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Sunday, September 24th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 53

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Verses 1-3


Isaiah 53:1 Directly upon the amazement of the earthly rulers because of what they see and hear, which is spoken of in the last verse of the previous chapter (Isaiah 52:15), now follows the reason why Israel did not believe. The cause lies with themselves. They are the grieving and repentant speakers in the following verses. They lamentingly acknowledge their unbelief. They have heard the prophets speak to them, yet they did not believe. This unbelief in this message the people confesses, that is, the remnant, here. Something as ‘unbelievable’ as the work of the Messiah can only be accepted through the work of the Holy Spirit, who will also work humiliation and faith in the remnant when they will see their Messiah (Ezekiel 36:25-Daniel :; Zechariah 12:10-2 Chronicles :).

We have anticipated this confession through the work of the Holy Spirit Who was sent from heaven. We have already confessed our sins and acknowledged Him as the God-given Savior (Ephesians 1:12) without having seen Him.

As a people, Israel has refused to believe the message that has been preached to them. They have also been blind to the revealed arm of the LORD. His arm speaks of His formidable majesty and power (Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 50:2Isaiah 51:5; Isaiah 51:9Isaiah 52:10). Isaiah 53:1, according to its meaning, can be read as follows: “Who has an eye for the revelation of God’s mighty deeds that He has accomplished in and to the Messiah?’

In their unbelief, they have failed to acknowledge what God’s power has done in the suffering and resurrection of Christ from the dead (Romans 1:4; Ephesians 1:20). Soon the remnant will see it, when they will see Him Whom they have pierced (Revelation 1:7; Zechariah 12:10). They confess here, prophetically through the mouth of the prophet, that they did not see it.

The two disciples from Emmaus (Luke 24:13-Habakkuk :) are also a type of the believing remnant. They believe in the glorified Christ, but cannot believe in a suffering and deceased Christ. They believe that the arm of the LORD is revealed when Christ reigns, but they cannot and will not believe that the same arm of the LORD can reveal itself in the suffering and death of Christ. That is why the Lord Jesus taught them: “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25-Ezekiel :).

The evangelist John quotes the first verse of this chapter to indicate that the unbelief of the Jews in the days of the Lord Jesus proves the truth of this verse and fulfills it (John 12:37-Zechariah :). By the way, God’s Word proves here in the clearest way that the LORD over whom Isaiah speaks is the same as the Lord Jesus. John begins the quotation with: “LORD, WHO …?” He asks this question as the messenger of God. It is also the question of the faithful remnant who preached the gospel in the great tribulation and sees so little result.

It is the observation of so many evangelists today (Romans 10:16). If the preaching does not seem to bear fruit, there is a great danger of becoming discouraged. But Paul makes it clear in this quote that the gospel must not only be believed but also obeyed.

Isaiah 53:2 Here the Messiah, Christ, is described in His humiliation on earth. The prophet writes in the past tense, as if the events have already taken place. Israel did not believe the message concerning the Messiah and did not recognize the power of God in and to Him, because He is a humbled and to the flesh unattractive Servant. But He grows up before God, that is, under His protection and pleasure (cf. 1 Peter 2:4). God takes care of this tender life.

The root of Jesse has been hewn, but there remains a stump (Isaiah 11:1), inconspicuous and unrecognizable. The stump stands in parched ground. That speaks of the unbelief of the people. But from the root of this stump grows a shoot or a branch (Isaiah 11:1) – a shoot does not grow on a tree trunk but on the shoot of a tree. There is still life. While Israel does not notice it, the shoot grows before God. This insignificant shoot is the arm of the LORD.

They did not realize that Christ grew up before God. The pleasantness of Christ in the days of His youth and His growing up like a tender shoot to a Man is contrasted with the state of barrenness, religious infertility, and slavery of the people. They have seen nothing in His appearance to feel a natural attraction to Him, nothing of splendor or beauty in which their natural feelings have rejoiced (cf. 1 Samuel 16:6-Judges :).

When they saw Him, they saw nothing to see, so little was there that was attractive to the natural eye of man. To unbelief there was nothing in Him that made Him stand out among men. There was an inner beauty in Him, but it remained hidden from the masses of the people by their unbelief and was perceived only by faith (John 1:14). “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5).

