Isaiah 53
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
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.

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
2. The verse seems to take us back to the origin of the Servant’s career, in order to account for the powerful prejudices with which his contemporaries regarded him. From the first he had been mean and unprepossessing in appearance, like a stunted shrub struggling for existence in an arid soil. To this corresponded the first impressions of the people, which were mainly of a negative kind; they found in him nothing that was attractive or desirable. Beyond this the verse does not go.

For he shall grow up] Lit. And he grew up. It is not easy to make out such a connexion between this sentence and the last as would naturally be expressed by “and.” If what is here stated were the explanation of the unbelief confessed in Isaiah 53:1, the proper conjunction would be “for,” and so the word is by many rendered. Others take it as the “and” of consequence (= and so), but the clause is not a statement of what the people thought of the Servant in consequence of their unbelief, but of what he actually was. The phrase “before him” seems decisive on that point, unless with Ewald and others we change the reading to “before us.” With that alteration the whole verse speaks of the impressions men formed of the Servant, and these impressions might readily be regarded as the result of their want of spiritual insight. But if the received text be retained (and there is no sufficient reason for departing from it) the description begins with a statement of fact and then proceeds to the effect on the mind of the people. It is probable that no logical connexion with the preceding is intended. The conjunction may mark the commencement of the narrative, in accordance with a tendency to begin a speech with “and” (Joshua 22:28; Jeremiah 9:11; cf. ch. Isaiah 2:2).

as a tender plant] a sapling. Cf. Ezekiel 17:22; Job 14:7.

a root (cf. ch. Isaiah 11:10) out of a dry ground] The “dry ground” might, on some theories of what is meant by the Servant, symbolise the Exile with its political hardships and lack of religious advantages, but it is doubtful if the figure should be pressed so far. The Servant is compared to a plant springing up in such a soil, but whether the prophet thought of his lowly growth as due in any degree to unfavourable circumstances is uncertain.

In what follows hath should be had, and comeliness, majesty. The words for form and beauty are the same as those rendered “form” and “aspect” in Isaiah 52:14. Both are here used in the sense of “pleasing form” &c.; comp. “a man of form “in 1 Samuel 16:18, and the Latin formosus from forma, or “shapely” from “shape.”

and when we shall see him] Rather, when we saw him. The clause, however, might (disregarding the accents) be read with what precedes: “… and no majesty, that we should look upon him—and no aspect that we should desire him” (see R.V. marg.). This at least yields a more perfect parallelism in the last two lines.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
3. Not only did the Servant fail to attract his contemporaries (Isaiah 53:2); there was that in his appearance which excited positive aversion. He is represented as one stricken with loathsome and disfiguring disease, probably leprosy (see on Isaiah 53:4), so that men instinctively recoiled from him in horror and disgust.

He is despised and rejected of men] Better, Despised and man-forsaken, i.e. one with whom men refuse to associate, or, perhaps, one who renounces the hope of human fellowship. The corresponding verb is used by Job when he complains of the estrangement of his friends: “my kinsfolk have failed” (ch. Isaiah 19:14).

For sorrows … grief, read pains … sickness. Although both words may be used tropically of mental suffering, it is plain that in the figure of this verse and the following they are to be taken in their literal sense.

and we hid &c.] More literally, and as one from whom there is a hiding of the face; his appearance was such as to cause men involuntarily to cover their face from the sight of him. The expression is similar to another phrase of Job’s: “I am a spitting in the face” (Isaiah 17:6). For the idea cf. Job 19:19; Job 30:10. Leprosy is again suggested. The rendering of LXX. and Vulg. “and as one who hid his face from us” is grammatically defensible, but conveys a wrong idea; the Servant “hid not his face from shame and spitting” (ch. Isaiah 50:6).

esteemed him not] (lit “reckoned him not”), held him of no account.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
4. Surely he hath borne &c.] Render:

Surely it was our sicknesses that he bore

and our pains that he carried.

