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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 53

 

 

Verse 1

JESUS CHRIST; GOD'S SERVANT

We should not be surprised at this title assigned to the Holy Messiah in the Sacred Scriptures, because there is a magnificent profusion of names and titles bestowed upon the Son of God by the inspired writers of the Bible. A mere glance at these cannot fail to impress any thoughtful student.

NAMES AND TITLES: Isaiah prophetically referred to Jesus as Immanuel (Isaiah 7:13); Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6); God's Servant (Isaiah 52:13). Moses referred to him as The Seed of Woman (Genesis 3:15); The Seed (singular) of Abraham (Genesis 28:14, and Galatians 3:16); Shiloh (Genesis 49:10); The Star out of Jacob, The Scepter out of Israel (Numbers 24:17); That Prophet Like Unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15); The Son of David (2 Samuel 7:12,14); The Lord of David, The Priest Forever After the Order of Melchizedek (Psalms 110,4); The Judge of Israel, The Ruler in Israel Whose Goings Forth are Known of Old, from Everlasting (Micah 5:2-4); The King of Israel (Zechariah 9:9); The Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2); The Son of David, The Son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1); The Dayspring from on High (Luke 1:78); Saviour, Christ, The Lord (Luke 2:11); Jesus (Luke 2:21); Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:37); Jesus Christ the Son of God (Mark 1:1); Son of God Most High (Mark 5:7); God (10 New Testament references use this title for Christ; see John 1:1,18; 20:24, etc), My Beloved Son (Matthew 3:17); Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1,2); Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Timothy 1:12); our Lord Jesus Christ, The Blessed and Only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:14,15); The Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4); The Rose of Sharon, The Lily of the Valley (Song of Solomon 2:1); The Bright and Morning Star, The Root of David (Revelation 22:16); The Firstborn of the Kings of the Earth (Psalms 89:27; Hebrews 12:23); the Day Star (2 Peter 1:19); Our High Priest, Our Surety, Our Advocate, Our Intercessor (Hebrews 7); Christ Our Righteousness (Romans); The Mediator of the New Covenant (1 Timothy 2:5); Head Over All Things, Head of the Church Which is His Body (Ephesians 1:22); The Good Shepherd (John 10:11); The Bread of Life, The Water of Life, The Living Water, The Way, The Truth, The Life, The Light of the World, The True Vine, The Resurrection and the Life (from the Gospel of John), The Apostle and High Priest of our Confession (Hebrews 3:1); The Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4); The Shepherd and Bishop of our Souls (1 Peter 1:25); The Branch (Zechariah 3:8; 6:12); The Author of Eternal Salvation (Hebrews 3:9); The Author and Finisher (Perfecter) of our Faith (Hebrews 12:2); The Son of Man (Daniel 7:15); The Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 1:11, KJV); The Living One (Revelation 1:18, ASV); and The Amen (Revelation 2:14), etc.

Of course, the above list is by no means all of the names and titles the Scriptures associate with the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind; but these are sufficient to indicate the comprehensive extent of them.

This chapter is concerned solely with the prophecies relating to that Ideal Servant, the True Israel of God, the Seed Singular of Abraham, who alone would bring the promise of redemption to fallen and sinful humanity and provide a way for the renewal of their lost fellowship with God. In Him is the life eternal, and "No man cometh unto God" except through Him (John 14:6).

We shall not engage in any defense of the interpretation of this chapter, which by unanimous consent of all scholars, Jewish and Gentile alike, was understood as descriptive of the sufferings of Christ for the first 1,150 years of the Christian era, at which time, Jewish writers began efforts to ascribe it to some other; and since then a very few so-called "Christian" writers have accepted some of the Jewish postulations.[1] However, this defection of nominally Christian commentators to the Jewish interpretation is absolutely unworthy of any study whatever. The true interpretation is so obvious, so unanswerable, so absolutely certain, that it is a waste of time to explore allegations of Satan and his followers to the contrary.

