THE VICTORIOUS SUFFERING SERVANT (52:13-53:12
The fourth Servant Song (52:13-53:15), the section that emphasizes the suffering Servant, could arguably be called one of the most important passages of the whole Bible because of its detailed prophecies about the rejection, death and resurrection of Christ. The victorious suffering Servant is the One who will suffer and die to take away our sins, but by His self-sacrifice He will conquer death and rise again to receive His infinite reward.
Some within the Jewish community have tried to argue that chapter 53 is not about one particular man who will die for sins, but that it is telling how Israel the nation will suffer on behalf of others. Hughes explains that this is not the oldest understand of the passage,
Early Jewish interpretation of this passage understood the “servant” (52:13) to refer to the Messiah. This also was the interpretation by the early church (cf. Acts 8:30–35). Not until the twelfth century was it suggested that the “servant” of Isaiah 53 was the nation of Israel.
Smith describes why this passage cannot be interpreted as meaning that the nation will suffer to bring atonement for the world.
Those who identify the suffering servant with the nation of Israel suggest that the historical setting of this message reflects the suffering of the people of God in Babylonian exile and their deliverance from it [or some other idea that denies one future man to fulfill the prophecies]. . . . Most of these interpretations are not very convincing if one takes the view that all of these Servant poems are prophetic of a future figure in an eschatological setting when God will bring salvation to his people and the nations. . . . The examination of these earlier poems [42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; cf. 9:1-7; 11:1-5] led to the conclusion that this Servant was a messianic royal figure who would establish justice for all the nations but suffer opposition and physical abuse before his eventual vindication and exaltation. The present poem explains these issues in more detail and adds new information.
No, this passage is not about the nation, but it is a messianic prophecy telling how the sinless Savior of the world would take away sin by giving Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God.
Chapter 53 reads as follows: “13 Behold, My Servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. 14 Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men. 15 Thus He will sprinkle many nations. Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him, for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand. 1 Who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For 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. 3 He 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. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried, yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But 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. 6 All 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. 7 He 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. 8 By 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? 9 His 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. 10 But 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. 11 As 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. 12 Therefore, 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” (52:13-53:12).
Despite the chapter division, this pericope is best seen as starting at 52:13 rather than 53:1. For the sake simplicity, however, we will simply refer to the entire unit as Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 is one of the passages of the Old Testament that combines together in one tight package both the sufferings and the glories of the Messiah (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-12). In the end, the Servant will save His people from ruin and reign in glory in the messianic kingdom, but the full work of salvation would first have to include a death to take away sin. Both glory and suffering come out in this passage, but the sections that emphasize the sufferings are contained largely in the second through fourth stanzas, being bracketed by the first and fifth stanzas which emphasize the victory and glory of the Servant.
Isaiah 53 breaks down into five stanzas of three verses each with the following dominant themes: the supreme irony of the Servant (52:13-15); the supreme rejection of the Servant (53:1-3); the supreme, substitutionary suffering of the Servant (53:4-6); the supreme injustice against the Servant (53:7-9); the supreme reward of the Servant (53:10-12).
The supreme irony of the Servant (vv. 13-15)
When we say supreme irony, we are talking about the great irony that was at work in the way that God worked through the Servant to bring salvation to the world. We see the irony reflected in the fact that the Servant will experience not only a great and glorious exaltation, but also great humiliation and suffering.
The exaltation and glory of the Servant (v. 13)
Verse 13 tells us how God’s Servant will one day experience a glorious exaltation that is higher than anyone has ever experienced or ever will. We see this explained in with a four-fold description of His exaltation.
First description: The Servant will prosper. Isaiah once again introduces his bold declaration with the interjection “behold” (hinneh; cf. 42:1). This bold declaration is that God’s Servant will prosper. When the NASB says that the Servant will prosper, it translates the Hebrew verb sakal which carries the idea of acting with such wisdom (NIV) that you will prosper and succeed (cf. Josh. 1:8; Jer. 10:21). The corporate nation acted foolishly and failed, but God’s Servant will prosper and succeed. In His High-Priestly prayer Jesus said, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4), and on the cross Jesus cried out “it is finished” (John 19:30).
Second and third descriptions: The Servant will be high and lifted up. Both terms “high” (rum) and “lifted up” (nasa’) continue to emphasize supreme exaltation. This intense language could only be speaking about God Himself accomplishing redemption. This Servant is no ordinary man, but He is God in flesh saving His people from their sins (Isa. 4:2; 9:6-7; 10:20-23; 12:6; 43:10-13; 49:26; 60:16).
Fourth description: The Servant will be greatly exalted. The Servant will enjoy the highest exaltation (gabah me’od) any man has ever had. Many kings have held positions of tremendous power and glory, but He will be the greatest of all. Paul takes directly from this passage in Philippians and tells us that because God’s Servant poured Himself out to death,
God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).
There is only one Lord, and His name is Jesus. The irony of the whole picture comes in the verses that follow where Isaiah tells us about the supreme humiliation and suffering this exalted One would first endure.
The humiliation and suffering of the Servant (vv. 14-15)
Isaiah’s shocking news is that this most-exalted man of God is the same One who will experience the most-horrific humiliation and suffering imaginable. This was a hard message for Israel to accept, for they eagerly embraced the promises of a conquering, warrior King, but conveniently paid no heed to those passages that prophesied rejection and death. Jesus rebuked two such disciples after the resurrection by telling them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Verses 14-15 are in the form of a correlation with verse 14 saying “just as” (ka’asher) and verse 15 finishing the correlation with the word “thus” (ken). All of this emphasizes the way the nations would be shocked to speechlessness when they hear who this Servant is (v. 14). The truth is that this is how God provided atonement for sins (v. 15).
