Isaiah 50:6
I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Isaiah

THE SERVANT’S VOLUNTARY SUFFERINGS

Isaiah 50:6
.

Such words are not to be dealt with coldly. Unless they be grasped by the heart they are not grasped at all. We do not think of analysing in the presence of a great sorrow. There can be no greater dishonour to the name of Christ than an unemotional consideration of His sufferings for us. The hindrances to a due consideration of these are manifold; some arising from intellectual, and some from moral, causes. Most men have difficulty in vivifying any historical event so as to feel its reality. There is no nobler use of the historical imagination than to direct it to that great life and death on which the salvation of the world depends.

The prophet here has advanced from the first general conception of the Servant of the Lord as recipient of divine commission, and submissive to the divine voice, to thoughts of the sufferings which He would meet with on His path, and of how He bore them.

I. The sufferings of the Servant.

The minute particularity is very noteworthy, scourging, plucking the beard, shame, all sorts of taunts and buffets on the face, and the last indignity of spitting. Clearly, then, He is not only to suffer persecution, but is to be treated with insult and to endure that strange blending, so often seen, of grim infernal laughter with grim infernal fury, the hyena’s laugh and its ferocity. Wherever it occurs, it implies not only fell hate and cruelty, but also contempt and a horrible delight in triumphing over an enemy. It is found in all corrupt periods, and especially in religious persecutions. Here it implies the rejection of the Servant.

The prophecy was literally fulfilled, but not in all its traits. This may give a hint as to the general interpretation of prophecy and may teach that external fulfilment only points to a deeper correspondence. The most salient instance is in Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem riding on an ass, which was but a finger-post to guide men’s thoughts to His fulfilling the ideal of the Messianic King. And yet, the minute correspondences are worth noticing. What a strange, solemn glimpse they give into that awful divine omniscience, and into the mystery of the play of the vilest passions as being yet under control in their extremest rage!

We must note the remarkable prominence in the narratives of the Passion, of signs of contempt and mockery; Judas’ kiss, the purple robe, the crown of thorns, ‘wagging their heads,’ ‘let be, let Elias come,’ etc.

Think of the exquisite pain of this to Christ. That He was sinless and full of love made it all the worse to bear. Not the physical pain, but the consciousness that He was encompassed by such an atmosphere of evil, was the sharpest pang. We should think with reverent sympathy of His perfect discernment of the sinful malignant hearts from which the sufferings came, of His pained and rejected love thrown back on itself, of His clear sight of what their heartless infliction of tortures would end in for the inflicters, of His true human feeling which shrank from being the object of contempt and execration.

II. His patient submission.

‘I gave,’-purely voluntary. That word originally expressed the patient submission with which He endured at the moment, when the lash scored His back, but it may be widened out to express Christ’s perfect voluntariness in all His passion. At any moment He could have abandoned His work if His filial obedience and His love to men had let Him do so. His would-be captors fell to the ground before one momentary flash of His majesty, and they could have laid no hand on Him, if His will had not consented to His capture. Fra Angelico has grasped the thought which the prophet here uttered, and which the evangelists emphasise, that all His suffering was voluntary, and that His love to us restrained His power, and led Him to the slaughter, silent as a sheep before her shearers. For he has pourtrayed the majestic figure seated in passive endurance, with eyes blindfolded but yet wide open behind the bandage, all-seeing, wistful, sad, and patient, while around are fragments of rods, and smiting hands, and a cruel face blowing spittle on the unshrinking cheeks. He seems to be saying: ‘These things hast thou done, and I kept silence.’ ‘Thou couldest have no power at all against Me unless it were given thee.’

III. His submission to suffering in obedience to the Father’s Will.

The context connects His opened ear and His not being rebellious with His giving His back to the smiters. That involves the idea that these indignities and insults were part of the divine counsel in reference to Him. That same combination of ideas is strongly presented in the early addresses of Peter, recorded in the first chapters of Acts, of which this is a specimen: ‘Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye with wicked hands have crucified and slain.’ The full significance of Christ’s passion as that of the atoning sacrifice was not yet clear to the apostle, any more than the Servant’s sufferings were to the prophet, but both prophet and apostle were carried on by fuller experience and reflection on what they already saw clearly, to discern the inwardness and depth of these. The one soon came to see that ‘by His stripes we are healed,’ and the other finally wrote: ‘Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.’ And whoever deeply ponders the startling fact that ‘it pleased the Lord to bruise Him,’ sinless and ever obedient as He was, will be borne, sooner or later, into the full sunlight of the blessed belief that when Jesus suffered and died, ‘He died for all.’ His sufferings were those of a martyr for truth, who is willing to die rather than cease to witness for it; but they were more. They were the sufferings of a lover of mankind who will face the extremest wrong that can be inflicted, rather than abandon His mission; but they were more. They were not merely the penalty which He had to pay for faithfulness to His work; they were themselves the crown and climax of His work. The Son of Man came, indeed, ‘not to be ministered to but to minister,’ but that, taken alone, is but a maimed view of what He came for, and we must whole-heartedly go on to say as He said, ‘and to give His life a ransom for many,’ if we would know the whole truth as to the sufferings of Jesus.