Isaiah 53:3 As “despised and forsaken of men” He has been rejected and abandoned by the people. As the “man of sorrows,” His life was characterized as that of someone characterized by inner grief in experiencing the consequences of sin and the grief around Him. His whole existence was marked by grief. That He is “acquainted with grief” characterizes Him as Someone Who alone is capable of complete familiarity with all forms of sickness as a consequence of sin.

The last part of the verse gives even more powerful expression to the attitude of the people as a whole. It shows the character of their contempt. People hide their faces or turn away from what they find unbearable to see. They held Him for a leper. They regarded Him as nothing. All this mentions the deep remorse with which the people will later – when their eyes are opened – remember their attitude towards Him during the days of His flesh.

We can summarize Isaiah 53:1-Leviticus : as follows:
1. The account about the Servant that is not believed (Isaiah 53:1).
2. The Person of the Servant Who is not attractive (Isaiah 53:2).
3. The climax is: the Servant is despised (Isaiah 53:3).

Verses 4-6

Substitutional Suffering

We now come to the core of the message in this second main part of the book of Isaiah, Isaiah 40-66, which consists of three parts of nine chapters each. Of these three parts we are in the middle part of nine chapters, Isaiah 49-58. In this part we are now in the middle chapter, Isaiah 53. This center consists of five parts or stanzas of three verses, of which we are now in the third and middle (Isaiah 53:4-Joshua :). Its contents are the Lord Jesus Who, as the perfect Servant, takes the place of the failing servant, Israel, both in His life and in His death. In this whole song, the Servant takes the place of Israel in His suffering.

For the sake of clarity, it is good to point out that it is not ‘solidarity’ suffering with the suffering of mankind, as modern theologians claim, but substitutional suffering for penitent sinners. It is, as Isaiah 53:10 unequivocally states, a guilt offering.

Isaiah 53:4 In Isaiah 53:4-Joshua : the remnant goes even deeper into the subject. They confess that His suffering has been of a totally different nature than they have assumed. He has not suffered because of His own sins, as they have assumed. He did not commit blasphemy when He called Himself God’s Son. Christ suffered because of their sins. The suffering of the cross is now in sight. The change in their view is characterized by the opening word “surely”.

The statement “our griefs [or: sickness] He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried”, expresses even more fully what was mentioned in the previous verse in connection with this about Him. It tells how the Lord in His own Person has borne suffering that was not His. Matthew cites this in connection with His acts of healing and deliverance (Matthew 8:16-Esther :). This statement does not speak of His substitutional atonement, but it does refer to it. The Lord Jesus would not have been able to take away grief, or sickness, if He had not taken away its core, sin, on the cross.

Isaiah 53:4 brings us to the cross, for only there can the statement “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” refer to. “Stricken” reminds us of the plague of leprosy. What was not the case with Him was the case with Miriam (Numbers 12:10), Gehazi (2 Kings 5:27) and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:20). In their blindness, the Jews saw His suffering as the punishment for His own sins, which, according to them, had to be particularly numerous and great. In particular, we should think of the accusation of blasphemy, which He would have committed by equating Himself with God.

Isaiah 53:5 But now, under the power of the revelation of the great facts, they come to a complete change of opinion. We notice this in a special way in the series of emphatic personal expressions in the plural which follow. “Pierced” and “crushed” are the strongest words to describe a violent and frightening death. There is an emphasis on “our”.

In clear words the doctrine of substitution is described here: Someone receives the punishment that others have deserved in their place, so that they can go out free (1 Peter 2:24). A simple doctrine, but an unimaginable truth.

The chastisement inflicted upon Him by God is one that has served to our peace – the Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is summarizing, and describes not only a peaceful state, but a welfare in general, prosperity and well-being and inner peace and tranquility. It is a punishment that has this effect for us.

This curious contradiction is also found in the wounds or scourging inflicted on Him, from which healing has originated for us. The marks are the marks that God delivered to Him (1 Peter 2:24) and not those of the Roman soldiers who flogged Him. They are the marks of Divine judgment. The healing, the spiritual health we have received, is explicitly contrasted with the chastening or blows of God to which He was subjected.

