"My Servant Shall Deal Prudently" (Isa 52:13-15)
After Jesus had been scourged, he was handed over to the
execution squad by Pilate. He had known what to expect for a long tine -- the
terrible climax of all his physical sufferings. For hours, as dark gave way to
dawn, and as the crowd gathered, he had already endured humiliating insults and
cruel buffetings. A "crown" of thorns had been brutally forced down upon his
head. (And these were real thorns, an inch long, if the traditional plant of the
crown of thorns is the correct one!) So it was with scarred face, and lacerated
back and shoulders, that he followed the Roman soldiers, bearing his cross and
stumbling as he went. Before and behind and on either side, they clear a path
and keep the excited crowd at bay. In their midst he stumbles and shuffles his
way under the weight of the cross, his face a mask of patience and
Jesus, the express image of the Father's person, is reduced to
the state predicted by Isaiah:
"His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of
men" (Isa 52:14).
"There is no beauty that we should desire him" (Isa
Growing weaker, he stumbles one last time and falls prostrate
under the burden. The impatient soldiers compel a witness to bear his cross, and
rudely wrestle him to his feet again. Soon they are at Calvary, where a hole has
been dug in the ground. The cross-piece is laid on the ground and he is placed
upon it. Spikes are driven through his wrists and ankles and into the rough
wood. Then with its human burden the cross is lifted and jolted down upon the
stake, where it is made fast. There, for ceaseless hours, he hangs -- his whole
body a raw nerve of pain, his senses dazed by the shimmering heat and the clouds
and the dust.
"They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am
poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax;
it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd;
and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of
death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me;
they pierced my hands and my feet" (Psa
He suffered the shame, the physical agony, the draining away
of his strength, and a raging thirst. There was dizziness, cramps, fever, and
torment. Every movement, no matter how slight, would signal new anguish. Truly
might it be said, "His visage was so marred more than any man."
* * *
"Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and
be very high."
This verse is an overview. The four main stages of Christ's
work are referred to:
This outline is clearly parallel to Paul's outline:
- His ministry ("deal prudently");
- His crucifixion ("exalted" -- cp John
- His resurrection ("extolled"); and
- His ascension,
mediation, and coming kingdom ("very high").
"Behold" -- A trumpet call, demanding careful attention to all
- "The form (Greek 'fashion') of a servant" (Phi 2:7);
- "Obedient unto
death, even the death of the cross" (v 8);
- "Wherefore God also hath highly
exalted him" (v 9); and
- "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (vv
"My servant" -- The Hebrew "ebed" is a slave, as opposed to a
hired servant. Unless released, a slave serves for life. The example for all
such slaves is Exo 21:5,6:
"If the servant shall plainly say, I love my master... I will
not go out free... then his master shall bring him to the door... and his master
shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for
To this the Psalmist refers: "Mine eyes hast thou opened" (Psa
40:6), a passage cited in conjunction with the perfect obedience of the Perfect
Servant of Yahweh in Heb 10:5-9, where this phrase is translated "a body (ie, a
slave) hast thou prepared me"!
The prophecies relating to Yahweh's servant are found in
Isaiah, from Isa 41 through this section. In these prophecies, Isaiah has been
continually contrasting the "national" servant, Israel, with the "individual"
servant, the Messiah, much to the discredit of the former. Israel the
multitudinous servant has been called to an honorable position of service, but
has despised the privilege and failed miserably (Isa41:8; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1,21;
43:4; 43:20). For this they are sharply rebuked (Isa 42:17-20). Meanwhile,
Israel is called upon to "behold My Servant" (Isa 42:1); God's individual
"Servant" would accomplish what the national "Servant" could not. Through him
the works of the Father, the greatest of which is the redemption and
glorification of a portion of mankind, will be accomplished.
Strangely at least from the contemporary Jewish perspective,
God's purpose of redemption requires the suffering and finally the sacrificial
death of His obedient servant. This point is reached by stages in the
progressive revelations about Isaiah's "Servant". First, there is a mere hint of
temporary discouragement (42:4); second, a lament over "failure" (49:4); third,
personal abuse (50:6); and finally, here, misrepresentation, injustice, and a
"Deal prudently" -- Hebrew "yaschil" signifies "to prosper"
(RSV, NEB). The same word is used of Joshua (Jos 1:7,8) in regard to achieving
the inheritance of the land of Canaan for himself and his flock; and also of the
"righteous Branch" (Jer 23:5) who will reign as a king and save Judah and
Israel, and who will be called "The Lord our Righteousness".
