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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 53

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 53 The Demise And Rising Again of the Servant.

The chapter that follows overflows with examples of all the extremes of suffering and condemnation that could be poured out on someone. Commentators regularly try to select one aspect or another as being the overriding factor, but by doing so fail to recognise the point that the writer is making, which is that He suffered all that could possibly be laid on or experienced by someone of all the ills of the world. He piles word upon word in order to ensure that we recognise that here was One Who took on Himself the totality of all men’s miseries, namely, the miseries which accrued to them because of sin. To put it simply and profoundly in the words of Paul, ‘He was made sin for us’, and thus bore in Himself the consequences of that sin.

This is neatly brought out in the description of His burial. He would be buried both with the wicked, the criminal, the outcast, and with the rich man, the equally wicked but outwardly respected. In Him was summed up man’s total sinfulness. While we may certainly consider the meaning of the parts, we fail to understand the writer’s purpose if we do not recognise that the suffering and consequences described are the lot of all men as summed up on only One. Such a unique situation could only apply to Someone Who was totally unique.


Verse 1

‘Who could have believed what we have heard?

And who could have seen in this the arm of Yahweh?’

The blank astonishment of Isaiah, Israel and the world is here clearly expressed. To attribute what will happen to this One, by the arm of Yahweh, seems beyond belief. It will go against all that men had expected of the Davidic king and Servant. But note carefully this reference to the ‘arm of Yahweh’. The arm of Yahweh usually refers to Yahweh acting in power to bring about His purposes. And then men expected thunder, and lightning, and extraordinary happenings, not this trail of humiliation and death. And yet was ever greater power revealed than this? For this One Who comes is the Arm of Yahweh being expressed in all His power. None who stood before the cross could even have faintly conceived what was being accomplished there. It has been studied for over two thousand years, and yet we only have a faint conception of it. What happened there was so immense that no one can grasp it. All we can understand are the outskirts of His ways.

Note the use of ‘we’, constantly used with its equivalents through to Isaiah 53:6. It is applying all that is said to man’s situation. It includes Isaiah, it includes all who respond to the Servant, thus it may include the kings in Isaiah 52:13, and in the end the nations who respond.

In Isaiah 51:12 ‘the arm of Yahweh’ had been called on to awake and put on strength, to smite Rahab, but what is happening here appears to be the very opposite. Who could possibly have foreseen that such a One Who was to be so humiliated could shake the world to its very foundations as the Arm of Yahweh, and smite a greater than Rahab? But He did.


Verse 2

‘For he grew up before him as a tender plant,

And as a root out of out of a dry ground,

He has no form nor comeliness,

And when we see him there is no beauty that we should desire him.’

In His growing up this supreme Servant will not be the kind of king expected. He will not follow man’s pattern. He will be like a plant growing out of dry land, wispy, struggling, fighting for life, a tender plant indeed, not growing in surroundings of wealth and opulence, but in surroundings where everything has to be worked for and struggled for, in times when life is hard (compare Isaiah 7:15 with Isaiah 7:21-22). In the words of Isaiah 7:14-16, He will eat butter and wild honey, the diet of the poor.

‘A root out of dry ground.’ And therefore He will be struggling to survive. Can this be the root of Jesse? (Isaiah 11:10), it may be asked. Is Jesse to be brought down to this? Yes, comes the reply, for the ‘sons of Jesse’ (and of David) had proved unfaithful, unbelieving. Yet although the ground was dry, the root grew, for God was there..

And there will be nothing of the ‘beauty’ of a king about Him. No splendid physique, no well trimmed comeliness, no splendid clothing, no gorgeous apparel. No one will watch Him go by with admiration for His outward appearance. He will be a son of toil, complete with blisters and hardened hands. Surely this cannot be the Arm of Yahweh? Can any good thing come out of tiny Nazareth? (John 7:41-42). Can a prophet come from despised Galilee? (John 7:52). This verse says, ‘yes, He can’. Is not this the carpenter’s son? The reply comes, yes, He is.


