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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 53

Verses 1-12

Isaiah 53:1 . Who hath believed our report; and to whom is (the Messiah) the mighty arm of the Lord revealed? This complaint of the servants is but the plaintive echo of their Master’s voice. He had said in the Spirit, “I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for nought; yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work is with my God.” But he spake not in despair; his righteousness sustained him. “Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.” He was answered with the Father’s voice, “It is a light thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will give thee for a light to the gentiles, that thou mayest be for salvation to the ends of the earth:” Isaiah 49:4; Isaiah 49:6. Ministers of Jesus, learn here to bewail your barrenness, and want of success in the ear of heaven, and the consolations of the Saviour shall be your consolation. The final songs of angels shall heal the sorrows of the saints. The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ. Revelation 11:15.

Nor should it escape remark, that the heralds of the gospel preached a crucified Redeemer, Messiah, the arm of the Lord, Christ the wisdom, and Christ the power of God, whose own arm brought salvation. Of the people there was none with him, none to uphold. Their ministry had three characters: they made a full report of the glory and grace of Christ; they required faith, a full consent of heart, that men should believe their report; and that their converts should receive the seal of God in the regeneration of their hearts.

Isaiah 53:2 . 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. At the time of our Saviour’s birth, a misguided and blind theology directed the comments of the rabbins, that the Messiah should fill the throne of David, “and abide for ever.” Whereas the prophets had other ideas, just the reverse of those who expected a worldly kingdom. David had said, “Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth, (as a root out of a dry ground) and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” Rejoice, oh daughter of Zion, thy king cometh unto thee. He is just, and having salvation; lowly, riding upon an ass’s colt. He is not of the order of belligerent kings. He shall break the bow of Ephraim, and turn away the battle-horse from Jerusalem; he shall publish peace to the heathen, and make wars to cease to the ends of the earth.

Isaiah 53:3 . He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. What was the Saviour’s life on earth? It was a life sought as soon as he was born! Expatriated in infancy, concealed at Nazareth, in the retreats of Galilee. What were the scenes of his public ministry? Stretching out his hands all the day long to a gainsaying and disobedient people. A man of sorrows, weeping in Galilee, weeping in Bethany, weeping over Jerusalem, weeping in the temple. We say nothing of his agony in the garden, when the sorrows of death compassed him about; those were scenes of anguish surpassing the comprehension of man. Was there any sorrow like to his sorrow?

And we hid as it were our faces from him. As though his very name had utterly disgraced us; as though his crimes had appalled us. He was despised, spit upon and buffeted, and we esteemed him not. When the bacchanalians were suppressed at Rome, an orator advised their relatives not to know them. So the Saviour was treated by his own nation.

Isaiah 53:4 . Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. The Chaldaic reads, “Surely he shall pray for our sins; and our iniquities shall be forgiven for his sake.” The style is highly ceremonial. The priest bare the iniquity of the people; it was laid by confessions on the head of the victim, as is repeated below. On the subject, that the Messiah was to be “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” Dr. Lightfoot quotes the Talmud, where one asks, What is the name of the Messiah. Some answered, Leprous, and the Messiah sitting in the gate of the city. It was asked again, By what token may he be known? Answer. He sitteth among the diseased poor. Where else should the physician be, but with the sick?

Isaiah 53:5 . 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. The sufferings of the Redeemer were vicarious. About forty of those are named in the prophets. The kings of the earth took counsel against the Lord, and against his anointed. He that ate bread at his table, lifted up the heel against him. He was sold for money. He hid not his face from shame and spitting. He gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to those that plucked off the hair. They pierced his hands and his feet, nailing him to the cross. They elevated him, as Moses elevated the serpent in the wilderness. The rulers wagged their heads, and cried, Aha, aha! They mocked him as a prophet, and a Saviour of others. His very bones were dislocated, and might be counted while extended on the cross. They offered him the stupifying potion of vinegar and gall. The sword awoke against the shepherd, and pierced Jehovah’s fellow. The mind, fainting at the scene, can only be revived by his conquering voice, when he cried, It is finished, and gave up the ghost.

Isaiah 53:6 . 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, making him the vicarious sacrifice for a guilty race. When the Redeemer was before the council of the Jews, it was their aim to convict him of blasphemy; but unable to do it, the highpriest, contrary to all law, adjured him by the living God to say whether he were the Christ. He confessed, and denied not, saying, “Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven.” On hearing this, Caiaphas rent his robe, laid the guilt of blasphemy on the Redeemer’s head, and condemned him as worthy of death. Thus the Lord of glory was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Thus it was, he, ος ουτος , who himself bare our sins in his own body on the tree, redeemed us from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for us.

Isaiah 53:7 . He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. Perfect in every active and passive grace, he offered himself without spot to God. He was silent, for we were guilty; defence being of no avail with wolves predetermined to destroy. He was taken from prison and from judgment, dragged from one tribunal to another. He was distressed, he was afflicted; in his humiliation his judgment was taken away, and no one appeared in his defence.

Isaiah 53:8 . Who shall declare his generation; for he was cut off; was crucified in haste, as the paschal lamb was eaten. For the transgression of my people was he stricken. The manner of the Hebrews was, as in oriental nations, when the more distinguished criminals were executed, to publish their pedigree; as Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah. Joshua 7:1. Leviticus 24:11. But who shall declare the generation of Him, whom the Lord possessed in the beginning of his ways, before his works of old. Who from the womb of the morning, has the dew of his youth; and whose goings forth were of old, from everlasting. Proverbs 8:22. Micah 5:2. He is the true Melchizedek, without beginning of days or end of life. Hebrews 7:3. Who shall declare his generation, of whom it is said, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee. Hebrews 5:4. St. Paul, who repeatedly cites this text, disdains to attempt exposition, in reply to an infidel philosophy.

