The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Isaiah 53

Isa 53:1

See Lesson, Fellowship of his suffering.

"He came to his own, and his own received him not" (Joh 1:11). "He saved others; himself he cannot save" (Mat 27:41,42; Mar 15:31). "Behold the lamb of God" (Joh 1:29). "Have any of the rulers believed on him?" (Joh 7:48).

OUR MESSAGE: Not the message "we" brought; but the message "we" received! Cp John 7:48: "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?"

"What message? That of Isa 52:7-10: that God reigns, and that He has made bare His holy arm!

TO WHOM: The "al-mi" here is answered by the "alma" (virgin) of Isa 7:14!

THE ARM OF THE LORD: Cp Isa 52:10. As Moses' arm (cp also Isa 63:5,11,12; 51:9,10) was leprous, and then healed (Exo 4:6), so was Christ! The "arm of the LORD" is a metaphor of military power; it pictures the LORD as a warrior who bares his arm, takes up his weapon, and crushes his enemies. But here the "enemy" is something very different: it is sin and human nature; and therefore, the LORD's "warrior" must fight a very different battle!

"Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?... in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him... God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things -- and the things that are not -- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him" (1Co 1:20-29).

Isa 53:2

HE GREW UP BEFORE HIM: That is, before God, and not (really) before man. In other words, in seclusion, away from the pressures of the world and the public eye. Nazareth, his childhood home, was a city of meager reputation, a despised place (John 1:46).

TENDER SHOOT... ROOT: Prob ref back to Isa 11:1. Cp Rev 22:16: the two seemingly paradoxical ideas "root" and "offspring" are taken from Isaiah's "root" and "plant" here.

DRY GROUND: Heb "tsiyah" -- reminiscent of Zion.

HE HAD NO BEAUTY... TO ATTRACT US TO HIM: Even before his last trials, Jesus was a man whom labor and persecution had rendered prematurely aged -- although only 33, he was mistaken for a man nearly 50 years old (Joh 8:57).

TO ATTRACT US TO HIM: The AV has "when we shall see him", and is echoed in Luke 20:13 -- the parable of the vineyard. The lord at last sends his beloved son to the disobedient husbandmen. "It may be they will reverence him when they see him!" Sure enough, Isaiah's prophecy foretells how the beloved son would not be reverenced, but rejected at his coming.

"It is still painfully true that the world sees nothing either in Christ or His Words. The beauty and harmony of the scriptures is overlooked, and that which tastes as sweet as wafers of honey, and is like fresh oil to those that love Christ, is distasteful and unpalatable indeed to those who reject Him (Num 11:8). They of the world still enquire: 'What is it?' And still to the incredulous Jew 'there is no form nor comeliness'; but in the approaching dawn, the Branch of the Lord's planting will be glorious in their eyes (Isa 4:1-3). Neither Christ or His brethren have any of that beauty which the vulgar eye admires, nor any of that external glory which ambition courts; and we look forward to the time when man's renovated taste will recognise what true beauty is, for the regenerated heart will see that it is not looks, nor outward appearance, but thoughts, desires and deeds, that are beautiful in the sight of God. It is moral beauty that is real beauty: external and material beauty is only a transient type, an evanescent shadow of that which is real and enduring forever, therefore, to us, Christ even in His humiliation is altogether lovely, and our All in All. True beauty is all from within and not from without, for under a very fine form there may lurk a very bad heart. It is the inner work that is beautiful. It is the light, radiance and warmth of the inner man shining from the countenance that constitutes true beauty. May the Lord grant us the beauty of holiness and the adorning of a meek and quiet spirit" (Alice Hopkins, Lessons from Nature).

Isa 53:3

DESPISED AND REJECTED BY MEN: Particularly, here, by his countrymen, the Jews (cp Isa 49:7). "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him" (Joh 1:11). "He saved others, but he can't save himself!" (Mat 27:41,42; Mar 15:31). Jesus came from Nazareth, a town and a district-- Galilee -- which was despised by other Jews (Joh 1:46; 7:41; 1Ki 9:11-13; Isa 9:1).

