Isaiah Chapter 53  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Isaiah 53
Isa 53:1

Who has believed our message? This message about the coming Messiah, which takes all of Isaiah 53, starts in Isaiah 52:13. Isaiah 52:13 starts the section about the “servant” of God, who is the Messiah. The whole prophecy would have been clearer if Isaiah 52:13 had begun a new chapter and been Isaiah 53:1. As it is, Isaiah 53:1 starts several verses into the prophecy of the suffering savior, our Messiah. The prophecy was not understood by the Jews, who in general did not think that their Messiah would die. Note how Peter reacted when Jesus said he would die: “Be it far from you, Lord! This will never, ever, happen to you” (Matt. 16:22). Another thing that can be confusing is that some of the verbs in the prophecy are in the imperfect tense and can be translated as a future, while a great many of the verbs are in the prefect tense and normally refer to an event in the past. However, in this case, the perfect tense verbs are examples of the “prophetic perfect,” which is an idiom in which a future event is spoken of in the past tense to emphasize the certainly of the prophecy. In many of these cases, in the vision that God gives to the prophet, He takes the prophet into the future such that the prophet sees the prophecy as happening or as having happened. If we read Isaiah 52:13-53:12 straight through, we can see the possible confusion caused by the text switching the tenses of the verbs back and forth between past, present, and future, even though the entire prophecy is about Jesus Christ, whose birth was still some 700 years in the future. [For more about the prophetic perfect idiom, see commentary on Eph. 2:6].

“Isaiah 52:13-53:12.” 13behold my servant acts wisely; he is high, and has been lifted up and has been exalted. 14Just as many were astonished at you (his appearance—so marred by man, and his form more than the sons of men), 15so now he will sprinkle many nations. Kings shut their mouths on account of him, for they saw what had not been told to them, and what they had not heard they have understood. (53:1): Who has believed our message? To whom has the arm of Yahweh been revealed? 2For he grows up before him as a young plant and as a root out of dry ground. He has no good looks or majesty. When we see him, there is no beauty that we should be attracted to him. 3He is despised and rejected by people; a man of suffering, and one who knew sickness. Like one from whom men hide their faces, he is despised and we did not respect him. 4Surely he has borne our sickness and has carried our suffering, yet we have considered him plagued, struck by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6We all like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way, but Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed, yet he suffered willingly, and he did not open his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter and as a sheep that before its shearers is mute, so he did not open his mouth. 8Due to oppression and unjust judgment he was taken away and who among his generation considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living and afflicted because of the disobedience of my people? 9They made his grave with the wicked, but with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence and no deceit was in his mouth. 10Yet it pleased Yahweh to crush him. He has caused him to suffer. If his soul makes itself a guilt offering, he will see his seed. He will prolong his days, and the pleasure of Yahweh will prosper in his hand.11After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light and be satisfied. My righteous servant will justify many by the knowledge of himself, and he will bear their iniquities. 12Therefore I will give him a portion with the great, and he will divide the spoil with the strong because he poured out his soul to death and he permitted himself to be counted among the transgressors. Yet he himself carried the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.

“To whom has the arm of Yahweh been revealed?” The “arm,” or “strength” of Yahweh is openly revealed in the Messiah, but who sees it and believes it? Some people do, most do not.

Isa 53:2

“For he grows up before him.” The Messiah grew up “before God,” in the sight of God. Jesus Christ did not have a plush upbringing, and did nothing to attract the attention of the world around him, but he was always walking before God.

“young plant.” Although Jesus was the Son of God, he did not burst on the scene as a mighty tree, impressive and imposing. Instead he showed up as a young plant. Jesus did not seem special, but was vulnerable, like a young plant struggling for life.

“a root.” Here “root” refers to a descendant, as it does in Isaiah 11:1 and 10, and in Revelation 5:5 and 22:16. Jesus Christ grew up before God as a “root” a descendant of David, and “he” [the Messiah, Jesus Christ] grows up before “him” [God] as a servant [Isa. 52:13. And also as a descendant of David and of the promises made to David of an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam. 7:13, 16)]. [For more information on “root” referring to “descendant,” see commentary on Isa. 11:10 and commentary on Rev. 22:16].

