The Agora
Behold My Servant (Isa 52:13-53:12)

Previous Index Next

"A Lamb to the Slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7-9)

The previous section (vv 4-6) gave the reason for the sufferings of the Messiah. This section gives the facts of the sufferings.

The, figure is continued, from the previous section, of the Messiah as a lamb, or a sheep. The Law of Moses designated the sheep as a clean animal because it chewed the cud and parted the hoof. Chewing the cud, or "ruminating", applies in the spiritual sense to pondering and meditating upon the Word of God so as better to assimilate it into one's character. The parted hoof points to the necessity of "making straight paths for our feet", or walking morally upright, though the way may be rough and uneven. Jesus was such a lamb, "a lamb without blemish", taken from the "flock" of Israel, and prepared for the sacrifice that would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Verse 7

"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth" -- The parallelism of this phrase is incomplete, and it has been suggested by textual critics that since the word "anah" means both "answer" and "afflict" it originally occurred twice, in both senses, but that one "anah" has "been dropped in transmission. If this is correct, though it essentially adds nothing to the message of the whole, then the phrase would have originally read:

"He was oppressed, and he answered not; and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth."
"Oppression" is the word "nagas", signifying to drive or harass. "He opened not his mouth" recalls the Psalms:

"Thus I was as a man that heareth not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth" (Psa 38:14).

"I was as dumb, I opened not my mouth" (Psa 39:9).
Jesus was silent before the Sanhedrin (Mat 26:63), before Herod (Luke 23:9), and before Pilate (Mat 27:12-14; John 19:9). On other occasions he actively protested against sin (Luke 4:23-29; John 7:19), as did Paul also (Acts 22:25); here, though the sin was flagrant, he did not.

"He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter" -- This phrase, "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter" (RSV), is echoed by Luke 23:1:

"... and led him unto Pilate" –-
and v 32:

"led... to be put to death".
"As a sheep before her shearers" -- The figure of shearing is now blended into the figure of sacrifice, a minor variation on the major theme. As the "fruit" of a shorn sheep provides, ultimately, a garment to cover the nakedness of the shearers, so the "fruit" of Jesus' sore trials and death is a "garment" of righteousness to cover the "nakedness" of sin!

This phrase is quoted in Acts 8:32 by the Ethiopian Eunuch as he reads Isaiah with Philip:

"Like a lamb dumb before his shearer".
Definite differences appear between the original statement and its citation Where Isaiah has "rachel", a ewe, matched by the pronoun "her"; Acts has "amnos" (which may be either masculine or feminine) and "his". Where Isaiah has "shearers" plural, Acts has "shearer" singular. (In this, Acts 8:32 appears closely to follow the Septuagint.)

The female aspect stresses the docility, the passive response of submission. In the sacrificial usage there may also be a clue to its usage here: The sin-offering for a ruler was a male kid (Lev 4:23), but the sin-offering for commoners was a female kid or lamb (Lev 4:28,32). The rulers of Israel were not to benefit from the humiliation and suffering they inflicted upon Christ; but the common people who heard him gladly (Mark 12:37) were to be cleansed by his offering for sin.

It appears also that "shearers" (plural) has a relevance unmatched by the singular "shearer". Only four men in Scripture are said to have employed "shearers": Laban (Gen 31:19), Judah (Gen 38:12,13), Nabal (1Sa 25:2,4,7,11), and Absalom (2Sa 13:23,24). Not one of the four was spoken of as a shearer personally, but each had shearers working for him. (This typifies the Jewish elite class, which engineered the "shearing" of Christ, though the actual operation was performed by the "employed" Romans.)

Not one of these four was a righteous man. In fact, in each case the employer of the shearers had at the time of the shearing some evil intention -- toward a victim -- which intention, however, never worked out as intended:

  1. Laban intended to cheat Jacob of his rightful property, but his son-in-law finally left him, taking great wealth and Laban's two daughters.
  2. Judah sought only to satisfy his lusts with a harlot, but inadvertently fulfilled the Levirate function and fathered a son by Tamar in the Messianic line.
  3. Nabal boldly and contemptuously denied the rightfully anointed King David. For his trouble, however, he lost his property, his wife, and his life.
  4. Absalom hid his royal ambitions in a cloak of righteous vengeance, but the outcome of his murder of Amnon was Absalom's own loss of favor and exile.
All this reminds us very much of the antitypical "shearing" of Christ. Sheep-shearing was generally performed in the spring, at Passover; it was a season of great rejoicing (1Sa 25:2-13; 2Sa 13:23-29). But for a certain sort of man it was also the time for theft, lust, greed, and murder. And so the leaders of Israel, at the last true Passover, blindly plotted to fulfill this unnoticed Scriptural type of "shearing": to steal from the Anointed One his rightful title, to satisfy their lusts in assuring their political supremacy, to protect their treasured wealth, and to murder the supposed rival for the Father's affection. "Now shall the inheritance be ours!" But it could not be, and in the conclusion of the tragedy and subsequent triumph, men like Peter, Stephen, and Paul confronted the Jews with the foreordained outcome of their evil intentions:

"Him... ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain... (but now) let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2; 23,36).

"The Just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers... (but now) I see... the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (7:52,56).

