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The prophet, complaining of incredulity, excuseth the scandal of the cross, by the benefit of Christ's passion, and the good success thereof.
Before Christ 719.
THE scene of this second section is to be placed at the beginning of the oeconomy of grace, when, after the foundations of the kingdom of God, and of the word of faith, were laid, with all power and demonstration of the Spirit, an invincible incredulity discovered itself in the greater part of the Jewish nation; and it is so constructed, that three different speakers appear in it: the first is a company of the evangelists and apostles, complaining of the incredulity of the Jewish nation, and of the small fruit of their preaching, Isaiah 53:1. The second is a company of Jews, converted by the faith, after their preceding error; who first derive the principal cause of their incredulity from the perverse prejudice of their nation, concerning the humble state of the Messiah, and his sufferings, Isaiah 53:2-3. Secondly, They set forth the true cause of those sufferings; the suretiship of the Messiah, and the expiation of sins to be made in consequence of that suretiship; at the same time describing very particularly the manner of those sufferings, namely, the shame of the cross, Isaiah 53:4-7. And thirdly, They set forth the justification of the Messiah, as well by his assumption into glory, as by the instances of the divine care and providence towards him in the midst of his sufferings; whence it appeared manifestly, that he suffered not as a guilty person, and that he was most dear to God. The third speaker is God the Father, or a chorus of prophets speaking in his name, who confirm the mystery of faith set forth in the preceding part of this chapter, and declare the glorious fruits of the Messiah's passion, as well with respect to himself as to the church. There is no doubt of the immediate reference of this passage to Jesus Christ: the writers of the New Testament apply it to him; and we will add a few remarks at the end of the chapter from Bishop Chandler, demonstrative of it. Vitringa, with his usual pains, clearness, and learning, has not only in his notes, but in his introduction to this prophesy, shewn abundantly that it can belong to no other than the Messiah. I shall therefore refer to him such as desire farther satisfaction, and supply the remaining comment on this chapter, from the excellent paraphrase of Bishop Chandler.
Isaiah 53:1. Who hath believed our report?— "Who, of the Jews, when the Messiah comes, will believe our report concerning him? Even they before whom the arm of the Lord, the virtue and power of God, is witnessed in his miracles." The Targum on Isa 53:8 has it, "Who can declare the miracles which shall be done in his days?" St. John (xii. 38.) understands miracles by the arm of the Lord.
Isaiah 53:2-3. For he shall grow up, &c.— But he groweth up before him, as a tender shoot, and as a branch out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness, that we should gaze upon him, and no beauty, &c. "Would you hear the cause of so great unbelief? It is this. Though he shall come before Israel, as the promised tender shoot, as the root and branch of Jesse's stock, (chap. Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 11:10. Jeremiah 23:3.) yet, not appearing in the form of a tall, leafy, flourishing tree, but withered and shrivelled, as shrubs which grow up without water, disclaiming all pretensions to worldly greatness and riches and power, which is the form and comeliness that the Jews seek after, he shall not be received by his own. He, who was once the object of their desire, their hope, their delight, shall be no more desired by them, but rejected for want of that external beauty which they thought to find in him. This in plain words is the true reason of their dislike. He shall be despised and rejected of men, as he shall be a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; coming in a poor, suffering condition. Because he shall be a hiding of faces from us,"—(a phrase for one in grief, a mourner, or a leper, who was wont to cover the lip, or all under the nose, Ezekiel 26:16-18. Lev 13:45 where the Targum has it, covering his beard, or face, as a mourner covers himself, and Kimchi on 2Sa 15:30 reads, "Such was the custom of mourners to cover themselves.") "He shall be despised, and we shall make no account of him."
Isaiah 53:4. Surely he hath borne our griefs— "And yet his sorrows are none of them the punishment of his faults, but ours. They are truly our griefs, and our sorrows; they are our due, though he bears them like a sacrifice in our stead, and for this cause is thought by us to be as one stricken with a leprosy, or to be marked out for an example of God's displeasure." The Hebrew word נגוע naguang, or stricken, is rendered quasi leprosus, by the Vulgate, Aquila, Symmachus, and the later Jewish commentators, Instead of, yet we did esteem, &c. we may read, when we did, &c.
Isaiah 53:5. But he was wounded, &c.— "But he shall be wounded to death for our transgressions, he shall be bruised to death (see Isaiah 53:10.) for our iniquities: the punishment which we deserve shall be laid on him, for our peace and benefit; and by his stripes we shall be healed." The word מדכא meduka, rendered bruised, signifies to destroy. See Job 5:4 and so the noun in Psalms 90:3. Thus Christ's body is said to be broken, 1Co 11:24 or to be delivered to death.