Verse 3

‘He was despised and rejected by men,

A man of sorrows, and humiliated by grief,

And as one from whom men hide their face,

He was despised and we esteemed him not.’

He will not only be unattractive humanly speaking, but also despised and rejected. When He reveals Himself men will laugh and deride (compare the use of the root of ‘despised’ in Isaiah 37:22), they will sneer at Him, they will dismiss His words and His claims. He will be written off by ‘those who know’ as a charlatan.

‘Rejected by men.’ The verb translated ‘rejected’ means transient, fleeting, lacking, and therefore not up to standard in men’s eyes.

‘A man of sorrows, and humiliated by grief.’ He will walk sorrowfully and in grief. For He bears in Himself the knowledge that men are rejecting His Father, and the means of their own salvation. He will grieve at the hardness of men’s hearts (Mark 3:5). He will carry the burden of the world (Mark 8:12). The verb yatha‘ (‘to know’) can also mean ‘to be humiliated’ as witnessed at Ugarit.

The reference is not to a gloomy person by nature, but to One Who faces a world of gloom. It is intended to be in contrast with the idea of royalty as pleasure seekers and hedonists. Not so this One, for He has come to deal with the needs of the world and He sees them as they are, and bears their burden on His shoulders.

‘And as one from whom men hide their face, He was despised and we esteemed Him not.’ Literally ‘there was as it were a hiding of face from Him’. Men will be ashamed to be aligned with Him, they will keep away from His company for fear of what the world might say (John 6:66; John 7:13; John 12:42. Even Nicodemus came by night - John 3:2). Thus was He despised and not given the esteem that was His due. And besides He did not fit the expected pattern (John 7:12; John 7:27; John 7:35).

So He will come from a poor background, He will not be striking to look at, He will not wear clothes of majesty, He will not be highly esteemed, He will not be a pleasure seeker but serious minded, He will not fit into men’s preconceptions. All this is a condemnation of how men think, and illustrates their false sense of values. For those who knew Him and gave Him a fair hearing recognised His worth, and listened, and humbled themselves before Him. And that was how God saw Him. Man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

It was from this that Satan would tempt Him to free Himself (Matthew 4:1-11). If He were but to say the word He could be lifted out from it in a moment. He could instead receive the kingdoms of the world. Had he not come to receive a Kingdom? Yes, but it was to be received through humiliation.


Verse 4-5

‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,

Yet we esteemed 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 on him,

And with his stripes (‘open wounds’) we are healed.’

There are always two ways of looking at things. Men will esteem Him as stricken, smitten by God and afflicted, considering that it must be because He was paying for His own sins. But God will see Him as bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows, as wounded for our transgressions, our overt outward behaviour, and bruised for our iniquities, our deepest inward sins. For that was the question at the cross, ‘why was He there by God and man forsaken?’ And here was God’s answer, and man’s.

‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.’ ‘Surely.’ It was a matter of complete certainty (see Isaiah 40:7). It was part of the king’s acknowledged responsibility to bear the burden of his people. But he did not do it as personally and realistically as this. For this One will bear the sufferings and griefs of His people on His own shoulders. And as the thought expands we are made to recognise that He bears what we deserve to bear. He shoulders it Himself. And that is why our own suffering is not as devastating as it might have been.

The word for ‘griefs’ might also be rendered ‘sicknesses’ as it regularly is. Bearing someone’s sicknesses means bearing the guilt of their sin which resulted in the sicknesses. As the idea of this comes in the following verses, perhaps ‘griefs’ is the better translation.

Suffering is in the end a consequence of sin, not individually but in total. And He had come to shoulder that suffering and sorrow, so that He might alleviate it and help others to bear it. We do not know what the world’s suffering would have been if He had not come, but it would have been multiplied compared with what it is. For He stood between the world and God’s own natural antipathy against sin, giving the world chance to repent. And in a secondary way He was helped to relieve men’s sufferings as the Servant by the fact that central to the Christian message through the ages has been the alleviation of pain and suffering, and none have contributed so much to it as God’s people.

