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People have talked much of smiting, but the truth is it is not applied in Scripture to atonement itself. It is no harm that the mind associates atonement with it—nay, it is useful—because it is the great and essential thing of the Cross where Jesus, the Blessed One, was smitten. But atonement was a far deeper and unfathomable act of suffering, and wrath drank into the soul-forsaking, not smiting.
Smiting is used as to the setting aside by death all the Messiah privileges, though we may, and it is all well, associate the other deeper work, done at the same time, with it. It is only used in Zech. 13:77Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. (Zechariah 13:7), and quoted thence in Matt. 26:3131Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (Matthew 26:31), Mark 14:2727And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. (Mark 14:27), and Psa. 69:2626For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded. (Psalm 69:26), referring in all to the relative position He took, contrasted with an accepted Messiah—the Shepherd was smitten and the disciples scattered. This is not making His soul an offering for sin, and the Lord laying our iniquities on Him; it refers to His position, and being Shepherd of Israel's faithful ones in this world-He was, in this character, smitten. The effect was the scattering of the sheep, not forgiveness and atonement. Hence we see it applied when they come to take Him, and the disciples fled. No doubt the actual blow was in his death—I speak now of na-chah (to smite)—it is any blow; ne-ga (stroke, plague) is used in Isa. 53:88He 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. (Isaiah 53:8) (margin), when the thing is explained, not na-chah, "For the transgression of my people was the plague, or judgment, stroke upon him." And so we know it was; but this is the explanation, blessed explanation of a fact which had also an outward aspect. Na-chah is the simple act of smiting; ne-ga goes, I think, further. This is seen when both are used as participles, " Yet we did esteem him na-ga (stricken)"—thus absolutely, the plague of God on Him; smitten of (mu-keh) God and afflicted. The truth was He was made a plague for the transgression of His people. But Messiah was cut off as such, and took nothing, and the sheep that were with Him then as Shepherd were scattered, and hence, as we have said, it is applied already in Gethsemane.
But there was, I am persuaded, in the atoning work a much deeper element. The forsaking of God in respect of sin, that no thought of ours can reach, though, blessed be God, it has reached us, for every sorrow was to meet there. I judge it is the want of deep apprehension of what atonement is—of what Christ suffered in His soul for it, which leads to cavils about other sorrows, and the application of passages to them. Every sorrow was there, but there was one which only the spiritual mind can in any sense understand. Isa. 53 shows that this was the case that, as they esteemed Him outwardly under God's judgment—and He was, in a far deeper sense, for their transgression—"With his stripes they were healed." But by this act, in which atonement did take place, there was, besides the atonement, the setting aside all His earthly Messiahship, and the taking away His life from the earth; and all this the Lord felt and entered into as to the setting aside of the people by their own wickedness.