The appalling suffering of the Servant (v. 14). The NASB starts by saying “just as many were astonished at you, My people,” but two items call for comment. First of all, the word “astonished” (shamam) may be better rendered by the English word “appalled,” a stronger word that better represents the Hebrew. TWOT explains that this verb conveys ideas like “desolate,” or “appalled,” or “horrified.” Thus,
Basic to the idea of the root is the desolation caused by some great disaster, usually as a result of divine judgment. . . . From the above it is not difficult to see how the second major use of the root is derived, the sense of “horror” and “shock” brought about by the vision of desolation. It is the inner response to the outward scene.
When the world sees the ruin that falls on the Servant, it will be appalled. Thus, the NIV reads, “Just as there were many who were appalled at him.”
The next observation is that the NIV reads “appalled at him” (third person masculine singular), and not “appalled at you” (second person masculine singular) as in the NASB. The reason for this difference is based on the internal difficulty in reading “you,” and some variation in the textual data. The rendering given by the NIV is based on the effort to have this statement match the third person language that follows, but this is not the preferred understanding. It is better to understand that the address is made directly to the Servant (2ms), but after this Isaiah abruptly, but not in an unusual manner (cf. Zech. 12:10), shifts from the second person to a third person description of the Servant. This happens with two subordinate clauses that tell us, so His appearance was “marred” (shachath, i.e., “inhumanly deformed,” the same term used in Mal. 1:14 for a disfigured animal) more than any man and His form more than the sons of men. This man is going to suffer such ruin (physical and spiritual) He will be virtually unrecognizable as a human.
The significance of the Servant’s suffering (v. 15). The “so” in verse 15 (ken) is what completes the correlation with the “just as” in verse 14. This could be taken in one of two ways, though, depending in part on how one translates the word “sprinkle” (nazah). Although some have suggested that this word could be understood as “startle,” it is preferable to accept the translation “sprinkle” and to understand it as sacrificial sprinkling that brings cleansing from sin. Thus, explains Kidner,
For sprinkle, the rsv’s “startle” (supported by the lxx) makes a good opening to the sequence, startled—silenced—convinced. But sprinkle (av, rv), which is grammatically suspect but not indefensible, suits the context well with its implications of sacrificial cleansing (cf. 1 Pet. 1:2) and perhaps of covenant making (cf. Ex. 24:6, 8; a different word).
Thus, the apodosis in verse 15 is showing us that even though the Servant suffered the worst ruin ever (v. 14), this is how God would bring forgiveness (v. 15). The impact on those who understand is that, “kings will shut their mouths on account of Him, for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand.” Paul cites this verse as his motivation for taking the gospel into the entire world:
and thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation, but as it is written, They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand (Rom. 15:20-21).
Having revealed the supreme irony of the Servant’s work, Isaiah now tells us about the supreme rejection He would suffer.
The supreme rejection of the Servant (vv. 1-3)
It is not uncommon in Jewish circles for them to assert that the reason Jesus could not have been the promised Messiah was because the nation rejected Him (John 1:11). Ironically, the very opposite is the truth. The rejection of Christ by His own people is not a proof against Him being the Messiah, but rather it is a proof that He is the Messiah according to Isaiah’s prophecies (and others).
The people had all the evidence they needed. They heard His marvelous teaching (Matt. 7:28-29). The witnessed His marvelous miracles (John 3:1-2; 12:37-42). They watched Him live a life of perfect obedience to the Father (John 8:29, 46) as He carried out the will of Him who had sent Him (John 4:34; 5:17-19, 30; 6:38). They saw Him conquer death, both that of others (John 11:47-53) and also that of Himself (John 20-21). Israel had all the proof in the world, but they still rejected Him. Why was this? The answer is that they were carrying out the eternal purpose of God by choosing to hate and reject God’s Son so that He might become the Savior of the world by dying for our sins (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).
Christ had to be rejected, a fact that Isaiah prophesied seven-hundred years before it came to pass. Here in verses 1-3 Isaiah shows us both the marvel over the Servant’s rejection (v. 1) as well as the description of the Servant’s rejection (vv. 2-3).
The marvel over the Servant’s rejection (v. 1)
How ironic it is that the nations will listen and believe in the Servant (v. 52:15), but His own people will not (vv. 1-3). Isaiah opens this section with two rhetorical question about the rejection of the Servant.
First question (a question that focuses on human responsibility). Isaiah asks, “Who has believed our message?” That is, how is that there were so few who believed the message that God had entrusted to the nation of Israel, i.e., “our message” (cf. Rom. 3:2; 9:4). Isaiah incredulously asks, “Who has believed” (cf. Rom. 10:16)? Isaiah appears to be speaking from the eschatological perspective of what is going to take place in the future when the Messiah establishes God’s kingdom. This is when the people will be in dismay over the fact that the One they hated and rejected for so long is actually their promised King. Smith explains,
Thus the “we” statements [i.e., the first-person plural verbs] seem to best fit with the [eschatological] believing people of Israel. They are the ones who observed what God revealed to them. F. Delitzsch also notes that the “we” speeches in 16:6; 24:16a; 42:24; 64:5–6 all refer to Israelites.