“out of dry ground.” The Mediterranean climate in Israel meant that there was no rain from May to October, and the ground became hard and dry, and plants struggled to survive. There is no evidence that Jesus got “miraculous special help” growing up, but struggled like everyone else. He learned obedience from the things he suffered (Heb. 5:8).

Isa 53:3

“man.” The Hebrew is ’iysh (#0376 אִישׁ) man. The Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would be a man, and this is one of those places, although there is no extant written record that the ancient Jews considered Isaiah 53:3 to be a Messianic prophecy, even though Christians today know it is, and verses like Matthew 8:17 confirm that it is. The Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah foretold that he would be a human being. He would be the offspring of Eve (Gen. 3:15); a descendant of Abraham (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18), a descendant of Judah (Gen. 49:10); a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15); a son of David (2 Sam. 7:12-13; Isa. 11:1); a king ruling under Yahweh (Ps. 110:1); and a ruler from among the people of Israel (Jer. 30:21).

“one who knew sickness.” The Hebrew word translated “knew” is the common Hebrew word for “know,” which is yada (#03045 ידע), which occurs over 900 times in the Old Testament and often refers to knowing something by experiencing it. Jesus “knew” sickness in many different ways. One was that he ministered to the sick and infirm. Another was that he bore our sicknesses on the cross, and even did so in a certain sense when he healed the sick, and this is the likely emphasis in this passage, as Matthew 8:17 says.

However, there is every reason to believe Jesus also got sick. Although he did not have a sin nature, he was a fully human being who lived in a fallen world that was full of things that made people sick. Thus, it is extremely unlikely that he lived for 30 years without once getting sick, even if by such things as food poisoning, which was common since the modern ways of preserving food and/or preventing it from being spoiled were mostly not available. We agree with the essence of the translation in the Word Biblical Commentary: “a man of pains who was visited by sickness.” Also, the Bible says that Jesus was tempted in all points like we are, yet without sin, and sickness is one of the huge temptations common to humankind, and leads to many kinds of sin, such as denying God, cursing, stealing, lying, and even suicide.

In large part due the doctrine of the Trinity and the belief that Jesus is “God the Son,” there has been teaching that Jesus could not get sick, but that is not a valid argument; Jesus was fully human. But it is in large part due to the belief that Jesus did not or could not get sick that the Hebrew the REV translates as “knew sickness” gets translated in many versions as “acquainted with sickness;” that is, he was familiar with it but never experienced it himself.

Isa 53:4

“Surely he has borne our sickness and has carried our suffering.” This phrase in Isaiah 53:4 is quoted in Matthew 8:17. Here in Isaiah 53:4 the idea of substitutionary sacrifice is introduced. Here we see Jesus carrying our “sicknesses,” which in its broader application includes sin, for sin is not the natural God-created state of humankind, but an imputed sickness that leads to death.

“yet we have considered him plagued.” What an irony. We were the ones who were sick and afflicted, but when he carried our sicknesses and afflictions WE considered HIM sick!

Isa 53:5

“he was pierced.” This is an amazing prophecy, given over 700 years before the Messiah was actually “pierced,” and the people of Christ’s time did not see it coming because they did not apply Isaiah 53 to their Messiah. Christians today universally see that Isaiah 53 is speaking about the Messiah, but the Jews did not back then, and do not now, apply Isaiah 53 to the Messiah. Although the Hebrew word translated “pierced” can also mean “wounded,” since it is followed by the word “crushed,” the translation “pierced,” or even “pierced through” (NASB) makes more sense.

“peace.” The Hebrew “shalom” means more than just peace, it means well-being, wholeness. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ gave us peace with God, and wholeness and well-being.

