Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 53

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


This chapter continues the subject from Isaiah 52:13 of the preceding chapter, but the representation takes another turn. Though clearly announced in prophecy, the Messiah (servant of Jehovah) is reluctantly acknowledged when, in the prophetic perspective, he comes. The new turn here consists in this: that he suffers a self-imposed humiliation, and that it is vicarious. He suffers for others, and voluntarily, not accidentally; neither by, nor on account of, his own fault.

Verse 1

1. Who Who among this class of Israel. The question denotes a prophetic anticipation of a renewed lapse on the part of the Jews from a full faith in the true Messiah when he comes; and the “who” refers to this.

Hath believed our report Or, the doctrine received by us, the heralds, (Isaiah 52:15,) announcing the oncoming servant of Jehovah, the Messiah, now sadly marred in aspect this the lapsed ones of Israel will find difficult to understand and to receive.

Arm of the Lord A figure for that of which the arm is the symbol the almighty power of God, (Isaiah 52:10,) or the divine power inwardly revealed. The question is: Among whom is this taking place, and resulting in salvation? See John 12:28; Romans 10:16.

Verses 1-12

Sec. 3. MESSIAH AND THE GOSPEL, Isaiah 52:11 to Isaiah 55:13.

Thus far in this chapter is treated the case of an exalted Church passing, step by step, through suffering and deliverances into the purity of the typical holy Zion; from this point the view is turned again to the “Servant” of Jehovah, through whom the prophet has seen the Church to be redeemed. The portrait of a suffering servant is here filled out in detail, as a side-piece (Delitzsch) to the liberation and deliverance of Zion-Jerusalem already just depicted. He has conducted his people through suffering to glory.

This picture is to show, not only that Messiah’s earthly pathway, as our Mediator, is to be through intense, but voluntary, suffering, but also that it is in his heart also to suffer for and instead of, as well as with, his people.

Verses 2-3

2, 3. The point of view appears to be, when Messiah’s sufferings are over, and he about entering into his glory.

He shall grow up The verb in Hebrew is, as usual, in the prophetic past. Growth has been from the first Messianic germ, (Genesis 3:15,) till fully realized in Jesus Christ. Through all its history, the Messianic conception has been as a tender plant, nourished by Jehovah indeed, but very little by men. Its root, the root of Jesse, in itself was vigorous, advancing to the Davidic kingship, itself thus asserting herein its own type of ultimate royalty; then it retired long from view, yet still growing feebly as in a parched land that of the impure soil of men’s hearts. Except a humble few, men look away from him. He is not of their sort, their character. He is not their ideal Messiah; they do not sympathize with his griefs; they abandon him.

Rejected Literally, ceased from men. He thoroughly knows the world’s sins, and its sicknesses, pains, calamities which come therefrom. But he finds few to feel with him. All repel him, turn away the face, despise him. But is this sufferer really the Messiah of the old prophets? So even the old Jews all interpreted till after the Christian era, when their interpretation was cited against them, and they were pressed in self-defense to change it. Even then some fair-minded Jews have continued to regard the passage as descriptive only of Messiah. More, however, apply the passage to the Jews as a body, now in a state of dispersion and affliction. Some hold Jeremiah, and others Isaiah, to be the person meant. These views are upheld by the weakest of arguments. Of course, also, all who deny supernatural prophecy refuse altogether to see any Messianic reference here. But this reference is sustained by the sound sense of all candid interpreters and disinterested sensible readers.

Esteemed him not Undervalued him.

Verse 4

4. Another turn occurs here. Already it seems to have been implied that when, in the prophetic outlook, the Messiah should come, he would not come in the form or aspect expected. Now the confession is:

Surely That is, actually.

He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows It is, indeed, an actual burden he has borne that of our sorrows; also, that of expiation for our sins.

Did esteem him Our opinion was, indeed, that he was, or had been, stricken. But struck with leprosy, as it were, for so the original may mean, or what was equal to the worst of diseases. He knew in his experience the suffering due to every form of evil.

Smitten of God Visited of God, and thus to be looked upon as worthy to be despised and rejected.

Verse 5

5. He was wounded Either bodily, very much crushed, or mentally, broken in spirit. (Gesenius.) Gesenius refers it to the second; Furst, in general, to the first, which is perhaps the true sense. The suffering for the most part is external, yet not without terrible internal feeling. The Sufferer dies under it, though an innocent, not a guilty, sufferer. In the nature of the case, then, it is unresisted suffering, hence voluntarily endured.

He was bruised Applied to the body, crushed; applied to the mind, severe inward agony is implied.

Chastisement A burden of woe, whatever it was, assumed to secure our reconciliation and peace.

Stripes Or, something analogous thereto. The nearest to reaching the meaning here is, to suppose marks by blows upon his person substitutively received by him for us. In virtue of these we are healed. The first severe physical act of suffering on the part of our Saviour was the scourging he endured prior to execution on the cross. The word “stripes,” then, must be a collective term, (representing the first stage of his substitution,) figuring what he thus far had endured as our substitute. By “his stripes,” as a whole, that is, by his sufferings collectively considered, we are healed, reconciled, and saved. Is not this the meaning of the second member of the parallelism?