Isaiah 53:6. All we like sheep, &c.— "In this sense he is the Saviour: for otherwise none of us, without him, could be saved. We are all sinners, and are gone out of the way of God's laws; and as such, are unable, by any deed or suffering of ours, to claim or deserve God's pardon. And therefore God lays upon him the punishment of the sins of the whole world, who, having never offended, is the fitter to propitiate his wrath." We may render the last clause, And the Lord hath heaped together upon him the iniquities, &c.
Isaiah 53:7. He was oppressed, &c.— It was exacted, and he engaged for, or, and he answered it, and opened not his mouth, &c. Or, The debt was demanded, &c. Chandler: who remarks, that thus the learned L'Empereur renders the word נגשׂ niggas, as we also do in ch. Isaiah 58:3. "God insisted on an adequate punishment for maintaining the honour of his laws, which was impaired by so general a defection; and this person, of whom I have been speaking, is made the sacrifice. And in all his sufferings he was not more a lamb for sacrifice, than he was a lamb for innocence, patience, and resignation, while he was treated as a sacrifice."
Isaiah 53:8. He was taken from prison, &c.— "And yet the indignities of his sufferings were enough to shock his patience, especially their taking away his life, under colour of law and justice, and a fair trial. Who that saw him in these sad circumstances, so evil treated by them, would have supposed him to be the promised Messiah, whom the Jews had so impatiently expected, of David's line, when they saw him cut off out of the land of the living, by those whom he came to save? For I cannot too often repeat it, it was for the sins of my people, not his own, that he was stricken." The former clause may be rendered, He was taken up from distress, or taken off by authority and judgment; and who shall declare his duration? &c. Instead of duration, Bishop Chandler reads lineage; and he observes, that עצר otzer, here translated prison, signifies any convention, or assembly of men, Jer 9:2 and thence is applied to any legal session of magistrates or single authority, as Judges 18:7. 1 Samuel 9:17.
Isaiah 53:9. And he made his grave, &c.— And he committed his burial to the wicked, and to the rich his death, &c. Or, And his burial was appointed with the wicked; but he was with the rich in his death, &c. Or, And he [the people] made his grave with the wicked, but it shall be with the rich after his death; because, &c. Chandler. "His sepulchre shall be a proof of his innocence, as well as of his death. The people, to carry their contempt of him even to the grave, designed to bury him with the common malefactors, Isaiah 53:12.; but God disposed it otherwise: so that he who was too poor to provide a sepulchre for himself, was honourably interred at the expence of the rich; moved thereto from an opinion of the sufferer, and that he had done no wrong in deed or word." Dr. Kennicott reads, And he was taken up, [that is, hanged on the cross] with wicked men in his death, and with a rich man was his sepulchre; observing, that since the preceding parts of the prophesy speak so indisputably of the sufferings and death of the Messiah, these words seem evidently to be meant as descriptive of the Messiah's being put to death in company with wicked men, and making his grave or sepulchre not with rich men, but with one rich man. See his Dissert. vol. 2: p. 372, &c.
Isaiah 53:10. Yet it pleased the Lord, &c.— "However, it pleased God that he should suffer, though God had another view in it than his murderers, even the salvation of mankind." Bishop Chandler reads, If he shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, which shall prolong their days, &c. The Vulgate, says he, renders it, videbit semen longaevum, in agreement with the LXX. and Chaldee. The Targum, supposing seed to be the nominative to the verb see, translates, His seed shall see the kingdom of the Messiah: they shall multiply and prolong their days. R. Alshek interprets seed, as above, by disciples; such as addict themselves to his religion who converted them; and thus it is used in the Jewish writings, for those who imitate the manners of their teacher. See Grotius and L'Empereur. The former clause may be read, Yet, &c. he mortally afflicted him; or he pained him even to death.
Isaiah 53:11. He shall see of the travail, &c.— "In consideration of what he suffered, he shall afterwards see all his enemies put under his feet; and by his law and his grace he shall reform the world, and prepare them who will believingly receive the benefits of his death for a total and eternal absolution and discharge from the punishment of their sins." Instead of by his knowledge, we may read, by the knowledge of him. Knowledge may be taken here objectively, as the knowledge which he shall teach.
