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.
This is part of a soliloquy of Messiah, and in it he dwells upon the sufferings which would attend his effort to carry out obediently his Divine mission; and upon his confidence that God would uphold his Servant through all the suffering and shame. This passage should be compared with Psalm 22 and ch. 53. The point more especially presented in this verse is the insult offered to Christ in the closing scenes of his life. This insult seems the strangest part of our Lord's life-experience; but, if he had not known it, he could not have been "in all points tempted like us." The scenes here prophesied are narrated in Matthew 26:67, 68; Matthew 27:26-30; Mark 14:65; Mark 15:15-20; Luke 22:63-65; Luke 23:11; John 18:22, 23; John 19:1-3. Three forms of indignity are mentioned - smiting, or scourging; plucking of hair; and spitting. Each must be estimated in the light of historical descriptions and Eastern sentiments.
I. SCOURGING. The severity and barbarity of a Roman scourging has been brought out by Dr. C. Geikie, who says," Jesus was now seized by some of the soldiers standing near, and, after being stripped to the waist, was bound in a stooping posture, his hands behind his back to a post, or low pillar, near the tribunal. He was then beaten till the soldiers chose to stop, with knots of rope or plaited leather thongs, armed at the ends with acorn-shaped drops of lead, or small sharp-pointed bones. In many cases, not only was the back of the person scourged cut open in all directions; even the eyes, the face, and the breast were tern and cut, and the teeth not seldom knocked out. The judge stood by, to stimulate the sinewy executioners by cries of 'Give it him!' but we may trust that Pilate, though his office required his presence, spared himself this crime. Under the fury of the countless stripes, the victims sometimes sank, amidst screams, convulsive leaps, and distortions, into a senseless heap; sometimes died on the spot; sometimes were taken away, an unrecognizable mass of bleeding flesh, to find deliverance in death, from the inflammation and fever, sickness and shame." Few New Testament readers duly appreciate the sufferings which Messiah endured in the judgment-hall. The cross so fills their vision that they fail to see how much he endured before the cross and its final strain and agony were reached.
II. PLUCKING THE HAIR. Easterns have great respect for the beard, and plucking it was as extremely insulting as it was extremely painful. Eastern sentiment on this matter may be illustrated by the treatment of David's ambassadors, one-half of whose beards were shaven off (2 Samuel 10:5). See also David's action when he would feign madness (1 Samuel 21:13; comp. 2 Samuel 19:24; Ezra 9:3).
III. SPITTING. This was the Eastern expression of contemptuous abhorrence; and so Job poetically expresses his sense of the treatment he had received, by saying, "They abhor me, they flee far from me, and spare not to spit in my face" (Job 30:10). Hanway, in his book of travels, says, "This instance of contempt and reproach offered to Christ was at the same time an expression of malice and a compliance with custom. The practice has descended to later generations; for in the year 1744, when a rebel prisoner was laid before Nadir Shah's general, the soldiers were ordered to spit in his face - an indignity of great antiquity in the East." And Gadsby tells us that "spitting in the face is still practised as a mark of contempt. An officer in Cairo had two Circassian concubines who died suddenly. He charged his wife with being the cause of their death, when she spat in his face. He drew his sabre and killed her. Mehemet All once spat in the face of one of his officers, because he used his wife badly." The practical application of the fact that Messiah bore such insults in doing his work may be made on the following lines.
1. God's message, sent by us, may be an offence to men.
2. If it is, they will be very likely to persuade themselves that we are the offence.
3. And when they take up that notion, they will be sure to vent on us the feeling which they have against the message. But this is apostolic consolation: "If ye be reproached for the Name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you." - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.