Oswalt explains further,
If the Servant is not Israel, as seems evident, then the ‘we’ is most likely Israel, who fails to recognize the ‘arm of the Lord’ when it is revealed to them. . . . Thus, the prophet is probably identifying himself with his people and speaking for them (see Jer. 14:7-9).
This author thinks it is best understood as Isaiah writing on behalf of his collective nation without any special distinguishing that it should be understood solely on the basis of the eschatological elect remnant. It is written from an eschatological perspective looking back, but it is looking back in shock over the way that the chosen nation rejected God’s Servant.
Second question (a question that focuses on divine sovereignty). Isaiah then asks a second, parallel question, this one containing a distinct emphasis on the saving grace of God: “To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” In other words, who is there who has been touched by God’s grace to open their hearts to believe? Isaiah asks these two questions how it is that so many rejected Him, but then in verses 2-3 he continues by giving a description of the Servant’s rejection.
The description of the Servant’s rejection (vv. 2-3)
Here we see the sad picture about what Israel thought of God’s Servant. Isaiah answers the questions of verse 1 with a series of nine descriptions of how Israel loathed and rejected God’s precious Servant.
First and second descriptions (v. 2a). Isaiah says that the Servant grew up “before Him,” i.e., before God, “like a tender shoot [yoneq], and like a root [shoresh] out of parched ground.” In the eyes of the nation, the Servant was a nothing, a nobody, someone of no importance or spiritual relevance. Oswalt notes that here, as in 52:14, the real issue was that the people totally despised Him:
The real issue is not whether this person was good looking, but that the way in which He set about delivering His people was just as shocking and as off-putting as it would be to have the ugliest man in a group chosen “best looking.”
The sad reality is that they did not want a humble Servant to bear their sins; rather, they all they wanted a victorious warrior to crush their enemies.
Third and fourth descriptions (v. 2b). Isaiah tells us, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (v. 2b). In other words, God’s Servant was not one who would be characterized by astounding physical stature such as that which had been possessed by King Saul (1 Sam. 10:23).
Fifth and sixth descriptions (v. 3a). Following the thoughts of verse 2, Isaiah tells us that the Servant would be despised (bazah) and rejected (chadal) by men. The former term carries the idea of looking down on something as being worthless (Isa. 49:7; cf. Ps. 22:6-8; 69:7-9; Luke 18:31-33). The latter term also emphasizes the way the nation would reject Him because they saw Him as worthless to them. Here He is—God’s glorious, loving, and gracious Savior—and His own people want absolutely nothing to do with Him.
Seventh and Eighth descriptions (v. 3b). The Servant will be a man of sorrow (mak’oboth) and acquainted with grief (choliy). The former term carries the idea of the miseries and pains of a sin-cursed world (cf. v. 4; Ps. 32:10; Lam. 1:12, 18), and the latter term is the word that means “sick” (Isa. 1:5; 38:9; 53:4, 10). Physical sickness is not the issue, though, but the sickness of sin. Isaiah described the nation like a man who has been beaten from head to toe so that the whole head is “sick” (Isa. 1:5).
Sin has left the nation in a horrible condition, and the only One who can fix it is God’s Servant. The good news is that in the incarnation of the Son of God, eternal God stepped down out of the glories of heaven and plunged himself right in the midst of the agonies of a sin-cursed world, for this was the only way for redemption to take place. In Hebrews we read, “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17).
Ninth description (v. 3c). Isaiah lastly tells us, “like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Their contempt and disgust for Jesus Christ was so bad they did not even want to look at Him; thus, they did not esteem (chashab) Him. How ironic it is, says Martin, that even though they looked at Him as being utterly worthless, “yet He was and is the most important Person in the world, for He is the Servant of the Lord.” The irony of this paradox is great, but this was the good and perfect plan of God for bringing salvation to a sin-cursed world (Luke 19:41-44; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; Eph. 1:11).
The supreme, substitutionary suffering of the Servant (vv. 4-6)
This third section brings the focus upon the work of the Servant to give His own life as a substitutionary sacrifice, the heart of the Servant’s work, and the literary center of the fourth Servant Song. Kidner explains,
This is the central stanza, in every sense. Here the meaning of the Servant’s disgrace breaks through, with the inverted word-order of v 4a to stress the exchange of roles, and the emphatic pronouns he and we (4a–4b) to expose our misunderstanding.
Isaiah lays out three facts of the Servant’s work, prophesying how the Servant would give His life in the place of sinners who deserved the punishment that would fall upon Him (cf. v. 6; 1 Tim. 2:4-6; 4:10).
First fact of the Servant’s substitutionary suffering: The judgment deserved by the nation is what He Himself took (v. 4a)
Isaiah first tells us “Surely our griefs He Himself bore.” Two key ideas stick out in this statement.
First key idea. The expression “surely” (’aken) accentuates the contrast that exists between verses 1-3 and 4-6. The former stanza highlights the utter contempt the nation held against the Servant, but the latter stanza brings out the real truth that He was bearing their griefs (same term as v. 3, i.e., the sickness of our sin).
Second key idea. The second idea that sticks out is the strong emphasis on substitution. The use of the pronoun “He Himself” (hu’) stresses this idea of substitution, and that He Himself was the One who came to take away our “griefs.” Pfeiffer reminds us that according to the Hebrew, the word is “more literally, sickness. In token of Christ’s power to forgive sins, he did heal many of men’s physical sicknesses. But since the subject matter here is illness of soul rather than of body, the rendering griefs is justifiable.” That is, the Servant came to earth to die as a substitute sacrifice in the place of sinners. Jesus once explained that He had come to give His life as “a ransom [lutron] for [anti] many” (Matt. 20:28; cf. 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; Heb. 2:9; 9:28; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). He died in the place of sinners!
