BEHOLD, THE LAMB OF GOD
I. THE HISTORICAL SETTING OF ISAIAH 53
IN the latter section of Isaiah¹ (chapters 40-66) appear the great Servant Passages which reach the highest peaks of glory of the revelation contained in the Tenach.
These twenty-seven chapters divide into three sections of nine chapters each. In the first section (chapters 40-48) Israel is seen in Babylonian captivity and Cyrus, the king of Persia, appears upon the historical horizon as the one chosen of God through whom deliverance shall be brought to the captive exiles. In the same section also appears "the servant of the Lord" who, in a very limited and imperfect way, Cyrus typifies. In the second section (chapters 48-57) appears this Servant of the Lord as the principal actor upon the stage. Here Israel in the white light of spiritual illumination which comes from the Spirit of God is seen to be in a captivity of a far more serious nature than of being in exile in a foreign country, i.e., in the bondage and servitude to sin and unrighteousness. Here also the Servant of the Lord in the three central chapters of this middle division appears as the great deliverer of his people from this spiritual bondage. In the last section (chapters 58-66) the glorious result of the work of the Servant of the Lord has appeared, Israel has been delivered from her severe bondage to sin and is enjoying the covenant relationship with her God under the personal rule and power of the Servant of the Lord.
In the central chapter of this central section of the second half of Isaiah the Servant stands forth in all His glory and beauty. This great passage (52:13-53:12) is the highest mountain peak of God's prophetic revelation.
II. THE TEXT OF THE GREAT SERVANT PASSAGE
הִנֵּה יַשְׂכִּיל עַבְדִּי יָרוּם וְנִשָּׂא וְגָבַהּ מְאֹד׃ כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁמְמוּ עָלֶיךָ רַבִּים כֵּן־מִשְׁחַת מֵאִישׁ מַרְאֵהוּ וְתֹאֲרוֹ מִבְּנֵי אָדָם׃ כֵּן יַזֶּה גּוֹיִם רַבִּים עָלָיו יִקְפְּצוּ מְלָכִים פִּיהֶם כִּי אֲשֶׁר לֹא־סֻפַּר לָהֶם רָאוּ וַאֲשֶׁר לֹא־שָׁמְעוּ הִתְבּוֹנָנוּ׃
מִי הֶאֱמִין לִשְׁמֻעָתֵנוּ וּזְרוֹעַ יְהוָה עַל־מִי נִגְלָתָה׃ וַיַּעַל כַּיּוֹנֵק לְפָנָיו וְכַשֹּׁרֶשׁ מֵאֶרֶץ צִיָּה לֹא־תֹאַר לוֹ וְלֹא הָדָר וְנִרְאֵהוּ וְלֹא־מַרְאֶה וְנֶחְמְדֵהוּ׃ נִבְזֶה וַחֲדַל אִישִׁים אִישׁ מַכְאֹבוֹת וִידוּעַ חֹלִי וּכְמַסְתֵּר פָּנִים מִמֶּנּוּ נִבְזֶה וְלֹא חֲשַׁבְנֻהוּ׃ אָכֵן חֳלָיֵנוּ הוּא נָשָׂא וּמַכְאֹבֵינוּ סְבָלָם וַאֲנַחְנוּ חֲשַׁבְנֻהוּ נָגוּעַ מֻכֵּה אֱלֹהִים וּמְעֻנֶּה׃ וְהוּא מְחֹלָל מִפְּשָׁעֵנוּ מְדֻכָּא מֵעֲוֹנֹתֵינוּ מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ׃ כֻּלָּנוּ כַּצֹּאן תָּעִינוּ אִישׁ לְדַרְכּוֹ פָּנִינוּ וַיהוָה הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ אֵת עֲוֹן כֻּלָּנוּ׃ נִגַּשׂ וְהוּא נַעֲנֶה וְלֹא יִפְתַּח־פִּיו כַּשֶּׂה לַטֶּבַח יוּבָל וּכְרָחֵל לִפְנֵי גֹזְזֶיהָ נֶאֱלָמָה וְלֹא יִפְתַּח פִּיו׃ מֵעֹצֶר וּמִמִּשְׁפָּט לֻקָּח וְאֶת־דּוֹרוֹ מִי יְשׂוֹחֵחַ כִּי נִגְזַר מֵאֶרֶץ חַיִּים מִפֶּשַׁע עַמִּי נֶגַע לָמוֹ׃ וַיִּתֵּן אֶת־רְשָׁעִים קִבְרוֹ וְאֶת־עָשִׁיר בְּמֹתָיו עַל לֹא־חָמָס עָשָׂה וְלֹא מִרְמָה בְּפִיו׃ וַיהוָה חָפֵץ דַּכְּאוֹ הֶחֱלִי אִם־תָּשִׂים אָשָׁם נַפְשׁוֹ יִרְאֶה זֶרַע יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים וְחֵפֶץ יְהוָה בְּיָדוֹ יִצְלָח׃ מֵעֲמַל נַפְשׁוֹ יִרְאֶה יִשְׂבָּע בְּדַעְתּוֹ יַצְדִּיק צַדִּיק עַבְדִּי לָרַבִּים וַעֲוֹנֹתָם הוּא יִסְבֹּל׃ לָכֵן אֲחַלֶּק־לוֹ בָרַבִּים וְאֶת־עֲצוּמִים יְחַלֵּק שָׁלָל תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱרָה לַמָּוֶת נַפְשׁוֹ וְאֶת־פֹּשְׁעִים נִמְנָה וְהוּא חֵטְא־רַבִּים נָשָׂא וְלַפֹּשְׁעִים יַפְגִּיעַ׃
