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Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the Bible

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53:0 (Isaiah 52:13-12)

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASBNKJVNRSVTEVNJB
The Suffering ServantThe Sin-Bearing Servant(Isaiah 52:13-12)The Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-12)The Suffering Servant(Isaiah 52:13-12)Fourth Song of the Servant (Isaiah 52:13-12)
Isaiah 53:1-3(1-3)Isaiah 53:1-3(1-3)Isaiah 53:1-3(1-3)Isaiah 53:1-3(1-3)Isaiah 53:1-7(1-7)
Isaiah 53:4-6(4-6)Isaiah 53:4-6(4-6)Isaiah 53:4-6(4-6)Isaiah 53:4-6(4-6)
Isaiah 53:7-9(7-9)Isaiah 53:7-9(7-9)Isaiah 53:7-9(7-9)Isaiah 53:7-9(7-9)
Isaiah 53:8-9(8-9)
Isaiah 53:10-12(10-12)Isaiah 53:10-12(10-12)Isaiah 53:10-12(10-12)Isaiah 53:10-12(10-12)Isaiah 53:10(10)
Isaiah 53:11(11)
Isaiah 53:12(12)

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This is a crucial text for the NT understanding of the ministry and identification of Jesus as YHWH's Suffering Servant. Note the places that it is quoted or alluded to in the NT.

Isaiah 53:1. Isaiah 52:15 - Romans 15:21

Isaiah 53:2. Isaiah 53:1 - Romans 10:16; John 12:38

Isaiah 53:3. Isaiah 53:3 - Luke 18:31-33 (allusion); Mark 10:33-34 (allusion); John 1:10-11 (allusion)

Isaiah 53:4. Isaiah 53:4 - Matthew 8:17; 1 Peter 2:24 (allusion)

Isaiah 53:5. Isaiah 53:5 - Romans 4:25 (allusion); 1 Corinthians 15:3 (allusion); Hebrews 9:28 (allusion); 1 Peter 2:24-25 (allusion)

6. 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 2:25 (allusion)

7. Isaiah 53:7-8 - Matthew 26:63 (allusion); Matthew 27:12-14 (allusion); Mark 14:61 (allusion); Mark 15:5 (allusion); Luke 23:9 (allusion); John 19:9 (allusion); Acts 8:32-33 (quote); 1 Peter 2:23 (allusion)

8. Isaiah 53:9 - Matthew 27:57-60 (allusion); 1 Peter 2:22

9. Isaiah 53:10 - John 1:29 (allusion); Mark 10:45 (allusion)

10. Isaiah 53:11 - John 10:14-18 (allusion); Romans 5:18, Romans 5:19 (allusion); 1 Peter 2:24 (allusion)

1Isaiah 53:1. Isaiah 53:12 - Luke 22:37; 2 Corinthians 5:21 (allusion); Philippians 2:6, Philippians 2:7 (allusion)

B. I am surprised that this very clear substitutionary text is not directly quoted more in the NT. My biases as a Christian evangelical are clearly seen in my understanding of this context. For me the OT must be interpreted in light of its own day (i.e., authorial intent), but also by the use of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), we must read the OT through the revelation of Jesus and the Apostles.

C. I think a helpful way to approach this powerful, and in a sense unique, OT song/poem would be to

1. identify the strophes

2. identify the speaker

3. outline the message

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 53:1-3 1Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Isaiah 53:1 “Who has believed our message” The speaker (PLURAL) is uncertain, but possibly (1) the faithful Jewish remnant or (2) the prophets. It is obvious that very few understood the concept of a suffering Messiah (cf. John 12:38; Romans 10:16)! However, one day the kings of the earth will understand (cf. Isaiah 52:15 and Philippians 2:6-11)!

For “believed” (BDB 52, KB 63, Hiphil PERFECT) see Special Topic: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the OT.

“arm of the LORD” This is an anthropomorphic phrase (cf. Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 52:9, Isaiah 52:10; Deuteronomy 5:15, see Special Topic: God Described As Human (anthropomorphism)) for YHWH's actions, here involving the ministry of the Servant.

Isaiah 53:2 “like a tender shoot” This (BDB 413) refers to His inconspicuous beginnings. It has some connotative relationship with the Messianic term “Branch” (BDB 666, cf. Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1, Isaiah 11:10). Both are used together in Isaiah 11:1.