Second fact of the Servant’s substitutionary suffering: The nation utterly failed to understand the meaning of His death (v. 4b)
God’s Servant is the One who carried our sorrows (same term as v. 3). Once again, Isaiah shows us the tremendous irony of it all, for Isaiah tells us that the Servant carried the load of their sin (v. 4a), but none of the people understood that this was what was happening (v. 4b).
His death was bearing their sin. The Servant is the One, the only One, who can carry (sabal) this heavy burden of sorrow and pain that sin has given to the human race. He can do it, and this is exactly what He did.
The people could not see this truth. The Servant took their sin, but this is not the way the nation looked at it. They thought God was striking Him down for calling Himself the Son of God. An emphatic contrast comes out through the use of the pronoun “we.” Isaiah says, “Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” In other words, the nation looked at His death as an act of God to strike (naga‘, to touch violently), to smite (nakah, violent blows), and to “afflict” (‘anah, to bring low) Jesus for having claimed to be the Son of God. In John we see how the Jewish leaders told Pilate, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God” (John 19:7), and in Matthew we read how the Jewish leaders said, “He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, I am the Son of God” (Matt. 27:43). These leaders fulfilled exactly what Isaiah said they would do. Smith adds one final comment that helps explain the truth:
The speakers wrongly concluded that he was suffering afflictions that were justly sent by God for the sins he had committed. Their perspective was partially right and partially wrong, for God did smite him (cf. 53:10), but their understanding of why he was smitten was wrong (he was not being punished for his own sins).
Third fact of the Servant’s substitutionary suffering: Isaiah says that His death was to be a sacrifice for the sins of the nation (vv. 5-6)
Once again, we see a strong contrast in the flow of Isaiah’s description in that the end of verse 4 shows us the false conclusions drawn by the nation, but here in verses 5-6 Isaiah shows us the real truth. Isaiah does so by giving five additional statements about the substitutionary suffering of the Servant, and that He was dying for the sins of the whole nation.
First and second statements that He was dying for the sins of the nation (v. 5a). Isaiah writes, “but He was pierced through for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.” The subject of discussion gets intense and specific, and now makes it clear that this man is dying to pay the price of sinners. The word for “pierce” (Poel particple of chalal) is not the same term used in Psalm 22:16 (kur, bore through), nor is it the same term used in Zechariah 12:10 (daqar, pierce through). This term chalal is one that can carry the idea of “to profane” or “to pollute,” but here in the intensive Poel stem it carries the idea of “to pierce” or “fatally wound” (cf. 22:2; 51:9; 53:5; 66:16; Ps. 69:26). TWOT explains, “The verb itself is used only eight times” and usually means “a fatal wounding of persons.” Keil notes that, “there were no stronger expressions to be found in the language, to denote a violent and painful death.”
Moreover, says Isaiah, God’s chosen Servant was also “crushed [daka’] for our iniquities.” God’s pulverizing judgment (cf. Isa. 19:10; Job 22:9; Jer. 44:10) brought this man to the greatest depths of the worst ruin imaginable, but ironically it was not for anything He had done, but rather for “our iniquities” (‘awon, a strong term for sin from a root idea of twisting). Smith comments on the substitutionary force of these words:
The first half of the verse indicates that the reason for this suffering was “because of our rebellion”37 and “because of our iniquities.” This forthright confession of guilt plainly states that the Servant suffered the consequences for “our” (the Israelite speakers) sinful acts. This act was penal, for it involved a just punishment for rebellious acts. It was also substitutionary because the punishment that should have fallen on the Israelites who sinned were transferred instead to the Servant.
The wrath that fell on the Servant is beyond imagination, but there is still more to come.
Third and fourth statements that He was dying for the sins of the nation (v. 5b). Isaiah tells us, “the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” Both terms “chastening” (musar, discipline to correct; cf. Job 5:17; Prov. 22:15; 23:13), and “scourging” (chaburah, wound, slash; cf. Isa. 1:6), carry the connotation of beatings. For sinners to have “well-being” or “healing” a mighty blow must be inflicted on this righteous Servant. The death was horrific, but Martin reminds us, “His death satisfied the wrath of God against sin and allows Him to ‘overlook’ the sins of the nation (and of others who believe) because they have been paid for by the Servant’s substitutionary death.”
Fifth statement that He was dying for the sins of the nation (v. 6). Isaiah writes, “All 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.” Twice Isaiah uses the expression “all of us” (kullanu). The first time is to tell us that all have gone astray, and the second time is to say that the sin of all were laid on the Servant. The entire nation is in view, just as it has been throughout the entire passage. These are the same people who failed recognize Him when He came to them (v. 1). These are the same people who despised Him and did not esteem Him (vv. 2-3). These are the same people for whose sins He was brutally killed when they rejected Him and handed Him over to be killed (vv. 4-5). These are the same people who all turned away and went their own way. Nevertheless, says Isaiah, the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (cf. John 1:29; Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:10). The point, notes Pfeiffer, is that, “the remedy was to have just as universal application (us all) as the need (all we).”
