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Isaiah 53:1-6 by Robert Dean
Rejection of the Servant and Realization of Who He is. Isaiah 53:1-6. August 14, 2012. Learn the ways people have tried to read this as a non-messianic passage and how that is, at best, a stretch beyond evidence and reason. The perspective is a future believing Jewish remnant looking back with an element of confession on the One they failed to recognize and the nation’s rejection that followed. Compare the imagery in The Arm of the Lord, Tender Shoot and Man of Sorrows. See how historical relevance of these terms points to the Messianic view. Contrast the Jewish expectations from Messiah and the Servant who actually came. Rejection ultimately shifts to glory revealing the substitutionary atonement and affirmation of what the Servant has accomplished.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 20 secs

Rejection of the Servant and Realization of Who He Is. Isaiah 53:1-6

As we have seen, this passage is really about the exaltation of the servant. It is not about the suffering; that is secondary. The exaltation is because He is suffering. But if we look at these verses and read through them all the one that relate to the suffering and all of the verbs that are used in relation to suffering are past tense verbs, whereas the verbs related to His future glorification and exaltation are future tense. So whoever it is speaking and giving this report they are looking back on what has happened with a view to what it is going to eventuate in, the exaltation of the servant. When we look at Isaiah 52:13 where God is speaking and saying,  "Behold, My servant will prosper"-- "successfully" would be the best translation, not "prudently" as in the NKJV or in some cases "wisely." It is the result of acting wisely, i.e. in bringing about success in His mission, and then that "He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted." There is a piling up of verbs there related to His glorification because human language reaches a certain limit where you can't say anything more. You just don't have the words to describe the ultimate exaltation of the servant here. Two of these verbs "be exalted" and "very high" are verbs are also words that are used to describe the throne of God. So there is this implied statement here of the deity of the servant because these verbs do not apply to human beings. They are restricted in the Scriptures to God and to the throne of God. So this whole passage is really related to the exaltation of the Messiah, the servant, and because of what He does in His obedience to the Lord.

We come to the core section, 53:1-9, and it is really broken down to three sections: 1-3, 4-6, and 5-9. It begins with someone asking two rhetorical questions: "Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no {stately} form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." So this section focuses on a sort of introduction to who the servant is and His background--who He is in terms of His relationship with God and His relationship with this group of people, the "we," the "our," whoever is speaking, and that they failed to recognise Him, to see who He was.

There are those who give this passage a non-messianic interpretation, and that is exactly the problem with those who are speaking here in the first section. They are saying, "Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" In other words, these rhetorical questions are bringing up the fact that there is only a limited number of people who have responded to their report and who have understood how God has revealed Himself with the servant. So there is this limited response to the message. The reason why is because they didn't identify who He was, they rejected His appearance. This is exactly what happened in the first century when Jesus appeared. He was rejected because He didn't fit the expectation of the religious leaders in Israel. They expected a Messiah who would come who would be a glorified Messiah, a Messiah who would bring them victory over the empire of Rome. They were looking for a political figure, a military figure; they were not looking for one who would come who would suffer. This is still a problem, especially in the Jewish community, but with many people who reject the gospel because they don't want to accept this view of the Messiah; they have another agenda.

What exactly is being said in this passage? First, a non-messianic view, the idea that the individual here is identified either as a prophet or as the nation itself. It looks at the fact that this servant does suffer but their view is that no matter whether it is Isaiah, another prophet or the people, they think that the servant is suffering with the people, rather than for the people in the sense of a substitution. So the servant is just one among them who suffers along with the rest of the Jewish people.

But this contradicts the broad context of Isaiah 53. We have to remember that from Isaiah chapter forty to the end of chapter sixty-six there is a huge shift that takes place in the theme of Isaiah. This is why there are those, usually of a liberal persuasion in terms of their view of the authority and origin of the text, who believe that this second half of Isaiah was written by somebody else. In the first 39 chapters of Isaiah, Isaiah is prohesying and warning of the future judgments on Judah, that they will be destroyed, specifically by the Babylonians. He then focuses on a future hope.