‘Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.’ The general view would be that the Servant was suffering because He was especially sinful. They would consider that He had reaped the consequences of His false claims, and they would therefore have little sympathy. ‘Stricken’ was often applied to men afflicted with severe skin disease, but here refers to all the most dreadful things that come on men (see its use in Psalms 73:14), seen as coming from the hand of God because of a man’s deserts (see John 9:1-2). ‘Smitten of God’ becomes even more specific. God Himself has taken note of this man’s evil and blasphemy and has smitten him. ‘Afflicted’ refers to the man’s experience of the smiting. He finds himself suffering the blows of God. So this is how men would account of the Servant’s sufferings. But God would see otherwise.

In Isaiah 1:5 Israel was depicted in her sinfulness as being like a dreadfully sick person, ‘stricken’, with the head ‘sick’ and the heart faint, with no soundness from head to foot, covered in wounds and ‘bruises’ (= ‘stripes’) and festering sores. She was bearing her sin. And now this One Who in Himself is ‘Israel’ (Isaiah 49:15), He too is ‘stricken’, He is bearing their ‘sickness’ and carrying their diseases. He is bearing their sin and its penalty. The depicting of the Servant as a sick man is precisely because He is standing in for sinful Israel. By His ‘bruises’ they will be healed of their ‘bruises’.

‘But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was on Him, and with His stripes we are healed.’ Note the piling up of verbs to cover the suffering He faced. Wounded, bruised, chastised, scourged. It is the ultimate in punishment. And here there is a moving on from sorrow and suffering to its cause, sin and transgression. This is the root of the matter. Here was total representation, the One suffering for the many, and total substitution, by the One in place of the many, with a complete satisfaction thus being made possible. His wounds were for our transgressions, His being bruised was for our iniquities, all that militated against our deepest wellbeing was put on Him, and by the scourging He bore, ‘being made whole’ was made available to us. Have we transgressed? He bore the wounds of it. Do we sin deeply in our inner hearts? He was bruised because of it. Do we lack peace and well being because of our sin? He was chastised that we might be restored to peace with God and a sense of wellbeing in His presence. It involves the removal of ‘wickedness’, for there really is no peace to the wicked, they cannot know peace (Isaiah 48:22). Do we need to be healed, restored, delivered, made whole? Then because He was scourged and wounded we can be. It is the One in contrast to the many, and the One has taken all and suffered all for the many. It is a picture of One Who was abused in every possible way.

While any one of these statements might metaphorically have been applied to a prophet or to the faithful in Israel, the gathering together of them all to depict the total and deepest need of mankind, borne and paid for, goes far beyond that. No prophet or group of faithful men could bear this load, or be thought of as doing so. Even Isaiah could only look on and wonder. It could only be done by One Who was the Arm of Yahweh, and He could only do it because He was unique and like no other man, because He was the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6), and had no sins of His own to suffer for.

As we read these words it becomes crystal clear that One would come into the world Who would uniquely bear the sins of the world and, as we learn later, make full atonement for them and meet the deepest needs of mankind. As we meditate on it, it should truly fill us with awe.

But it is all only potential as far as man is concerned. The benefit to man is not automatic. If we are to really benefit we must come and receive it. We must look to Him and trust Him for it. And then it will be ours.

‘Wounded.’ Compare Psalms 109:22 where it means wounds of the innermost being. The word can mean ‘polluted’ (e.g. Zephaniah 3:4) or ‘profaned’ (e.g. Amos 2:7; Malachi 2:10-11) or ‘pierced’ (Job 26:13) or ‘cut in pieces’ (Isaiah 51:9). It represents wounds of the deepest kind.

‘Bruised.’ This too is a strong word. In Job 5:4; Lamentations 3:34 it is rendered ‘crushed’, in Psalms 72:4; Psalms 89:10; Psalms 94:5 ‘broken in pieces’, in Psalms 143:3 ‘smitten down to the ground’. It thus represents a heavy battering.