The whole song of the servant includes the last three verses of Isaiah 52 and twelve verses of this chapter (Isaiah 53).

"It is unusually symmetrical. There are five paragraphs of three verses each. It begins and ends with the Servant's exaltation (first and fifth stanzas); and set within this is the story of Christ's rejection in sections two and four, which in turn frame the centerpiece (stanza 3, Isaiah 53:4-6), where the atoning significance is expounded. God and man, reconciled, share the telling. Note the `my' and `our' of the outer sections (one and five) and the `we' and `our' of Isaiah 53:1-6."[2]

"The word `our' in Isaiah 53:1 raises the question of who the proclaimers are. Hailey gave the same answer to this that Kidner gave in the quotation above: "The message is to be identified as the messianic message of God through Isaiah."[3]

Isaiah 53:1-3

THE SECOND STANZA

"Who hath believed our message? and to whom hath the arm of Jehovah been revealed? For he grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we esteemed him not."

As Cheyne pointed out, there is a peculiarity in these three verses that one word in each of the three verses is quoted in the second half of each verse. "Thus: in (1), the word is `who,' `whom'; in (2) the word is `he'; and in (3) the word is `despised.'"[4]

In this paragraph, the surpassing glory of the Lord Jesus Christ is hidden behind obscurity, poverty, humiliation, misery, and shame; and this is the great example that "God's thoughts and God's ways are as much higher than those of men as the heavens are higher than the earth," as Isaiah would more fully elaborate in Isaiah 55:8.

In Isaiah 53:1, the language suggests that "no one" believed the report, or hearkened to the Word of God; but the apostle Paul's word shows that the statements here are hyperbole; for he said, "Not all hearkened to the good tidings" (Romans 10:16). Those who hearkened were the apostles of the New Testament Church and those who followed their leadership. Nevertheless, the very small percentage of the Old Israel who believed and obeyed the Son of God fully justified the hyperbole. A similar use of this figure of speech is seen in Luke 7:29-30, as compared with Matthew 3:5.

"As a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground ..." (Isaiah 53:2), Here are given the conditions of Jesus' earthly environment which seem to be revealed as the reason why he had no comeliness or beauty that would cause him to be desired by men.

We cannot believe that the physical unattractiveness or ugliness of the Son of God are meant by the lack of beauty or comeliness on his part. The tremendous attractiveness of Jesus for the great women of that era who knew him absolutely denies any denial of the power and magnetism of his personality (Luke 7:37,38; 8:1-4, etc.) Likewise the appeal that Jesus had for the rugged fishermen of Galilee, and the authority of his strong right arm with the whips when he drove the money changers out of the temple; none of these facts will harmonize with an unattractive countenance or any form of personal "ugliness." No! What is meant is that none of the trappings of wealth, office, social status, or any other such things which are so honored among men, belonged to Jesus.

"As a root out of dry ground ..." (Isaiah 53:2). What is the "dry ground" here? "This refers to a corrupt age and nation, and the arid soil of mankind."[5] Both the nation of Israel and all of the nations of the pre-Christian Gentile world were at this time judicially hardened by God Himself; and nothing could have seemed more impossible to the citizens of that dissolute age than the fact that God's Holy Messiah would be born to humble parents in some obscure village, and that the salvation of all the world would be available through that Child alone!

The lack of beauty and comeliness spoken of here has been the occasion of all kinds of derogatory statements about Christ. For example, Wardle stated that the passage means: "He was despised, pain-stricken and diseased, so that men turned away from him in revulsion."[6] No word in all the Bible justifies such a statement as this. The emphasis upon the lack of beauty and comeliness refers not at all to the physical appearance of Jesus except during those terrible scenes of Holy Week, during which he was denied sleep, beaten unmercifully by a Roman chastisement, mocked some six times in all, crowned with a crown of thorns, tortured to death on the Cross, compelled to carry the cross till he fainted, being struck in the face with a reed, reviled and spit upon! This was the time when his visage was marred, and the last vestiges of his physical beauty perished under the venomous, inhuman treatment of Satan and his sons who put him to death.

