Isaiah 53:1
Who has believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
LIII.

(1) Who hath believed our report? . . .—The question has been variously interpreted as coming from the lips of the prophet or of Israel. The former view commends itself most, and the unusual plural is explained by his mentally associating with himself the other prophets, probably his own disciples, who were delivering the same message. The implied answer to the question may be either “None,” or, “Not all.” St. Paul (Romans 10:16) adopts the latter.

Isaiah

THE ARM OF THE LORD

Isaiah 53:1
.

In the second Isaiah there are numerous references to ‘the arm of the Lord.’ It is a natural symbol of the active energy of Jehovah, and is analogous to the other symbol of ‘the Face of Jehovah,’ which is also found in this book, in so far as it emphasises the notion of power in manifestation, though ‘the Face’ has a wider range and may be explained as equivalent to that part of the divine Nature which is turned to men. The latter symbol will then be substantially parallel with ‘the Name.’ But there are traces of a tendency to conceive of ‘the arm of the Lord’ as personified, for instance, where we read {Isaiah 63:12} that Jehovah ‘caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses.’ Moses was not the true leader, but was himself led and sustained by the divine Power, dimly conceived as a person, ever by his side to sustain and direct. There seems to be a similar imperfect consciousness of personification in the words of the text, especially when taken in their close connection with the immediately following prophecy of the suffering servant. It would be doing violence to the gradual development of Revelation, like tearing asunder the just-opening petals of a rose, to read into this question of the sad prophet full-blown Christian truth, but it would be missing a clear anticipation of that truth to fail to recognise the forecasting of it that is here.

I. We have here a prophetic forecast that the arm of the Lord is a person.

The strict monotheism of the Old Testament does not preclude some very remarkable phenomena in its modes of conception and speech as to the divine Nature. We hear of the ‘angel of His face,’ and again of ‘the angel in whom is His Name.’ We hear of ‘the angel’ to whom divine worship is addressed and who speaks, as we may say, in a divine dialect and does divine acts. We meet, too, with the personification of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, to which are ascribed characteristics and are attributed acts scarcely distinguishable from divine, and eminently associated in the creative work. Our text points in the same direction as these representations. They all tend in the direction of preparing for the full Christian truth of the personal ‘Power of God.’ What was shown by glimpses ‘at sundry times and in divers manners,’ with many gaps in the showing and much left all unshown, is perfectly revealed in the Son. The New Testament, by its teaching as to ‘the Eternal Word,’ endorses, clears, and expands all these earlier dimmer adumbrations. That Word is the agent of the divine energy, and the conception of power as being exercised by the Word is even loftier than that of it as put forth by ‘the arm,’ by as much as intelligent and intelligible utterance is more spiritual and higher than force of muscle. The apostolic designation of Jesus as ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ blends the two ideas of these two symbols. The conception of Jesus Christ as the arm of the Lord, when united with that of the Eternal Word, points to a threefold sphere and manner of His operations, as the personal manifestation of the active power of God. In the beginning, the arm of the Lord stretched out the heavens as a tent to dwell in, and without Him ‘was not anything made that was made.’ In His Incarnation, He carried into execution all God’s purposes and fulfilled His whole will. From His throne He wields divine power, and rules the universe. ‘The help that is done on earth, He doeth it all Himself,’ and He works in the midst of humanity that redeeming work which none but He can effect.

II. We have here a prophetic paradox that the mightiest revelation of the arm of the Lord is in weakness.

The words of the text stand in closest connection with the great picture of the Suffering Servant which follows, and the pathetic figure portrayed there is the revealing of the arm of the Lord. The close bringing together of the ideas of majesty and power and of humiliation, suffering, and weakness, would be a paradox to the first hearers of the prophecy. Its solution lies in the historical manifestation of Jesus. Looking on Him, we see that the growing up of that root out of a dry ground was the revelation of the great power of God. In Jesus’ lowly humanity God’s power is made perfect in man’s weakness, in another and not less true sense than that in which the apostle spoke. There we see divine power in its noblest form, in its grandest operation, in its widest sweep, in its loftiest purpose. That humble man, lowly and poor, despised and rejected in life, hanging faint and pallid on the Roman cross, and dying in the dark, seems a strange manifestation of the ‘glory’ of God, but the Cross is indeed His throne, and sublime as are the other forms in which Omnipotence clothes itself, this is, to human eyes and hearts, the highest of them all. In Jesus the arm of the Lord is revealed in its grandest operation. Creation and the continual sustaining of a universe are great, but redemption is greater. It is infinitely more to say, ‘He giveth power to the faint,’ than to say, ‘For that He is strong in might, not one faileth,’ and to principalities and powers in heavenly places who have gazed on the grand operations of divine power for ages, new lessons of what it can effect are taught by the redemption of sinful men. The divine power that is enshrined in Jesus’ weakness is power in its widest sweep, for it is to every one that believeth, and in its loftiest purpose, for it is ‘unto salvation.’