Isaiah 53:12. Therefore will I divide, &c.— "Therefore, I say, he shall become victorious over his most potent adversaries; because by choice he shall offer up his life, and submit to be accounted and treated as a transgressor; whereas his death was intended as a sacrifice for the sins of others, in virtue whereof, like a priest, he shall intercede even for the sins of Israel who slew him." Many things ought to be remarked in this prophesy; As, I. that one and the same person is spoken of from the beginning of it to the end; of whom a continued series of events is predicted, without passing to, or intermixing, the affairs of any other. II. This person is called the servant of God, his righteous servant; and is described as a most innocent, blameless, and holy person; of unparalleled patience, piety, charity, so as never to have gone astray like other men, and to have deserved no punishment on his own account, but ready to suffer any evil on ours. III. He is implied to have been once the desire of the Jews, and that his generation, or birth, was formerly declared to them, though at his coming they should not know nor desire him, because of the mean, abject, humble, afflicted condition in which he appeared. IV. Very opposite ideas are joined together in his character, which, not being consistent at the same time, must belong to him at different times, and in different views. Thus he is represented, as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; as wounded and bruised to death; as judicially condemned and cut off out of the land of the living; as pouring out his soul to death, and put in his grave. Again, he is said to prosper, to be exalted, extolled, and to be very high; to see his disciples long flourish, to astonish and sprinkle Gentile nations, and, like a conqueror, to divide the portion of the great, and the spoil of the strong. V. Such is the merit of his voluntary oblation of himself as to be expiatory of sin, of the sin of us all, and to be rewarded by God with the conversion of Gentile nations, and with an exalted, extolled, high dignity, far above that of any other person. From whence it must be inferred, that his suffering state is to precede his triumphant state. Lastly, it is suggested that he should be a prophet. By his knowledge, to justify many; a priest, bearing iniquities, making his life an offering for sin, and interceding for transgressors; and a king, as exalted, extolled, being very high, and dividing the spoil of the strong. All these marks are found to a tittle in the Christian's Messiah. It is impossible to set up any other king, or prophet, to whom but two or three of these characteristics may be applied, even in a tolerable figurative sense. It is admitted by the Jews, that Isaiah said not these things of himself, but of some other. Who then should this other be? Not the dispersed stricken nation of the Jews, (who are supposed by Celsus's Jew to suffer thus, that many Gentile proselytes may be made on occasion of their dispersion,) for their sufferings were the just punishment of their own sins. He, of whom Isaiah prophesied, is said voluntarily to offer up his life for the pardon of others, to have done no violence, to have spoken no deceit, not to open his mouth impatiently under his afflictions, but to make intercession for the transgressors, for whom he suffered. Very different in every respect is the behaviour of the Jews, in their present dispersion. Their violence and deceit towards their own brethren, their turbulent and rebellious carriage to their governors, particularly the Romans, whom they resisted to the last extremity; and their daily prayers for the subversion of the nations, in very opprobrious terms, from a persuasion that their redemption cannot commence but with the fall of the Christian powers, whose people they hope one day to rule as with a rod of iron; all these are irreconcileable with the expressions in the prophesy. As little presence has Jeremiah, Josiah, or any other, to be the object of this prediction. Jeremiah died not for the transgressions or pardon of the Jews, who were gone into Babylon before he went to die in Egypt, and who returned not one day sooner for all the sufferings he underwent. He relates of himself, that he cursed the day of his birth; expostulated with God for giving way to their treachery; prayed that he might see the divine vengeance upon his enemies; and at last, very unwilling to die, capitulated for his life. (See Jeremiah 12:1-4; Jeremiah 20:12.) And is this a carriage which suits with the meekness of the lamb, and the silence of the sheep before her shearers? or which comes up to the character of one, who intercedes for the transgressors? Josiah lost his life to Pharaoh by his folly, contrary to the divine warning. How then did the Lord lay on these persons the iniquity of Israel? Or how were the people healed by their stripes, which really hastened on the general destruction? The sufferings of neither were meritorious. They did not procure them a seed, or long succession of disciples; nor were they the means of converting Gentile kingdoms; nor were the sufferers, at any time after, exalted, extolled, and made very high, for what they endured. Of whom then does Isaiah write? "It is a hard lesson," saith Aben-ezra. But it would not be so hard would they but hearken to the ancient Jews, who were nearest the pure fountains of the traditionary sense of Scripture, and who all expound it of the Messiah. The Targum, as was before observed, expressly begins the prophesy, Behold my servant, the Messiah, and in Isa 53:10 it refers the seed to the kingdom of the Messiah; and not only the Targum, but the Jewish doctors with one mouth assert, as they received it from the mouth of their ancestors, that "the Messiah must be understood by God's servant, that shall prosper and be exalted:" and those who allow that, do in effect grant that the Messiah must be the subject of all that follows; since there is no applying one part to one man, and another part to another, without mangling and confounding the order of the whole prophesy. See Dr. Sharpe's Second Argument, chap.7.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, While Gentile nations and kings with wonder heard and believed the Gospel word, the Jews, obstinate in unbelief, rejected the counsel of God against their own souls.