The supreme injustice against the Servant (vv. 7-9)
Verses 7-9 introduce the fourth stanza, one that emphasizes the supreme injustice that fell on the Servant. This man was completely innocent, so He deserved none of this mistreatment. Despite the injustice, though, He quietly submitted Himself to the plan of God and did not rise up in rebellion. Isaiah highlights six declarations about the injustice of Servant’s death and how the Servant stayed completely faithful to God’s plan that He suffer such injustice.
First and second declarations about the injustice: He was oppressed and afflicted (v. 7)
In the Old Testament, the Bible prophesied that the Servant would suffer unjust oppression; this is precisely what happened to Jesus Christ.
The promise of oppression. Both terms “oppressed” (nagas; cf. Exod. 3:7; Isa. 3:5, 12; 58:3) and “afflicted” (‘anah) convey the idea that the Servant was being unjustly accused by the people who held power. The injustice suffered by the Servant was the worst, but in the midst of it all Jesus did not retaliate. It is not that He did not have the power to do so, for at the time of His arrest, Jesus told Peter, “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matt. 26:53-54). Jesus had the power to destroy those seeking His destruction, but He did not use that power. Instead, says Isaiah, “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.”
The experience of oppression. It is interesting to see in the gospels just how this unjust condemnation of Christ worked itself out. It is beyond the scope of this commentary to do this in any level of detail, but it is worth noting that from the time Christ was arrested until He was crucified, He went through a series of six sham trials, three of them by the Jewish leaders and three of them by the Roman leaders. Despite the fact that none of these trials found any evidence of crime or sin, they still condemned Jesus to die on the cross. The operative principles to be noted are (1) the supreme injustice experienced by Jesus and (2) His complete submission to the Father’s will to go to the cross (Matt. 27:42; 1 Pet. 2:21-25). Just as Isaiah predicted, He let them take Him to slaughter without resistance.
Third and fourth declarations of the injustice: He was taken away by a severe abuse of unchecked power (v. 8a)
Isaiah describes this by prophesying, “by oppression and judgment He was taken away.” The idea here is similar to verse 7, but the term for “oppression” is different (‘otser), and we also have another term “judgment” (mishpat). Thus, explains Martin, “He died not because of any sins of His own (for He was sinless; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5) but because of the sins (transgression, peša‘; cf. Isa. 53:5) of others.”
Fifth declaration of the injustice: He was given the death sentence deserved by the nation (v. 8b)
Throughout Isaiah, he has demonstrated the severe guilt of the nation. Isaiah explains that even though the nation itself was the one that deserved to be condemned, no one realized that the Servant’s life was being given as a substitute for the whole nation, i.e., “cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due” (cf. John 11:47-53). This one man, God’s Servant, became the substitute for the nation, despite the reality that His generation could not recognize this truth. By God’s sovereign grace, though, His death would become the basis for Israel to have forgiveness and restoration under a New Covenant (Isa. 42:6; 49:5-8; 55:3; 61:8; cf. Jer. 31:31-34). The blood has been shed for this New Covenant (Luke 22:20), and all that remains is for Israel to turn in repentance to embrace the Savior and ratify the covenant (cf. Zech. 13:8-9).
Sixth declaration of the injustice: Though completely innocent, He was treated like a common criminal (v. 9)
Verse 9 brings out more irony. The world treated Jesus as a wicked man who deserved death, but opposite is the truth.
He was treated as a wicked man. God’s Servant was treated like a common criminal in that, “His grave was assigned with wicked men.” We recall how Jesus was crucified in between two violent criminals who both deserved to die (Luke 23:33-43). Jesus, however, was completely innocent.
The truth is that He was innocent. Even though Jesus was treated like a common criminal, from the moment He died, God began to vindicate His Son. For this reason, says Isaiah, “He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (cf. 1 Pet. 1:22). He was a righteous man with no sin, and that is why God gave Him an honorable burial. In the gospels we see how this played itself out when Nicodemus and Joseph (a rich man) came forward to give Jesus an honorable burial that even included a wrapping with spices, and a burial in Joseph’s new tomb (cf. Matt. 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-40).
The supreme reward of the Servant (vv. 10-12)
Throughout the last three stanzas, the reader was inundated with a deluge of misery as Isaiah unfolded the sacrificial suffering that God would heap upon His obedient Servant. In this fifth stanza Isaiah reintroduces the theme of supreme exaltation with which he began in 52:13 by showing five glorious rewards that will come to the victorious Servant.
First reward: Success in carrying out the will of God (v. 10a)
The Servant will succeed, but the victory will be very costly. Nevertheless, the Servant will be willing to take it all upon Himself.
Success will come by a crushing blow from God. When Isaiah tells us, “but the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief,” this does not mean that God took emotional delight in the death of the Servant, but rather that this was the good and perfect plan of God for making atonement for sin. The Servant’s death was not a cosmic accident, but it was the good pleasure of the Lord to pay the price of sin by crushing (daka’, crush, oppress, pulverize; cf. 3:15; 19:10; 53:5) His obedient Servant.
Success will come by imputed sickness. Even though the NASB treats the next clause as a participle (“putting Him to grief”), it may be grammatically preferable to recognize this finite verb as standing as an independent clause (cf. ESV), i.e., “He made Him sick.” All the sickness of sin that brought ruin to the nation (1:5) was now being heaped on the Servant so that He could take it all away (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28), and it was carried out by the perfect submission of the Servant. Jesus said, “No one has taken it [My life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:18; cf. vv. 11, 15, 17). God was in control of it all (Rom. 8:28), and you can trust Him no matter what life may bring.