The above is the true sense of the primitive church. Irenæus, speaking against the errors of the Gnostics, says, Propheta quidem ait de eo, generationem ejus quis enarabit? Vos autem generationem ejus ex Patre divinantes, et Verbi hominem per linguam factam prolationem transferentes in Verbum Dei, juste detegimini à nobis, quod neque humana, nec divina noveritis, &c.

To declare the generation, the dignity, the essence, and nature of Christ, no language is adequate; in regard of which the Holy Ghost says in the prophets, His generation who shall declare? For no man knoweth the Son but the Father. Christ is that light which shone before the world; that intellectual and essential wisdom that was before all ages. The living God, the Word who was in the beginning with the Father; whom the Father alone can fully and perfectly comprehend. Him who is prior to every creature and production, whether visible or invisible, the first and only- begotten Son of God. The great Captain of all the celestial intelligences in the deathless hosts of heaven; the Angel of the great council, the consummator of all the Father’s secret pleasure, the maker and framer of all things in unison with the Father; who, after the Father, is the cause and maker of all things, the true and only-begotten Son of God; yea, Lord and God; the sovereign of all creatures, receiving dominion and power from the Father, together with divinity, power, and honour. Hist. Ecclesiastes lib. 1. cap. 2.

How noble and ingenuous are these declarations, compared with the artifices and evasions of our new translators, who say in succession, Who shall declare the wickedness of the age in which the Saviour lived? Our dignitaries, our rational divines, have the effrontery to ask this question! The age in which he lived was the serpent’s age, a generation of vipers. Inspired men use the interrogative forms of speech for things which cannot be uttered. Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear who shall be able to stand who shall declare his generation? It is unutterable, it is ineffable, it is eternal.

Isaiah 53:9 . He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death. The Versions vary; the Hebrew being brief, is rather obscure. The Vulgate reads, Et dabit impios pro sepultura, et divitem pro morte sua. The comments are, I will make thy death like that of Samson, a final stroke at principalities and powers. I will make Jerusalem the grave of its inhabitants, and destroy Pilate and the proud council of the Jews by the Romans, both root and branch. But others read, His grave was appointed with the wicked, but with the rich man was his tomb. In this view the text is a luminous prophecy of all that occurred in his burial. His glory, and his illustrious virtues, procured him this honourable sepulchre. He had done no violence against the Romans, neither was deceit before the council found in his mouth.

Isaiah 53:10 . Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him. Our redemption is constantly ascribed to the good pleasure of the Father: he spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all. He hath put him to grief; to such grief as no one besides ever endured, and such as no finite mind can comprehend. His soul was made an offering for sin, not his body only; and hence that bitter exclamation in Gethsemane, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.

He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. When great kings and conquerors die, their sun goes down, the monuments decay, and their histories recede. But with the death of Christ the sun rose to set no more. Immortality and life were demonstrated; righteousness was published to the gentiles, and the world invited from all the darkness of crime and misery, to life and righteousness in the Lord. Rejoice then, ye heavens; be glad, oh earth; and let the nations stretch out their hands to the Lord.

The clouds of death being chased away, a flood of evangelical light broke in upon the prophet’s mind. He saw the rejected stone made the head of the corner; he saw the Redeemer’s enemies put under his feet, and the nations converted to the Lord. He saw the joys of earth swell the joys of heaven.

Isaiah 53:11 . He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied. Faint are the joys of a woman when a son and heir is born, compared with those of Christ. His triumph over principalities and powers on the cross, his removal of guilt by the sacrifice of himself, his opening life and righteousness to a guilty world, the conversion of nations unnumbered in multitude, filled his mind with unutterable delight. “Father, behold me, and the children whom thou hast given me.” A progeny ransomed from Satan, sin, and death, now made heirs of righteousness and eternal joy. Filled with the glorious designations of Deity, he despised the cross, endured the shame, and took his session on the mediatorial throne.

By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities. Surely these are glad tidings to sinners. The unsearchable riches of the knowledge of Christ are obtained by hearing the gospel, their sin is removed by an all sufficient sacrifice, and the gift of righteousness is poured into the heart. Who is he that condemneth? It is God that justifieth, it is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again. The creditor has no claims, the holiness of God has no impeachment; rebels are reconciled in a way perfectly honourable to the divine government, and sinners are made saints and sons of God. Haste then, haste to embrace the righteousness of God our Redeemer.

Isaiah 53:12 . Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong. The prophet Daniel illustrates this text by adding, after the succession of the four great empires, the Babylonian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman, “But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, yea, for ever and ever.” The Messiah’s kingdom shall not be left to other people; the Father having said, I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Psalms 2:8.

Because he hath poured out his soul unto death, laying down his life for us. St. Paul, alluding to this passage, says, Because he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And if his mediatorial glory surpass that of angels, what must his divine and essential glory be?

He was numbered with the transgressors. He was classed with them in the criminal courts, and associated with them when crucified on Calvary. And he bare the sin of many. רבים rabbim, the multitudes. One victim died, bearing the sins of the whole nation, as in Isaiah 53:6, and Romans 5:15; Romans 5:18. And made intercession for the transgressors: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. The Saviour stands between the offended God and the offending world, and solicits our salvation on the ground of mediatorial right, and covenant engagements.


On a calm review of all these prophecies, in connection with others of a like nature, we must conclude that Jesus is indeed the Christ. By chance they could not have happened. They are not confined to the glorious person of Christ, they are national, and so many links in a grand chain of providences. The sceptre departed from Judah, Jerusalem was burned, the Jews were dispersed, and the gentiles were called. Without a doubt Daniel is correct: The Messiah shall be cut off, not for any crime of his own, but for the sins of the people.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 53". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.