Again, since Christ suffers according to the will of God, it is clear that all representations of the scope of His atoning death, which represent it as moving the will of the Father to love and pardon, are travesties of the truth and turn cause into effect. God does not love, because Jesus died, but Jesus died because God loved.

Further, it is to be noted that His sufferings are the great means by which He sustains the weary. The word to which His ears were opened, morning by morning, was the word to which He was docile when He gave His back to the smiters. It is His passion, regarded as the sacrifice for a world’s sin, from which flow the most powerful stimulants to service and tonics for weary souls, the tenderest comfortings for sorrow. He sustains and comforts by the example of His life, but far more, and more sweetly, more mightily, by that which flows to us through His death. His sufferings are powerful to sustain, when thought of as our example, but they are a tenfold stronger source of patience and strength, when laid on our hearts as the price of our redemption. The Cross is, in all senses of the expression, the tree of life.

Wonder, reverence, love, gratitude, should well forth from our hearts, when we think of these cruel sufferings, but the deepest fountains in them will not be unsealed, unless we see in the suffering Servant the atoning Son.50:4-9 As Jesus was God and man in one person, we find him sometimes speaking, or spoken of, as the Lord God; at other times, as man and the servant of Jehovah. He was to declare the truths which comfort the broken, contrite heart, those weary of sin, harassed with afflictions. And as the Holy Spirit was upon him, that he might speak as never man spake; so the same Divine influence daily wakened him to pray, to preach the gospel, and to receive and deliver the whole will of the Father. The Father justified the Son when he accepted the satisfaction he made for the sin of man. Christ speaks in the name of all believers. Who dares to be an enemy to those unto whom he is a Friend? or who will contend with those whom he is an Advocate? Thus St. Paul applies it, Ro 8:33.I gave my back to the smiters - I submitted willingly to be scourged, or whipped. This is one of the parts of this chapter which can be applied to no other one but the Messiah. There is not the slightest evidence, whatever may be supposed to have been the probability, that Isaiah was subjected to any such trial as this, or that he was scourged in a public manner. Yet it was literally fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 27:26; compare Luke 18:33).

And my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair - literally, 'My cheeks to hose who pluck, or pull.' The word used here (מרט māraṭ) means properly to polish, to sharpen, to make smooth; then to make smooth the head, to make bald; that is, to pluck out the hair, or the beard. To do this was to offer the highest insult that could be imagined among the Orientals. The beard is suffered to grow long, and is regarded as a mark of honor. Nothing is regarded as more infamous than to cut it off (see 2 Samuel 10:4), or to pluck it out; and there is nothing which an Oriental will sooner resent than an insult offered to his beard. 'It is a custom among the Orientals, as well among the Greeks as among other nations, to cultivate the beard with the utmost care and solicitude, so that they regard it as the highest possible insult if a single hair of the beard is taken away by violence.' (William of Tyre, an eastern archbishop, Gesta Dei, p. 802, quoted in Harmer, vol. ii. p. 359.) It is customary to beg by the beard, and to swear by the beard. 'By your beard; by the life of your beard; God preserve your beard; God pour his blessings on your beard,' - are common expressions there. The Mahometans have such a respect for the board that they think it criminal to shave (Harmer, vol. ii. p. 360). The Septuagint renders this, 'I gave my cheeks to buffering' (εἰς ῥαπίσμα eis rapisma); that is, to being smitten with the open hand, which was literally fulfilled in the case of the Redeemer Matthew 26:67; Mark 14:65. The general sense of this expression is, that he would be treated with the highest insult.