"Behold, my servant will deal wisely, he will rise and be exalted, and be very high. Just as many were astonished at thee, so disfigured, his appearance was not like that of a man, and his form not like that of the children of men, so will he make many nations tremble; kings will shut their mouths at him, for they see what has not been told them, and perceive what they have not heard. Who has believed what we have heard? And the arm of the Lord,--over whom hath it been revealed? And he came up like a layer-sprig before him, and like a root-sprout out of dry ground; he had no form and no beauty, and we saw him and there was no appearance that we could have found pleasure in him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and familiar with sickness, and like one from whom men hide their face, despised, and we esteemed him not. Verily our sicknesses he hath borne, and our pains--he hath laden them; but we considered him as one stricken, one smitten of God, and afflicted. Whereas he was pierced because of our transgressions, bruised because of our iniquities; the punishment for peace to us lay upon him, and through his stripes came healing to us. We all like sheep went astray; we had each turned to his own way, and the Lord caused to fall on him the iniquity of us all. He was ill-treated, while he suffered willingly, and opened not his mouth; like the lamb that is led to the shambles, and like a sheep that is dumb before her shearers, and he opened not his mouth. Out of prison and out of judgment was he taken; and of his contemporaries, who considered this: 'He was snatched out of the land of the living, seeing that, on account of the transgression of my people, vengeance fell on him?' And his grave was assigned to him with transgressors, and with a rich man was he in his death, because he had committed no unrighteousness, nor was there deceit in his mouth. And it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he afflicted him with disease: if his soul were to pay a trespass-offering, he should see posterity, live long days, and the purpose of the Lord should prosper through his hand. Because of the travail of his soul he will see, will refresh himself; through his knowledge will he obtain righteousness, my righteous Servant, for the many, and their iniquities will he take upon himself. Therefore I give him a share with the great, and with the strong will he share spoil; because he poured out his soul unto death, and let himself be numbered among transgressors, while he bare the sins of many, and interceded for the transgressors" (Isa. 52:13-53:12).
The English translation quoted above is from the Fourth Edition of "Commentary on Isaiah" by the late Franz Delitzsch. In order to understand the message of this great servant passage, one must study the text most carefully.
"But yet a connection must exist between the national sense in which 'Servant of the Lord' was used in 41:8 and the personal one here. The future Saviour is not described as the Son of David, as in chaps. 7-12 and elsewhere, but appears as the embodied idea of Israel, i.e., as its truth and reality in person. The idea of Servant of the Lord, to speak figuratively, is a pyramid. The lower basis is the whole of Israel; the middle section, Israel not merely after the flesh, but after the Spirit, the summit is the person of the Mediator of salvation arising out of Israel. The Mediator is the centre (1) in the circle of the kingdom of promise--the second David; (2) in the circle of the people of salvation--the true Israel; (3) in the circle of humanity--the second Adam. In these discourses, chaps. 40-66, the doctrine of salvation reaches its second stage. Israel's character as God's servant, rooted in the Lord's choice and call, and exhibited in bearing and action which harmonize with that call, is concentrated in Him, in Him alone, as its ripest fruit. God's gracious purpose in reference to humanity, which was the governing force in Israel's election, is carried by Him to full accomplishment."