"Despised and rejected of men ..." (Isaiah 53:3). Archer rendered this as, "Lacking men of distinction as his supporters."[7] This harmonizes with the fact that a tax collector and common fishermen were among his apostles, whereas distinguished persons like the rich young ruler turned away from him. "Men still persist in avoiding facing the `real Jesus,' preferring what they call `the historical Jesus' who would not trouble them with the Cross."[8]

Verse 4
THE THIRD STANZA

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all."

This is the heart of the Song of the Servant; here we learn why Jesus suffered, that it was not for himself but for us that he suffered. Note the emphatic recurrence of the word "our," as in our griefs, our sorrows, our transgressions, our peace, and our healing. "The atoning significance of the suffering is expounded here."[9]

Right here is the vital heart of Christianity: The case of Adam's race was hopeless. All had sinned and fallen short of God's glory. The penalty of sin is death, and the justice of God required that the penalty be paid; otherwise all of the human race would have been lost forever. But there was no one who could pay it. What was the solution? God Himself stepped into the human race; and, in the person of his Son, paid the penalty himself upon the Cross! Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift! No wonder that Satan executed every cruelty possible upon Jesus; because without the sacrifice of Jesus in paying the penalty of human transgressions, Satan would have achieved his purpose of the total destruction of Adam's race.

The words "borne our griefs" in Isaiah 53:4 in the Hebrew are literally "borne our sicknesses";[10] but this is not a reference to Jesus' suffering from all our sicknesses, but to his healing all diseases. It was to make this point clear that the translators rendered the word "griefs." Thus, "The rendition griefs is justifiable."[11]

"We did deem him stricken of God, and afflicted ..." (Isaiah 53:4). There is an inadvertent condemnation of the whole human race in this. No tendency among men is any more prevalent than that of attributing all the sorrows on earth to the fault and sins of the suffering people. This unhappy trait of men is often noted in scripture. The parents of the man born blind, asked, "Who sinned this man, or his parents, that he should have been born blind?" (John 9); and the citizens of Malta attributed Paul's snakebite to the supposed criminality of the apostle (Acts 28:4). This indicates that the terrible and unlawful punishments, even death, that befell Jesus were considered by the people as being the natural result of the sins of Jesus. How wrong and misguided were the people!

"Chastisement ..." (Isaiah 53:5). Little did Pilate know, when he ordered the chastisement of Jesus that his command caused the fulfillment of this specific prophecy of the Christ. That the chastisement was indeed for "our sins" and for "our peace" is certain; because the Roman Procurator declared upon the occasion of his command that it was not indeed for anything that Jesus was guilty of; and he declared him innocent on that very occasion!

"Stripes ..." (Isaiah 53:5) is another reference to the chastisement; and modern treatment of criminals has no indication whatever of the terrible and sadistic brutality that accompanied such "scourgings." Excavations of the old judgment seat of Pilate have discovered the very truncated pillar upon which our Lord might have been chained, while two Roman soldiers, standing one on each side, with the brutal whips made lethal and bloody by small pieces of bone or glass chips attached to the cords of the whips, applied the awful punishment, first to the back, and then after turning the victim over, to the chest and face, each soldier smiting the victim with all his strength, and taking time about with their blows, tortured the victim within an inch of his life. No wonder the Lord fainted under the weight of the cross. After that chastisement, Jesus presented such a pitiable spectacle, that Pilate actually thought the Jews would declare that he needed no more punishment; and so he brought Jesus out and presented him to the mob, saying, "Behold the Man"! How pitifully wrong was Pilate's underestimation of the sadistic hatred of that Jewish mob screaming for his crucifixion!

"Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all ..." (Isaiah 53:6). No greater declaration from Jehovah was ever given than this affirmation that Jesus Christ suffered for the sins of all men. The perfect, sinless life of Jesus was a sacrifice sufficiently adequate to atone for the sins of all mankind.