I hid not my face from shame and spitting - To spit on anyone was regarded among the Orientals, as it is everywhere else, as an expression of the highest insult and indignity Deuteronomy 25:9; Numbers 12:14; Job 30:10. Among the Orientals also it was regarded as an insult - as it should be everywhere - to spit in the presence of any person. Thus among the Medes, Herodotus (i. 99) says that Deioces ordained that, 'to spit in the king's presence, or in the presence of each other, was an act of indecency.' So also among the Arabians, it is regarded as an offence (Niebuhr's Travels, i. 57). Thus Monsieur d'Arvieux tells us (Voydans la Pal. p. 140) 'the Arabs are sometimes disposed to think, that when a person spits, it is done out of contempt; and that they never do it before their superiors' (Harmer, iv. 439). This act of the highest indignity was performed in reference to the Redeemer Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:30; and this expression of their contempt he bore with the utmost meekness. This expression is one of the proofs that this entire passage refers to the Messiah. It is said Luke 17:32 that the prophecies should be fulfilled by his being spit upon, and yet there is no other prophecy of the Old Testament but this which contains such a prediction.

6. smiters—with scourges and with the open hand (Isa 52:14; Mr 14:65). Literally fulfilled (Mt 27:26; 26:27; Lu 18:33). To "pluck the hair" is the highest insult that can be offered an Oriental (2Sa 10:4; La 3:30). "I gave" implies the voluntary nature of His sufferings; His example corresponds to His precept (Mt 5:39).

spitting—To spit in another's presence is an insult in the East, much more on one; most of all in the face (Job 30:10; Mt 27:30; Lu 18:32).

I gave my back to the smiters; I patiently yielded up myself, and turned my back to those who smote me. I was willing not only to do, but to suffer, the will of God, and the injuries of men. This and the following passages were literally fulfilled in Christ, as is expressly affirmed, Matthew 26:57,67 27:26,30, and elsewhere; but we read of no such thing concerning Isaiah. And therefore it is most safe and reasonable to understand it of Christ; the rather, because it is not usual with the prophets to commend themselves so highly as the prophet here commends the person of whom he speaketh.

Plucked off the hair; which was a contumely or punishment inflicted upon malefactors, Nehemiah 13:25.

I hid not my face from shame, from all manner of reproachful usages; but did knowingly and willingly submit myself there unto.

And spitting: spitting in a man’s face was used in token of contempt and detestation, Numbers 12:14 Job 30:10; and this was literally fulfilled in Christ, Matthew 26:67. I gave my back to the smiters,.... To Pontius Pilate, and those he ordered to scourge him, Matthew 27:26.

and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; of the beard; which, is painful, so a great indignity and affront. The Septuagint renders it, "and my cheeks to blows"; , a word used by the evangelists when they speak of Christ being smitten and stricken with the palms of men's hands, and seem to refer to this passage, Mark 14:65,

I hid not my face from shame and spitting; or from shameful spitting; they spit in his face, and exposed him to shame, and which was a shameful usage of him, and yet he took it patiently, Matthew 26:67, these are all instances of great shame and reproach; as what is more reproachful among us, or more exposes a man, than to be stripped of his clothes, receive lashes on his bare back, and that in public? in which ignominious manner Christ was used: or what reckoned more scandalous, than for a man to have his beard plucked by a mob? which used to be done by rude and wanton boys, to such as were accounted idiots, and little better than brutes (x); and nothing is more affronting than to spit in a man's face. So Job was used, which he mentions as a great indignity done to him, Job 30:10. With some people, and in some countries, particular places, that were mean and despicable, were appointed for that use particularly to spit in. Hence Aristippus the philosopher, being shown a fine room in a house, beautifully and richly paved, spat in the face of the owner of it; at which he being angry, and resenting it, the philosopher replied, that he had not a fitter place to spit in (y).

(x) "------------barbam tibi vellunt Lascivi pueri", Horace. "Idcirco stolidam praebet tibi vellere barbara Jupiter?" Persius, Satyr. 2.((y) Laertius in Vita Aristippi.

I gave my back to the {k} smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

(k) I did not shrink from God for any persecution or calamity. By which he shows that the true ministers of God can look for no other recompense of the wicked, but after this sort, and also that is their comfort.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
6. That persecutions were to be incurred in the performance of his work is already indicated in the last words of Isaiah 50:5; now the speaker declares his voluntary acquiescence in the hardships of his appointed lot.