III. We have here a prophetic lament that the power revealed to all is unseen by many.

The text is a wail over darkened eyes, blind at noonday. The prophet’s radiant anticipations of the Servant’s exaltation, and of God’s holy arm being made bare in the eyes of all nations, are clouded over by the thought of the incredulity of the multitude to ‘our report.’ Jehovah had indeed ‘made bare His arm,’ as a warrior throws back his loose robe, when he would strike. But what was the use of that, if dull eyes would not look? The ‘report’ had been loudly proclaimed, but what was the use of that, if ears were obstinately stopped? Alas, alas! nothing that God can do secures that men shall see what He shows, or listen to what He speaks. The mystery of mysteries is that men can, the tragedy of tragedies is that they will, make any possible revelation of none effect, so far as they are concerned.

The Arm is revealed, but only by those who have ‘believed our report’ does the prophet deem it to be actually beheld. Faith is the individual condition on which the perfected revelation becomes a revelation to me. The ‘salvation of our God’ is shown in splendour to ‘all the ends of the earth,’ but only they who exercise faith in Jesus, who is the power of God, will see that far-shining light. If we are not of those who ‘believe the report,’ we shall, notwithstanding that ‘He hath made bare His holy arm,’ be of those who grope at noonday as in the dark.Isaiah 53:1. Who hath believed our report? — The prophet having, in the last three verses of the former chapter, made a general report concerning the great and wonderful humiliation and exaltation of the Messiah, of which he intended to discourse more largely in this chapter, thought fit, before he descended to particulars, to use this preface. Who, not only of the Gentiles, but even of the Jews, will believe the truth of what I have said, and must further say? Few or none. The generality of them will never receive, nor believe in, such a Messiah as this. Thus this place is expounded by Christ himself, John 12:38, and by St. Paul, Romans 10:16. And this premonition was highly necessary, both to caution the Jews that they should not stumble at this stone, and to instruct the Gentiles that they should not be surprised nor seduced with their example. And to whom — Hebrew, על מי, because, or, in behalf of whom, namely, to deliver them from the guilt and dominion of their sins, and other spiritual enemies; is the arm — That is, the power; of the Lord revealed? — This is only revealed, or displayed, for the deliverance of those who, with a lively and divine faith; believe the report: for the gospel is the power of God unto salvation only to him that believeth, Romans 1:16.53:1-3 No where in all the Old Testament is it so plainly and fully prophesied, that Christ ought to suffer, and then to enter into his glory, as in this chapter. But to this day few discern, or will acknowledge, that Divine power which goes with the word. The authentic and most important report of salvation for sinners, through the Son of God, is disregarded. The low condition he submitted to, and his appearance in the world, were not agreeable to the ideas the Jews had formed of the Messiah. It was expected that he should come in pomp; instead of that, he grew up as a plant, silently, and insensibly. He had nothing of the glory which one might have thought to meet with him. His whole life was not only humble as to outward condition, but also sorrowful. Being made sin for us, he underwent the sentence sin had exposed us to. Carnal hearts see nothing in the Lord Jesus to desire an interest in him. Alas! by how many is he still despised in his people, and rejected as to his doctrine and authority!Who hath believed our report? - The main design of the prophet in all this portion of his prophecy is, undoubtedly, to state the fact that the Redeemer would be greatly exalted (see Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 53:12). But in order to furnish a fair view of his exaltation, it was necessary also to exhibit the depth of his humiliation, and the intensity of his sorrows, and also the fact that he would be rejected by those to whom he was sent. He, therefore, in this verse, to use the language of Calvin, breaks in abruptly upon the order of his discourse, and exclaims that what he had said, and what he was about to say, would be scarcely credited by anyone. Prelimmary to his exaltation, and to the honors which would be conferred on him, he would be rejected and despised. The word 'report' (שׁמוּעה shemû‛âh) denotes properly that which is heard, tidings, message, news. Margin, 'Hearing' or 'doctrine.' The Septuagint renders it, Ἀκοή Akoē - 'Rumour,' 'message.' It refers to the annunciation, message, or communication which had been made respecting the Messiah. 'The speaker here is Isaiah, and the word 'our' refers to the fact that the message of Isaiah and of the other prophets had been alike rejected. He groups himself with the other prophets, and says that the annunciation which they had made of the Redeemer had been disregarded The interrogative form is often assumed when it is designed to express a truth with emphasis; and the idea is, therefore, that the message in regard to the Messiah had been rejected, and that almost none had credited and embraced it.