Second reward: A spiritual harvest by His perfect obedience (v. 10b)
Spiritually speaking the history of Israel was one of failure (Isa. 26:16-18). Even though the nation could not deliver spiritual children, the Servant will succeed in bringing forth a mighty harvest of spiritual children. Isaiah first states the condition that must be met, and then gives a three-fold description of what this spiritual reward will look like.
The condition (the protasis). Isaiah begins by stating a condition: “If He would render Himself as a guilt offering.” A guilt offering is a sacrifice that makes atonement for sin/guilt (’asham; cf. Lev. 5:15; 6:5; 19:21).
The Servant’s reward (the apodosis). Isaiah tells us three things that will happen if the Servant does this: (1) He will see His offspring (zera‘); (2) He will prolong His days; and (3) the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. By giving His own sinless life for the sins of His people, the Servant will conquer death and “prolong His days,” i.e., this is the promise of an endless resurrection life (cf. Ps. 16:10). In this endless resurrection life, He will see His spiritual children, i.e., His “seed,” with the Servant being the firstborn of many brethren (Isa. 54; cf. Rom. 8:29).
David also predicted that the Messiah would have His own “seed.” These are the believers whom Messiah calls “My brethren” (Ps. 22:22), the ones who fear Lord (Ps. 22:23, 25), the seed of Israel (Ps. 22:23), the afflicted ones who seek God (Ps. 22:26), the Gentiles who seek the Lord (Ps. 22:27-29; cf. Isa. 52:15), and the future “seed” will who believe in God’s chosen King and be with Him in His kingdom (Ps. 22:30-31). David elsewhere describes the people of the Messiah by saying, “Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; in holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew” (Ps. 110:3).
Jesus talked about His own people when He said, “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus spoke about this seed when He said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). These are the sheep for whom the Servant would lay down His life, and take it up again that He might be with them forever (John 10:11, 15, 17, 18). These are the sheep who hear His voice and follow Him wherever He goes (John 10:27; 12:26). This is the good pleasure of the Lord that prospered in His hand.
Third reward: The joy of a perfect victory over evil (v. 11a)
By giving His own life to accomplish the torturous work of redemption (i.e., “the anguish of soul”), the Servant knew that He would have the perfect satisfaction of destroying sin and evil. Hebrews alludes to this idea by telling us that Jesus endured the cross because He was looking ahead to the joy that was before Him (Heb. 12:2). Yes, the Servant had times of terrible discouragement and sorrow, but He also knew that He would succeed, and this gave Him strength to persevere (cf. 49:4).
Fourth reward: Perfect forgiveness by a perfect sacrifice (v. 11b)
The sacrificial death of the Servant is that which will bring a perfect forgiveness of all sin, i.e., justification because He has born their iniquities (‘awon, cf. 53:5). Several theological concepts call for further explanation.
Forgiveness comes by substitution. What Isaiah shows us here is that He, the innocent One, paid the price of sin, giving Him the ability to grant full justification to the ones who are guilty (i.e., the imputation of righteousness to those who are guilty). No one else can accomplish this great work (Rev. 5:3-5) but God’s Servant (the ‘Ebed). The Righteous One (the Tsadiyq), and the Righteous One alone, has this divine knowledge, i.e., this divine capacity, to accomplish this work of justifying guilty sinners (yatsdiyq). Smith gives helpful light on the meaning of this passage:
It is because the “Righteous One” is just that he is able to cause the “many” (functioning as the object) to be right with God. The verb “will justify” has a forensic sense because the context of this chapter mentions bearing the guilt of others, punishment, and court proceedings (53:5, 8, 10). . . . Since the Servant bears the sins of the unjust and dies as a restitution offering to pay for the guilt of the sinner, the declaration of the “many” as just is possible because they now are without sin or guilt (it was carried away by the Servant). For some unknown reason the author chose not to use atonement or forgiveness terminology that is common in Leviticus, but the context of having “he” (hûʾ), the Servant, bearing the sins and iniquities of the many argues not only for a substitutionary role of the Servant, but also the justness of those who now are no longer guilty of iniquity.
The New Testament tells us how Christ accomplished this. For careful scholars, it is unmistakable that the Apostle Paul had this passage in mind when He described the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ in Romans 3:21-26. It is in the work of Christ on the cross that “the righteousness of God” is manifested for the whole world to see (3:21). It is a righteousness that is given to all men, Jew or Gentile, and it is one that comes on the basis of faith alone (3:22). It is a righteousness that all men need (3:23), and it is one that comes as a free gift when God justifies the believer because Christ bought their redemption by His death on the cross (3:24). This justification and righteousness for sinners is possible only because Christ’s death accomplished propitiation (satisfaction of divine wrath), thus making it possible for God to freely forgive (3:25). This means that when God “justifies” (dikaioo) the guilty believer, He can do so and still uphold Himself as “just” (dikaios) and perfectly righteous (3:26). This is precisely what Isaiah predicted in 53:11. Here is what Isaiah told us seven-hundred years before it happened: God’s Servant would bring perfect forgiveness to His people by becoming the perfect sacrifice to satisfy the perfect holiness of a perfect God. This is the glorious salvation that Paul came to experience and preached from the day He came to believe.