Isaiah 53:6 Now the climax of the confession comes from a deeply affected conscience on the part of the repentant people. He who leaves the Lord has no contact with others. Everyone goes his own way. They acknowledge that they have gone astray like sheep and express their awareness of the great grace in the overwhelming fact that “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him”. It has fallen on Him as a huge burden. He cared about our fate, but what an enormous burden fell on Him as a result. All our sins were laid on him by God. He confessed them all one by one before God. Thus that whole burden has disappeared from the sight of God (cf. Leviticus 16:21).

The LORD takes the initiative here. He wanted the suffering of His Servant for the salvation of the sinful people who deviated from Him. Israel turned away from Him, but He did not turn away from His people. He let the sin of the people come down to the Man of His pleasure. In Isaiah 53:4 the substitutional suffering of the Servant is the choice of the Servant himself. Here in Isaiah 53:6 it is what the LORD has chosen to do. The suffering of the Servant is not beyond the will of the Servant and the will of the LORD. On the contrary, it is the express will of the Servant, Who, when He comes into the world, says: “Behold, I have come … to do Your will” (Hebrews 10:5; Hebrews 10:9).

What the people will soon acknowledge with regard to going their own way, is true for the whole human race. Man has replaced God’s will with his own will. He has gone “his own way”, placing himself in the center instead of God. In this general state of guilt and misery the grace of God has intervened. He has sent His Son to lay upon Him the full weight of iniquity (Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21) and the righteous anger that goes with it. Every person who confesses his sins may know that Christ has accomplished this work for him as well and shares in this gracious act of God. The sins of the impenitent sinner are not part of this atoning work.

Verses 7-9

Suffering, Death and Burial

Isaiah 53:7 The fourth part or stanza, Isaiah 53:7-1 Samuel :, describes, like the second part (Isaiah 53:1-Leviticus :), the suffering of the Servant, but adds His death and burial. He was “oppressed”, i.e. severely beaten and mistreated without sparing Him anything. It also refers to the driving or chasing of slaves or animals loaded with heavy loads (Exodus 3:7; Job 39:7). The servant was such a ‘beast of burden’, but He did not open His mouth, He bowed under the burden, He suffered willingly and allowed them to abuse Him. Balaam’s beast of burden opened her mouth when Balaam struck her unjustly to drive her (Numbers 22:28; 2 Peter 2:16). Jeremiah also compares himself to a lamb, but he did not keep his mouth shut and called for vengeance (Jeremiah 11:19; Jeremiah 11:20Jeremiah 12:1-Numbers :).

For the Lord Jesus the way to slaughter was much worse. He knew perfectly where He was going, but He did not open His mouth. He knew everything that would come upon Him (John 13:1; John 18:4). It says twice in this verse that He did not open His mouth, underlining the importance of the voluntary surrender of Christ. He did not remain silent out of weakness, as if He did not know what to say. He knew that with one word He could destroy all His enemies (John 18:6). He did not remain silent out of powerlessness, but because He chose to remain silent. It was part of His obedience to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

‘Shearing’ is about taking away everything that is worthy of a human being. He did not protest against the inhuman and degrading treatment that was done to Him. Everything expresses His voluntary perseverance in a way in which He is unique. No one can be compared with Him. It is clearly in striking contrast with the going astray of man in the beginning of Isaiah 53:6.

Isaiah 53:8 Of the unjust treatment and the unjust judicial verdict we are moved directly to Golgotha. “By oppression and judgment He was taken away” means that He was taken away “by an oppressive / humiliating / unjust judicial judgment” (Matthew 26:66; Matthew 27:22-Obadiah :; Acts 8:33). He was not given a fair trial, but was utterly unjustly convicted by political conspiracy.

He was “taken away” from the “legal treatise” and taken to the cross and hastily crucified there, so that this heinous crime could be finished before the Sabbath. This section is about the fact that none of His contemporaries had any awareness, let alone thought about what Christ endured. He was cut off out of the land of the living and thus everything was over for His contemporaries. The expression “as for His generation” has to do with His descent. The meaning is: “Who shall mention His royal descent, His rights as the Son of David” (Matthew 1:1)?