III. WHO IS THIS SERVANT OF ISA. 52:13-53:12?
Having seen that the context in each instance must determine to whom or to what the expression "my servant" refers the reader is now invited to note carefully the context of chapters 52:13-53:12 to ascertain who is the servant here.
A. Is Israel This Servant?
In the first place, is the suffering servant a Personification of the nation of Israel? To this question some honest, conscientious scholars answer in the affirmative. To the writer, however, this position is untenable for six unmistakable reasons:
(1) The prophet speaks of the servant as "he," "him," and "his" and clearly differentiates him from the audience with which he identifies himself and of which he speaks as "we," "our," and "us" (See 53:1-6). Since it is to the nation that he addresses his discourse and since he distinguishes between the servant and the audience, the servant is not the nation.
(2) This servant suffers for the entire nation. In 53:6 the prophet declares that all Israel has gone astray, i.e., they have gone off into sin. In verse 8 he affirms that the servant "was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my [Isaiah's people, the Hebrews] people to whom the stroke was due." Since, therefore, the servant suffers for the guilt of the nation, he cannot be the nation.
(3) The servant submits to the suffering heaped upon him submissively offering NO resistance. From this standpoint it is clear that one other than the nation is the sufferer. It is a well known fact that, instead of submitting to the cruelties and atrocities heaped upon her, Israel has stubbornly resisted with physical force in innumerable instances those who persecuted her, and only submitted when overpowered by superior forces. As proof of this assertion it is well to note the following summary of some outstanding historical facts in the life of the nation, which is written by an eminent Hebrew who deals with this subject historically: "Here is one described, who bears all sorts of affliction and oppression, without making the slightest resistance, without even opening his mouth to utter reproach--one who has the meekness and gentleness of a lamb, the inoffensiveness of a sheep. Surely this does not apply to the Jews. A very hasty glance at this history is sufficient to convince us of that. As long as ever they had the power, they did resist bitterly and bloodily. We freely acknowledge that their provocations were great. We have no wish to defend the wickedness of Christian nations. We grant that their treatment of the Jews is a blot and a stain. But that is not the question. The question is, Did the Jews bear all the oppression heaped upon them like lambs? Did they suffer evil-without resisting it? History answers in the negative. The history of the Jewish captivity for the first seven centuries is a history of a series of insurrections, fierce and violent, against the nations. How desperate was the resistance to the Roman power which brought on the destruction of the temple by Titus! But when that was destroyed, the spirit of resistance still remained. A.D. 115, the Jews of Cyrene rebelled and slew 220,000 Libyans; and it was not until after several bloody battles that they submitted. A.D. 132, Bar Cochba appeared in the character of the Messiah at the head of an army, ready to shake off the Roman yoke. R. Akiba, one of those looked upon by the Rabbis as most righteous, supported his resistance to the Roman authority; a bloody war was the consequence, and it was only by force that this insurrection was put down. A.D. 415, the Jews of Alexandria revolted. A.D. 522, the Jews of Persia revolted under the conduct of R. Mid, or Miz, at their head, and declared war against the King of Persia. A.D. 535, the Jews in Caesarea rebelled. A.D. 602, the Jews at Antioch. A.D. 624, the Jews in Arabia took up arms against Mahomet. A.D. 613, they joined the armies of Chosroes, when he made himself master of Jerusalem, and put thousands to death."
(4) This servant suffers VOLUNTARILY but the nation has never thus suffered. "He poured out his soul unto death." This statement shows that he suffers willingly, which position is strengthened by the fact that when he suffers he is silent and resigned to his lot. Nowhere in the pages of Jewish history can it be shown that the nation or a remnant of the nation has voluntarily suffered in behalf of others. Therefore from this consideration it is clear that the nation is not the subject of the prophecy.