Fifth reward: The exaltation to be heir of all creation (v. 12)
Isaiah’s Servant message now comes to its close, and as noted by Hughes, “the Servant Song concluded with God’s promise to exalt his Servant because he did the Father’s will in dying as a guilt offering (53:10–12; cf. Phil. 2:9–11).” Peter explained, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
Thus, the song began with the promise of supreme exaltation, and it ends on that same note. Here, however, God explicitly tells the Servant that this will make Him the heir of all creation (Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). Thus, says the Lord, because He has borne their iniquities (v. 11),
Therefore, 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 first tells us about the nature of the Servant’s reward (v. 12a) and then explains the basis for it (v. 12b).
The nature of the Servant’s reward (v. 12a). The “portion” (chalaq) God gives the Servant is that which has now become His earned inheritance which God has apportioned to His obedient Servant (cf. Josh. 13:7, et al. for such usage). This inheritance is further described using the military metaphor of dividing the booty (shalal) now that the enemy has been defeated (cf. Deut. 20:14; Josh. 11:14). The One who once came as the suffering Servant is now the Victorious Warrior King, and the time of His reward has finally arrived. Paul explains it by saying,
God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).
The basis of the Servant’s reward (v. 12b). Why should all this reward and inheritance belong to this One? Summarizing the dominant theme of the whole chapter, Isaiah gives a four-fold answer why all this reward belongs to the Servant: (1) “He poured out Himself to death,” (2) He “was numbered with the transgressors,” (3) “He Himself bore the sin of many,” and (4) He interceded for the transgressors.” In other words, He alone brought God the victory by conquering sin, so He alone is the One who shall be the rightful Heir.
Summary and application
Jesus Christ accomplished the work of redemption that no one else was ever capable of accomplishing (Rom. 8:1-3). For those who have trusted in the victorious Suffering Servant, it should be a truth that breaks our heart over our own sin and stirs us to be sold out in loving, following, serving, and worshipping our beautiful Savior (Rom. 8:4).
 Cf. 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12.
 Hughes, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, 267.
 Smith, Isaiah 40-66, 430–432.
 40-66 376.
 40-66 373. The ESV has “act wisely.”
 These two verbs are paired together four times in Isaiah (6:1; 33:10; 52:13; 57:15), but nowhere else in the OT.
 Smith, Isaiah 40-66, 437. Thus, the “just as” correlates with the “so” in v. 15 and not in the middle of v. 14.
 Hermann J. Austel, “shmm,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 936–937.
 Based on the variant “you,” the NASB adds the italicized words “my people” based on the idea that the world was astonished at the people of Israel, and that this is also how they felt about the Servant, but this is better seen as an address directly to the Servant.
 Some suggest the need to emend the MT to “him” as we see in the Syriac, BHS, NRSV, and maybe the Targ. (40-66 373, n. 53). However, the DSS support the MT, and the MT is harder reading, and is thus to be preferred.
 The physical ruin was so horrible that the Servant did not even look like a human being (Isa. 50:6; Ps. 22:6; Matt. 26:67; 27:30; John 19:3), but the ruin was also at a deeper spiritual level (3, 338).
 As already noted above, Young also thinks that the contrast (the “just as” and “so” contrast) is that which comes between “the many” here in v. 14 and the “nations” and “kings” in v. 15. In other words, “just as many were appalled over ‘you,’ the Messiah, . . . so kings will shut their mouths” (ibid., 336-337). Young’s view would make “. . . so his appearance” and “so shall he sprinkle” as two subordinate clauses which both give further explanation of this horrible condition. Oswalt says that most agree that the first “so” in the middle of v. 14 is not the one that corresponds to the “thus” at the beginning. Oswalt also says that many see this idea to mean that there is a contrast between two shocks: (1) they were shocked at his disfigurement and (2) they were shocked at his exaltation (v. 15 picking up on the theme from v. 13) (40-66 379, n. 80).
 Note: Oswalt takes it that the “just as” finds its correlation with the “thus” in v. 15, and he also sees the verb “sprinkle” to be from a similar Semitic root (yazzeh) that means “to startle” (ibid.). The translation “startle” is found in the NLT, but “sprinkle” is found in the KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, and NASB and has the best textual and lexical evidence to support it.
 There is an Arabic cognate term from the same consonants that means “to leap” (in Heb. it would be found in the Hiphil stem) and this could produce the idea of “to startle” or “to cause marvel” (Grogan, “Isaiah,” 306, n. 15). This meaning seems to also be supported by the LXX, but it is not to be preferred.
 The verb nazah has a primary meaning of a light sprinkle of blood such as would happen when the priest would sprinkle (i.e., spatter) blood for cleansing according to OT sacrificial law (Lev. 4:6; 5:9; 8:11; 14:7, 51; 16:14; Num. 8:7; 19:4, 18-19; cf. 1 Pet. 1:2; Heb. 9:13-14). In other words, it is in this horrible, marred condition that God’s own Servant will carry out this work of purification, and He will sprinkle people in many nations.
 Kidner, “Isaiah,” 663.
 Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 216.
 Smith, Isaiah 40-66, 442.
 40-66 381.
 See comments at 51:9 for the meaning of the Lord’s “arm.”
 This statement reflects the soteriological reality that because of total depravity, God must call and draw a man to Christ if he is to ever respond in faith (Matt. 11:25-27; John 6:37, 44, 65; Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 1:3-6; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:1-2; Rev. 13:8; 17:8).