In chapters 49-52 the focus is on a future salvation for Israel: that God is going to provide a future deliverer. God has not forgotten Israel. God is going to be true to His promise and there will be an ultimate redemption for the people and the promises of the kingdom will eventually be fulfilled. That is the thrust of Isaiah 40-66.

In chapters 49 through 52 the focus is on a future deliverer. Then if we look at the chapters following chapter 53 God is then inviting Israel to participate in this salvation. So there is a promise in the first chapters (49-52) that there will be a future salvation, and then after chapter 53 God is inviting them to participate in the salvation; but in Isaiah 53 we see a hinge chapter because it is this chapter that tells us what that salvation is, how it is accomplished for Israel. So chapter 53 is the link between the two and the transition from the announcement about a future deliverer and the next chapters which view that as having already been accomplished.

The second aspect to this and which is foundational to this whole section, and just destroys any of the other arguments for a corporate Messiah, Israel, or being a prophet, is that the chapter clearly focuses on the fact that the servant, whoever He is, is righteous and pays the penalty for sin--not temporal punishment but the eternal punishment for sin. We read in verse 5, "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being {fell} upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed." The focus is that there is going to be a payment for sin and that there is going to be a complete healing or deliverance from this sin. Then down in verse 11,  "By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities." Again, terminology that is related to an eternal deliverance or salvation. Those verses alone and those ideas alone just wipe out the idea that the servant is another prophet, or the servant is the corporate body of Israel.

Is 53:4 "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted." This begins with the word "Surely," some say "However." It is a contrast, and so the contrast is between the attitude of rejection by the people, whoever the "we" are in the first three verses, to work that is done by the servant in bearing of grief, bearing our sorrow, things of that nature. Those terms, "Surely He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows," come right out of the context of Leviticus chapter 16 which is dealing with the day of atonement. So this is clearly language that is based on an understanding of the whole ritual of the day of atonement as well as other sacrifice-offering passages in Leviticus. It begins with these two rhetorical questions to call our attention to the fact that there is a group of people speaking who are delivering a message, but that message is not getting a receptive response.

So they ask: "Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" They are using the pronoun "our" which is a first persona plural pronoun. When we look at the first verse, the last line of verse 2, "He has no {stately} form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him... or He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no {stately} form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him," who do these plural pronouns describe here.

There are options that have been set forth. One is that it refers to the Gentile kings mentioned in the last verse of chapter 52: "Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand." But there is a shift in the context when we go to 53:1, "Who has believed our message?" and it is not talking about those kings. The other suggestion is that this is the prophet. The third view that is put forth is that this is the nation of Israel as a whole, and as part of that would be a future believing remnant of Israel which, we think, is the answer. The only thing that fits is that this is a retrospective look now from some future generation that looks back on what happened to the servant. They have realised who the servant is and what happened in their rejection of the servant, and so there is an element of confession in this passage that they had failed completely to recognise the servant based on prophetic passages and had treated Him with no respect, rejected and despised Him. Then they come to realise who He is and what He did, v. 4.

So the "we" and the "our" refers to a future generation, a Jewish remnant, which has come to realise the identity of the Messiah and what they had done in rejecting Him in the past. Paul quotes from Isaiah 53:1 in Romans 10:16 NASB "However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" Remember that Romans 9-11 are focusing on the question: has God completely rejected the Jews? This is Paul's explanation of God's plan for Israel. They rejected the Messiah but God did not reject them. The promises and the covenants still belong to Israel, and there is a small remnant of Jews that have accepted the Messiah but most of them have not. They have not all obeyed the gospel and Paul sees this as a fulfillment of this line in Isaiah 53:1, "Who has believed our report."