(5) The servant suffers UNTO DEATH, whereas the nation is to continue. According to 53:8,12, the servant is cut off out of the land of the living, but, according to Jer. 30:11, Israel continues as a nation: "For I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have scattered thee, but I will not make a full end of thee; but I will correct thee in measure, and will in no wise leave thee unpunished." Therefore, since the servant goes to death, but the nation survives the catastrophe which blots out all other nations, Israel cannot be the servant of this passage.
(6) The servant is RIGHTEOUS whereas the nation, according to all of the prophets, is unrighteous and sinful. According to Isa. 53:11, God declares that he is righteous, and according to verse 9, which is a part of Israel's penitential confession, he does no violence, neither is deceit in his mouth. Since every man has to suffer for his own sins (Ezek. 18:20, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die"), and since the Servant does not suffer for his own sins but for the sins of others, he is free from sin; hence righteous in the absolute sense of the term. Such cannot be said of the nation for all like sheep have gone astray. In order to see the great abyss of sin and unfaithfulness into which the nation is plunged, see Isa. 59. THEREFORE ISRAEL IS NOT THE SERVANT.
B. Is a Pious Remnant the Servant?
Having seen conclusively that the nation cannot possibly be the subject of this prophecy, the reader is now asked to consider the question whether a pious remnant of the nation can be personified and presented as the righteous Servant. There are those who affirm that such is the case. To the writer, however, there are, again, six conclusive arguments which disprove most clearly and most positively this position.
(1) If a pious remnant is the servant, then, the pronouns "he," "his," and "him" would refer to this remnant, and the pronouns "we," "us," and "our" would likewise refer to the rest of the nation. Since Isaiah identified himself with those referred to by the latter pronouns, he would not be numbered in that class referred to by the former pronouns which, according to this interpretation, refer to the pious remnant. Therefore this supposition is reduced to an absurdity since Isaiah, a righteous man, would not be classed among the pious remnant, but with the ungodly.
(2) A second consideration disproving this position is that no individual can make atonement for the sins of others since each one bears his own iniquity, according to Ezek. 18:20.
(3) A third consideration is that there has been no individual in the nation in the past who can be said to have been free from sin; and hence able to atone for the sins of the people.
(4) The most pious and godly of the nation throughout its past history have whenever possible avoided suffering, which characteristic is common to mankind; but this servant suffers willingly.
(5) According to this passage the servant is cut off out of the land of the living; but if the servant is the remnant, it is to cease to exist; this conclusion is contrary to the predictions of the prophets, which declare that the faithful remnant will continue.
(6) The most pious and godly among the Hebrews have acknowledged their sinfulness, but this servant does not. Isaiah, when the Lord appeared to him, confessed his sinfulness (Isa. 6:5). In making a prediction concerning the nation in the "end time" Isaiah in 64:5-7 says: "Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou wast wroth, and we sinned: in them have we been of long time; and shall we be saved? For we are all become as one that is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment: and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee; for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us by means of our iniquities." It is very clear from this passage that even the most pious and godly of the nation of the future will make this great confession of their sinfulness.
From the six considerations just enumerated it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that this servant cannot be a pious remnant of the nation.
C. Is The Messiah This Servant?
Since the considerations noted above prove clearly that the servant is neither the nation personified nor a pious remnant of the nation thus considered, it is now in order to investigate a third interpretation, namely, that this servant is Israel's Messiah of whom the prophets spoke frequently. The evidence at hand is overwhelming that the ancient synagogue thus interpreted it as Messianic. Jonathan ben Uzziel (first century of the common era) begins his Targum on this passage: "Behold, my Servant, Messiah, shall prosper; He shall be high and increase, and be exceedingly strong." In this passage he interprets all of the statements which refer to an exalted Messiah to an individual, but those statements which refer to sufferings he applies to the nation. In order to do this he juggles with the words, not permitting them to speak for themselves. "The Babylonian Talmud likewise reflects this same ancient interpretation in Sanhedrin: "The Messiah--what is his name? ... Rabbis say the 'leprous one'; (those) of the house of Rabbi (say), 'the sinful one,' as it is said 'Surely He hath borne our sicknesses.' "
Even Abarbanel admits the Messianic interpretation, though in a polemic against the Nazarenes he applies it to the Jewish nation. "The first question," says he, "is to ascertain to whom (this Scripture) refers: for the learned among the Nazarenes expound it of the man who was crucified in Jerusalem at the end of the second Temple, and who, according to them, was the Son of God and took form in the Virgin's womb, as is stated in their writings. Jonathan ben Uzziel interprets it in the Targum of the future Messiah; and this is also the opinion of our learned men in the majority of their Misrashim." Likewise, Jafet, the Karaite, interprets the passage as Messianic in his presenting the career of the Messiah from birth to the throne and appeals to Benjamin ha-Nahawendi, of the same Jewish sect, as authority for his interpretation.