And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? - The arm is that by which we execute a purpose, and is often used as the emblem of power (see the notes at Isaiah 33:2; Isaiah 40:10). Here it denotes the omnipotence or power of God, which would be exhibited through the Messiah. 'The sense is, 'Who has perceived the power evinced in the work of the Redeemer? To whom is that power manifested which is to be put forth through him, and in connection with his work?' It refers not so much, as it seems to me, to his power in working miracles, as to the omnipotence evinced in rescuing sinners from destruction. In the New Testament, the gospel is not unfrequently called 'the power of God' Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18, for it is that by which God displays his power in saving people. The idea here is, that comparatively few would be brought under that power, and be benefited by it; that is, in the times, and under the preaching of the Messiah. It is to be remembered that the scene of this vision is laid in the midst of the work of the Redeemer. The prophet sees him a sufferer, despised and rejected. He sees that few come to him, and embrace him as their Saviour. He recalls the 'report' and the announcement which he and other prophets had made respecting him; he remembers the record which had been made centuries before respecting the Messiah; and he asks with deep emotion, as if present when the Redeemer lived and preached, who had credited what he and the other prophets had said of him. The mass had rejected it all. The passage, therefore, had its fulfillment in the events connected with the ministry of the Redeemer, and in the fact that he was rejected by so many. The Redeemer was more successful in his work as a preacher than is commonly supposed, but still it is true that by the mass of the nation he was despised, and that the announcement which had been made of his true character and work was rejected.

CHAPTER 53

Isa 53:1-12. Man's Unbelief: Messiah's Vicarious Sufferings, and Final Triumph for Man.

The speaker, according to Horsley, personates the repenting Jews in the latter ages of the world coming over to the faith of the Redeemer; the whole is their penitent confession. This view suits the context (Isa 52:7-9), which is not to be fully realized until Israel is restored. However, primarily, it is the abrupt exclamation of the prophet: "Who hath believed our report," that of Isaiah and the other prophets, as to Messiah? The infidel's objection from the unbelief of the Jews is anticipated and hereby answered: that unbelief and the cause of it (Messiah's humiliation, whereas they looked for One coming to reign) were foreseen and foretold.

1. report—literally, "the thing heard," referring to which sense Paul says, "So, then, faith cometh by hearing" (Ro 10:16, 17).

arm—power (Isa 40:10); exercised in miracles and in saving men (Ro 1:16; 1Co 1:18). The prophet, as if present during Messiah's ministry on earth, is deeply moved to see how few believed on Him (Isa 49:4; Mr 6:6; 9:19; Ac 1:15). Two reasons are given why all ought to have believed: (1) The "report" of the "ancient prophets." (2) "The arm of Jehovah" exhibited in Messiah while on earth. In Horsley's view, this will be the penitent confession of the Jews, "How few of our nation, in Messiah's days, believed in Him!"The incredulity of the Jews: the death of Christ, and the blessed effects thereof, Isaiah 53:1-11; his exaltation and glory, Isaiah 53:12.

Who hath believed our report? the prophet having in the three last verses of the former chapter made a general report concerning the great and wonderful humiliation and exaltation of Christ, of which he intended more largely to discourse in this chapter, before he descended to particulars he thought fit to use this preface.

Who, not only of the Gentiles, but even of the Jews, will believe the truth-of what I have said and must say? Few or none. The generality of them will never receive nor believe in such a Messias as this. Thus this place is expounded by Christ himself, John 12:38, and by Paul, Romans 10:16. And this premonition was highly necessary, both to caution the Jews that they should not stumble at this stone, and to instruct the Gentiles that they should not be surprised, nor scandalized, nor seduced with their example.

The arm of the Lord; either,

1. The word of God, called the report in the former clause; the doctrine of the gospel, which is expressly called the power of God, 1 Corinthians 1:18, because of that admirable virtue and success which accompanied the preaching of it. Or,

2. The Messiah, who also is called the arm or power of God, 1 Corinthians 1:24; and that most fitly, because the almighty power of God was both seated in him, and declared and exercised by him in his powerful words and mighty deeds, as Simon for some great works wrought by him was called by the Samaritans the power of God, Acts 8:10.