The emphasis of contrast lies on the words our and he in both lines. To “bear” sickness is not to take it away (although that will be the effect of vicarious bearing of it) but simply to endure it (as Jeremiah 10:19). In Matthew 8:17 the words are applied to our Lord’s miracles of healing, but the prophet’s meaning plainly is that the Servant endured in his own person the penal consequences of the people’s guilt.

yet we did esteem &c.] Rather, while we accounted him stricken &c. The subject “we” is strongly emphasised, and the clause is circumstantial, introducing the people’s false estimate of the Servant as a concomitant of the main statement of the verse. “Stricken” is the expression used when God visits a man with severe and sudden sickness (Genesis 12:17; 1 Samuel 6:9), especially leprosy, which was regarded as preeminently the “stroke” of God’s hand (Job 19:21; 2 Kings 15:5; Leviticus 13:3; Leviticus 13:9; Leviticus 13:20) and the direct consequence of sin. That the Servant is pictured as a leper is suggested by several particulars in the description, such as his marred and disfigured form, and his isolation from human society, as well as the universal conviction of his contemporaries that he was a special object of the divine wrath; and the impression is confirmed by the parallel case of Job, the typical righteous sufferer, whose disease was elephantiasis, the most hideous form of leprosy. It has to be-borne in mind, of course, that the figure of the Servant is in some sense an ideal creation of the prophet’s mind, so that the leprosy is only a strong image for such sufferings as are the evidence of God’s wrath against sin.

4–6. While Isaiah 53:2-3 describe the natural instinctive impressions produced by the Servant’s appearance, Isaiah 53:4-6 reveal incidentally the moral judgement which the people were led to form regarding him. His unparalleled sufferings had seemed to them to mark him out as a special object of Jehovah’s anger (Isaiah 53:4), just as Job’s calamities were believed by his friends to be the evidence of great, though secret, sins. But it is the reversal of this judgement, and the perception thereby gained of the true nature of the Servant’s mission, that is the chief theme of this section. The people now see that although he suffered greatly he was himself innocent, and from this they have advanced to the conclusion that he suffered vicariously, bearing the penalty due to the sin of his nation. This change of attitude towards the Servant marks the beginning of repentance in the people; the consciousness of their own guilt takes possession of their minds when they read God’s judgement upon it in the chastisement borne by their substitute.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
5. In Isaiah 53:4 the people confess that the Servant was their substitute in his endurance of pains and sicknesses; here they penetrate more deeply into the meaning of his sufferings, perceiving the connexion between his passion and their own sin. The connexion is twofold; in the first place the Servant’s suffering was the penalty due to the people’s transgressions, and in the second place it was the remedy by which they were restored to spiritual health.

But he was pierced because of our rebellions,

Crushed because of our iniquities.

The strong verbs “pierced” (see ch. Isaiah 51:9) and “crushed” (Job 6:9) are probably metaphors expressing the fatal ravages of leprosy.

the chastisement of our peace] i.e. the chastisement needful to procure peace or well-being for us. “Chastisement” is pain inflicted for moral ends and with remedial intent (Proverbs 3:11 f. &c.). Cheyne’s assertion that the notion of punishment is the primary one in this word is not borne out by O.T. usage.

with his stripes] lit. weals (see ch. Isaiah 1:6).

That the people themselves had suffered for their sins is not excluded, but is apparently implied in the last words (“we are healed”), and is expressly said in other parts of the book (ch. Isaiah 40:2, Isaiah 42:24 f. &c.). What the verse teaches is that the people could not be healed by their own suffering; it was only through the Servant’s voluntary submission to the divine chastisement (Isaiah 53:7), and his bearing it in an extraordinary degree, that an atonement was effected between Jehovah and Israel (see on ch. Isaiah 40:2).

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
6. Looking back on their former irreligious condition the people see that their rejection of the Servant was the natural outcome of the heedless and inconsiderate selfishness in which they were living. For the figure of the strayed sheep, cf. Psalm 119:176; Matthew 9:36; Matthew 10:6; Luke 15:4.