1. The chapter opens with a complaint against them for rejecting the Gospel. Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? Wondrous as the miracles were which Jesus wrought, and powerful as the doctrine was that he taught; yet very few embraced it, and, in general, they shut their eyes against all evidence, and would not hear nor understand. Note; (1.) Of multitudes that still hear the Gospel word, far the greatest part, it is to be feared, receive it not in the light and love of it. (2.) Till the Spirit of God give an inward revelation of Jesus to the soul, the most powerful preaching is ineffectual to conversion.
2. The reason of their disregard to Christ was the meanness of his appearance. For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, or sucker, which every foot might crush; and as a root out of a dry ground, or a branch of a root, that for want of moisture is withered, and stinted in its growth, his family being reduced to the meanest circumstances, and nothing great was hoped for out of Nazareth. He hath no form nor comeliness; either respecting his person, which was not perhaps distinguished by beauty, as might be expected in the countenance of God incarnate; or rather his appearance was unpromising; brought up in a mean cottage; his dress agreeable to his station; his followers poor fishermen; and he, in every respect, unlike the personage whom the carnal Jews expected. And when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him; no pomp, no splendor attending him; but, poor and abject in their eyes, they could not desire him as the Messiah, who seemed so unable to rescue them from the Roman yoke. He is despised, as a person mean and contemptible; and rejected of men, his pretensions treated with disdain, and his company shunned as ignominious: or, destitute of men, no persons of distinction, no rulers or Pharisees, believing on him, or following him as his disciples: a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; his whole life, especially from the time when he entered on his ministry, being a scene of troubles, from the temptations of Satan, and the malice of his persecutors; while his own heart, affected with human miseries, groaned over the desolations of his enemies, which he foresaw, and caused the tears of tenderest compassion to flow: above all, the wrath of God, which our sins had deserved, was laid upon him, and filled his soul with bitterest anguish. And we hid as it were our faces from him, as a loathsome object: he was despised, and we esteemed him not; all consented to treat him with disregard, and to reject his claim as the Messiah. But let not the humiliations of Jesus make him appear little in our eyes; never were his grace and glory more manifested; never did he appear more lovely, than when for our sakes he stooped so low, to make satisfaction for the dishonour we had brought on God by our sins, and by humbling himself to obtain our exaltation.
2nd, We have a farther account of the Redeemer's sufferings.
1. The cause of them, our sins and transgressions, by which God had been dishonoured, his wrath provoked, and our souls lost and undone; and this universally the care; for, all we like sheep have gone astray; from the womb, foolish, disobedient, deceived, in nature corrupt, and in all our ways perverse before God. We have turned every one his own way, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and each, as inclination led, pursuing with wilful perseverance the iniquity which most easily beset him. Note; We can never know Christ aright, nor the wonders of his grace, till we become acquainted with our fallen state, and see the depths of sin in which we were by nature and practice sunk irrecoverably, but for his interposition.
2. The nature of them. Griefs and sorrows, like unto which were no sorrows; reckoned by his enemies as the abhorred of God, all his sufferings reputed as just judgments for his crimes: Wounded with the thorns, the nails, the spear; bruised with strokes and buffetings; his back ploughed up with stripes and scourgings; oppressed; though innocent, condemned as guilty; afflicted with every species of misery and woe, and ending his days on the cross; a death most painful, ignominious, and accursed.
3. His behaviour under his sufferings, and his innocence. He opened not his mouth, except in prayer, for his murderers; no complaint was heard of their injustice or cruelty. He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth; and of him we must learn the like patient-silence before our bitterest persecutors. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death: it was intended that he should be buried, as well as die, with malefactors; but God ordered it otherwise; though his death was with the wicked, his grave was with the rich, Joseph of Arimathea laying his body in his own new tomb; and this honour was done him, because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth: though he was accused as an enemy to the state, a mover of sedition, and a deceiver of the people, the charge was infamous and false. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners; and, from the cradle to the grave, in spotless innocence always did the things which pleased his Father, and was thereby qualified to bear the sins of others, having of his own none to answer for.