A MAN OF SORROWS: With an unsettled, transient existence (Luk 9:58); he was opposed and menaced (Luk 4:29); he suffered the indifference and the maligning of his own kindred (John 7:5; Mar 3:21). He often worked himself to exhaustion (Luk 8:46; John 4:6; Mar 4:36). While others slept, he spent whole nights in agonizing prayer.

FAMILIAR WITH SUFFERING: Lit "caused to know sickness": sw as of Hezekiah (Isa 38:9), David (Psa 41:3), Asa (2Ch 16:12), Jehoram (2Ch 21:15,19). Sufferers with leprosy, as was Uzziah (2Ch 26:21). "It looks as though the sin of David started a streak of rottenness in the royal family (note esp the details in Psa 38 and Psa 51:7)" (WIsa 457).

FROM WHOM MEN HIDE THEIR FACES: Possibly, "he hid his face from us" (as the leper hid his face and cried, "Unclean!": cp Lev 13:45). Either way, "the servant is likened to a seriously ill person who is shunned by others because of his horrible disease" (NET notes).

Isa 53:4

The Servant of Yahweh suffers for the sins of others. This is mentioned 12 times in this chapter: vv 4,4,5,5,5,5,6,8,10,11,12,12.

Allusions to the plague of leprosy (Lev 13; 14).

STRICKEN: The Heb word is used 57 times in Lev 13; 14 re leprosy. This then was the Jewish estimation of the man who was their Messiah: an unclean man to be shunned, lest they also become "defiled" by contact with him.

AFFLICTED: A state of deep and lasting humiliation, the sw as in Exo 1:11,12.

Isa 53:5

HE WAS PIERCED... CRUSHED: "It was not just the death of Jesus which made atonement, but his dying, "the suffering of (pertaining to) death" (Heb 2:9). He was very much a "LIVING sacrifice" (Rom 12:1,2).

CRUSHED: Sw Gen 3:15. Cp types of Law: lampstand of beaten gold (Exo 25:310; the beaten oil of daily sacrifice (Exo 29:40: the 2 cherubim of gold beaten out of one piece (Exo 37:7); the grain of firstfruits beaten out (Lev 2:1,14); pure olive oil beaten for light (Lev 24:2); etc. Lesson: necessity of tribulation (Act 14:22; Phi 3:10).

THAT BROUGHT US PEACE: Or, "that made us whole" (RSV) (cp Eph 2:14-18).

WOUNDS: The sw as Psa 38:5 and Isa 1:6, describing the "leprous" nation.

HEALED: Sw used re the cured leper (Lev 13:18,37; 14:3,48) and also of Hezekiah (2Ki 20:8; 2Ch 30:20); see also Num 12:13; Deu 28:27.

The "healing" reminds us of the experiences of Israel in the wilderness, when they cane to the bitter waters of Mara (Exo 15). The Lord showed Moses a tree and commanded him to cast it into the waters (v 25) He did so, and the waters were healed or made sweet. Thus by this miracle God declared His name to be "Yahweh Ropheka" -- "I will heal thee" (v 26)!

This healing was only the pattern of that greater "healing" to come in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. During his ministry, every act of healing served to identify him with his Father's character and purpose: "They that be whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31,32).

The only logical conclusion of such an undertaking was the cross. And Peter, reflecting in later years upon that dread but wonderful day, could write that Christ "bare our sins in his own body on the tree... by whose stripes ye were healed." (1Pe 2:24). By his reference to the tree he was linking together the miracle at the waters of Mara, the prophecy of Isaiah, and the cross of Calvary.

Isa 53:6

// Zec 13:7; Mat 26:31,56; Psa 119:176.

WE ALL, LIKE SHEEP, HAVE GONE ASTRAY, EACH OF US HAS TURNED TO HIS OWN WAY: The prophet Zechariah declared: "Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered" (Zec 13:7). To this Jesus alluded when he told the disciples on the night of his arrest: "All ye shall be offended because of me this night" (Mat 26:31).

And so it was that they all forsook him and fled (v 56). Peter, recalling those same events, quoted Isa 53:6: "For ye were as sheep going astray" –- but added the final thought that, after the resurrection, "(Ye) are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls" (1Pe 2:25).