Verse 6

6. The sufferings described in Isaiah 53:5 were those endured by Jehovah’s innocent and righteous Servant, such as he took on himself; and this voluntary endurance in our stead became the source of our healing. The confession still is, He actually suffered. We, the restored ones of Israel, see the case differently from what we did in Isaiah 53:1-3. We also see that he suffered on our account. All we like sheep have (stupidly) gone astray We have selfishly sought our own pleasure; have recklessly forgotten God’s commands. This comparison is not unusual. (See Ezekiel 34:5; Mat 9:36 ; 1 Peter 2:25.) The statement here gives the reason for sufferings inexpressible voluntarily endured on our behalf. He suffered to bring reconciliation and peace. As a sinless one he did not, he could not, suffer our own penalty. But his sufferings were an equivalent therefor, in consideration of the greatness and holiness of his person. He suffered in full measure what became an expression of the punishment which as a race we deserve. In this sense the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. He caused to meet in, or to rush upon, his incarnated self, such amount of suffering as should express the fact or consideration of a suffering of penalty due to us on account of our sins; and this by the cordial acceptance of the Sufferer himself. The Messianic Sufferer became the ideal personal Saviour or Atoner typified by the great sacrificial system of the Old Testament. He became the antitypical declaration to the universe of an eternally competent vicarious sacrifice for the sins of this fallen world. The infinitely Just One hovered over (Hebrew, על , Greek, υπερ the unjust, (clear before law,) and meekly willed to take the required blow upon his own head. Still He became not a sinner thereby. He suffered merely as if he were the world’s concentrated body of sinners. In undertaking to save, he encountered the power of sin and broke it; wrought ample expiation for sin, and connected therewith a new covenant of forgiveness for penitent souls. He made his sufferings vicarious, in that himself, who was not in his own person subject to death, did die unto sin as head of a race that was subject so to die.

Verse 7

7. He was oppressed, etc. This verse expresses the treatment he received and his conduct under it.

He opened not his mouth The prophet observes the scene in perspective vision, and so uses the future in the words. He will not open his mouth. The prophetic past thus employs the future tense. The silence of Messiah under cruelties is, not unaptly, compared to that of the innocent lamb a comparison much maintained throughout the New Testament. (See case of Jesus before Pilate.)

Verse 8

8. From prison and from judgment… who shall declare, etc. Among multifarious interpretations here, that which is least often adopted seems the best, ( Lowth,) namely, Deprived of proper legal detainment and trial the usual prior summoning of witnesses, according to Jewish law who can have the requisite knowledge of his teaching and way of life in such a precipitate condemnation? The Hebrew preposition mem, (English, from,) before the words rendered “prison,” and “judgment,” denotes the unjust privative fact, or legal right denied to him; and Christ’s own reference when before Pilate (John 18:20-21) to the Jewish law of trial, adds force to this interpretation, which is further sustained by the following clause.

For he was cut off out of the land of the living And this with indecent haste; with no chance for a proper trial: all this, too, because he was willing to suffer for the sins of the people of Israel and of the world.

Was he stricken Hebrew, The stroke was upon him.

Verse 9

9. Made his grave with the wicked… with the rich How circumstantial the facts in this verse! As if himself were a malefactor, he suffered and died with malefactors. But from the first moment afterward, not the indecencies common to malefactors’ burials attended his dead body, but honour in a high degree; his burial was most honourable. His spirit, also, (1 Peter 3:19,) rose to more than its normal vigour; then body and spirit were reunited in immortal resurrection.

Because Here is a sudden change in the thought directed to a re-attestation of the sufferer’s innocence.

Verses 10-11

10, 11. It pleased the Lord to bruise him Notwithstanding his innocence. His bruising thus accords with the divine idea of permitting (Acts 2:23) an expression of love through suffering, which expression Messiah alone is competent to make. The time of being pleased with Old Testament sacrifices is proleptically past, as brought out in Psalms 40:6-8, (Lo, I come, etc.) But the time of receiving reward for suffering is now at hand.

He shall see his seed Love declared to the world through a suffering self-offering, is to reap fruit in a long line of spiritual children whose own deserved penal sufferings are offset by Messiah’s free suffering instead.

He shall prolong his days This he is to do in the great mediatorial aion the period of the great Christian dispensation that is to follow during which his joy shall abound more and more through the vast increase of redeemed ones coming into his kingdom. A fitting and satisfying reward shall this prove to be. The same idea is expanded in Isaiah 53:11.

By his knowledge His “knowledge,” probably, of the eternal plan to save men; “knowledge” of the how, and why, and extent, of such a plan, possibly not fully contemplated till his glorification began, just prior to his priestly sufferings, and continuing to his exaltation. See Matthew 24:36. Such knowledge was relief to those sufferings. He saw from the cross “the glory that should follow,” and in a sense was thereby sustained. In such case he could freely and joyfully interpose for a world of sinners with sufferings due only to them, and of such a character that divine justice and government might accept his suffering in lieu of theirs, and be in no jeopardy.

Verse 12

12. Therefore That is, for all this mediatorial suffering and work; for this whole victorious combat with the powers of sin.

Will I divide him Hebrew, to him.

With the great Or, among the great. The figure is, of spoils from great conquests, and its meaning as applied to a suffering Messiah is, that his victories shall be very great. The language is mixed with ellipses, and is therefore obscure. To arrange it into orderly thought is difficult. A fair theory of the course of thought in the verse is, that it runs on a line of glorious promise between Messiah, humiliation, and exaltation, just now to be entered on. Out of trial, suffering, and combat, he is to come forth victorious. He shall build up a spiritual kingdom that is to crush all other powers, that is never to be diminished, and is to be unending. And all this, because, first, he freely poured out his life, that is, his blood, for life is in the blood, (Leviticus 17:11;) second, because he submitted to an ignominious death; and third, because he is an effective intercessor for men. The first two are already accomplished, and the third he is still acting. These constitute him a perfect mediator. The time when intercession shall cease is yet to come, and then he shall deliver up his kingdom with triumph eternally complete.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 53". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.