SPECIAL TOPIC: JESUS THE NAZARENE

“He has no stately form or majesty

That we should look upon Him” Jesus was not physically unusual or attractive. He did not stand out in a crowd in any way (i.e., He could melt into the crowd, cf. John 8:59; John 12:36).

Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised” This VERB (BDB 102, KB 117, Niphal PARTICIPLE) is used as a title, “The Despised One” in Isaiah 49:7. The Qal PASSIVE PARTICIPLE is used in Psalms 22:6, which Christians believe describes Jesus' crucifixion (cf. Matthew 27:35, Matthew 27:39, Matthew 27:43, Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:29, Mark 15:34; Luke 23:34; John 19:24; John 20:25).

So many of the texts in this section of Isaiah are used in the NT. Isaiah clearly reveals God's redemptive plan for all humans (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan).

The last two lines of Isaiah 53:3 have been interpreted in several ways.

1. some of the rabbis said the Messiah would have leprosy (cf. Isaiah 53:11)

2. some relate it to Isaiah 52:14 and see it referring to the beatings Jesus received at the hands of Herod's and Pilate's guards

3. some relate it to Jesus' words in Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27 (from Zechariah 13:7) or John 16:32

“sorrows” This word (BDB 456) can mean

1. physical pain - Exodus 3:7

2. emotional pain - Psalms 38:17-18; Jeremiah 45:3

It is used in this context (Isaiah 52:13-14) of the Servant suffering on behalf of Israel (cf. Isaiah 52:8) and all mankind (cf. Isaiah 52:6).

Verses 4-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 53:4-6 4Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

Isaiah 53:4 “griefs” The word literally means “sickness” (BDB 318, cf. Deuteronomy 28:59, Deuteronomy 28:61), but is used in a much wider sense in Hebrew (Isaiah 1:6; Isaiah 6:10). This speaks of Jesus' substitutionary work (cf. Mark 10:45; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Many have tried to interpret this strophe and Isaiah 53:0:5d as teaching that Jesus' death dealt with believers' sins and sicknesses, but this is to misinterpret the parallelism (cf. Psalms 103:3). “Sickness” is a Hebrew idiom for sin (cf. Isaiah 1:5-6). My favorite charismatic author, Gordon Fee, has written a powerful booklet on this issue entitled The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels.

SPECIAL TOPIC: HEALING

“bore. . .carried” These two VERBS are parallel.

1. bore - BDB 669, KB 724, Qal PERFECT, used of bearing one's guilt, Genesis 4:13; Leviticus 5:1, Leviticus 5:17; Leviticus 7:18; Numbers 5:31; Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 14:10; Ezekiel 44:12, but it is also used of someone or some animal bearing another's guilt, cf. Leviticus 10:17; Leviticus 16:22; Numbers 14:33; Ezekiel 4:4, Ezekiel 4:5, Ezekiel 4:6 and of the suffering Servant's redemptive ministry in Isaiah 53:4

2. carried - BDB 687, KB 741, Qal PERFECT; this is literally “bear a heavy load,” it is used of the Servant in Isaiah 53:4 and Isaiah 53:11 (Qal IMPERFECT)

Notice the series of VERBS in Isaiah 53:4-6 of what YHWH did to the Servant for humanity's benefit.

1. smitten by God, Isaiah 53:4 - BDB 645, KB 697, Hophal PARTICIPLE

2. afflicted (by God), Isaiah 53:4 - BDB 776, KB 853, Pual PARTICIPLE

3. pierced through for our transgressions, Isaiah 53:5 - BDB 319, KB 320, Poal PARTICIPLE

4. crushed for our iniquities, Isaiah 53:5; Isaiah 53:5 - BDB 193, KB 221, Pual PARTICIPLE

5. the chastening for our well being (no VERB) upon Him, Isaiah 53:5

6. by His scourging we are healed, Isaiah 53:5

This is the textual foundation for the doctrine of the vicarious, substitutionary atonement.

“Smitten of God” It was God's will that Jesus die (cf. Isaiah 53:10; John 3:16; Mark 10:45; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus' trial and death were not accidents or mistakes, but the plan of God (cf. Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18; Acts 4:28; 1 Peter 1:20).

Isaiah 53:5 “pierced. . .crushed” As “bore” and “carried” in Isaiah 53:4 were parallel, so too, these VERBS.