I gave my back to the smiters] In Psalm 129:3 the same figure is applied to the sufferings of Israel as a nation.

to them that plucked off the hair] of the beard (cf. Ezra 9:3; Nehemiah 13:25); an extreme insult to an Oriental, to whom the beard is the symbol of dignity (see on ch. Isaiah 7:20).

from shame and spitting] Numbers 12:14; Deuteronomy 25:9; Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:30.Verse 6. - I gave my back to the smiters (see Isaiah 53:5, ad fin.; and comp. Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:26; John 19:1). My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. This is a detail not historically recorded by the evangelists; but it may have had a literal fulfilment. Plucking off the hair was not unknown to the Jews as a punishment (see Nehemiah 13:25). I hid not my face from shame and spitting (see Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:30). Spitting in the East marked at once contempt and abhorrence. It is a practice which continues to the present day. There follows now a sceptical question prompted by weakness of faith; and the divine reply. The question, Isaiah 49:24 : "Can the booty indeed be wrested from a giant, or will the captive host of the righteous escape?" The question is logically one, and only divided rhetorically into two (Ges. 153, 2). The giant, or gigantically strong one, is the Chaldean. Knobel, in opposition to Hitzig, who supposes the Persian to be referred to, points very properly to Isaiah 51:12-13, and Isaiah 52:5. He is mistaken, however, in thinking that we must read עריץ שׁבי in Isaiah 49:24, as Ewald does after the Syriac and Jerome, on account of the parallelism. The exiles are called shebhı̄ tsaddı̄q, not, however, as captives wrested from the righteous (the congregation of the righteous), as Meier thinks, taking tsaddı̄q as the gen. obj.; still less as captives carried off by the righteous one, i.e., the Chaldean, for the Chaldean, even regarded as the accomplisher of the righteous judgment of God, is not tsaddı̄q, but "wicked" (Habakkuk 1:13); but merely as a host of captives consisting of righteous men (Hitzig). The divine answer, Isaiah 49:25, Isaiah 49:26 : "Yea, thus saith Jehovah, Even the captive hosts of a giant are wrested from him, and the booty of a tyrant escapes: and I will make war upon him that warreth with thee, and I will bring salvation to thy children. And I feed them that pain thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as if with new wine; and all flesh sees that I Jehovah am thy Saviour, and that thy Redeemer is the Mighty One of Jacob." We might take the kı̄ in Isaiah 49:25 as a simple affirmative, but it is really to be taken as preceded by a tacit intermediate thought. Rosenmller's explanation is the correct one: "that which is hardly credible shall take place, for thus hath Jehovah said." He has also given the true interpretation of gam: "although this really seems incredible, yet I will give it effect." Ewald, on the contrary, has quite missed the sense of Isaiah 49:24, Isaiah 49:25, which he gives as follows: "The booty in men which a hero has taken in war, may indeed be taken from him again; but Jehovah will never let the booty that He takes from the Chaldean (viz., Israel) be wrested from Him again." This is inadmissible, for the simple reason that it presupposes the emendation עריץ שׁבי עריץ noita; and this 'ârı̄ts is quite unsuitable, partly because it would be Jehovah to whom the case supposed referred, and still more, because the correspondence in character between Isaiah 49:24 and Isaiah 49:14 is thereby destroyed. The gibbōr and 'ârı̄ts is called יריבך in Isaiah 49:25, with direct reference to Zion. This is a noun formed from the future, like Jareb in Hosea 5:13 and Hosea 10:6 - a name chosen as the distinctive epithet of the Asiatic emperor (probably a name signifying "king Fighting-cock"). The self-laceration threatened against the Chaldean empire recals to mind Isaiah 9:19-20, and Zechariah 11:9, and has as revolting a sound as Numbers 23:24 and Zechariah 9:15 -passages which Daumer and Ghillany understand in the cannibal sense which they appear to have, whereas what they understand literally is merely a hyperbolical figure. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that the Old Testament church was a nation, and that the spirit of revelation in the Old Testament assumed the national form, which it afterwards shattered to pieces. Knobel points to the revolt of the Hyrcanians and several satraps, who fought on the side of Cyrus against their former rulers (Cyrop. iv 2, 6, v. 1-3). All this will be subservient to that salvation and redemption, which form the historical aim of Jehovah and the irresistible work of the Mighty One of Jacob. The name of God which we meet with here, viz., the Mighty One of Jacob, only occurs again in Isaiah 1:24, and shows who is the author of the prophecy which is concluded here. The first half set forth, in the servant of Jehovah, the mediator of Israel's restoration and of the conversion of the heathen, and closed with an appeal to the heaven and the earth to rejoice with the ransomed church. The second half (Isaiah 49:14-26) rebukes the despondency of Zion, which fancies itself forgotten of Jehovah, by pointing to Jehovah's more than maternal love, and the superabundant blessing to be expected from Him. It also rebukes the doubts of Zion as to the possibility of such a redemption, by pointing to the faithfulness and omnipotence of the God of Israel, who will cause the exiles to be wrested from the Chaldean, and their tormentors to devour one another. The following chapter commences a fresh train of ideas.
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