Let us, as we view the cross, remember that even the apostles, who accompanied Jesus for more than three years, were weak and fearful as sheep in the time of their testing. Let us, therefore, not be unduly cast down by our failures; but let us return to our Shepherd to be healed: "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Thy servant; for I do not forget Thy commandments" (Psa 119:176).

"There is a peculiar sinfulness about every one of the individuals; all are sinful, but each one with some special aggravation not found in his fellow. It is the mark of genuine repentance that while it naturally associates itself with other penitents, it also takes up a position of loneliness. 'We have turned every one to his own way,' is a confession that each man had sinned against light peculiar to himself, or sinned with an aggravation which he could not perceive in others. This confession is unreserved; there is not a word to detract from its force, nor a syllable by way of excuse. The confession is a giving up of all pleas of self-righteousness. It is the declaration of men who are consciously guilty -- guilty without aggravations, guilty without excuse: they stand with their weapons of rebellion broken in pieces" (CHS).

"That night in Gethsemane, the disciples, like a panic-stricken stampeding flock of sheep, 'deserted him and fled' (Mat 26:56)" (WIsa 470).

THE LORD HAS LAID ON HIM THE INIQUITY OF US ALL: "Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)" (Joh 19:17). An evident allusion to the ritual of the scapegoat, who bore or carried away the iniquities of Israel to a "land not inhabited" (Lev 16:21,22), that is, "outside the camp" (Heb 13:13). "Made to be sin for us, who (personally) knew no sin" (2Co 5:21).

Isa 53:7

HE WAS OPPRESSED AND AFFLICTED: 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."

YET HE DID NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH: Jesus was silent before the Sanhedrin (Mat 26:63); before Herod (Luk 23:9); and before Pilate (Mat 27:12-14; Joh 19:9). Cp Jer 11:19.

"What was the single most amazing thing that Jesus did? Was it the overcoming of the tempter in the wilderness? Was it acts of healing? Of raising the dead to life? Was it even hanging on the cross?

"I submit that the single most amazing thing that our Lord did, was to be silent.

"Jesus was on trial. He was set upon by a band of none-too-gentle soldiers, under orders to whisk him away to a night-time court. False witnesses accused him. Malicious council members conspired against him. Falsely pious leaders plotted with evil intent against him. And all the while, Jesus knew that he was right, and they were wrong.

"Before them was a loved Son. The accused was the only one who was truly blameless. The only one who really cared in his heart for the nation that these brutish elders thought they were saving from the Romans. Before them was someone who had only and always given of himself for others. The only one who had the power to truly do good. The only one who had the power to throw off the true yoke. Jesus was silent.

"Jesus was not powerless. He could have confuted the lies. He could have shouted down the insinuations as well as the blunt accusations. He could have put them in their place. He could have annihilated their arguments. He could have used his power to hurt them, or destroy them, and escape. He was right, and they were all wrong. Jesus was silent.

"How do we react, I wonder, to words spoken against us? Do we consider that they may be justified? Most times they probably are, and we are blind to our own failings.

"More often, perhaps, we are blinded by our sense of justice. We are quick to excuse ourselves, and even quicker to attack supposed injustice against ourselves. We may lash out most often against those closest to us. When we are tempted to react in such a way, let us think on the mind of Christ. 'Let this mind be in you...' " (Mike Bull).

LED: See Mat 26:57; 27:2,31; Mar 15:16; Joh 18:13,28; 19:16. Jesus being LED to his crucifixion seems to be a point considerably stressed by the gospel writers. Is it to stress the lamb led to sacrifice, and the passivity of Jesus?

LAMB: Heb "seh" -- the general word for sheep, often used of a lamb, as Exo 12:3-5. Can be used for male or female.

TO THE SLAUGHTER: The comparison to a sheep does not necessarily suggest a sacrificial metaphor. Sheep were slaughtered for food as well as for sacrificial rituals, and the word here need not refer to sacrificial slaughter (see Gen 43:16; Pro 7:22; 9:2; Jer 50:27; note also the use of the related verb in Exo 22:1; Deu 28:31; 1Sa 25:11.