1. pierced - BDB 319, KB 320, Poal PARTICIPLE usually by a sword in battle, but not here. The same root means “polluted” for mankind's purification and forgiveness.

2. crushed - BDB 193, KB 221, Pual PARTICIPLE; this VERB is used several times in Isaiah

a. Isaiah 57:15 - Niphal PARTICIPLE, “the heart of the contrite”

b. Isaiah 3:15 - Piel IMPERFECT, “crushing My people”

c. Isaiah 19:10; Isaiah 53:5 - Pual PARTICIPLE, “to be crushed”

d. Isaiah 53:10 - Piel INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT, “to crush”

It denotes one who is humbled. In this context by YHWH Himself for the greater good of all mankind.

Isaiah 53:6 This is the OT counterpart to Romans 3:9-18, Romans 3:23; Romans 5:12, Romans 5:15, Romans 5:18; Romans 11:32; Galatians 3:22. This shows the terrible development of the Fall of Genesis 3:0 (cf. Genesis 6:5, Genesis 6:11-12; Psalms 14:3; Psalms 143:2).

“the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” Jesus died for the sins of the entire world. Everyone is potentially saved by Christ (cf. John 1:29; John 3:16-17; Romans 5:18; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:14). Only willful unbelief keeps anyone from God.

Some commentators have tried to make a restrictive distinction between the “all” [twice] of Isaiah 53:6 and “the many” of Isaiah 53:11d and 12e. However, the parallelism of Romans 5:18, “all” and “the many” of Isaiah 5:19, clearly shows that they refer to the same group (i.e., fallen humanity made in the image and likeness of YHWH, Genesis 1:26-27).

God desires all humans to be saved - John 1:12, John 1:3:16, John 1:4:42; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:1, 1 John 4:14.

Verses 7-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 53:7-9 7He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. 8By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who 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? 9His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

Isaiah 53:7 “Like a lamb” The sacrificial allusion is significant (cf. John 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 5:21).

“He did not open His mouth” This means the Servant did not attempt to defend Himself. There are several allusions to this in Jesus' trials.

1. Jesus' night trial before Caiaphas - Matthew 26:63; Mark 14:61

2. Jesus' trial before Pilate - Matthew 27:12-14; Mark 15:5; John 19:9

3. Jesus before Herod the Tetrarch - Luke 23:9

Isaiah 53:8 “For the transgression of my people” This phrase shows that the term “Servant” in this context cannot be national Israel. The Servant dies (cf. Isa. 8d) for Israel.

This song/poem has several rare and unusual VERBALS.

1. 52:15, “what had not been told” - Pual PERFECT (BDB 707, KB 765)

2. 52:15, “they will understand” - Hithpolel PERFECT (BDB 106, KB 122)

3. 53:4, “smitten” - Hophal PARTICIPLE (BDB 645, KB 697)

4. 53:4, “afflicted” - Pual PARTICIPLE (BDB 776, KB 853)

5. 53:5, “pierced” - Poal PARTICIPLE (BDB 319, KB 320)

6. 53:5, “crushed” - Pual PARTICIPLE (BDB 193, KB 221)

7. 53:7, “led” - Hophal IMPERFECT (BDB 384, KB 383)

8. 53:8, “considered” - Polel IMPERFECT (BDB 967, KB 1319)

Isaiah 53:9 This verse describes so explicitly the crucifixion and burial of Jesus (cf. Matthew 27:38-59), as does Psalms 22:0.

Verses 10-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 53:10-12 10But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. 12Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53:10 “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief

Notice the agent and object of these VERBS.

1. YHWH was pleased (lit. “it was the will of” - BDB 342, KB 339, Qal PERFECT). This VERB means “to delight in” (cf. Isaiah 58:2; Isaiah 62:4) or “desire” (Isaiah 55:11). It is even used of YHWH's pleasure to put someone to death in 1 Samuel 2:25. It is shocking to use a VERB like this in connection with the unfair, painful treatment of the righteous Servant. YHWH had a redemptive plan (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan)!

2. YHWH's will and purpose was “to crush” (Piel INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT, cf. Isaiah 53:5) and “put to grief” (Hiphil PERFECT, BDB 317, KB 311). The VERB means “to make sick” (JPSOA) or “sore by hitting.” There was a high and costly price to pay for human redemption! YHWH and His Servant paid it fully and freely!