Verse 6

‘All we like sheep have gone astray,

We have turned every one to our own way,

And Yahweh has laid on him,

The iniquity of us all.’

Here we have stress laid on each individual. It is not just the group that have failed, it is all the group including each individual. And they are described in total as ‘we’, thus including Isaiah, Israel and all men in contra-position to the One. The picture is of sheep-headedness, wandering aimlessly, heedless of instruction, going their own way without thought of what they should do, except to do what they wanted to do. Thus have they left the control of the shepherd, they have turned away from God. He might well have put it as ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23).

‘Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ The verb ‘laid on’ means ‘caused to arrive on, made to meet on’. Again he could have put it thus, ‘He was made sin for us, He Who knew no sin’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). And it is Yahweh Who has done it. He has as it were gathered the sins and iniquities of ‘us all’ and placed them inexorably on Him. The same idea is present in Leviticus 16:21 so that we now expectantly await some reference to sacrifice. We will not be disappointed.

Note that the verse begins with ‘all we’ and ends with ‘us all’. None are excluded. But again it is potential. It only in the end applies to those who respond.

In seeking to expound this passage commentators regularly seize on one aspect of the picture presented. Some see it as portraying a plague-ridden man, others as a victim, and so on, but the whole point of the picture is that He was all this and more. Every possible indignity that a human being could face looking from all aspects met upon Him. He was the One Who suffered beyond anything that anyone has ever suffered. Thus to apply it to a contemporary of Isaiah or some unknown prophet who suffered is to miss the point. This One suffered as no one ever had or would again. He alone was not one of the ‘we’.


Verse 7-8

‘He was oppressed, yet he humbled himself,

And did not open his mouth,

As a lamb who is led to the slaughter,

And as a sheep which before her shearers is dumb,

Yes, he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away,

And as for his generation,

Who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living.

For the transgression of my people was he stricken.’

A fuller explanation is now given of how the Servant would suffer. Not only would He face the woes of this world, He would face oppression from the authorities. The word ‘oppression’ has behind it the sense of taskmasters and of pressure. He will be treated roughly by the authorities. Yet He would ‘humble’ Himself, He would allow Himself to be afflicted. And He would make no complaint. He would humbly allow them to lead Him off to the slaughter like a lamb, without complaint He would allow them to shear Him like a sheep. That is, whatever He was to face, He would submit to it without argument or protest. He would knowingly submit to the will of Yahweh. ‘Lo, I come to do your will, O my God’ (Hebrews 10:7; Hebrews 10:9)

Here was an essential part of the atonement. This was why no animal sacrifice could finally avail for sin. For such sacrifice was involuntary on the part of the victim. But this was to be a voluntary sacrifice, made by One Who knew what was coming and voluntarily went forward to His death. He went forward in obedience (Hebrews 5:8), saying ‘Lo I come to do your will, O my God’ (Hebrews 10:4-10) thus becoming the perfect sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 10:10).

But the purpose of His oppressors was that ‘He might be cut off out of the land of the living’. No more vivid description of death could be given. He would yield His life to death. It is quite clear from Isaiah’s emphasis on all this that he too recognised why in the end animal sacrifices could not suffice except as a temporary expedient. They lacked the necessary constituent of the voluntary will.

‘By (or ‘from’) oppression and judgment He was taken away.’ The idea behind ‘otser (oppression) is forcible enclosure and restraint. Thus in Proverbs 30:16 the womb is ‘enclosed’ or ‘restrained’ and therefore barren. Compare Genesis 16:2. But the verbal root means to hold back, hinder and therefore detain, imprison, retain, shut up, forcibly restrain. Combined with ‘judgment’, which probably has in mind the place of judgment, or those who judge, or the due process of law, it clearly indicates forcible legal restraint of one form or another with a view to trial. In Proverbs 24 11 ‘taken away’ means taken away to death (compare Ezekiel 33:4) and this is probably the meaning here especially when related to ‘cut off out of the land of the living’. So the Servant will run foul of the authorities sufficient for them to decide to sentence Him to death.