This Messianic interpretation of the passage seems to have been universal up to the days of Rashi (Rabbi Solomon Yizchaki) 1040-1105, who applied it to the Jewish nation. In commenting on the change of interpretation David Baron, the eminent Hebrew scholar, says: "The Messianic interpretation of this chapter (Isa. 53) was most universally adopted by Jews, and his view, which we shall examine presently, although received by Aben Ezra, Kimchi, and others, was rejected as unsatisfactory by Maimonides, who is regarded by the Jews as of highest authority, by Alshech (as stated above) and many others, one of whom says the interpretation adopted by Rashi 'distorts the passage from its natural meaning,' and that in truth 'it was given of God as a description of the Messiah, whereby, when any should claim to be the Messiah, to judge by the resemblance or non-resemblance to it, whether he were the Messiah or not,' and another says: 'The meaning of "was wounded for our transgressions, ... bruised for our iniquities," is that since the Messiah bears our iniquities, which produce the effect of His being bruised, it follows that whosoever will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities must endure and suffer for them himself.'"
Not only have Hebrew scholars in the past interpreted this passage as Messianic, but the liturgy for the Day of Atonement in the Musaph Service confesses: "We are shrunk up in our misery even until now! Our Rock hath not come nigh unto us: Messiah our Righteousness (or 'our righteous Messiah') has departed from us: Horror hath seized upon us and we have none to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities and our transgressions and is wounded because of our transgressions. He beareth our sins on His shoulders that He may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by His wound at the time the Eternal will create Him (Messiah) as a new creature. Oh bring Him up from the circle of the earth, raise Him up from Seir to assemble us the second time on Mount Lebanon, by the hand of Yinnon." This excerpt is conclusive proof that the writer of this section of the liturgy, who is said to have been Eleazer ben Katin, and who lived in the ninth century, likewise interpreted this passage as Messianic. In the Daily Prayer Book in Hebrew and English, published by the Hebrew Publication Society, on pages 250 and 251 the Messiah is called 'the Son of David, Thy Servant.' This use of the term is an echo of the Messianic interpretation of Isa. 53.
IV. THE CAREER OF THE MESSIAH 52:13-15
From the foregoing discussion it is clear to the reader that the subject of this prophecy is the personal Messiah of whom the prophets have spoken. In the three verses for consideration in this section appears an outline of the entire career of the Messiah. Verse 13, in the briefest manner, outlines his career from the time of his entrance into the world unto his exaltation at the right hand of God; verse 14 explains graphically his deep humiliation and suffering which are presupposed in verse 13; and verse 15 advances beyond verse 13 in that it speaks of his future glories when he shall return to the earth and become King of kings, and Lord of lords. The prediction begins with the exclamation הִנֵּה "Behold."² Thus God points out His servant to the nation.
He "deals wisely" or "prospers." His wisdom expresses itself in His action and He is successful in accomplishing the work which He has to do.
Next the statement is made, "He will rise, and be exalted, and be very high." The word יָרוּם translated by Delitzsch "He will rise" has as its inherent meaning the idea of rising but one has to learn from the context the nature of the rising. The English versions with which the author is acquainted translate it "be exalted." This translation is rather vague because one cannot learn from it whether the servant is exalted among men, i.e., he is highly esteemed by men, or he is exalted by the Lord who esteems him highly because "he deals wisely." The context precludes the idea that he is exalted by men for in 53:2,3 the prediction is made that he is despised of men and rejected. Nor can it mean that he is exalted by the Lord in a providential way to a position of glory and power among men because he is cut off out of the land of the living. These statements being true, the context will have to be consulted to ascertain the meaning of יָרוּם, translated in most versions "be exalted," but by Delitzsch "will arise." Furthermore, since his life of rejection by his people terminates with an ignominious death (53:8,9), there is no place for greatness prior to death; therefore the meaning of the term must be sought in the literal facts connected with the case. He is literally ill-treated (52:14) and put to death (53:8,9,12). These facts suggest that a literal resurrection from the dead may be the import of this word. This supposition ceases to be an hypothesis but becomes an established fact when viewed in the light of 53:10 which states that after he has made his soul an offering for sin "He shall prolong his days." Therefore a literal resurrection from a state of death accords best with all of the facts presented by the context.