"Exalted" -- "Rum": to be high. Several passages in John's
Gospel equate crucifixion with being lifted up (Joh 3:14; 8:28; 12:32,33), most
directly alluding to the brazen serpent lifted up on the pole (Num
"Extolled" -- "Nasa": elevated as a banner or an ensign. The
victory of the children of Israel over Amalek through the lifting up of Moses'
rod (Exo 17:9,11) was commemorated "by the building of an altar called
"Yahweh-Nissi" -- "He who shall be lifted up", or "The Lord my
In a glorious "kingdom" prophecy, the "root of Jesse" (cp Isa
53:21) will stand for an "ensign ("nes") of the people", to which even the
Gentiles will seek (Isa 11:10).
"And be very high" -- Thus the three similar phrases may be
differentiated: Jesus was lifted up on the cross. He was then lifted up out of
the grave. And finally he was lifted up to heaven, to sit on the right hand of
God, from whence he will return to sit on a glorious throne, ruling over all
"As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and
his form more than the sons of men."
The "as" beginning this verse is matched by the "so" beginning
v 15. As many individuals were astonished at the Messiah, so shall "many"
nations be sprinkled (ie, cleansed) by him! Here is the multiplying effect of
the work of Christ: what a comparatively few witnessed in person, in the streets
of Jerusalem and on the brow of a little hill, will ultimately bring blessing to
multitudes scattered from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the
earth! And the marvelous irony is this: that which appalled and repelled those
who witnessed it will at last be embraced joyfully and thankfully by humble and
obedient believers. That which appeared tragic and senseless will be seen to be
lovely and wise. Paul speaks of the rationale of the crucifixion, and this irony
of the cross, to the Corinthian brethren:
"Hath not God made foolish the things of this world?... We
preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block and unto the Greeks
foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the
power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1Co 1:20,23,24).
That which "the world" saw as scandal and weakness was
actually righteousness and power. Paul leads us surely to the conclusion that
the salvation of mankind is specifically designed by God to run counter to proud
and vain man's expectations; hence the "astonishment" of Isa 52:14 (and the
despite and disesteem of Isa 53:3). His purpose in so doing is undoubtedly to
lend man to renounce his "worldly", materialistic, natural attitudes, and to see
salvation on God's terms, and to see himself in God's eyes. In the words of Paul
again, this was done so "that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1Co
"Many" -- Not only were "many" astonished, but "many" will
finally be cleansed (v 15) by the "sprinkled blood" of Christ. This is further
amplified by the "many" who will be justified (Isa 53:11) "by their knowledge of
him", and the "many" whose sins he bore (v 12).
"Astonied" -- "Astonished" (RSV), a state of mind manifested
by some as early as Jesus' twelfth year, when he sat in the Temple with the
doctors of the law (Luke 2:46,47). The sense of astonishment, however, reflected
by this picture of Isaiah is best captured by the alternate renderings
"appalled" (NIV and NEB: "aghast").
"His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more
than the sons of men" – "Visage" is translated "appearance" (RSV) and is
the same word as "beauty" in Isa 53:2. "Form" appears also in Isa 53:2. The
latter portions of each of these two phrases are practically identical. The
literal is "from being a man"; other versions read "beyond human resemblance"
(RSV) or "beyond human likeness" (NIV). This description is comparable to Psa
"I am a worm, and no man."
Indeed, there are many such comparisons between this Servant
Song and Psalm 22.
The literalness of this description, as connected with
Christ's trials, is easily grasped. The Temple guard and the Roman soldiers had
no regard for delicate sensibilities; and this man -- though markedly different
from others -- was nevertheless a condemned criminal. It is probably correct,
then, to think of the Suffering Servant as ending up not only with a lacerated
black eye (Mat 27:20), but also with a mass of cuts and bruises on his face,
teeth knocked out, and a long red scar across his cheek (Mat 27:30; 26:67; John
18:22, mg; Mic 5:1). Truly "beyond human resemblance"!