Note here that the prophecy states that Jehovah laid the sins of all men upon Jesus. This corresponds with Paul's statement that "God set forth his son to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood" (Romans 3:25). Thus the initiative lay with God in the sufferings of Jesus upon the Cross. (1) God so loved the world that HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON. God was not the only one, however, who had a part in Jesus' sacrifice upon the Cross. (2) Satan did indeed bruise the heel of the Seed of Woman. (3) Christ himself engineered his death upon Calvary (Luke 9:31). (4) The Jews crucified him. (5) the Romans crucified him. (6) The human race crucified him. (7) Every man crucified him. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? See the extensive discussion of these seven under the question, "Who Crucified Christ?" in Vol. 6 (Romans) of my New Testament Series of Commentaries, pp. 117-122.

Verse 7
THE FOURTH STANZA

"He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who among them 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. And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth."

This stanza is a return to the theme of suffering on the part of the Servant, stressing in the first verse (Isaiah 53:7) his silence in the face of accusers, mockers, and the "judges" of the tribunals before which he was arraigned.

"The Septuagint (LXX) renders part of this passage, as follows: He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away; who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death."[12]

It is evident at once that the declarations of our version (American Standard Version) and the Septuagint (LXX) vary considerably. Isaiah 53:8, for example, in the Septuagint (LXX) states that it was Jesus' judgment of innocence pronounced by Pilate which was "taken away" through mob violence and the humiliation of Jesus; but in the American Standard Version it is Jesus who is taken away. We believe that both renditions are correct, because both are true. When Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:29ff), the portion of Isaiah which the eunuch was reading and which formed the basis of Philip's preaching Jesus unto him evidently came from the LXX.

"As a lamb that is led to the slaughter ..." (Isaiah 53:7). This is an agricultural simile based on the truth that a goat slaughtered in the traditional manner responds with blood-curdling cries that can be heard a mile away; but a sheep submits to the butcher's knife silently. The same phenomenon occurs when the animals are sheared. Jesus submitted to the outrages perpetrated against himself, offering no more resistance than a lamb, either sheared or slaughtered.

"In his humiliation ... his judgment was taken away ..." (Isaiah 53:7, as in LXX), The verdict of Pilate was one of innocence; but, swayed by the yells of the bloodthirsty mob, Pilate took away his judgment and ordered his crucifixion.

"His generation who shall declare?" (Isaiah 53:7, LXX). There are two understandings of this, both of which may be right, for both are true. (1) "Who shall declare the number of those who share his life, and are, as it were, sprung from him? Who can count his faithful followers?"[13]

(2) Bruce, however, rendered the passage, "Who can describe his generation?"[14] Who indeed could describe that wicked generation which despised and murdered the Son of God? What a crescendo of shame was reached by that evil company who resisted every word of the Saviour of mankind, mocked him, hated him, denied the signs he performed before their very eyes, suborned witnesses to swear lies at his trials, rejected and shouted out of court the verdict of innocence announced by the governor of the nation, and through political blackmail, mob violence, and personal intimidation of the Procurator, demanded and achieved his crucifixion? Who could describe the moral idiocy of a generation that taunted the helpless victim even upon the cross, that gloated over his death, and that, when he rose from the dead, bribed the sixteen witnesses of it with gold to deny that it had indeed occurred? Who indeed can describe that generation?

Bruce further stated that between the times of Isaiah's promised "Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14) and Daniel's "Son of Man" (Daniel 7:15), and the personal ministry of Christ, "No one identified the Suffering Servant of Isaiah with the Davidic Messiah, except Jesus."[15]

Christ did indeed identify himself as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. "A Servant ... who would give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). "How is it written of the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be set at naught"? (Mark 9:12). "How indeed, unless the Son of Man be also the Servant of the Lord"?[16] Thus Jesus Christ himself affirmed that the Son of Man and the Suffering Servant are one and the same!