For have gone … have turned, read had gone … had turned.

every one to his own way] selfishly following his individual impulses and interests; cf. Isaiah 56:11.

hath laid on him the iniquity] made to light on him the guilt.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
7. He was oppressed and he was afflicted] The first verb (“oppressed”) may summarize the preceding account of the Servant’s afflictions (Dillmann), but more probably it introduces a feature not previously adverted to, namely, the outrages inflicted on the Servant by his contemporaries, in consequence of their false judgement of him. It denotes harsh, cruel and arbitrary treatment, such as that of a slave-driver towards those who are under him (Exodus 3:7; Job 3:18), and is nowhere employed of God’s action towards men. The second verb is shewn by the form of sentence to be a contrast to the first, and must therefore be rendered as in R.V.: yet he humbled himself (cf. Exodus 10:3, “How long dost thou refuse to humble thyself …?). And as this is the main idea of the verse, the meaning may best be brought out if we translate the first two lines thus:

Though oppressed, he was submissive

and opened not his mouth.

Cf. Psalm 38:13-14; Psalm 39:9.

he is brought … dumb] Two relative sentences, to be rendered with R.V.

as a lamb (lit. “sheep”) that is led to the slaughter,

and a sheep (lit. “ewe”) that before her shearers is dumb.

Comp. Jeremiah 11:19 : “I was like a gentle lamb that is led to the slaughter.”

so (R.V. “yea”) he openeth not his mouth] in the Hebr. an exact repetition of the second line. Since the tetrastich is complete without it, the clause may possibly have been inserted through an error in transcription.

7–9. The narrative of the Servant’s sufferings is in these verses brought to its conclusion: after enduring violence and injustice at the hands of men, his life was cut short and he was laid in a dishonoured grave. The passage presents many difficulties, and the details of the picture are somewhat uncertain. Thus it is doubtful whether the Servant be represented as put to death by men, or as carried off by the disease with which Jehovah had smitten him. With perhaps less reason it has been questioned whether there is any reference to human cruelty in the verses at all, whether the strong expressions “oppressed,” “oppression,” “judgement” are not to be understood figuratively of the hard fate which relentlessly pursued the sufferer to his death (so Duhm). These matters, however, are of subordinate interest; the prominent feature of the description is the meek and submissive demeanour of the Servant under his undeserved sufferings.

He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
8. He was taken from prison and from judgment] Every word here is ambiguous. The principal interpretations are as follows: (1) “Without hindrance and without right he was taken away,” i.e. he was put to death without opposition from any quarter, and in defiance of justice. The only exception that can fairly be taken to this view is the translation “hindrance,” a sense of the noun for which there are no parallels. Yet the verb from which the noun is derived occurs in the sense of “detain” (1 Kings 18:44, &c.), and as the noun is very uncommon, the rendering cannot be pronounced impossible. (2) “Through oppression and through judgement he was taken away” (so virtually R.V.). “Judgement” here means “judicial procedure,” and the rendering “oppression” is guaranteed by Psalm 107:39. “Oppression and judgement” may mean (as explained by Cheyne) an oppressive judgement (“through distressful doom,” see his Introduction, p. 428), the idea being that the Servant’s death, like that of our Lord, was a judicial murder. For “taken away” in the sense of “put to death” see on ch. Isaiah 52:5, and cf. Ezekiel 33:4 (where, however, a different part of the verb is used). (3) “From oppression and from judgement he was taken away,” i.e. released by death, or taken by God to Himself (2 Kings 2:10). Here the sense of “oppression and judgement” is indeterminate; the meaning might either be simply that by death he was finally released from his troubles, or that God took him away from the malice of his persecutors. The rendering “imprisonment” instead of “oppression” could be justified from the usage of the verb (2 Kings 17:4 &c.), although not of the noun itself; only in this case we must not read, “From imprisonment … he was led away (to execution),” for that is an idea which could hardly have suggested itself apart from the fulfilment of the prophecy in the crucifixion of Christ. Of the three interpretations the last seems the most natural, although everything turns on the question whether the death of the Servant is conceived as caused directly by men or by God through sickness. (see below on the last clause of this verse.)