Although the imagery of this section is that of a suffering
leper (and probably well described the appearance of the typical Hezekiah when
ravaged by that disease), it is obvious upon reflection that Jesus could not
have literally suffered leprosy. It was prophesied of him that, as "the holy
thing" (Luke 1:35), he should not see corruption (Psa 16:10; Acts 2:27). If he
were not to partake of corruption even in death, how unlikely that he would so
partake during his lifetime! Furthermore, an appearance of leprosy during his
ministry would have prohibited him from preaching in the synagogue or in the
Temple, and would of course have been inconsistent with the magnetic effect he
had upon many, including small children. Finally, there is also the ritual of
the Passover, of which Jesus was the perfect fulfillment (1Co 5:7), a lamb
necessarily without spot and blemish. We must come to the conclusion, then, that
the marring of his countenance and figure must have been effected only in his
last trials and crucifixion.
"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."
One who is leprous (Isa 53:4), or is made to appear leprous --
that is, an outcast and a criminal -- becomes, in a fantastic turnabout, the
"priest" to cleanse "leprous" Gentiles! Paul and Peter speak of "the blood of
sprinkling" (Heb 12:24; 1Pe 1:2) by which forgiveness is obtained. The
"sprinkling" of the blood of Jesus is the fulfillment of the typical sprinkling
of water of separation (Num 19), water containing the ashes of a heifer offered
"without the camp" (Num 19:3; Heb 13:12), and effective in cleansing those who
have come into contact with the dead (Num 19:13). Paul puts this cleansing on a
moral plane when he describes the "blood of Christ" as able to purge us from
"dead works" (Heb 9:14; cp Heb 10:22). The agency of sprinkling, or cleansing,
will extend into the Last Days and the Kingdom Age, when a fountain for sin and
uncleanness will be opened in Jerusalem (Zec 13:1; cp Eze 36:25).
The imagery also recalls the sprinkling of the blood of the
Passover lamb on the doorposts of the houses of the Israelites in Egypt (Exo
12:7,22; Heb 10:19,22; Psa 51:7).
"Sprinkle" – The RSV has "startle", but the Hebrew word
("nazah") occurs elsewhere 19 times, always in the sense of sprinkling for
ceremonial purification (ie, Lev 4:6; 16:14,19; Num 19:18,21). It is difficult
to see why modern translators should replace the AV rendering.
"Many nations" – The blessing of all nations through the
special seed of Abraham (Gen 12:3) will involve the forgiveness of sins as a
prelude to the enjoyment of the peace and plenty of the kingdom. All this is
comprehended in Isaiah's previous prophecies about Yahweh's righteous Servant
bringing judgment to the Gentiles (Isa 42:1-4) by being a light and the
embodiment of Yahweh's salvation (Isa 49:1-6).
"The kings shall shut their mouths at him" – The LXX of
this expression is used to describe the "marveling" of Pilate (Mat 27:14; Mark
15:5) at the patient silence of Jesus in the face of accusations (cp Isa 53:7!).
* * *
We see then from these opening verses, that Isaiah is dealing
with one who is going to be exalted and enthroned; who is going to be a King and
a Priest; who will endure great sufferings in the process of his work. But the
glorious outcome of it will be that many nations will come within the scope of
that redemptive work.
New Testament Quotations
- Verse 13 -- Phi 2:7,9: This has been outlined above.
- Verse 13 -- Acts
3:13,14: At the healing of the lame man in the Beautiful Gate, Peter testified
of Jesus, the "servant" (Acts 3:l3, RSV) whom God glorified. In his speech he
made several other statements easily connected with this prophecy: ie, "whom ye
delivered up" (53:12); "why marvel ye?" (52:13,15 LXX); and "that Christ should
- Verse 15 -- Rom 15:20,21: Paul uses this verse to explain his
efforts to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and even to Gentile kings. His
work, however, must be seen as only the initial fulfillment of the prophecy. The
time is coming when the kings of the earth will all fall prostrate and amazed
before the glorified Christ, the one who was first a lamb for the slaughter, but
who will then be seen as the Redeemed and Glorified One, and the Redeemer of his