Is 53:8 "By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke {was due?}" God is speaking there--"my people." That verse indicates that "my people" is a different group than the servant, distinct from the servant: in fact, Israel. Delitzsch: "Whenever you find a "we" in the Old Testament in the midst of prophecy it is always a reference to Israel that is speaking." Also the verbs here that all look to the past to the suffering and death of the servant indicates this contrast where they look back on what they did and there is this sense of confession and repentance in the true sense of the word, change that takes place over the course of these nine verses.

One commentator says: "What is going on here, so to speak, is that we seem to hear two disciples standing on the street corner in Jerusalem reviewing the things that happened on Good Friday in the light of the better insight that came after Pentecost." Think about that. You have two Jewish Christian disciples there after Pentecost. Once they gain perspective and understand what has happened and they suddenly realise all that has happened in terms of the arrest, the crucifixion, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus. It is now beginning to make sense whereas they didn't quite grasp all that on the other side when they were going into it. So what is happening here is there is this remnant in the future that realises that Jesus is the Messiah, and they look back and say, we really missed it. And not only did they missi it but in their rejection it brought about His death as well. So this section contains a confession from the believing Israelites of their failure to know the Scriptures, failure to understand what they taught about the Messiah as needing to suffer before He would be glorified and before He would reign, and that because they missed that and had rejected Him and despised Him it led to His suffering and death. But that in turn brought about the glories of their salvation.

The first question is, "Who has believed our message?" As they have come to understand that they have reported on it. They have a message. Who has believed our message now? That is what they are asking. The second question expands on that a little bit and they say, "And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" The phrase "arm of the Lord" is the one that is ultimately associated with His power, His omnipotence, and almost always focusing on His power and ability to deliver people from calamities, especially deliverance from sin. The question here is, "And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" So the revelation of the gospel message has been really revealed to only a few in the sense that they have responded to it. They had rejected it. So the emphasis in these two questions is that the message has gone out to the Jewish people but there has not been much of a response. They have mostly rejected it. Even thousands upon thousands became Christians during the first century ultimately the gospel was rejected by the political and religious leaders and by the majority of the Jewish people. So the first question emphasises this rejection that has taken place.

Then in verse 2 there is going to be an explanation.  Whenever we see a passage begin with "For" it is usually going to be a sort of explanation or sometimes it is developing the cause for something. Here it is going to be further explanation and expansion on the reason for the rejection. In the first part of this verse the emphasis is on the servant's relationship to God, and the second part is His rejection by man. In the first part it is how God loved the servant and took care of, nourished and nurtured the servant, and the second part focuses on how in contrast the Jews rejected Him, and overall, mankind rejected Him.

  "For He grew up before Him ..." We have two uses of the third person singular pronoun. Who is the first He? In context it describes the servant. As God is speaking back in 52:13, "Behold, my servant shall prosper, He ... will be exalted." So He in terms of the nominative case here generally referred back to the servant.

Verse 3, "For He grew up before Him..." This implies that the servant is going to grow physically. There is going to be a process of maturation, He is not going to show up already mature. He will grow up "before Him," so this use of "Him' indicates this is a different person than the "He," and the "Him" would be the speaker in 52:12-15 identified as Yahweh (God the Father).  "... like a tender shoot..." This is where is starts tying some imagery together from various other passages in the Old Testament related to the Messiah.

The phrase "tender shoot" is from a Hebrew word which means a suckling, a tender plant, a tender shoot, a young plant. It is a horticultural term, it is not talking about a nursing child but a shoot coming up out of dry ground. Dry ground is barren soil, something that is not expected to produce growth is going to develop and strengthen. So the image is of the trunk of a tree or something like that which fits with other images of this idea of a root. In Isaiah 11:1 "Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit." The picture of the trunk of a tree and the tree has been cut down. The root is Jesse, the father of David the king of Israel. The Davidic line was viewed as having been cut down when the kingdom of Judah was defeated by the Babylonians. Even though some descendants of David could be designated and identified there was never a restoration of the monarchy in Judah or in Israel. So there is this imagery of the line of David having been cut down and now there is just a barren stump in the ground. But all of a sudden something new, a new growth, a new branch, is going to grow out of those roots and develop into something new. That is the image of the Messiah. He will come and restore the Davidic monarchy.