"And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead" (13:29,30).
Verse 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."
"He was taken from prison and from judgment" -- "Prison" is "atser", literally "restraint", and may simply mean "arrest" (as in NIV and NEB) and not incarceration (although it is possible Jesus was thrown in a dungeon for a brief time). "Judgment is "mishpat", the pronouncing of sentence "After arrest and sentence he was taken away" (NEB). Compare this whole phrase with Psa 22; 16:

"Dogs have encompassed me. The assembly ('edah' -- appointed meeting; probably the Sanhedrin) of the wicked have inclosed me."
"And who shall declare his generation?" -- When a man dies childless, not only is his own life cut off, but his name also perishes, not being perpetuated to succeeding generations. In a psalm prophetic of Christ's betrayal:

"Mine enemies speak evil of me, 'When shall he die and his name perish?' " (Psa 41:5).
But the death of Jesus was the making and not the perishing of his name, though this did not appear so to the Jews and Gentiles of his generation. Multitudes of redeemed ones would come into being through the redemptive work of Jesus. These would be his "generations", his "seed":

"He shall see his seed... (the fruit of) the travail of his soul" (Isa 53:10,11).
"A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come and declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born" (Psa 22:30,31).

But no one, except the Lord, could "declare" (Heb "siach" -- to produce or bring forth) these succeeding generations, because they would be born spiritually and not naturally.

"For he was cut off out of the land of the living" -- "Cut off" implies a violent death (Dan 9:26). Literally it means "cut in two" (ie, 1Ki 3:25; Psa 136:13), perhaps as a covenant-victim (cp Isa 49:8 with Gen 15:10). The cutting in two also holds subtle undertones of the garden of Eden, where the Lord God took a rib (or a "side") from Adam, out of which He made Eve. Thus Adam was literally "cut in two"; one became two, so that two could become one again (Gen 2:21-24; Eph 5:31,32)! The lovely spiritual allegory should be obvious to all. As Jesus "slept" in a garden tomb, out of the "side" pierced by a Roman spear. God fashioned a companion for him -- one who would be "child" of the "last Adam" as well as "bride"! "They two shall be one flesh."

"For the transgression of my people was he stricken" -- Recalling vv 4,5.

Verse 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."
"And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death" -- At first glance the two phrases seem to be reversed. "The wicked" is plural, recalling the two malefactors, with whom Jesus met his death! "The rich" is singular ("a rich man" -- RSV), referring to Joseph of Arimathea, in whose grave Jesus was placed! However, if the connective "and" is changed to "but", a new meaning emerges:

"He (Pilate) appointed that he would be buried with the (two) wicked men; but (God appointed) that when he died he would be (buried) with the (one) rich man."
Had Jesus' body been consigned to Gehenna, as generally with the bodies of executed "criminals", it would have "seen corruption" (Psa 16:10), which was not to be permitted by God. Furthermore, a subsequent resurrection out of such a "grave" would not have provided the irrefutable evidence of an open sepulchre and "bewildered guards. So Providence overruled the original intention of the authorities. Joseph of Arimathea, a previously secret disciple, was moved against all "reason" to ask for the body of Jesus. Pilate, the same man who signed the death warrant, granted him the "body (Mat 27:57-60). By a remarkable series of twists, then, this prophecy was fulfilled contrary to all natural expectations.

"Because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth" – If the previous two phrases are taken to be parenthetical, the "because" links with the last portion of v 8: He was "stricken" for the transgressions of others, because he had done no violence. In other words, it was only because Jesus was without sin that his death could be an atonement for the sins of others. (An alternative viewpoint would substitute "although" for "because", thus linking this phrase with the immediately The important fact concerning the sinlessness of Jesus is wonderfully illustrated by no less than Pilate himself, as well as other observers, in the scenes of Luke 23:

  1. Pilate -- "I find no fault in this man" (v 4).
  2. Pilate again -- "(I) have found no fault in this man" (v 14).
  3. And again -- "Why, what evil hath he done?" (v 22).
  4. A malefactor -- "This man hath done nothing amiss" (v 41).
  5. A centurion -- "Certainly this was a righteous man" (v 47).
New Testament Quotations

  1. Verse 7 -- Mark 15:5: When Jesus was before the Roman governor he "yet answered nothing", the equivalent of "he opened not his mouth". Mark's next phrase is; "so that Pilate marveled", recalling Isa 52:15.
  2. Verse 7 -- John 1:29,36; Rev 5:6,12; 13:8; etc: "A lamb to the slaughter" becomes one of the principal designations of Christ in the New Testament, and particularly in the Apocalypse: "a Lamb as it had been slain".
  3. Verses 7,8 -- Acts 8:32,33: The Ethiopian eunuch was, as best he was able, a worshipper of the God of Israel. But his physical disability excluded him from the closest fellowship. Therefore, he would be particularly struck by the picture Isaiah painted, of a man cut off without generation, who would yet see his "seed"! How could this be? rut when Philip "preached unto him Jesus" (v 35), the meaning was obvious. Now, in direct contrast to the exclusionary provisions of the Law, nothing could "hinder" him "to be baptized" (v 36). All that was necessary was faith and confession. And the Ethiopian became one of those eunuchs who take hold of God's covenant, who will receive in His house a name better than of sons and daughters, an everlasting name that shall not be cut off (Isa 56:4,5).
  4. Verse 9 -- Rev 14:5: The 144, 000 redeemed stand on Mount Zion, commended because in their mouths was found no guile. They have become like the Lamb of Isaiah's prophecy, who stands there with them. That is why they are there -- because a Lamb without blemish has been offered on their behalf, and they have emulated his character, and made his speech theirs.
Previous Index Next