“by his wounds we are healed.” This is quoted in 1 Peter 2:24. This is an example of the prophetic perfect. The people of Isaiah’s time could not be healed by Christ’s wounds 700 years before Christ was born and was wounded, and we are not guaranteed healing in this life now. Isaiah is using the prophetic perfect idiom. The idiom is that something is stated as having happened when actually it will happen in the future, but it is stated as already being a reality because it is guaranteed to happen in the future. People who read the Hebrew text see this idiom over and over in the Old Testament, but people who do not understand the Semitic prophetic perfect idiom can be misled into thinking that what is stated is already a spiritual reality. It is not; it is a promise for a future reality. In the future, when Christ comes, every believer will be healed. [For more on the prophetic perfect idiom, see the commentary on Eph. 2:6].

Isa 53:6

“but Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” All of us humans have behaved like sheep when it comes to God and the things of God. Sheep are self-concerned, singleminded (on themselves and their next meal or drink of water), shortsighted (thinking of only here and now), and notoriously unaware of their surroundings and situation. They are easily scared, scatter when frightened, and unlike most animals have no natural means of defense (they do not have sharp teeth or claws, and they don’t run fast). They focus on themselves and so go astray, and are not in a position to carry their own iniquities, much less the iniquities of someone else. Because of that, Yahweh had to put on the Messiah the iniquity of all of God’s “sheep,” His people. We might expect that last phrase of the verse to be something like, “and so Yahweh had to lay on him the iniquity of us all.”

Isa 53:7

“yet he suffered willingly.” The Hebrew verb is in the Niphal tense, which can be either passive or reflexive, and here the reflexive seems to fit the context of Scripture best. We know that Jesus suffered willingly. He suffered, or was afflicted, but he did so willingly (cp. John 10:17-18). This is reflected in a number of translations. The CJB and TNK read, “he was submissive.” The Douay-Rheims reads, “He was offered because it was his own will.” The ERV, JPS, and Rotherham read, “he humbled himself” The NAB reads, “he submitted.” The Commentary on the Old Testament by Keil and Delitzsch reads “he suffered willingly.” The NICOT: Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66 by John Oswalt reads, “it was he who humbled himself.” The point is that Jesus knew that he was to die for the sins of humankind, and he did so willingly. Furthermore, in part because of that fact, he did not open his mouth and complain about it.

Isa 53:8

“Due to oppression and unjust judgment he was taken away.” The idea of the phrase, especially when connected to the last phrases of the verse, seems to be: “due to oppression and unjust judgment [at the hands of the Jews and the Romans], he [the Messiah] was taken away [to his death]” and “cut off out of the land of the living” [i.e., he died]. Some scholars see the Hebrew being a causal statement, more like, “Because of oppression and unjust judgment he was taken away” to death. In any case, most conservative scholars agree that the “judgment” refers to unjust judgment, and that Jesus was taken away from that to his death. Understanding the verse that way certainly points to the last days of Jesus, when he was arrested by the authorities, tortured and mocked by Annas, Caiaphas, Herod Antipas, Pilate, and the Roman soldiers, and then taken to be crucified. The opening of the verse is more literally “from,” but that can be misunderstood in English. Many versions say “by,” but the phrase “due to” is much clearer (cp. CEB).

“and who among his generation considered.” The Hebrew of this phrase has been debated, but most conservative scholars have sided with a translation that is like what is in the REV. People are absorbed with their own lives, and how many people give serious thought about what Jesus had to do to accomplish salvation for them?

Isa 53:9(top)
Isa 53:10

“Yet it pleased Yahweh.” Israel (indeed, every human) sinned, and the only way for God to atone for that sin and grant everlasting life to people was for someone—a human without blemish (i.e., sin)—to die in place of the other humans, because the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Thus it pleased God to be able to have His Son die so that everyone else could live. As Romans 5:18 says, “So then just as one transgression [Adam’s sin] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one act of righteousness [Christ’s atoning death] resulted in righteousness that brings life for all people.”

“If his soul makes” This is an idiom for “if he makes,” using the word “soul” to represent the person himself. The Hebrew verb form can be second person masculine, “you,” or third person feminine (“she” or “it” referring back to the word “soul” which is feminine, but which refers to the soul the Messiah). In this context it makes more sense that it is the servant (the Messiah) who is offering himself in obedience to God, and will be rewarded for it. So the idea is, “If his soul makes [itself] a guilt offering….”

“a guilt offering.” The Hebrew word is used of the “guilt offering” (some versions translate it “trespass offering”) in Leviticus 7 and 14, and in other places in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ was offered as a sacrifice that paid for our guilt and sin. This is also stated in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Israel sinned in so many ways that many of the sacrifices in the Mosaic Law applied to the death of Christ. Here in Isaiah 53:10, God specifically mentions the “guilt offering,” emphasizing the great deprivation of God and other humans when people live in sin. For example, God was deprived of much of Israel’s service to Him due to their sin, so a guilt offering was certainly appropriate.

“The guilt offering was a specialized kind of sin offering required in cases when someone had been denied his rightful due. …The offerer’s part in the ritual was probably identical to that of the sin offering…As with the sin offering, the animal went to the priest as food. …The guilt offering was commended in instances when another party had suffered some deprivation. [For example, in the case of a leper] the LORD was deprived of the service due from the infected person so long as his disease kept him outside the pale of the ritually clean society (Lev. 14:12-18)” (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, “Sacrifices and Offerings”).

“and the pleasure of Yahweh will prosper in his hand.” The phrase is somewhat idiomatic, and it means that the good things that Yahweh desires will prosper and succeed “in the hand” (i.e., “under the authority and control”) of the Messiah.

Isa 53:11

“After the suffering of his soul.” The phrase is idiomatic and means, “after he suffers” (cp. NIV2011, “after he has suffered”).

“he will see the light.” This translation follows the scroll of Isaiah found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint. There is good reason to believe the Masoretic text was miscopied at this point. The promise of Isaiah is that the Messiah will die, but will be raised from the dead, he will “see the light” (NIV: “see the light of life”). Jesus clearly rested on this promise when he gave up his life on the cross.

Isa 53:12

“I will give him a portion with the great.” The Hebrew can also be translated as it is in the Christian Standard Bible: “I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil.” In that case, the Hebrew word “great” is translated “many,” which it can be. Although this translation is possible, the Hebrew grammar does make it slightly less likey than the way most versions translate the verse, and it does not seem to fit the context or scope of Scripture as well. This seems to be a case where just because a phrase can be translated a certain way does not mean it should be translated that way.

“because he.” Isaiah 53 closes with the reasons that God will give the Messiah a portion with the great. He “poured out his soul to death, and permitted himself to be counted among the transgressors.”

“he permitted himself to be counted among the transgressors.” The Hebrew text can be translated as a simple passive, that Jesus “was counted among the transgressors,” or it can be translated as a reflexive, that Jesus “permitted himself to be counted among the transgressors.” Although both statements would be true, the reflexive translation fits the context better, as this phrase is giving a reason that God exalted Jesus. This is not just a historical fact that he “was” counted with the transgressors, but the noble act that he allowed himself to be counted with them. Jesus voluntarily gave up his life for the sins of humankind (for more on the translation “permitted himself” see John Oswalt, NICOT: The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66).

“Yet he himself carried the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” The Messiah, Jesus Christ, carried the sin of many so that they would not have to carry them. The last phrase, “and made intercession for the transgressors” is both tied to the phrase about carrying the sins of many and yet is also separate from it. Jesus Christ made intercession for sinners by carrying their sins, but he went beyond that and continues to make intercession to the Father for the sinners. This is Jesus acting in his role as High Priest, and standing between the sinner and God.

Isaiah 53:12 concludes the Servant Song that started with Isaiah 52:13. [For more on the Servant Songs, see commentary on Isa. 42:1. For more on Isaiah 53 being connected with Isaiah 52, see commentary on Isa. 53:1].


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