 The root of this term “tender shoot” (yoneq) carries a root meaning “to suck,” and in botany it refers to young sapling (sucker) twigs. Earlier in Isaiah 11:1, Isaiah spoke about a “shoot” (choter) that would spring forth from Jesse and a “branch” (netser) from his roots, but neither of these words are the same one that is here. A “tender shoot” would be that little shoot that comes out of the side or base of the tree (insignificant and unwanted growth).
 One can just envision the insignificance of a tiny root in in parched, desert soil.
 Ibid., 382.
 The term “form” (to’ar) speaks about outward shape and form, e.g, Rachel was “beautiful in form” (Gen. 29:17). “Majesty” (hadar) speaks about the idea of outward splendor (cf. Isa. 35:2). “Appearance” (mar’eh) speaks simply to looks.
 3, 343. Esua, for example, despised his birthright (Gen. 25:34) and Michal despised David (2 Sam. 6:16).
 The verb form is used in 53:10 where it literally reads that God “made Him sick,” i.e., God poured all the sickness of sin onto the Servant so that He could take it away by His death.
 Martin, “Isaiah,” 1107.
 Kidner, “Isaiah,” 663.
 40-66 385.
 Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: Old Testament, Is 53:4. Matthew applied this passage when Jesus healed physical sicknesses in His first advent (Matt. 8:17). It is true that Christ’s final work of restoration in the kingdom will include a removal of all physical impact from the curse of sin, but this is not the import of Isaiah 53:4 which is focused on the Servant’s death to take away sin.
 Smith, Isaiah 40-66, 450.
 The word for transgression (pesha’) speaks about rebellion against God and His rightful authority over men.
 Donald J. Wiseman, “chll,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 288.
 Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, 509.
 Carl Schultz, “‘wh,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 650–651.
 Smith, Isaiah 40-66, 450–451.
 Martin, “Isaiah,” 1108.
 These words remind us of the way that the “scapegoat” took away the sins of the whole nation on the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev. 16:21).
 Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Is 53:4. The immediate context has its focus on the nation of Israel, but as we have noted the Bible makes numerous and clear declarations that the Servant’s death was for the entire human race.
 The first phase of Jewish trial was at house of Annas immediately after His arrest (John 18:13-24). The second phase of Jewish trial came when Annas sent Jesus off to Caiaphas the High Priest all bound up (Mark 14:53-65; cf. Matt. 26). The third phase of Jewish trial came when Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin early that morning at the break of day (Luke 22:66-71; cf. Matt. 27). The first phase of Roman trial came when Jesus was brought to Pontius Pilate at daybreak (Matt. 27:2; Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1; John 18:28ff.). The second phase of Roman trial came when Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas (Luke 23:5-12). The third phase of Roman trial came when Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate, and Pilate eventually gave in to the Jewish leaders despite the fact that Pilate knew Jesus was fully innocent (Matt. 27:18ff.; Mark 15:6ff.; Luke 23:13ff.; John 19).
 That is, He was taken away because of these things. “His treatment was unjust from start to finish” (40-66 393).
 To press down (cf. e.g., Judg. 18:7).
 I.e., using the legal system un-righteously to bring a negative judgment (Grogan, “Isaiah,” 303).
 Martin, “Isaiah,” 1108.
 The term “cut off” (gazar), not the same one used in Daniel 9:26 (karath), conveys the idea of being cut off/separated from life.
 We are reminded about the annual Day of Atonement festival in which a sacrifice was made on behalf of the entire nation (Lev. 16-17; cf. Heb. 9:11-28).
 3, 352.
 The sinlessness of Jesus is affirmed in a number of passages (John 4:34; 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:29, 46; 12:49; 14:10; Acts 3:14; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 3:5).
 Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 218.
 See the noun form at the end of v. 10 (cf. 44:28). The determinative nature of this term is clearly seen in 46:10-11 where it stands parallel with God calling it His purpose that He will accomplish.
 Oswalt explains that this finite verb (a Hiphil stem of chalah, “to be sick”; cf. 1:5 where it is translated “sick” and 53:3-4 where it is translated “grief”) that comes after the infinitive without a conjunction in between could possibly be treated as a hendiadys, i.e., “crush painfully,” but this would be unusual (40-66 400, n. 50).
 Martin, “Isaiah,” 1108–1109.
 Young suggests the possibility of a grammatical hendiadys that could be rendered “he shall see with abundant satisfaction” (3, 356).
 Note: this is why good theology and doctrine are so absolutely crucial to our own sanctification as well.
 There is significant debate on whether “His knowledge” should be taken to mean knowledge about Him (objective genetive) or knowledge that He possesses (subjective genitive), a knowledge reflected in v. 11a and worked out in His perfect obedience (cf. Isa. 11:2). The main point of the passage does not change in either choice, but the present author favors the idea that this is speaking about the knowledge possessed by the Servant.
 One must not overlook the two uses of the root tsadaq (to be righteous), the first is the adjectival use which speaks about the Servant being righteous, and the second is the verbal use which shows how He brings and grants righteousness to sinners who believe. The Hiphil stem used here conveys the idea of obtaining rights for another (Isa. 50:8; cf. 1 Sam. 15:24; Ps. 82:3) or treating one as innocent by justifying them (Exod. 23:7; cf. Rom. 8:33-34). Thus, we recognize the concept of “imputed righteousness” at work.
 Smith, Isaiah 40-66, 462.
 Thus, explains Young, “The Servant bears the iniquities of the many that He may expiate them, and they in turn receive His righteousness (3, 357-358).
 Hughes, Tyndale Bible Commentary, 267.