‘And as for His generation, who among them considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living. For the transgression of my people was He stricken.’ ‘His generation’ here is probably to be taken in the sense of His contemporaries (see Genesis 6:9 b). To the majority of them His death would not be looked on as important. They would move on to another day. Injustice was not uncommon, and it did not directly affect them. But says Isaiah, it did affect them because He was stricken because of the transgressions of these very people (literally ‘because of the transgressions of my people the plague to him.’) The word ‘stricken’ is read in. But to be stricken with something plague-like outwardly suggests God’s anger against the subject. Here the point is that God’s antipathy to sin was averted from His people by being directed at the Servant.

All this adds further significance to the ‘lamb led to the slaughter’. While those words did not directly refer to sacrifice that meaning is beginning to be imported. If He was stricken for the transgressions of His people (compare Isaiah 53:5), and all their sins were made to meet on Him (Isaiah 53:6), He is beginning very much to look like a sacrificial offering (see Isaiah 53:10). Furthermore, in Israel any lamb slaughtered within the vicinity of Jerusalem had to be brought as an offering to the Temple.


Verse 9

And they made his grave with the wicked ones,

And with a rich man in his death (literally ‘deaths’).

Although he had done no violence,

Neither was any deceit in his mouth.’

The wicked and the rich are often looked at synonymously (compare Psalms 52:7). The rich tended to behave wickedly, and especially dishonestly and deceitfully (Micah 6:12). That is regularly how they became and stayed rich (compare Proverbs 18:23; Proverbs 28:6; Proverbs 28:20; Jeremiah 17:11). Thus the idea here is that although He would be non-violent and without deceit He would be treated as though He was guilty of both violence and deceit by being placed in His grave alongside wicked people. Indeed it would include being in the grave of ‘a rich man’, possibly signifying here someone excessively wicked. As it would not seemingly be possible for someone both to have his grave with the wicked, and also with a rich man, (the emphasised ideas being slightly different), what is primarily intended is that He will be numbered among all that is sinful. His burial will be of One Who is seen as summing up in Himself every kind of wickedness.

Thus He would be identified with both the most outwardly and openly sinful of men and with the most deceitful and blameworthy, the rich, in His death, and He Who had been characterised by poverty, such an idea containing some idea of virtue, would find Himself placed in His death with ‘a rich man’, because even that amount of virtue was denied Him. The rich man would be honoured by his fellows but hated by the majority. So this added to His shame. That God actually arranged that He was laid in a godly rich man’s grave was one of those unexpected extra fulfilments of prophecy that so often occur.

This connecting of the twin ideas of being laid both with the extremely wicked and with the rich, both of whom would be despised by the majority and seen as deserving of God’s retribution (compare Jesus’ story of ‘the rich man’ which also applies to the term rich the idea of one deserving of judgment - Luke 16:19), is a further example of the way in which the writer is determined to apply to the One described here the totality of the miseries and condemnations that could be applied, thus drawing on all possible ways of describing His suffering and humiliation

The plural for deaths may be emphasising the fact of His death, He really died. Or that it was an extreme and dreadful death. Or it may be distinguishing His death as something special. But plurals of this nature with some special kind of significance are quite common.

So the verdict of the court was ‘wicked and deceitful’. The verdict of God was, ‘He had done no violence neither was any deceit found in His mouth’. The latter phrase gains deeply in significance when we remember that Isaiah was very conscious of the deceitfulness of his own mouth (Isaiah 6:5). And Jesus Himself saw sins of the mouth as so heinous that He said all judgment would be based on them (Matthew 12:37). So we are justified in seeing here the suggestion that the Servant was sinless.


Verse 10

‘Yet it pleased (‘it was the will of’) Yahweh to bruise him.