The verse ends with the acknowledgment of the true cause of His suffering. The exclamation “for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke [was due]” not only comes from the mouth of the believing remnant of Israel, but also from the mouth of the God of Israel Himself. The word “stroke” (cf. Isaiah 53:4) emphasizes this once more, because the stroke is the doom that God Himself has sent.

The eunuch, who is on his way back to his country from Jerusalem, reads just these verses when Philip joins him (Acts 8:30-Habakkuk :). The eunuch does not find the explanation of what he is reading easy, but still he has thought about what he has read. He understands that the lamb he is reading about must be Someone, a Person. His question about this is a wonderful reason for Philip to preach “Jesus” to him.

Isaiah 53:9 This fourth part (Isaiah 53:7-1 Samuel :), which describes the character of the Servant’s suffering and the manner in which He was killed, concludes with the mention of His burial. The first part of the verse reflects the intention of the sinners who wanted to let Him disappear into anonymity by burying Him in a kind of mass grave together with the two robbers who had been crucified with Him. But God had determined otherwise and provided an appropriate environment. Therefore, the Roman authorities allowed His body to be buried by and in the grave of “a rich man”, Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57).

Normally, a grave is used several times to decompose the dead body and then keep it in ossuary (bone box). Only a very rich person can be buried in a new grave. It was a grave “where no one had ever lain” (Luke 23:53). He who came from a virgin mother’s womb could only be put in a virgin grave.

The word “death” is plural and expresses the violent nature, not to say the aggregated nature, the comprehensiveness of His death. The fact of His complete freedom from sin – “no sin done”, “no deceit … in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22) – made it fitting that He should have an honorable burial instead of being thrown into a murderer’s grave, as His enemies had in mind. He was given this grave of honor in view of the resurrection. The resurrection will be discussed in the next section.

Verses 10-12

Results for the Servant

Isaiah 53:10 The last part of the chapter and also the last stanza gives a triple testimony concerning the experiences of His soul. We are brought into the inner sanctuary of His Being. So far we have seen especially the human and outer side of the Servant’s suffering. Now comes the Divine side of it. Isaiah 53:10 and Isaiah 53:12 speak of the acts of the LORD with Him, in a judicial sense with a view to His death and in a compensatory sense with a view to the reward. Isaiah 53:11 speaks of the result of His sacrifice to His own satisfaction and the justifying grace He grants to others.

The remnant must learn the lesson that the cross has two sides. The first side we have seen extensively, that is the side of man. Therein man in general and the Jews in particular are responsible for the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. This must penetrate to the heart and conscience of the remnant, which will happen fully when they see Him Whom they have pierced (Zechariah 12:10-2 Chronicles :). The other side is the side of God. God has wanted to use this suffering for a higher purpose (cf. Genesis 45:5; Acts 2:23).

If we are to understand, like the remnant, how God can justify sinners, we must understand God’s side of the Servant’s suffering. Only then we can have and experience peace with God.

The mention “the LORD was pleased to crush Him”, speaks of the firm intention of the LORD to use man’s sin for the acts of His grace. He does this by adding the atoning suffering to the suffering of the sinless Servant on the cross. The pleasure of the LORD lies in the fact that through the crushing of His Son His good pleasure will be able to “prosper”. The verse begins and ends with it.

This ‘pleasure’ is about the removal, through judgment, of the sins that were laid upon Him Who Himself was without sin. It is about full satisfaction of the demands of the holy and righteous God with respect to the guilt brought about by sin. That full satisfaction is given to Him by the true Guilt Offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10), Who can pay the penalty for people’s guilt.

“Crush” is the terrible, destructive judgment on Him. He died not only because of what people did to Him, but because of what the LORD did to Him. It could be read as such: It pleased the LORD not to leave the crushing of His Christ to men, but to execute it Himself. “Putting Him to grief”, literally “made Him sick”, is the indication for all the sorrows of the atoning suffering on the cross.