After he rises he is "lifted up." Since the rising is literal, it is quite likely that the being lifted up is also literal. This supposition is lifted up into the category of probabilities by the prediction of Psa. 110:1,2 which shows that after Messiah is rejected by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Lord God invites him to leave the earth and to ascend to His right hand. The word translated "lifted up" is נִשָּׂא which is the niphal stem and can be translated in a reflexive sense or passively, i.e., "lift himself up" or "be lifted up." In either sense this passage in the light of Psa. 110 refers to Messiah's ascension to the right hand of God. Finally, the statement is made "and shall be very high." This statement simply affirms that having ascended to the right hand of God he remains there in that position of honor and glory. On these three Hebrew words Delitzsch comments as follows: "If we consider that יָרוּם signifies not only to be high, but to rise up (Prov. 11:11) and become exalted, and also to become manifest as exalted (Psa. 21:13 (14), and that the word נִשָּׂא, according to the immediate and original reflexive of the niphal, signifies to raise one's self, whereas גָבַהּ מְאֹד expresses merely the condition without the subordinate idea of activity, we obtain this chain of thought: he will rise up; he will raise himself still higher, he will stand on high. The three verbs (of which the two perfects are defined by the previous future), consequently denote the commencement, the continuation, and the result or climax of the exaltation; and Stier is not wrong in recalling to mind the three principal steps of the exaltation in the historical fulfillment, namely, the resurrection, the ascension, and the sitting down at the right hand of God. The addition of מְאֹד 'exceedingly,' shows very clearly that גָבַהּ is intended to be taken as the final result; the Servant of יְהוָה rising from stage to stage, reaches at last the immeasurable height that towers above everything besides." Jalkut in commenting on Isaiah recognizes the three stages here mentioned but interprets them differently. הִנֵּה "Behold, my servant deals wisely; this is King Messiah; he will rise from (above) Abraham and be higher than Moses and exceedingly higher than the angels of service."
The sufferings of the Messiah appear in verse 14. It is quite evident that he is subjected to some form of very cruel torture which disfigures and mars his appearance to the extent that he no longer has the appearance of a man, or suffers more than any man has ever suffered. Furthermore, his sufferings are registered upon his countenance to such an extent that those who behold him are nonplussed, i.e., they are literally confounded because that has occurred which they would not have thought to be possible. This verse viewed in the light of 53:4-9 is seen to refer to torture and death at the hands of enemies.
In verse 15 the sufferings have passed and the Messiah stands forth in glory with authority and power. At the time of his torture and suffering many individuals were caused to wonder and to be confounded; at the time of his appearing in power and glory he confounds not simply many individuals but many nations. The kings of the earth who, according to Psa. 2, rage both against God and King Messiah, appear here upon the scene in the most humble and submissive attitude, which fact is indicated by the statement: "Kings shall shut their mouths at him." The unexpected has occurred. They see things which they have never seen and understand things which have never been told them. Of course, it is clear that the things which they see and understand and which had never been told them are the exaltation, glory, and authority of this Servant of the Lord, Messiah, Son of David. It is evident that for some reason the Messiah has been veiled so that the kings of the world never see nor hear of him until he comes in glory and power. Upon whose shoulders rests the responsibility for not giving the message of the Messiah to the kings of the world? The answer is easy. Those to whom God gave His Word are primarily responsible for the failure. Secondly, each individual king and person is responsible because he has neither longed nor searched for the knowledge of God, since, according to Prov. 2:1-5, everyone who seeks shall know the truth of God.