He put him to grief.

When you make his soul an offering for sin

He will see his seed, he will prolong his days,

And the pleasure of Yahweh will prosper in his hand.’

Now the situation is made quite plain. All that has happened to the Servant has happened in the will of God. It was not just allowed to happen, it happened at His pleasure. He chose to crush Him. He chose to put Him to suffering. Not because He was angry at Him or because the Servant deserved it, or because He did not love Him, but because He was making His soul a guilt offering, ‘an offering for sin’ (see Leviticus 5:6-19; Leviticus 6:6; Leviticus 6:17; Leviticus 7:1-7). Note the stress here on the fact that suffering was necessary. Once again this sacrifice outclasses the ancient sacrifices. The victim was voluntary, and the victim truly suffered.

The guilt offering was a substitutionary offering. It covered a wide range of sins including not giving witness when adjured to do so, making rash oaths, doing anything that Yahweh has commanded not to be done, defrauding people, lying or sinning in holy matters. Indeed it covered anything that made a man guilty before God. And above all it was a voluntary offering. A man chose of his own free will to offer his guilt offering. The stress here then is on the removal of guilt for sins committed in an offering made by voluntary choice. It will be noted that sins of the mouth come in here specifically (compare Isaiah 53:9), together with religious sins and disobedience. Its purpose was to make atonement, to ‘cover’ sins, to remove guilt and includes where appropriate restitution. It thus makes total satisfaction for sin. The result was forgiveness (Leviticus 5:16) and total reconciliation with God and man. The offerer has ‘borne his iniquity’, because the offering has borne it in his stead (Leviticus 5:17). It results in his guilt before God being removed.

So here the Servant is being offered as a guilt offering, which He makes freely, which covers all men. In that sense it is more like the sin offering which was offered for the whole of Israel, but with the added aspect that it meets the particular sin and need of each one. The reason for using the guilt offering is in fact to stress that each person must take advantage of it individually for his own guilt. For the guilt offering was very individual. This was no blanket atonement but one offered on behalf of each one who must himself come in order to benefit by it. It was personal to his own sin. Each must therefore appropriate this guilt offering to themselves.

And the result will be that He will have ‘seed’, His days will be ‘prolonged’, which can only mean that He will be resurrected, and He will personally carry out the will of Yahweh which will prosper in His hand. The implication is that His offering will result in ‘children’ made guiltless through His blood, that He will have endless life and that He will carry out in His resurrected state the work that God has for Him to do. ‘In His hand’ stresses His direct part in it. But the promises are put in such a way as to tie in with the longings of godly men. Having children and length of days and doing the will and pleasure of Yahweh, indicated all that the godly sought and anticipated. Thus this is demonstrating God’s satisfaction with what has been done. The Servant too will, after His suffering, enjoy these in abundant measure, evidence of God’s delight in Him.

The promise of seed connects this directly with the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel (compare Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 43:5; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 48:19). While the Servant is in this chapter revealed as an individual, His coming forth from Abraham is not forgotten. ‘He will see His seed.’ This was also what had in a sense been promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:17-18). But in this case from His death He will lead many sons to glory.

‘He will prolong His days.’ His resurrection has been anticipated in Isaiah 26:19; Isaiah 25:8. Through His death this resurrection will now become a reality in Him, and for His people in the future. Note that He prolongs His own days. He has power to lay down His life, and He has power to raise it again (John 10:17-18).

‘And the pleasure of Yahweh will prosper in His hand.’ In all this His desire has been to do the will of Yahweh. And that is what He has accomplished. ‘Lo I come to do your will, O my God’ (Psalms 40:6-8; Hebrews 10:5-10). He is stricken that Yahweh’s will and pleasure might reach its fulfilment. For in bruising this One Whom He had sent He is bringing about His own purposes, the salvation of His chosen ones. The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world (1 John 4:14).