And who shall declare his generation?] A still more difficult clause. The Hebr. word for “generation” (dôr) may mean (a) the time in which he lived, (b) the circle of his contemporaries, (c) those like-minded with him (Psalm 12:7; Psalm 14:5; Proverbs 30:11 ff.); but is never used with any such significance as “length of life,” or “life-history,” or “posterity.” In neither of its three senses does it supply a suitable object to the verb declare or rather consider (Psalm 143:5 “meditate”). We may, however, take it in the sense (b), and render with R.V. and as for his generation who (among them) considered &c. (On this construction see Davidson, Synt. § 72, Rem. 4). Yet the construction as direct obj. of the verb is so much the more natural that any suggestion would be acceptable which might enable us to retain it. Duhm (following Knobel) takes the word in its Aramaic sense of “dwelling-place” (see on ch. Isaiah 38:12) and translates “who enquires after his dwelling-place” (with God)? It would be better, perhaps, to understand “dwelling-place” exactly as in Isaiah 38:12, of the earthly dwelling-place, the place that once knew him but knows him no more: “Who enquires after it, or thinks about it?” he has vanished from the thoughts of men.

for he was cut off (Psalm 88:5; Ezekiel 37:11) out of the land of the living] Comp. again Jeremiah 11:19. The R.V. makes this clause an object sentence governed by the verb “considered” (reading that instead of for). This is perhaps necessary if the R.V. rendering of the previous line be adopted.

for the rebellion of my people was he stricken (lit. “(was) a stroke upon him”)] The last word in the Hebr. (לָמוֹ) would be translated most naturally “upon them” (but see Davidson, Gram. § 19 R. c.); hence some render “because of the rebellion of my people, the stroke (due) to them.” A far more satisfactory sense is obtained by the help of the LXX. Read למות and change the preceding noun into a passive verb (nugga‘ for nega‘) and render was he stricken unto death. The expression “stricken” is from the same verb which in Isaiah 53:4 suggested leprosy as the cause of the Servant’s disfigurement; and its use here in connexion with his death is in favour of the view that he died of his sickness and not by the hands of his persecutors. If this conclusion be sound it confirms the view expressed above as to the sense of the first clause of this verse.

And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
9. The unrelenting antipathy which the Servant experienced through life is continued even after his death, and expresses itself in the manner of his burial.

And they (R.V.) made his grave with the wicked] The subject is indefinite, the construction being equivalent to a passive: “And his grave was made” &c. “With the wicked” need not imply that a special burial-ground was set apart for them as a class, but only that such persons were buried ignominiously and away from the family sepulchre, like Absalom (2 Samuel 18:17). From Jeremiah 26:23 (cf. 2 Kings 23:6) it appears that it was a disgrace to be buried among the “common people.” In this case the “wicked” probably means the notoriously wicked, criminals, apostates, and such like. With these the Servant was numbered because his calamities had seemed to mark him out as a heinous sinner in the sight of God.

and with the rich in his death] This clause must express the same idea as the preceding. To take the two antithetically: “they meant his grave to be with the wicked, but he was with the rich in his death” (Delitzsch) is utterly unwarrantable. It is, no doubt, somewhat difficult to justify this sense of “rich” as synonymous with “wicked” from O.T. usage, although it might perhaps be suggested by the common identification of poverty with piety. This explanation, however, is not quite satisfactory, and several emendations have been proposed, such as “the oppressor” (עָשׁוֹקִ for עָשִׁיר), “the defrauder” (עָשִׁיק, Aramaic), “evil-doers” (עֹשֵׂי רַע).

in his death] lit. “in his deaths.” The use of the plural is variously explained. Some find in it an intimation of the collective character of the subject spoken of under the name of the Servant; but even if the Servant be a collective idea, it is inconceivable that the writer should have here abandoned the personification which he has so strictly maintained throughout. Nor is it any relief to say that it means “in his state of death.” It is better to read the singular with the LXX. There is, however, another reading found in a few MSS. and adopted by many commentators, according to which the clause would form a perfect parallelism with the first line:

“And with the rich (or oppressor, &c.) his sepulchral mound.” But the word bâmâh (= high-place) is not elsewhere used in this sense.

because he had done no violence &c.] Render with R.V. although (“in spite of the fact that”) &c. as in Job 16:17. With this assertion of his innocence the narrative of the Servant’s career reaches its conclusion. While absolute sinlessness is not explicitly predicated of him, but only freedom from “violence” and “deceit,” yet the image of the lamb led to the slaughter, and his patient resignation to the will of God, strongly suggest that the prophet had in his mind the conception of a perfectly sinless character.