V. ISRAEL'S PENITENTIAL CONFESSION ISA. 53:1-9
In these verses appears the confession which penitential Israel shall make when she sees her mistake and returns to the Lord her God. That this passage is a confession which the nation shall make is evident from the fact that the prophet repeatedly in these verses states that "He (the Servant) hath borne our (the Hebrew nation's) griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted." That the nation will do this thing is evident from a number of passages. In Psa. 110:3 God says that Messiah's people who reject him at first will become "free willingnesses" in the day of the latter's power. (For a discussion of this point see chapter IX.) Both Jeremiah (3:20-22) and Zechariah (12:10-14) tell of this same national repentance. Again Jeremiah in 50:4,5 declares: "In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together; they shall go on their way weeping, and shall seek the Lord their God. They shall inquire concerning Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come ye, and join yourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that shall not be forgotten." Thus far Israel has never made this confession; but, since God says that she will, the time will come when the nation will be brought to that condition of heart and mind. For the sake of clearness let it be said that this national repentance will occur in the year 1928 plus X-- that is, A.D. 1928 plus the number of years which intervenes between the present and the fulfillment of this prediction. (Original manuscript written in 1928.)
A. Messiah's Person Veiled Isa. 53:1
The questions "Who has believed what we have heard? And the arm of the Lord,--over whom hath it been revealed?" are simply rhetorical ones to indicate that comparatively few have believed the reports which have been heard. The ones expressing these sentiments are the penitent nation in the "end time." They admit that they have heard the message concerning this Servant but very few of them, comparatively speaking, believed it. In the preceding verse this Servant is revealed to the kings who have never heard of him but in this verse he is now revealed to those who have heard of him and who disbelieved up until the time of this confession. Their amazement at their blindness is so very great that they are led to give expression to these questions. From 53:1-9 it is evident that the Messiah has been hidden from the nation as a whole, although a few individuals have seen the truth and accepted him, as is implied in the questions referred to above.B. The Obscurity of the Messiah in Early Life Isa. 53:2
Who is responsible for Israel's not seeing the Messiah? Each individual Hebrew is responsible to God for his knowledge or lack of knowledge. Isaiah (29:13,14) explains one reason for her failure to recognize him. "And the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw nigh unto me, and with their mouth and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which hath been taught them; therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid." According to this passage religion to the nation is reduced to a mechanical ritualistic performance which has been taught them "by rote." Though one subscribe to correct doctrinal statements and observe scrupulously divine precepts, he can never see the truth of God and the working of His power when his religion is simply mechanical and lifeless. A little different aspect of the reason of Israel's failure to recognize her Messiah is presented by Jeremiah (13:15-17): שִׁמְעוּ וְהַאֲזִינוּ אַל־תִּגְבָּהוּ כִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּר׃ תְּנוּ לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם כָּבוֹד בְּטֶרֶם יַחְשִׁךְ וּבְטֶרֶם יִתְנַגְּפוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם עַל־הָרֵי נָשֶׁף וְקִוִּיתֶם לְאוֹר וְשָׂמָהּ לְצַלְמָוֶת יְשִׁית לַעֲרָפֶל׃ וְאִם לֹא תִשְׁמָעוּהָ בְּמִסְתָּרִים תִּבְכֶּה נַפְשִׁי מִפְּנֵי גֵוָה וְדָמֹעַ תִּדְמַע וְתֵרַד עֵינִי דִּמְעָה כִּי נִשְׁבָּה עֵדֶר יְהוָה׃ "Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud; for the Lord hath spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is taken captive." When God calls to the nation or an individual and he fails to respond wholeheartedly, He will send spiritual darkness as judicial punishment, which will cause him to stumble.
The message which has formerly been rejected, but which now penitent Israel accepts, is the message concerning "the arm of the Lord." Who or what is referred to by this expression? It occurs in various places. For instance, the Israelites in speaking of His delivering them from Egyptian bondage say, "The Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an out-stretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs and with wonders." The historical record shows that the one who brought Israel out of bondage was "the angel of the Lord," or, as he is called in other places, the Lord himself. Therefore those expressions are but figures of speech referring to the Lord. Isaiah was fond of using this expression which in some of the contexts may be interpreted as a reference to a manifestation of God's power; but the question is what does it mean here? The context will have to decide. The preceding verses undoubtedly refer to the Messiah, an individual. The following verses continue that personal description and show that the Messiah was not recognized by the nation. Therefore the context demands that it be understood as a personal reference to the Messiah Himself.