In our opinion, Isaiah 53:8, as in the American Standard Version is much weaker than the Septuagint (LXX); and that may have accounted for the fact of the New Testament quotation's following the LXX. In our version, Isaiah 53:8 becomes a rather long sentence, stressing the fact that Christ died instead of the Old Israel, to whom the stroke was due. Of course, this is true enough; but if this indeed is the correct rendition, why was not the vicarious nature of Jesus' death stated in the previous stanza? It is the "sufferings" which are discussed here? We may read it either way; and it is true either way!

"And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death ..." (Isaiah 53:9). This is the most amazing prophecy in Isaiah. The significant fact is that the word "wicked" here is plural, and the words "rich man" are singular.[17]

"Those who condemned Christ to be crucified with two malefactors on the common execution ground, `the place of a skull' meant his grave to be with the wicked (of course, that is the reason why so many soldiers were assigned to the task of crucifixion; they would dig the graves. - J.B.C.), with whom it would naturally have been, but for the interference of Joseph of Arimathea. The Romans buried crucified persons with their crosses near the scene of their crucifixion."[18]

This does not prophesy that Christ would be buried in two graves, but that "they" would make two graves. There is no way that this prophecy could have been fulfilled by one grave; two are absolutely required!

There is a great deal more than appears in the lines here. Jonah also, the great Old Testament type of Jesus, being the only one of the Old Testament specifically cited and identified as a type of Himself by the Lord, had two graves. There is hardly room in a work of this kind for a full account of that; but the reader is referred to Vol. 1 (Joel, Amos, Jonah) in our series of commentaries on the minor prophets, pp. 345-347.

Verse 10
THE FIFTH STANZA

"Yet it pleased Jehovah 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 Jehovah shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by the knowledge of himself shall my righteous servant justify many; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors: yet he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."

"He shall prolong his days ..." (Isaiah 53:10). For one who was indeed put to death, this is undeniably a prophecy of his resurrection from the dead. By no other means, whatever, could it be said that of one who had poured out his soul unto death that he would "prolong his days." As Christ himself stated it: "I am the first and the last and the Living one; and I was dead, and, behold, I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of death and of Hades" (Revelation 1:18).

This stanza points to the glorification which God appointed for the Suffering Servant after the sufferings ended, constituting the problem that remained insoluble for the pre-Christian prophets. See 1 Peter 1;10-12. Added to the exaltation prophesied in the first stanza, the eternity of The Lord Jesus Christ is clearly visible.

This last stanza makes the worldwide success of Christ the marvel of all ages. He shall see his seed, number his followers in the countless millions; he shall prolong his days, be raised from the dead; the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand, 1e., righteousness shall prosper in the world; he shall justify many, 1e., countless millions shall be saved from their sins through him; I will divide him a portion with the great, Jesus Christ shall attain worldwide and perpetual "greatness." In connection with this it should be remembered that all history falls into A.D. and B.C, and that more great and beautiful buildings have been constructed and dedicated to his glory in a single century than were ever erected and dedicated to all the kings and potentates who ever lived in the previous millenniums of human history, etc.

"He was numbered with the transgressors and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12). This prophecy was fulfilled by the Saviour himself when he prayed for those who nailed him to the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

Once, as this writer traveled southward on the Missouri-Pacific from St. Louis to Little Rock, a Unitarian noticed my reading the New Testament; and he said: "You Christians have your arithmetic all wrong. How could the atoning sacrifice of one man wipe out the sins of billions of men'"?.

The reply was: "Indeed, you are right. The sacrifice of one man would not even wipe out that one man's sins, much less the sins of all men. Your mistake, Sir, is in your failure to see that Jesus Christ was in no sense whatever only one man. He was and is The Son of God, God manifested in the flesh; and that Holy Being's atoning sacrifice was more than sufficient to wipe out the sins of all the myriads of men who ever lived." This answer left the questioner without reply.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 53:12". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=isa&chapter=53&verse=12". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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