‘When You make His soul an offering for sin.’ This ‘you’ refers to God’s action. God is specifically, personally and directly involved in what is happening. It is He Who offers the Servant up as an offering.

Note that we have from this point on a change in tense. No longer the complete (perfect) tense which speaks of what is done and complete whether in the past or the future, but the incomplete tense which expresses something continual. Having accomplished His perfect work of offering Himself for the sins of many, His continual work goes on.


Verse 11

‘From the travail of his soul he shall see (light) and shall be satisfied.

By his humiliation shall my righteous servant make many to be accounted righteous,

And he will bear their iniquities.’

This is summarising what has gone before in the last verse, and reminding us of the great travail through which the Servant must go. The travail of His soul is described in Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:3-5; Isaiah 53:7-8. He will be in great travail, but from that travail He will see success (or fruit) as described and will be satisfied. And this will result because through His humiliation (a significance of yatha‘ found at Ugarit) God’s righteous Servant will make many to be accounted righteous (‘cause to be righteous in the eyes of the Law and of the Judge’). Here ‘many’ unquestionably means the ‘saved’. And they will be accounted righteous before God because He has borne their iniquities. Here then at last is the means by which the faithful in Israel, and world believers, can get right with God and be provided with sufficient righteousness before a holy God. It is what all has been leading up to. He has undergone His suffering so that this might be possible.

If we translate ‘by His knowledge’ rather than ‘by His humiliation’ we must see it as indicating that He acts on the basis of what He knows are God’s requirements. But ‘by His humiliation’ is well authenticated.

‘From the travail of His soul He shall see, and shall be satisfied .’ From the midst of His sufferings the Servant will look forward and ‘see’. But what will He see? Clearly we could put in ‘what results’, and as He is satisfied by it we could expand it to, ‘a satisfactory conclusion resulting from His sufferings’. He will have accomplished what He came to do. His work will have been completely successful, and with deep satisfaction He will see what He has accomplished and rejoice in it. (We should note that the Hebrew really demands the translation ‘from the travail of His soul --.’ ‘of the travail of His soul’ is incorrect as a translation).

However, after ‘He shall see’ the noun ‘light’ is found , not only in LXX and Qa, but also in Qb (MSS at Qumran) which is in most respects almost identical with MT. These make a strong combination textually speaking and may even suggest that ‘light’ has dropped out of the text. On the other hand copyists knew the text by heart so that we need to be wary of adding in what is not there. But it is certainly strong evidence of what future generations saw as needing to be supplied. Either way, as some idea needs to be added to give significant meaning, ‘light’ is a reasonable surmise, for the constant promise of Isaiah is that through the darkness ahead, light is coming. The point then is still that from the midst of His soul-travail the Servant will see a satisfactory result, He will see ‘the light of Yahweh’ (Isaiah 2:5), He will see the light which was to result from His coming and was to be made available to the world (Isaiah 9:2). He would be satisfied that the light for which His people were seeking would now shine on them (Isaiah 42:16; Isaiah 60:1), the light which would shine on the Gentiles through Him (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). When men now looked towards God through the Servant, instead of the darkness of His anger because of sin, they would see the light of His pardon and forgiveness made available through the Servant’s work. He would make many to be accounted righteous. So we can reasonably see it in this way whether we put the noun ‘light’ in or not. For the coming of that light alone could satisfy Him. The reading ‘light’ would indicate that He will see hope ahead at the end of the dark tunnel through which He is going, the glorious light of the fulfilment of God’s purposes dawning on His soul. At the end of His darkness will come light, the light of life.

‘By His humiliation shall my righteous servant make many to be accounted righteous, and He will bear their iniquities.’ We can compare here ‘being accounted righteous freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:24). This is the message of the Gospel. Through what He has undergone He has borne their iniquities, and therefore those who believe can now be counted as righteous before God through His sacrifice of Himself, all their guilt can now be removed. The ‘many’ in this passage are those who see Him and respond to Him (Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:12 (twice); compare Isaiah 2:3). The idea appears a number of times in the New Testament (see especially Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Romans 5:15; Romans 5:19; Hebrews 9:28; see also Matthew 8:11; Matthew 26:28; Luke 1:14; John 7:31; John 8:30; John 10:42; John 12:11; Acts 17:12; Acts 19:18; Acts 28:23; 1 Corinthians 10:17; Hebrews 2:10).