Revealed; not outwardly, for so Christ was revealed and preached to vast numbers, both of Jews and Gentiles, as is evident from this context, arid from divers other places of Scripture; but inwardly and with power to their minds and hearts, of which kind of revelation see Ephesians 1:17-19, and compare it with 2 Corinthians 4:4. Thus even Moses, though sufficiently revealed to the eyes and ears of the Jews, yet is said to be unrevealed or hid from their minds and hearts, 2 Corinthians 3:14,15. The sense of the place is, few or none of the Jews will believe the gospel, or receive their Messiah when he comes among them.

Who hath believed our report?.... Or "hearing" (a). Not what we hear, but others hear from us; the doctrine of the Gospel, which is a report of the love, grace, and mercy of God in Christ; of Christ himself, his person, offices, obedience, sufferings, and death, and of free and full salvation by him: it is a good report, a true and faithful one, and to be believed, and yet there are always but few that give credit to it; there were but few in the times of the Prophet Isaiah that believed what he had before reported, or was about to report, concerning the Messiah; and but few in the times of Christ and his apostles, whom the prophet here represented; for to those times are the words applied, John 12:38, the Jews had the report first made unto them, and saw the facts that were done, and yet believed not; when Gentile kings, and their subjects, listened with the most profound silence, and heard with the greatest attention and reverence, as in the latter part of the preceding chapter, to which some think this is opposed; wherefore some begin the text with the adversative particle "but". According to the Septuagint and Arabic versions, the words are directed to God the Father, for they render them, "Lord, who hath believed", &c.; and so they are quoted in the above places in the New Testament:

and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? meaning either the Gospel itself, the power of God unto salvation, hidden from the generality of men; for though externally, yet not internally revealed and made known; which to do is the Lord's work, and is owing to his special grace: or Christ, who is the power of God, by whom all the works of creation, providence, grace, and salvation, are wrought; and by whom the blessings of grace are dispensed; and by whom the Lord upholds all things, and supports his people; and who was not revealed but to a very few, as the true Messiah, as God's salvation, and in them the hope of glory: or else the powerful and efficacious grace of the Spirit, and the exertion and display of it, which is necessary to a true and spiritual believing the Gospel, and the report of it; which, unless it comes with the power and Spirit of God, is ineffectual.

(a) , Sept.; "auditui nostro", V. L. Pagninus, Montanus, Cocceius.

Who {a} hath believed our report? and to whom is the {b} arm of the LORD revealed?

(a) The prophet shows that very few will receive their preaching from Christ, and from their deliverance by him, Joh 12:38, Ro 10:16.

(b) Meaning, that no one can believe but whose hearts God touches with the virtue of his Holy Spirit.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. The verse should probably be rendered,

Who believed that which was revealed to us,

And the arm of Jehovah—to (lit. “on”) whom was it disclosed? The word which E.V. renders “report” is passive in form (lit. “a thing heard”); our report, therefore, is not “that which we reported” but ‘either “the report concerning us” (2 Samuel 4:4) or “that which was reported to us.” The last sense is alone admissible in this connexion, and the only question that remains is, What kind of report is referred to? Usually the word denotes a rumour circulated by the ordinary channels of intelligence (ch. Isaiah 37:7 &c.), and this meaning might be thought of here if we could suppose the words spoken after the elevation of the Servant. But this is objectionable, (a) because the standpoint of the speakers is not subsequent to the glorification of the Servant, but prior to it (see above), (b) the speakers, being Israelites, cannot readily be supposed to learn the Servant’s exaltation from rumour, and (c) it would be necessary to render the verb “Who could have believed?” which although possible is not natural. The question implies a negative answer: “No one believed it.” It is better therefore to take the word in its religious sense of a Divine revelation (see on ch. Isaiah 28:9), a “thing heard” from Jehovah. “Our revelation” might of course be said by the prophet of a communication made directly to himself; but it might also be said by the people of a revelation which had reached them through the medium of the prophets. The reference will be to the prophecies bearing on the Servant’s glorious destiny, especially ch. Isaiah 42:1-4, Isaiah 49:1-6, Isaiah 50:4-9, and perhaps Isaiah 52:13-15.