Rendering Himself as a guilt offering means that He offered Himself, His entire Being, as a victim to God to cleanse the sinner of his guilt. The guilt offering was brought in order to fulfill the demands of God’s righteousness. This is the first mention relating to His soul – “He” is literally “His soul”. This voluntary act of surrendering His life, a life that pleased God beyond compare, to fulfill God’s righteous demands in view of man’s guilt, has several results. They are results that Christ will see in the resurrection.

1. He will see offspring or seed (Psalms 22:30). This is what the Israelite looked forward to as a great blessing (Genesis 48:11; Psalms 128:6). It seemed as if Christ had died. Here, however, we have an indication of the great joy of Christ when He sees the innumerable crowds of His spiritual offspring among Jews and Gentiles (John 12:24; Hebrews 2:13).

2. He will prolong His days or have a long life. This is another blessing the Israelite particularly appreciated (Psalms 91:16; Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:16). However, here it is a reference to the endless resurrection life of the Lord (Revelation 1:18).

3. The proposed councils will have their joyous realization. “In His hand” refers to His work as Advocate and High Priest and also to the exercise of His authority and power in His kingdom. It is the pleasure of the LORD to bless His creatures. That now finds its fulfillment through Christ.

4. Isaiah 53:11 All the glory that follows is seen by Him as the result of His laborious effort or suffering, a glory that will never disappear from before His attention as absolutely necessary and perfectly sufficient to saturate His heart in the redemption of those who have become His property.

5. “The anguish of His soul” applies to everything that He has suffered internally to the bottom of His heart, all the struggles and sufferings that took place in Him, hidden from the eye of man. On this basis He will see it, which is the light of the resurrection, after the darkness of and His death on the cross. He will see it and “be satisfied” (Psalms 17:15).

6. There could be no justification of others, no imputing of righteousness, if He were not perfectly righteous, for only because of this could He willingly give Himself as an atoning offering. “By His knowledge” can mean “by the knowledge concerning or about Him” (objective) or “by the knowledge which is His own”, the knowledge which He Himself has (subjective). The second meaning has our preference. After all, the whole part is about Him and His excellence.

7. The meaning of “will justify” can also be: He will teach many in righteousness. By the teaching He gives, there is spiritual growth. This spiritual growth manifests itself in becoming more and more similar to Him. He justifies all who come to God through Him, which can only be done by what follows: that He will bear their iniquities. Again we are brought back to the cross.

In summary, in this last point we find two aspects of the Lord’s work. First, in His life He taught many in righteousness, such as in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Secondly, in His dying He has taken upon Himself and carried away the iniquities of those who believe.

Isaiah 53:12 There is another delightful consequence of His sacrificial death. What follows now resembles the triumphal march of the Romans after a victory. After the work of the Servant is finished, what He has done is now enumerated. What is written about His part can be translated in two ways: The LORD will give Him a portion among many; or: He will receive the many as an inheritance: He will divide the powerful as a spoils, or better: He will share the booty with the strong, who are all connected with Him. With “the booty” we can think of the whole creation.

And again we are led to the reason, that is His atoning sacrifice. The establishment of His sovereign power on earth will rest on His accomplished work. All future glory is a consequence of and reward for what is described in four parts. He
1. poured out Himself, literally His soul – this is the third mention of His “soul” – to death (John 10:17; John 19:30),
2. was numbered with the transgressors (Luke 22:37),
3. bore the sin of many (Hebrews 9:28) and
4. interceded for the transgressors (Luke 23:34).

The last two parts are placed in contrast to the first two. The first two parts refer to the unjust opinion of those who condemned Him and handed Him over to be killed. They were not aware that He, in what He suffered on the cross, was the Bearer of the sins “of many” – that is, not of all people, but only of the believers. The last part refers especially to His intercession for the transgressors, while He hung on the cross (Luke 23:34).

Thus the details of this prophecy in this chapter in the last three verses reach their climax. Isaiah himself did not understand the scope of his prophecy (1 Peter 1:10). But the Spirit of Christ brought him to great heights by having him paint in great detail the work of the Servant, which He performed for others as a substitute as Guilt Offering.

The chapter ends with the cross and the intercession of the Lord Jesus because that will be forever in our attention as the origin of all blessing.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 53". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/isaiah-53.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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