SHEEP: Heb "rachel" = "ewe".

SHEARERS: Heb "gahzaz". Cp 4 men in OT who employed "shearers": Judah (Gen 38:12,13), Laban (Gen 31:19), Nabal (1Sa 25:,2,4,7,11), and Absalom (2Sa 13:23,24). In each case the man who employed shearers was acting with evil motives toward another (respectively, Tamar, Jacob, David, and Amnon), but in unusual, unexpected ways God's purpose was furthered. (Sheep-shearing was done in spring, the same time as Passover, and a time of great rejoicing.)

Isa 53:8

BY OPPRESSION: Or, poss, by the "assembly", ref to Sanhedrin?

AND JUDGMENT: Poss, Pilate's judgment room. The two phrases together: a perfect // with Psa 22:16: "Dogs (Gentiles) have surrounded me; a band (assembly = Sanhedrin) of evil men has encircled me."

"He was led away after an unjust trial" (NET). Possibly, "coercion and legal decision", or "coercive legal decision."

WHO CAN SPEAK OF HIS DESCENDANTS?: Hezekiah had no son at the time of his disease (cp Isa 38:5 with 2Ch 33:1: cp also his own words in Isa 38:12,19). When a man dies childless, not only is his life cut off, but his "name" also perishes. Cp Psa 41:9. But Christ's death was the making and not the perishing of his name (cp vv 10,11; Psa 22:30,31). See Ethiopian eunuch (Act 8:26-40): "What hinders me?" (cp Isa 56:4,5).

CUT OFF: A violent death (Dan 9:26). "Cut in two" lit -- a covenant-victim (ie, 1Ki 3:25; Psa 136:13; cp Isa 49:8 with Gen 15:10). Adam was "cut in two", and the "child"/"bride" Eve was made by God: Gen 2:21-24; Eph 5:31,32.

CUT OFF FROM THE LAND OF THE LIVING: // "cutting off of his days" (Isa 38:10), and "the land of the living" in Isa 38:11.

Isa 53:9

"He (Pilate) appointed that he would be buried with the (2) wicked, BUT (God appointed) that when he died he would be (buried) with the (one) rich." An extraordinary fulfillment of a prophecy, in the most unlikely circumstances! What man would have so logically done -- left on his own -- was completely overturned by God's providence!

Isa 53:10

Vv 10-12: The final section of this prophecy shows the death of Christ to have been the will of God, because it was essential to the producing of a righteous seed. The reward of Christ is pictured; it is twofold: the inheritance of a "spoil", and the everlasting joy of fellowship with those whose salvation he made possible (Act 2:23; 4:28; Joh 3:14).

CAUSE HIM TO SUFFER: A malady of weakness. "Crucified through weakness" (2Co 13:4)... "put to death in the flesh" (1Pe 3:18).

THOUGH THE LORD MAKES: Heb is actually, "though you make": Isaiah's exhortation: 'When YOU make this man an offering for YOUR sins, then...'

It is only when one accepts Christ in faith that he can become a part of Christ's seed. We are the ones who must reach out and grasp the hope offered us in the completed sacrifice of Jesus. As he was "led" like a lamb to the slaughter (v 7), so we must be "led" by his "spirit", or his teachings, to become through him sons of God (Rom 8:14)! We have an example of how Isaiah's appeal to the reader fell upon the eyes, and the heart, of one listener, when the Ethiopian eunuch asked, in effect, "Am I allowed to make this man's life an offering for my sin?" And the response came from Philip, "Only one thing is necessary. If you believe with all your heart, you may be baptized" (Acts 8:26-40).

Each time there is this positive response when Jesus is preached, the prophecy of Isaiah finds a further fulfillment; and Jesus sees yet another one who is the fruit of the travail of his soul.
GUILT OFFERING: As in RV mg. Not simply "offering for sin" (as KJV). But, instead, "ashan" = trespass-offering (Lev 6:2-6; 7:1; Num 6:12; etc.). Offering for violence and deceit (Act 3:13-15).

HE WILL SEE HIS OFFSPRING: In "Second Isaiah", the word "servant" only occurs in the singular up to Isa 53 (Isa 41:8,9; 42:1,19; 43:10; 44:1,2,21,26; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3,5,6,7; 50:10; 52:13; 53:11), and only occurs in the plural after Isa 53 (Isa 54:17; 56:6; 63:17; 65:8,9,13,13,14,15; 66:14). So Christ does see his seed, and they are servants, just like he!

PROLONG HIS DAYS: Hezekiah's 15 extra years.

THE WILL OF THE LORD: Translated "purpose" in AV of Ecc 3:1,17; 8:6, and "pleasure' in AV: those things which "please" God are those things which fulfill His purpose. He has no "pleasure" in the death of the wicked (Eze 18:32); but, marvelously, He finds "pleasure" in the death of a perfectly righteous Son, because that death brings salvation to others!

PROSPER: Hezekiah "prospered in all his works" (2Ch 32:30).

Isa 53:11

THE SUFFERING OF HIS SOUL: "The travail of his soul" (AV). "The fruit of the travail of his soul" (RSV). It was decreed of man by the Adamic curse that only by the sweat of his brow, only by sore travail, would he wrest bread from the soil. By the travail of his soul, and the sweat of Gethsemane, Jesus persevered under the curse and finally produced the "fruit", the "bread" of eternal life. We are that "one bread", that "one body", the fruit of his travail.

BY HIS KNOWLEDGE: "By knowledge of him" (NIV mg; ASV): ie, Joh 17:3; Phi 3:10; Col 2:3; ct Hos 4:1,6. An instance of justification by faith (through knowledge). This translation suits the context: Isa 52:15; 53:1 (Who has believed? imp few or none!); Isa 53:3 (we esteemed him not); but... Isa 53:6 (the great realization: it was for us!); so... now we see, and understand!

MY RIGHTEOUS SERVANT: The last of 20 refs to the singular "servant" in Isa 40-53. From this point on, Isa 54-66 has 11 refs to the plural "servants".

WILL JUSTIFY MANY: "He shall see his seed" (Isa 53:10).

JUSTIFY: Heb "tsadaq": used at least six times in the sense of "make righteous" in a legal sense, ie, "pronounce innocent, acquit" (Exo 23:7; Deu 25:1; 1Ki 8:32 = 2Ch 6:23; Pro 17:15; Isa 5:23). It can also mean "render justice" (as a royal function: 2Sa 15:4; Psa 82:3), "concede" (Job 27:5), "vindicate" (Isa 50:8), and "lead to righteousness" (by teaching and example, Dan 12:3).

JUSTIFY (v 11): A pointer to Paul's letter to the Romans: Rom 3:21-31. Cp v 12n.

This is the last of 20 references in Isa 40-53 to the "Servant" (singular). This marks the transition; the work of God's singular Servant has now climaxed in the justification of "many". Isa 54-66 has no more references to the "Servant" but eleven references to "servants" plural!

Isa 53:12

The servant is compared here to a warrior who will be richly rewarded for his effort and success in battle.

A PORTION: The feast of Isa 25:6-8. Cp Psa 22:25.

DIVIDE THE SPOILS WITH THE STRONG: Binding the "strong man" death (Mat 12:29).

HE BORE THE SIN OF MANY: Mat 26:28: "shed for many for the remission of sins." Also, Heb 9:28.


INTERCESSION: A pointer to the letter to the Hebrews: Heb 4:15,16; 7:26; 10:11-22. Cp v 11n.

The one who died for us has been raised from the dead for our justification (Rom 4:25). As a high priest at the right hand of God in heaven, he intercedes for us. The one who, while in the flesh, experienced every weakness and sorrow, yet without sinning (Heb 4:15,16), is able now to save "to the uttermost" those who come to God through him, since he lives always (7:25,26). All his life fitted him expressly for this task, to be merciful and sympathetic of us his brethren.

The picture we see of Christ is different now. It is the same face as portrayed by Isaiah, the same strong character, the same compassion, the same tenderness. But the lines of sorrow and grief are gone. The visage that was so marred has now taken on a beauty surpassing all the sons of Adam, a radiant joy unknown to mortals. He is the firstborn of the family of God, and we have been called to be his brothers and sisters.

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