Verse 12

‘Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great (or ‘the many’),

And he will divide the spoil with the strong,

Because he has poured out his soul to death,

And was numbered with the transgressors.

Yet he bore the sin of many,

And made intercession for the transgressors.’

And because of what He has achieved He will come alive again and be given the spoils of victory. The intention here is in order to stress that He will now no longer be the humiliated teacher, but the Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6) receiving His ‘portion’, His inheritance.

It may be seen as signifying that He will rank among the greatest and most powerful on earth, having His portion divided to Him among the great ones of the earth, and sharing in the spoil of those who are strong and powerful. For the strong only divide their spoils with those whom they see as at least their equals, thus they are seen as acknowledging His right. He will be numbered among the mighty. The point being emphasised is not so much the spoils, as the status now occupied by God’s Servant. He will be even greater than Abraham who did not share the spoils lest it denigrate Yahweh (Genesis 14:23).

But the problem with this interpretation, while partly conveying truth, is that in fact the Servant is to be above all (Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 52:13-15 compare Isaiah 49:23). He is not just to be one among a number, but the One Who is exalted above all. It is thus difficult to see how He could only receive one portion among a number when Yahweh makes His division. This is confirmed in Psalms 89:27 where He is to be ‘higher than the kings of the earth’. It would seem strange that He should therefore here merely be seen as on an equal level with others, although the purpose might be in order to emphasise that He was numbered among the transgressors. The fact is that if we do interpret along these lines we must probably see it as indicating that He will receive His portion from Yahweh as a result of His triumph which He will then divide among the great and the strong as He chooses, because they are His servants. The stress being seen to be on His newly established greatness, and His overall sovereignty.

Alternately if we translate ‘the many’ (as in Isaiah 53:11) then the thought is that He will receive His portion from Yahweh as His anointed, and will share it with ‘the many’ whom He has delivered, and He will share His spoils with those made strong by Yahweh (Isaiah 26:4; Isaiah 30:15; Isaiah 35:4; Isaiah 40:29; Isaiah 40:31; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 45:24; Isaiah 49:5; Isaiah 52:1). Overall this might be seen as fitting the context better.

Either way He will be exalted and lifted high (Isaiah 52:13), calling the strong to Him that He might divide the spoil with them. And this will be because He was willing ‘to pour out His soul to death’ and be numbered among the transgressors, that is, among those who have transgressed against God, as He offered Himself for them. It was by being numbered among them that He was able to bear their sin. Had He not humbled Himself to death, He could not have achieved His object. This stresses the representative nature of His death. He dies on behalf of all, from the highest to the lowest. This found a special significance in that He was crucified between the two brigands (Mark 15:28 compare Luke 22:37), stressing His oneness with even the worst of humanity.

Note the emphasis again on the voluntary nature of the sacrifice. ‘He poured out His soul to death.’ That is, He laid down His life of Himself (John 10:18). No one took it from Him. It was of His free choice. This is central to the idea of the replacement of the old sacrificial system. Because it is voluntary it is a sacrifice such as no other could be (see the emphasis in Hebrew Isaiah 10:5-14).

‘Yet He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.’ With these words the chapter comes to an end. The Servant has borne the sin of many and makes intercession for those whose sins He has borne. To intercede is to stand between as a Mediator. This is not so much praying for them, as accomplishing the work of the mediator, bringing about the reconciliation. But it does include a kind of prayer. He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him because He makes intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25). So the Servant acts as the Mediator between God and man on the basis of His saving work (1 Timothy 2:5). The way to salvation is open for all through what the Servant has done.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 53:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-53.html. 2013.

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