NASB“If He would render Himself as a guilt offering” NKJV, NRSV“When You make His soul an offering for sin” TEV“His death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness” NJB“if he gives his life as a sin offering” JPSOA“if he made himself an offering for guilt” PESHITTA“he laid down his life as an offering for sin”

This phrase is so simple yet so profound. It involves

1. the will of YHWH

2. the will of the Servant

3. the sinful ones who chose to receive this guilt offering (implied)

This is the Hebrew theological concept of “corporality.” It is illustrated by

1. the sacrificial system (Leviticus 1-7), but especially the Day of Atonement (cf. Leviticus 16:0)

2. the sin of Achan affecting the Israeli army (Joshua 7:0)

3. the clear explanation in Romans 5:12-21

4. another great example in 2 Corinthians 5:21

One innocent One paid the price to set free all the guilty ones!

“He will prolong His days” It is obvious that the Servant dies (cf. Isaiah 53:8, Isaiah 53:9, Isaiah 53:12). Therefore, this verse must refer to life after death!

Notice all the things that YHWH will do for Him.

1. He will see His offspring (lit. “seed”), Isaiah 53:10

2. He will prolong His days (this must refer to His afterlife), Isaiah 53:10

3. the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand (i.e., YHWH's plan to restore fellowship with mankind), Isaiah 53:10

4. He will see it and be satisfied, Isaiah 53:11 (refers to YHWH's good pleasure [will]), Isaiah 53:10e

5. He will justify the many, Isaiah 53:11

6. allot Him a portion with the great, Isaiah 53:12

7. He will divide the booty with the strong, Isaiah 53:12

Poetry is always difficult to interpret. Some of these items are uncertain!

Isaiah 53:11it The LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls have “lights” (NRSV, NJB). The MT does not have “it” (see NKJV). The UBS Text Project thinks “light” may have dropped out of the text (B rating), p.146.

“By His knowledge” the NRSV has “he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.” The question of “what knowledge” seems to relate to

1. see His offspring (Isaiah 53:10d)

2. prolong His life (Isaiah 53:10e)

3. prospering of YHWH's will (Isaiah 53:10f)

4. results of His anguish (Isaiah 53:11a)

“the Righteous One. . .justify” These are both formed from one root (BDB 842, 843). YHWH's sin-bearing (cf. Isaiah 53:11e) Servant will accomplish righteousness for all who believe and receive (cf. John 1:12; John 3:16; Romans 10:9-13).

“the many” See note at “all” of Isaiah 53:6.

“He will bear their iniquities” The same VERB (BDB 687, KB 741, Qal IMPERFECT) was also used in Isaiah 53:4. See note there.

Isaiah 53:12a,b “He will divide the booty with the strong” This is a war metaphor of victory. It is not to be taken literally, but figuratively of spiritual victory (cf. Isaiah 52:13)!

“He poured out Himself to death” This VERB (BDB 788, KB 881, Hiphil PERFECT) is literally “be naked” or “be bare” or “to empty.” It is used in Isaiah in several senses.

1. to uncover a weapon, Isaiah 22:6

2. for the Spirit being given (i.e., poured out), Isaiah 32:15

3. BDB calls it a metaphor in this text reflecting the Piel usage #3 (cf. Psalms 141:8)

4. KB calls it “to tip out,” a metaphor “to throw away one life to death”

“And was numbered with the transgressors” Luke 22:37 quotes this verse as being spoken by Jesus in Gethsemane when the soldiers and guards came to arrest Him.

Notice the same word (BDB 833) was used of Israel's sin in Isaiah 53:8 and all humans' sin in Isaiah 53:5.

“He Himself bore the sin of many” This means substitutionary, vicarious atonement (cf. Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Mark 14:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 1:4; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14). The UBS Text Project thinks “sin” should be PLURAL (B rating).

“And interceded for the transgressors” And He still does (cf. Romans 8:27, Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 9:24; 1 John 2:1)!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Does the title “My Servant” refer to the Jews or the Messiah?

2. Why are the numerous references to the Gentiles' inclusion so significant in this passage?

3. Why did God choose the Jews?

4. Why did the Servant suffer?

5. Why was God pleased to crush Him?

6. What does Isaiah 53:6 say about sin?

7. Why has this passage been so influential on the church?

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Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 53". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/isaiah-53.html. 2021.