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
10. Yet it pleased … grief] The sentence must be a restatement of the fact that the Servant has suffered by the will of Jehovah, this being repeated in order to introduce the explanation of Jehovah’s purpose in imposing chastisement upon him. The second clause, he hath put him to grief, represents a single Hebrew word, which is vocalised and translated by the LXX. as the noun for “sickness” (Isaiah 53:3). The meaning intended by the punctuators is probably “he hath made him sick” (R.V. marg.), although the form is anomalous and the syntax uncertain. Since it is too short to form an independent line, it must be closely attached to what precedes: hence the rendering of Dillmann and others, “It pleased Jehovah to crush him incurably,” i.e. grievously (cf. Micah 6:13; Nahum 3:19). This is perhaps the best that can be made of the received reading, but it is most probable that the textual derangement which prevails in these verses begins here.

when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin] Rather “if (or when) his soul should present a guilt-offering.” The difficulty here does not lie in the analogy of the guilt-offering, for this probably signifies nothing more than has been already expressed in plain words, that the Servant’s death is the means of removing guilt (Isaiah 53:4-6). It does not appear that the distinctive ritual and function of the guilt-offering (’âshâm, see Leviticus 5:14 ff., &c.) throws any light on this passage. The chief difficulty is the hypothetical character of the sentence, of which no satisfactory explanation has been given. No doubt the atoning effect of the sufferings is the condition of Jehovah’s great purpose being attained, but the condition has been already fulfilled, whereas it is here spoken of as an event which is, if not problematic, at least future.—The subject is ambiguous, but on every ground it is better to suppose that “his soul” is subject than that Jehovah is addressed. Ewald and Cheyne, however, prefer to read (with the change of a consonant) “when he shall make his soul a guilt-offering.”

he shall see a seed (cf. Genesis 50:23) he shall prolong his days] i.e. shall enjoy long life. His “seed” are the true spiritual Israel of the future, those who by his means are converted to the knowledge of Jehovah.

the pleasure (i.e. the purpose, see on Isaiah 44:28) of the Lord] the establishment of the universal religion, the eternal salvation. The verse returns on itself by repetition of the opening idea (as Isaiah 53:3; Isaiah 53:6-7)—“palindromically,” as Delitzsch would say.

10–12. These difficult verses describe, partly in the prophet’s own words and partly in those of Jehovah, the Divine purpose which is realised through the sufferings of the Servant. In Isaiah 53:10-11 it is impossible to trace a clear connexion of ideas; the grammar also is peculiar, and in all probability there is considerable textual disorder. The main thought, however, is that the Servant is to be the instrument in establishing the true religion, by removing the burden of guilt and bringing many to righteousness. As the reward of his sufferings he will enjoy a brilliant future and have a numerous spiritual offspring. He will become a great power in the world, attaining a position like that of a mighty conqueror. The idea of a resurrection from the dead appears to be necessarily implied. If the Servant be a personification of Israel, this is merely a figure for national restoration from exile; but if he be an individual, then his resurrection must be accepted as a literal fact, just as his death must be literally understood.

He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
11. An amplification of the meaning of Isaiah 53:10. He shall see &c.] Lit. Of the travail of his soul he shall see, shall be satisfied. It is doubtful if the preposition “of” can express result, as the E.V. suggests, or can introduce the object of the verb “he shall see.” It may be used in its local sense (“away from,” or “free from”) or causally (“in consequence of”), hardly in a temporal sense (“after”). The asyndetic construction of the two verbs probably indicates that one is to be subordinated to the other: he shall see with satisfaction, sc. the cause of Jehovah prospering in his hand (as Isaiah 53:10). The LXX. deserves attention: “And it pleased the Lord to deliver (a variant reading of the last clause of Isaiah 53:10) (him) from the trouble of his soul: to cause him to see light” &c.

by his knowledge] The gen. is not that of the obj. (“by the knowledge of him”) but of the subj.; the knowledge of God and salvation which he possesses, and which he communicates to others. The reference is to the prophetic activity of the Servant (see Isaiah 42:1 ff., Isaiah 49:2, Isaiah 50:4 f.) which had seemed to be cut short by his death, but will be resumed and crowned with success in his exalted state.

shall my righteous servant justify many] Rather: shall a righteous one, my servant, make the many righteous; but the Hebr. is very peculiar. The ordinary sense of the word for “justify” (“declare righteous”) is here unsuitable, and the only other passage where it bears the ethical sense of “making righteous” is probably based on this verse (Daniel 12:3, “they that turn the many to righteousness”). The many contains a reference to Isaiah 52:14 f. The clause would read more smoothly if we could suppose that the word rendered “a righteous one” has arisen through dittography; but the source of the difficulty probably lies deeper.

he shall bear their iniquities] Cf. Isaiah 53:4.

Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
12. As the reward of his unmerited sufferings and his mediatorial work, the Servant shall attain an influence equal to that of the great potentates of the world. To “divide spoil” is a figurative and proverbial expression for victory or success; Proverbs 16:19 (“It is better to be of lowly spirit with the meek than to divide spoil with the proud”). It is therefore not necessarily implied that the Servant’s future greatness will be political, although that is certainly suggested.

Instead of will I divide, the LXX. reads “he shall inherit” (which is perhaps preferable as avoiding the recurrence of the same verb in two consecutive lines), but it is a mistake of some authorities to follow this version in treating the “many” as direct obj. of the verb; the sense must be either “he shall inherit,” or “I will give him a share” amongst the many.

The latter part of the verse returns to the great contrast that runs through the passage, between the true meaning of the Servant’s afflictions and the false construction put on them.

because he poured out (omit “hath” with R.V.) his soul] his blood, which is the seat of life; Leviticus 17:11. For the expression cf. Psalm 141:8.

was numbered with the rebels] See Isaiah 53:9. Cited Mark 15:28; Luke 22:37.

and he bare &c.] whereas he bare, the true view of his death as opposed to the false judgement of men,—a circumstantial clause.

for the transgressors] for the rebellious, the class to which he was himself reckoned.

Although several things in this marvellous description of the innocent suffering for the guilty be obscure, the salient features of the picture stand out with great clearness. Whether the portrait be that of an individual or of a personified community is a question that need not here be discussed (See Appendix, Note I.). If there be personification it is as consistently maintained as it is vividly conceived, and we are hardly entitled to assume that the writer has anywhere allowed the collective reality to peer through the veil of allegory. The figure brought on the scene is that of a man, so marred and deformed by revolting sickness as to be universally shunned and despised and maltreated as one bearing the manifest tokens of the divine displeasure; yet the dignity and patience of his demeanour profoundly impresses his contemporaries, so that after his death their thoughts are irresistibly drawn back to the tragedy of his fate, and they come to the conviction that he was indeed what he professed to be, the Servant of Jehovah, that he was the one innocent person in his generation, and that his sufferings were due not to his personal guilt, but to the guilt of a whole nation, which is by them atoned for and taken away. And finally it is prophesied concerning him that he shall rise again, to the astonishment of the whole world, and that his career shall be crowned with success even more conspicuous than his humiliation had been.—It has already been pointed out that this conception of the Servant has certain affinities with the figure of Job, and it may be partly moulded on the story of that patriarch’s trial. But the religious teaching of this passage moves on a different plane from that of the Book of Job. The problem of individual retribution, of how it can be that the righteous suffer, does not seem to have been present to the mind of the writer, although he no doubt furnishes an important contribution to the solution of that mystery. This is found in the idea of vicarious suffering, which is so emphatically expressed throughout the passage. Now the principle that the individual bears the guilt of the community to which he belongs was perfectly familiar to the ancient world, and many startling applications of it occur in the O.T. (Joshua 7:24; 2 Samuel 21:6 &c.). It is true that it had begun to excite protest towards the time of the Exile (Deuteronomy 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6; Jeremiah 31:29; Ezekiel 18:20); but this prophet accepts the principle and discerns in it a moral significance by which it is deprived of the appearance of arbitrariness or injustice. The essence of the Servant’s sacrifice lies in the fact that whilst himself innocent he acquiesces in the divine judgement on sin, and willingly endures it for the sake of his people. And it is the perception of this truth on the part of the people that brings home to them the sense of their own guilt, and removes the obstacle which their impenitence had interposed to Jehovah’s purpose of salvation. The suffering of the innocent on behalf of the guilty is thus seen to be a moral necessity, since it was only through such sufferings as the sinless Servant of the Lord was alone capable of, that punishment could reach its end in the taking away of sin and the bringing in of everlasting righteousness.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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Isaiah 52
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