That same imagery is found in Ezekiel 17:22 NASB " Thus says the Lord GOD, "I will also take {a sprig} from the lofty top of the cedar [Israel] and set {it} out; I will pluck from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one and I will plant {it} on a high and lofty mountain." So the imagery there is taking one that is out of what has already existed (David). Putting it on a high mountain indicated elevation and power. This is the same imagery here related to the Messiah, that God is the one who would establish and bring about His growth.

We are told that He will grow up as a tender plant, and this language indicates a messianic connection.  "And like a root out of parched ground ..." Then there is a shift, so we see God working to nourish and bring about the Messiah to restore the lineage of David, and then there is a contrast. The contrast is going to focus on the fact that the Messiah doesn't look like they expected Him to look like. He didn't fit their model, their expectation, because when they focused on the fact that the Messiah was a son of David who would reestablish the monarchy they are thinking in terms of all of the cultural trappings that went with a king, all of the glories that went with a kingÑthe power, the army, defeating the enemies of Israel. They focused on all of those aspects rather than the negative aspects.

Think about David. When David was initially anointed by Samuel in 1 Samuel 17 he is just a young teenager. He goes out and fights Goliath and after that Saul becomes very jealous of him because of all the victories and God's blessings for him. For the next ten or fifteen years David is having to run from Saul because Saul is persecuting him. David has already been anointed king and people know that he has been anointed king, but he went through a period of rejection when he was running from Saul before God eventually elevated him to the position of the kingship. And that is a picture of the future Messiah, the son of David. He would go through a period of rejection even though He was already identified as the King of the Jews. He would go through a period of rejection, a period of persecution--the church the body of Christ is in that period like David and his mighty men during the period when they were hiding out in the wilderness. Then ultimately David was raised to the kingship when Saul took his life at the end of 1 Samuel. We see that same pattern with Jesus: suffering and then glorification. But by the first century in Israel they had forgotten about the suffering aspect of the Messiah, which is very clear here, and they were just focusing on the glory, so when Jesus came He wasn't recognised. He came from a very small village of Nazareth which had a poor reputation.

So what we have in Isaiah 53 isn't a statement that Jesus was unattractive but it is clearly a statement that He did not have the kind of physical presence one would expect of a saviour of the world from a human viewpoint perspective. He looked just like an average Jewish male. "He has no {stately} form" just indicated His external appearance, and this did not fit what they expected. The other word, translated "comeliness" in the KJV, is one of several words in the Hebrew used to express the beauty of God, the glory of God, the splendour of God, and that is how it is often translated in the Psalms when it relates to God. It is used 29 times in the Old Testament, 16 times in the Psalms. So it would be "He had no form or splendour." They were looking for a king who was magnificent and there was nothing like that about Jesus. "Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him"Ñ the Hebrew word used here and translated "see" in the KJV indicates appearance or sight. It is translated "visage" in 52:14; it is His appearance. Sometimes it is translated as "beauty." The idea here is that there was nothing about Jesus physically that set Him apart as a glorious Messiah. It would not be possible to look at Him and discern by appearance who He is and that he is the one who fulfils this prophecy. There is this rejection and verse 2 is a confession of their rejection of the servant. Then verse 3 continues to express this and says, "He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief ..." We frequently sing the hymn Man of Sorrows, and this is what that is based on, a meditation on Isaiah 53. The verb that is translated "despise" is used here in a passive sense, He is despised. It also means to reject, to show disdain or contempt for someone. Interestingly this is the same word used to describe Esau's rejection of his birthright. He showed contempt for his birthright, he rejected it, he had disdain for it. It is also the word used to describe what Goliath thought about the little pip-squeak David who came out to him. He had contempt for him, no respect whatsoever. The writers here describe their reaction to the servant.  "... And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him."

