion is heralded by the word, “But”. On behalf of his people, he says, in effect, “We were wrong. He was wounded for our transgressions …”. Attention is directed to (i) Messiah’s suffering, vv. 5-7. Here we are given:—

  1. The Description of His Suffering, v.5. The various words used suggest not only that there were different aspects to the suffering but that it had not come from natural causes. It resulted rather from an assault occasioned by our sins. The violence of the assault is apparent from the words “wounded” (meaning pierced, bored through) and “bruised” (meaning crushed, “beat … to pieces”, 3. 15, “broken”, 19. 10, cf. “break in pieces”, Psa.72. 4). Of the words used in verse 5 it has been said, “There were no stronger expressions to be found in the language (Hebrew), to denote a violent and painful death”, Delitzsch. Messiah’s suffering was also penal. That is, it took the form of punishment on account of transgression and iniquity. It was also deadly. The word “wounded” usually signifies being fatally wounded; see the translation “deadly wounded”, Ezek. 30. 24. That this is the meaning here is confirmed by the expression “cut off out of the land of the living”, v.8. The suffering was also substitutionary. Note “for (on account of) our transgressions” and iniquities; cf. “for our offences”, Rom. 4. 25, and “for our sins”, 1 Cor. 15. 3. His was the “chastisement” by which our peace and wellbeing were secured. By His stripes (weals, “bruises”, Isa. 1. 6) we have spiritual healing; cf Psa. 41. 4.
  2. The Reason for His Suffering, v.6. To explain the necessity for the Servant’s suffering mention is now made of the sinfulness of those for whom He suffered. Compare “All we” at the beginning of the verse with “us all” at the end. By sin, men are estranged both from God and other men. They have “gone astray” from God; see 1 Peter 2. 25, where such words stand in obvious contrast to “are now returned unto the Shepherd …”. Each has also turned “to his own way”; cf. Isaiah 56. 11 for a reference to the selfishness inherent in one’s “own way”. Sin separates man from man as each follows his own individual impulse and interest. Man’s sinful predicament necessitated the intervention of Jehovah in judgment. This judgment fell, however, not on the guilty sinner but on his substitute—Jehovah’s Servant. We trace this to Jehovah’s initiative for He acted unbidden and unprompted, and we wonder at the intensity of His action. The word translated “laid on” includes in it the idea of an hostile attack. It is sometimes rendered “fall upon”, Jud. 8. 21; 15. 12; 1 Sam. 22. 17, where it describes a violent and hostile assault. Isaiah 53. 6 might therefore be translated, “The Lord caused the iniquity of us all to rush upon Him”. The word “iniquity” is used to denote sin in its effects; i.e. liability to punishment. See its use in 1 Samuel 28. 10 (“punishment”) and 2 Kings 7. 9 (“mischief’— “punishment” R.V.). It was the consequences of iniquity which were laid on Christ.
  3. The Manner in which He Bore His Suffering, v.7. The beginning of the verse is translated by some, “It was exacted (or demanded), and He became answerable”. The first word (“oppressed” A.V.) is rendered “exacted)”, Deut. 15. 2, 3; 2 Kings 23. 35; Isa. 58. 3. Another form of the word is translated “exactors”, Isa. 60. 17, and “raiser of taxes”, Dan. 11. 20. It was exacted and demanded of Messiah that He pay the penalty incurred by the sins of others. The word “afflicted”, A.V., means to “submit”, “humble” and “abase” oneself, Gen. 16. 9; Exod. 10. 3; Isa. 31. 4. The Lord Jesus answered His Father’s demand upon Him by humbling Himself and becoming obedient even to death and that on a cross. Our verse emphasizes particularly the Servant’s demeanour, as He suffered, before God and men. I believe that “as a lamb” describes Messiah’s suffering as coming from God. Lambs were frequently used, of course, in sacrifice to God. Doubtless Isaiah 53. 7 was largely in the mind of the Baptist when he exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”, John 1. 29. In all His suffering, the Lord Jesus uttered no word of complaint to or against God. Contrast the use of “lamb” here with that in Jeremiah 11. 19. There the expression “like a lamb” is used to describe the prophet’s ignorance concerning his enemies’ intentions towards him. The Lord Jesus could not be likened to a lamb in its ignorance of the slaughter which awaits it (see John 18. 4), but only in its silent submission. “As a sheep”, in my view, indicates the Servant’s sufferings as they came from men. Sheep were sheared, of course, for the comfort and convenience of men. Note that the word for “sheep” differs from that in verse 6. The word used here occurs only 4 times in the O.T.; Song 6. 6; Gen. 31. 38 (“ewes”) and Gen. 32. 14 (“ewes”). It is as if the Holy Spirit deliberately avoided using the same word to depict the Lord Jesus as He just had to describe men in their sin. The silence of the Saviour, under great provocation and when suffering from men, is carefully noted by the gospel writers, Matt. 26. 62-63; 27. 11-14; Luke 23. 9, and is appealed to by Peter as an example to servants, 1 Pet. 2. 23. For the Lord Jesus there was “a time to keep silence” as well as “a time to speak”, Eccles. 3. 7.

Attention is next directed to (ii) Messiah’s death, v.8. From this verse we observe three things about the death of Jehovah’s Servant. It was:—

  1. Undeserved. “By oppression and judgment he was taken away”, R.V. The word translated “prison”, A.V., means restraint and oppression (as in Psa. 107. 39). The trials of the Lord before Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate were all a mockery of justice. See “In his humiliation his judgment was taken away”, Acts 8. 33. This quotation from Isaiah 53. 8 follows the LXX exactly, as we would expect. It was most unlikely that Candace’s eunuch would have been able to read Hebrew, whereas Greek was the universal language of the day. It was “by” (i.e., as a result of) an oppression which masked itself under the pretence of a proper legal process that Messiah was “taken away”. The word “generation” means “men living in a particular age”, e.g. Gen. 7. 1. I cannot accept therefore that the expression “who shall declare his generation?” refers to the absence of any natural seed on the part of Messiah. The verb “declared” means to consider, to relate, to describe. Consequently, I interpret the expression as meaning, “Who is able adequately to describe Messiah’s contemporaries; men who have unjustly put Him to death?”.
  2. Violent. The expression “take away” is used to describe a sudden or violent death, Jer. 15. 15; Ezek. 24. 16. The suddenness of Messiah’s death is underscored by the words “cut off’, used elsewhere to describe the cutting down of a tree, 2 Kings 6. 4; cf. Daniel 9. 26. I prefer the translation “By the transgression of my people” and take it to be a reference by the converted Jew to the sin of his people in putting Messiah to death.
  3. Predicted. How minutely accurate are all the expressions used, when read in the light of their fulfilment in the Lord Jesus over 700 years later.