"The Lord's Servant does not burst upon the world all at once in sudden splendor of daring or achievement, dazzling eyes and captivating all hearts. He conforms to God's slow, silent law of growth." Another writer most effectually describes the obscurity of the Servant by the exclamation: "He grew up in obscurity and lowliness. Not as a prince royal on which the hopes and eyes of the nation are fixed, and whose movements are chronicled in Court Gazette or Circular. Here is one living a lowly life in lowlier environments. ... Men expected a plant of renown fairer and statelier than all the trees in the garden of God, with boughs lifted cedarlike in majesty; instead, there is a suckling, a sprout from the root of a tree that had been cut down, with nothing fair or majestic about it. It owes nothing to the soil in which it grows. The ground is dry, an arid waste without moisture." Notwithstanding this unfavorable environment the Servant grows, develops, and prospers in his work. Israel at the time of her return to God looks back over the desolate waste of the centuries, spiritually speaking, and confesses that "And he came up like a layer-sprig before Him and like a root-sprout out of dry ground; he had no form and no beauty, when we saw him and there was no appearance that we could find pleasure in him."C. Messiah Despised and Rejected of Men Isa. 53:3
Strange to say, this Servant is despised and rejected by the men of rank of his nation. The word נִבְזֶה "despised" occurs in 49:7 with נֶפֶשׁ "soul" added. [This verse has well been called Isa. 53 in an abridged form.] The significance of the addition of נֶפֶשׁ "soul" to נִבְזֶה "despised" is that the hatred toward him is rooted in the very depths of the being of these enemies. A usage similar to this one is found in Psa. 17:9 and is translated "deadly enemies"; hence the hatred which the men referred to have for him has permeated their entire being. Not only do they hate him, but they also stand aloof from him. The ones here referred to are evidently the leaders of the nation. For, by Isaiah especially, אִישִׁים is used to refer to the ruling, powerful class, and אָדָם to the masses of men. On this point see Isa. 5:15. Since the men of influence and power withhold their influence and support from him and oppose him, his influence is very much curtailed. Furthermore, since the masses of men are influenced entirely by the leaders and since they rejected him, it is not surprising that the entire nation, with few exceptions, likewise rejected him.
Not only is he despised and rejected of men, but he is acquainted with grief; or, literally, "familiar with sickness, and like one from whom men hid their face, despised, and we esteemed him not." The fact that he is acquainted with sickness is not to be understood that his body was frail and weak, and subject to every disease but, as Delitzsch explains, is to be understood that "the wrath instigated by sin, and the zeal of self-sacrifice, burnt like the fire of a fever in his soul and body."
Since he did not come as they expected--as a prince heralded with a blast of trumpets--but came in a humble, unobtrusive manner, his generation turned from him as one turns away the face from that which is disagreeable or which does not appeal to him. The entire race with the exception of a few has lightly esteemed him, thinking that he was unworthy of even the least consideration.
¹ By rationalistic critics the book of Isaiah has been dissected and apportioned to a number of different authors, the principle of dissection being determined by supposed changes in style, diction and subject matter. A close examination of the book as a whole, and a comparison of the parts after the process of dissection has been completed, prove positively that the grounds for such a dissection are purely imaginary, there being no positive data to Justify such an apportionment of the contents to different authors who lived in a period of between 200 and 300 years. For every dissimilarity that may be discovered in the two sections, there are many more similarities. A scientific investigation of the supposed evidence pointing to various authors will cause the imaginary differences to vanish. On the contrary a sound sane exegesis of the contents of the book in its historical setting points definitely to its unity.
² This word God uses in calling attention to Himself and to His Messiah. In Isa. 40:9,10 God says הנה אלהיכם "Behold, your God! behold, the Lord יהוה will come as a Mighty One, and His arm will rule for Him." Again, in Jer. 23:5 in introducing King Messiah he uses the same word: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land." In Zech. 6:12 God, viewing Messiah, speaks of him as "the man," and exclaims, "Behold, the man whose name is the Branch." Again, looking at King Messiah God says, "Behold, thy king cometh unto thee (Jerusalem)."
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