4. The end or design of his sufferings was, to make atonement for the sins of men, and, by paying the penalty due to them, thereby to obtain their discharge. He hath borne our grief, and carried our sorrows: he not only healed the diseases of men's bodies, touched with tender sympathy for their sufferings, see Mat 8:17 but the griefs and sorrows due to our sins he took upon himself. The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all; appointed him as the substitute for sinners, and consented to accept his sufferings in their stead; and having made him to be sin, or a sin-offering, for us, he was stricken and smitten of God, with the sword of divine justice; for the transgression of my people was he stricken; standing in their name and character, the wrath of God which they had provoked lighted upon his devoted head. Hence 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. Great, numberless, aggravated, were the sins of mankind; wide, and irreparable by any human means, the breach made between God and us. But lo! Jesus hath found a ransom: a blessed commutation is made of our guilt, misery, and sin to our Redeemer, and of his infinite merits to us, bringing pardon, peace, and healing to our perishing souls, in virtue of his sufferings and death on our behalf. This is a pleasing theme; upon it we can never sufficiently dwell; for on this all our everlasting hopes depend. We may observe here. [1.] The encouragement given to the chief of sinners, that come to God by him, Hebrews 7:25. If Jesus, as the scape-goat in the day of expiation, hath borne all our iniquities, then all true believers are assured of redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. [2.] This is God's own constitution, accepting the just for the unjust; and therefore we may with perfect satisfaction rest therein. [3.] This vicarious substitution of the Saviour's obedience unto death in the sinner's stead, is the grand peculiarity, and the distinguishing glory, of the Gospel dispensation.
5. God testified his approbation and satisfaction at the Redeemer's undertaking, by raising him from the dead. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who shall declare his generation? which may be interpreted of the wrong done him in the unjust sentence passed upon him, when, as a malefactor, he was condemned at Pilate's tribunal, and crucified by the men of that generation, whose cruelty and inhumanity were past description. He is raised, therefore, for the justification of all the faithful; and who can declare his generation? since death hath now no more dominion over him, and he hath obtained for himself and his faithful disciples, whom no man can number, an eternity of glory.
3rdly, The same subject is still farther prosecuted—the sufferings of Christ, and the glory which should follow.
1. His sufferings. It pleased the Lord to bruise him, exacting from him the punishment due to our iniquities. He hath put him to grief; Jesus, in his human nature, enduring the severest anguish in his body, and agony in his soul, when he substituted himself in our stead, and made his soul an offering for sin; yielding up himself to suffer; not of constraint, but freely and willingly: and since such was the demand of justice, that nothing but the Saviour's life could satisfy for the sinner, he poured out his soul unto death, as a libation, shedding his blood for the remission of sin. And he was numbered with the transgressors; not only as he was reviled as such, and joined with them at his crucifixion; but, as he bore the sin of many, died under the imputation of their guilt, and made intercession for the transgressors, when on the cross he cried, "Father, forgive them;" and this in virtue of those very sufferings which he there endured, which were then, are now, and ever will be, the only effectual plea on which forgiveness of sin can be obtained.
2. His glory, in virtue of these sufferings, which was engaged for in the covenant of redemption, and for the sake of which he endured the cross, despising the shame. We have here several particulars of this glory:
[1.] He shall see his seed; he shall not die in vain; he will have a spiritual seed, a people who shall call him Father; and he shall prolong his days; himself shall live for evermore, and see the faithful children of his grace, who have yielded to be saved by him, sealed with the whole image of God here below, and gathered to him in eternity, to reign with him in glory everlasting.
[2.] The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; the work of man's redemption, in which God delights, shall be effectually accomplished by him, to his Father's glory, his own everlasting praise, and the eternal comfort of the faithful.
[3.] He shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied; his pangs shall not prove abortive. Note; The ardent longing of the Redeemer after the salvation of men, and the travail he bore: well may we say, Behold, how he loved us.
[4.] By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many: for he shall bear their iniquities: he is righteous himself, and the author of everlasting righteousness to every faithful soul. They are justified, acquitted at God's bar from every accusation; and many declared perfectly righteous, and entitled to all the blessings which he has purchased. The way in which they become possessed of this blessing of justification to life, is, by the knowledge of him, becoming acquainted with his character and transactions, and receiving the record which God has given of his Son; no previous good dispositions in us being at all required; for we are to be saved by grace alone.
[5.] His kingdom shall be great, his subjects numerous; therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; as some mighty conqueror, who by his arms subdues the nations under him, and takes their spoils. Or, I will allot him a multitude of nations, and for a prey many shall fall to his share; even very many of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, brought by the preaching of the Gospel to the obedience of the faith. Note; (1.) Every faithful soul is Christ's spoil, rescued out of the hands of Satan, sin, and death. (2.) Though the unbelievers are, and have been in every age, so much more numerous than the saints of God; yet when the faithful shall be collected together at the last day, they will appear a host which no man can number.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 53". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany