Notes on Isaiah 52:13-15 and Isaiah 53

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This section is complete in itself, though it assumes the truth already before us in chapter 1., pursues it farther and more profoundly, and thus completes the foundation of all that follows.
The elder Jewish interpreters did not contest the application to the Messiah. Thus Jonathan Ben Uzziel expressly speaks to this effect in the Chaldee paraphrase (given in the Antwerp, Paris, and London Polyglotts). So the Talmud Babyl. (in Tr. Sanhedrin, cap. helek, fol. 98) applies to the Messiah 53: 4. Again, the book of Zohar confirms this in the comment on Exodus (fol. 95, col. 3), and the Mechilta (according to the Jalkut Shimoni, part ii. fol. 90, col. 1) is no less distinct, as even Aben Ezra, Abarbanel, and other distinguished men among their later authors confess. I am indebted to another who has supplied some of these references for the striking fact that even now, in the prayers of the synagogue used universally, there is the clearest witness to the same truth. For instance, at the Passover they pray in these terms: “Hasten and cause the shadows to flee away. Let him be exalted and extolled and be high, who is now despised. Let him deal prudently and reprove and sprinkle many nations.” Again, in the prayers for the day of Atonement, there is as plain an allusion to the righteous Anointed bearing the yoke of iniquities and transgression, wounded because of it, and men (or Israel at least) healed by his wound. The translator (D. Levi) tries to turn part of the prayer aside to Josiah, as do some of the Rabbis; but the prayer. expressly alludes to the Messiah in one of these references to Isa. 53 just cited even according to the same person.
The more modern writers, who dread the ancient application of their fathers, have invented a double means of escape, either by some distinguished man like Josiah or Jeremiah, or by the Jewish people elsewhere styled “my servant” in the prophecy. But in vain. This section is so punctually and exclusively applicable to our Lord that these efforts only prove the will of unbelief and its failure. We have seen already in the beginning of chapter 49 Christ, the servant, substituted for Israel who had been altogether wanting.
We have seen in chapter 1 that the godly Jews are exhorted to obey the voice of this servant of Jehovah, humbled though He has been among men, but vindicated of God.
“Behold” (says God now through His prophet), “my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. As many were astonished at thee: his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: so shall he sprinkle1 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.” (Ver. 13-15.) What can be less congruous than the facts of Josiah, Jeremiah, or the Jewish people? Neither the king nor the prophet had any such destiny as could be fairly brought into this remarkable contrast of, first, deep shame, then wide and lofty glory before subject nations and kings. And though it is true, as we have often noticed, that “my servant” sometimes applies to Israel in this prophet, there are always definite contextual marks which render the decision by no means difficult or doubtful. This is made evident and certain from chapter 53, where there is the most obvious distinction between the individual in question and the people who esteemed Him not, though He bore their griefs and carried their sorrows, yea, was wounded for their transgressions, and brought healing to them by His stripes when bruised for their iniquities. To identify this suffering One with the people from whom and for whom He thus suffered, and to whom He afterward brings such signal blessing, is the grossest confusion on the face of the matter.
But let us turn to the wondrous words of our God from these strange vagaries of men. Chapter 53 opens with the confession and implied complaint of the unbelief of men, yea, of their own unbelief; for Israel, now broken down in sense of sin, acknowledge that it was not merely those without who heeded little the report of the Messiah, but that they too themselves had been hard and rebellious against Him. “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Ver. 1-6.)
The close of the last chapter (ver. 13-15) gave us Jehovah's contemplation of His Anointed, once put to shame and now on the summit of glory before every eye. Then His people trace, in view of Him, their past and most guilty blindness, as they think of His wondrous humiliation, their misjudgment of His life and death, and their present perception of its cause in their sin and misery from which He had come to save them. When they had of old beheld His path of shame and sufferings from first to last, they understood neither the grace which brought Him down so low nor the glories that should follow. They had regarded Him, on the contrary, as an object of God's displeasure and justly cast out and trampled on. But now they are taught of God and avow before Him and men that, underneath all that humiliation and, as they wrongly thought, personal obnoxiousness to His judgment, a deeper work was being done, even atonement. (Ver. 5.) This opens the mouth in lowly confession of sin; as the heart can then feel its past evil way, and each judges himself before God.
In verses 7-9 Jehovah expresses His delight in the moral beauty which shone in the suffering One, affirms on His part the explanation of the enigma of the cross, though up to His death and burial man was allowed his way in disposing of Jesus. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: be is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 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. 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.” (Ver. 7-9.) The plague-stroke was upon him for the transgression of the people of Jehovah. It was not the outward fact simply of a rejected Messiah to which He was pleased to submit, the awful proof of man's and Israel's moral state; but there is this divine key, and the far more wondrous meeting of a more hidden and a deeper need, even expiation.
Israel then reiterate the blessed truth with their Amen, pursuing the glorious consequences as far as it is theirs to see them. “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin he shall see his seed, be shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” (Ver. 10.) Here it is the atoning work, and the suffering of the Lord is dwelt on, and its aspect as the all-efficacious offering for sin. It is blessedly true that the death and blood-shedding of the Savior must be for propitiation; but it is as false a thought as the enemy of souls ever insinuated that this propitiation or atonement is or could be according to God and His word without His sufferings specifically, yea that suffering which was the deepest expression of God's judgment of our iniquities when He who knew no sin was made sin for us and forsaken of God. His blood and death when viewed as expiatory and not as the evidence simply of man's wickedness, are the blood and death of Him who really bore our sins in His own body on the tree, and endured the to us unfathomable judgment of God, when not the Jews only but God hid His face from Him. Can a Christian slight this divine abandonment of Him who suffered the just for the unjust to bring us to God? He may, but only as he may be guilty of grievous, not to say fatal error.2
But that wherein lay the strength and main stress of His sufferings was this invisible weight that none could see that gazed on Him; but He felt more than all the rest. In this are three things.
1. The weight of sin. 2. The transferring of it upon Christ. 3. His bearing of it.
“1. He bare sin as a heavy burden: so the word of bearing in general, ἀνήνεγκεν, and those two words particularly used by the prophet to which these allude, נשא סבל are the bearing of some great mass or load, and that sin is. For it hath the wrath of an offended God hanging on it, indissolubly tied to it; of which who can bear the least? Yea, to consider in the present subject where we may best read what it is, it was a heavy load to Christ, where the psalmist, speaking in the person of Christ, complains heavily, ‘Innumerable evils have compassed me about. Mine iniquities' (not His, as done by Him, but yet His by His undertaking to pay for them) they ‘have taken hold of me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head: therefore my heart faileth me.' And sure that which pressed Him so sore, who upholds heaven and earth, no other in heaven or earth could have sustained or surmounted, but would have sunk or perished under it. Was it, think you, the pain of that common outside of His death, though very painful, that drew such a word from Him, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Or was it the fear of it beforehand, that pressed a sweat of blood from Him? No, it was this burden of sin, the first of which was committed in the garden of Eden, that then began to be laid upon Him, and fastened upon His shoulders in the garden of Gethsemane, ten thousand times heavier than the cross which He was caused to bear: that might be for a while turned over to another, but this could not. This was the cup He trembled more at, than that gall and vinegar after to be offered Him by His crucifiers, or any other part of His external sufferings. It was the bitter cup of wrath due to sin that His Father put into His hand and caused Him to drink, the very same thing that is here called the bearing our sins in his body.'... Jesus Christ is both the great high priest and the great sacrifice in one. And this seems to be here implied in these words, Himself bare our sins in his own body;' which the legal priest did not: so He made his soul an offering for sin.' He offered up Himself. His whole self. In the history of the gospel, it is said, His soul was heavy and chiefly suffered; but the bearing in His body and offering it, that is offenest mentioned as the visible part of the sacrifice, and in His way of offering it, not excluding the other. Thus we are exhorted to give our bodies in opposition to the bodies of beasts, and they are therefore called a living sacrifice, which they are not without the soul. Thus His bearing in His body imports the bearing in His soul too.” —The Works of R. Leighton, Jerment's edition, 1805. Vol. 1, pp. 370-376.
I may add that this was a point of objection by Cardinal Bellarmine to Calvin, who maintained the same doctrine as is carped at now-a-days, and not merely by rationalist speculators, such as Mr. Maurice and his friends. It seems to me a peculiar mind which could cite 1 Peter 3:1818For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: (1 Peter 3:18) in a paragraph designed to prove that reconciliation or atonement is never in connection with Christ's sufferings specifically. It is false that the statement they oppose separates His sufferings from His blood and death: on the contrary, while distinguishing for other points, the object was to insist on the inseparableness of His sufferings with His blood and death for atonement. The admission that they are not separated in the Spirit's mind for atonement is my thesis, which he yields; but he is wrong in saying, “the two are never separated.” It is merely inattention to Scripture and unworthy of an answer.) The chapter closes with Jehovah's confirmation, repeating the glorious results of both grace and government, and in each case connecting them with the work of salvation. “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Ver. 11, 12.)
 
1. This phrase has tormented the critics. The fathers in general apply it to the spiritual work of Christianity; the ancient Jews for the most part to the judicial effect of Messiah's kingdom in dispersing or casting away the Gentiles. Some of the old versions took the word as expressive of amazement. Gesenius (in his Thes.) comes pretty much to the same thing, considering the word to mean the effect in starting from their seats those who suddenly see some great personage when it was least expected.
2. I am aware that Jesuit preachers are wont to draw moving pictures, as of the physical torments of the lost, so of the external sufferings of our blessed Lord (i.e., the human rather than divine side). Nor do I deny the substantial truth of what they allege, but only their use of it to the exclusion of other truths yet more weighty. Their reason is obvious. Unspiritual themselves, they appeal to that which strikes the senses and can excite the feelings or the fears of their least spiritual auditors. But men of a different stamp have always recognized that the word of God reveals a far deeper truth, not of what was before the eye or by the hand of man merely, but of what passed unseen between God and Christ in that awful hour. So, to take an instance from one of the better sort, Archbishop Leighton rightly distinguishes this: “In that outside of His suffering, the visible kind of death inflicted on Him, that it was hanging on the tree of the cross, there was an analogy with the end and main work which was ordered by the Lord with regard unto that, being a death declared accursed by the law, as the Apostle Paul observes, and so declaring Him that was God blessed forever to have been made a curse, that is, accounted as accursed for us, that we might be blessed in Him, in whom,' according to the promise, all the nations of the earth are blessed.'