Isaiah 49:7 NASB "Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel {and} its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation ..." So how could the servant be the nation? It doesn't fit. The servant is the one who is despised and rejected by the nation.

He is called "A man of sorrows." The word for sorrows is the word which means pain or anguish, and in the participial form here it has the idea of one who suffers. So these two phrases, "a man of sorrows" and "acquainted with grief," describe the suffering of the Messiah on the cross. This is not a description of His life, He was not a sad man. The word "sorrows" has the idea of sadness that comes across for us but it really has the idea in the Hebrew of someone who is going through a tremendous amount of physical suffering and pain and anguish, which is what Jesus went through on the cross.

Then it says He was "acquainted with grief." This is a word that is often translated "sickness" or "disease" or "illness." However in a number of passages it is used to describe situations that are calamitous. It describes the act of a judgment by God on someone. It is used that way in Ecclesiastes 6:2. This describes what He was going through upon the cross. Then again they say "He was despised," and that is the same word which indicated He was treated with contempt and total rejection. Then, "we did not esteem Him." The word used to translate esteem there is a word that means to account, and has the idea of counting something as valuable, something as worthwhile. They did not count anything about Him to be of value. So they completely misidentified who the servant is. That is what the prophecy says. He is going to show up but He is not going to be identified. 

Now there is going to be a contrast. Notice how the next verse begins.  Isaiah 53:4 NASB "Surely our griefs He Himself bore." So there is this shift from the fact that He is totally rejected and despised to a positive affirmation of what He has done. In the next three verses notice the pronouns. This shows that some sort of substitutionary payment is at the very core of this section. He bore our griefs; He carried our sorrows. Then notice the contrast between the third person and the first person pronouns: "Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken."

Isaiah 53:5 NASB "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being {fell} upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed." Then at the end of verse 6, "But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him." The word "all" is a generic term that includes not only Jews but everybody in the human race. There is a sharp contrast that shifts from the fact that we rejected Him, despised Him, we had no reason to accept Him, but in spite of our rejection He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. This is in synonymous parallelism, so griefs and sorrows are parallel to one another. And these terms are used not specifically of sin but as the consequences of sin. It is very clear from verse 6 that the penalty that is being paid here is a penalty related to sin.

But we need to focus on these verbs. "He has borne our griefs," is a poetic way to translate this. It is the Hebrew word nasa which indicates lifting, carrying, or taking something somewhere; but it is specifically used in the day of atonement passages related to the payment for sin for the people and bringing about forgiveness. Remember that on the day of atonement the high priest would come out and they would bring two goats to him. He would put his hands on the goats and recite the sins of the nation for the previous year. They would take one goat that would be sacrificed, and that pictured the payment for the sin. Scripture says, Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. It wasn't that the animal could pay for the sin but it is picturing the fact that eventually there has to be a death that would be able to pay for all sin. Then the other goat, called the scapegoat, is taken by a trusted friend of the high priest far away and out into the desert so that he could never find its way (because our sins don't come back on us) and is released, indicating that our sins are paid for and removed from us, "as far as the east is from the west." So there is the complete removal of sin. Lev 16:22 NASB "The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness." The word "bear" is the same word nasa. So this is language that speaks of the day of atonement.

The second word here is the word "carried" (our sorrows). It is from the Hebrew word which indicates bearing a load for someone else. The very verb itself has the connotation of substitution. So He carries for someone else sorrows. So starting from verse 4 we see this emphasis on a substitutionary payment. Then starting in verse 5 we will see that it brings in the idea of a penalty. It is not just a substitutionary payment but by the time we get to the second half of verse 5 the chastisement or the punishment related to our peace (with God) was upon Him. So the punishment becomes a penal, substitutionary death. Another way this has been spoken of (not so much today) is that it is a vicarious penalty.