The arm of the Lord is, as in ch. Isaiah 51:9, Isaiah 52:10 &c., a metaphor for Jehovah’s operation in history. It was He who raised up the Servant, and all through his tragic history God was working by him for the redemption of His people and the inbringing of eternal salvation. But this Divine power behind the Servant had not been “disclosed” to any of his contemporaries; they had neither perceived it for themselves nor believed it when declared to them, and so in the blindness and deafness of their unbelief they had misconceived him in the manner exhibited in Isaiah 53:2 ff.

The verse is cited, with reference to the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews, in John 12:38 and (in part) Romans 10:16.

ch. Isaiah 53:1-9. Having thus indicated the subject of his discourse, the prophet now proceeds to describe the career of the Servant, and the impression he had made on his contemporaries. This is prefaced in Isaiah 53:1 by a confession or complaint of the universal unbelief which had led to his being so grievously misunderstood.

The speakers in this section are certainly not the heathen mentioned in Isaiah 52:15, but either all Israel or one Israelite in the name of all. The “nations” and “kings” are surprised by the Servant’s exaltation because they had not previously heard of it; those who now speak confess a deeper fault, they have heard but did not believe. It is generally assumed that there is a change of speaker in Isaiah 53:7-9, where the use of the 1st pers. plu. is discontinued, and where (Isaiah 53:8) we come across the expression “my people.” This assumption is to be avoided if possible, because Isaiah 53:7 ff. continue the narrative of the Servant’s sufferings, and it is unnatural to think that the story begun by one speaker should be completed by another unless there were some clear indication that this is the case. There appears to be no difficulty in the supposition that the prophet himself speaks throughout; although in Isaiah 53:2-6 he associates himself with his generation, the contemporaries of the Servant. There must be some reason for his thus merging his individual consciousness in that of the community; and the obvious reason is that in depicting the Servant as he appeared to men, he writes as a spectator along with others, and realises his solidarity with his nation. In Isaiah 53:7-9 the description simply becomes less subjective; the emphasis lies less on what men thought of the Servant, and more on what he was and endured; and when the prophet again has occasion to refer to Israel it is natural that he should do so as “my people.”—Another thing to be noted is that the language is consistently retrospective. Historic tenses are employed throughout, the speaker looks back on the completed tragedy of the Servant’s career, and on the people’s former thoughts of him as things that belong to the past. On the other hand, the exaltation of the Servant is always spoken of (both in Isaiah 52:13-15, and in Isaiah 53:10-12) as something still future. The standpoint assumed here seems therefore to be intermediate between the death of the Servant and his exaltation; and the great moral change which is described as taking place in the mind of the people is not the result of the revelation of his glory, but is brought about by reflection on his unparalleled sufferings, and his patient demeanour under them, preparing the people to believe the prophecies which had hitherto seemed incredible.Verse 1. - Who hath believed? Isaiah felt that he spoke, mainly, to unbelieving ears (see above, Isaiah 28:9-15; Isaiah 29:10-15; Isaiah 30:9-11; Isaiah 42:23, etc.). The unbelief was likely to be intensified when so marvellous a prophecy was delivered as that which he was now commissioned to put forth. Still, of course, there is rhetorical exaggeration in the question, which seems to imply that no one would believe. Our report; literally, that which has been heard by us. But the word is used technically for a prophetic revelation (see Isaiah 28:9, 19; Jeremiah 49:14). Here it would seem to refer especially to the Messianic prophecies delivered by Isaiah. To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? The "arm of the Lord," which has been "made bare in the eyes of all the nations" (Isaiah 52:10), yet requires the eye of faith to see it. Many Jews would not see the working of God's providence in the victories of Cyrus, or in the decision to which he came to restore the Jews to their own country. Unbelief can always assign the most plainly providential arrangements to happy accident. Jehovah has wrought out salvation through judgment in the sight of all the world. "Jehovah hath made bare His holy arm before the eyes of all nations, and all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God." As a warrior is accustomed to make bare his right arm up to the shoulder, that he may fight without encumbrance (exsertare humeros nudamque lacessere pugnan, as Statius says in Theb. i. 413), so has Jehovah made bare His holy arm, that arm in which holiness dwells, which shines with holiness, and which acts in holiness, that arm which has been hitherto concealed and therefore has appeared to be powerless, and that in the sight of the whole world of nations; so that all the ends of the earth come to see the reality of the work, which this arm has already accomplished by showing itself in its unveiled glory - in other words, "the salvation of our God."
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