53:1 Who would have believed what we just heard?
When was the LORD’s power revealed through him?

AV: ‘Who hath believed our report?’ RSV: ‘Who has believed what we have heard?’

Our message is literally, ‘the thing heard’ (ie by the prophet from God); hence the prophetic message, the message of Isaiah and his fellow prophets, (Archer); then, by extension, the gospel, the message of the apostles and evangelists, Rom 10:16; cf Isa 52:7 (Brown).

Consider the occasions when there has been a glorious proclamation of the gospel of salvation, and yet few believed it: (a) the time of the prophets; most put their trust in outward ceremonies, without regard to the heart – most failed to live in expectation of the promised Messiah (cf Lk 2:25) – most despised the moral message of the prophets, and so neglected their predictions of Christ; (cf Mt 23:29f) (b) the time of Christ; the rashness of the people in supposing John, or another, to be the Messiah, Lk 3:15 – offence at John’s boldness – the evil influence of the scribes and pharisees – an erroneous opinion of the Messiah, Jn 6:14-15 – a ‘playing-off’ of Moses against Christ, Jn 9:29 w 5:46; (c) the apostolic church; intellectual pride, 1 Cor 1:23 – the ordinariness of the reporters, 2 Cor 10:10 – the cost of discipleship, cf Acts 19:27; (d) later times; a failure to really seek after God, Rom 3:11 – a failure to use the means of grace, cf Ps 130:6 – a careless security, Lk 12:19 – a low esteem of Christ, cf Isa 52:14 w 1 Pet 2:7 – nominalism, or ‘a presmptuous conceit that we have entertained Christ already’ – hardness of heart, cf Acts 2:37 – self-confidence, a conscience easily satisfied – fear of God’s anger, of over-boldness, of presumption – carnal reasoning (such as, ‘my sin is too great’) – misapprehensions of the divine character, Ps 50:22. (Manton, adapted)

Note, the fewness of believers is no disgrace to either to the messenger or his message.

‘This is a strikingly descriptive designation of the gospel revelation. It is not the creature of human reason or fancy; it is no curiously-constructed theory; it is not a human discovery. It is a report made to their fellow-men of what they had heard of God – what had been communicated to them by Divine revelation’ (Brown).

For apostolic declarations about this ‘message’, see 1 Cor 2:7-13; 15:1,3; 1 Jn 1:1-3.

This incredulity is perhaps not too surprising in view of the two astonishing events related in Isa 52:14f: the appalling and undeserved suffering of God’s servant, and the subsequent exaltation of one so dishonoured by men. But God’s way of doing things does not tally with human wisdom, Isa 55:8-9; 1 Cor 1:18-31.

‘There were few in comparison of what, from the clearness of the evidence for the Messiahship of Jesus Christ, there should have been…There were few, in comparison of those who rejected the Gospel, continuing in unbelief…There were few in comparison of what the apostles wished and expected…It is not impossible that the words may be intended to express another thought. The interrogative “who” has been considered as referring not merely to number, but to quality…What kind of persons have believed our report? to what kind of persons hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ (1 Cor 1:26) (John Brown, The Sufferings and the Glories of the Messiah, 207)

Recognising the parallelism between this expression and the preceding one, we may take them as broadly equivalent: ‘Who has believed the message of the gospel?’; and ‘Who has experienced its power?’ And yet there is a progression here: first, a believing of the message; then, an experiencing of its power. Cf Jn 4:42; 1 Pet 2:3. There is also a contrast: the gospel is an uncredited report to the world; but it is the power of God to those who believe. ‘When Isaiah speaketh of the word as pronounced by the prophets, he saith “our report;” but as accompanied by the Spirit, “the arm of the Lord”.’ (Manton)

The arm of the Lord is the special interposition of God’s power whereby he delivers his people and punishes his foes (cf especially the Exodus). This power is manifested (paradoxically enough) in the cross of Christ, 1 Cor 1:24.  Jn 12:37-41 joins this verse and Isa 6:10 in illustrating the rejection of Jesus by so many Jews of his day.

The verse may refer, not only to the number, but to the type, of converts. ‘Who…?’ = ‘What kind of people…?’ Mt 11:25; 1 Cor 1:23-28.

Preachers: preach with boldness: the message is ‘the arm of the Lord’: do not be ashamed of it, Rom 1:16. Preach with confidence: the results can be left in his hands, for it is his message, Jer 1:9. Preach with sincerity, not for your own ends, Php 1:16. Preach with simplicity, 1 Cor 2:4.

Hearers: strive to see God in his word, 1 Thess 2:13. Receive the word with reverence, Isa 66:2,5; expectancy; and resolution, Acts 10:33. The message will not always be proclaimed to you. Pass through the door which leads from time into eternity and it will be proclaimed no more. He calls – how long will you ignore? He stretches out his strong hands – will you continue to reject his gracious offer?

Believers: admire the power of God working in you, Eph 1:19; walk worthy of the gospel, 1 Pet 2:9. Is the power of the gospel felt in our hearts? Has it humbled us for sin, 1 Cor 14:25? Has it comforted and refreshed the soul, Ps 94:19; Jn 16:33? Is it promoting holiness, Ps 110:3?

53:2 He sprouted up like a twig before God,
like a root out of parched soil;
he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention,
no special appearance that we should want to follow him.

This verse begins to answer the complaint of v1: ie, it gives the reasons why so few ‘believed our message’. Cf the connecting participle ‘for’ found in many translations.

He grew up before him – that is, before the Lord. Though people looked away, the eye of the Lord was ever upon him, since it was he who had appointed him to come.

Tender shoot = ‘suckling’ – used of a baby at the mother’s breast as well as of a shoot from a tree stump, or a plant sprouting out of the ground. He was a ‘tender shoot’, and not, for example, a tall strong tree.

This whole verse suggests the adverse conditions with which the Servant would be confronted from birth to death.

‘Silently and insensibly, and without any notice…Christ rose up as a tender plant, which, one would have thought, might easily be crushed, or might be nipped in one frosty night. The gospel of Christ, in its beginning, was as a grain of mustard seed, so inconsiderable did it seem, Mt 13:31-32.’ (Matthew Henry) See also Mk 4:27.

‘The family of David, from which our Saviour sprung, was the most illustrious of all royal houses, in estimation of the Jews; but its ancient honours had long been lost and forgotten, like a mighty tree, whose root alone remains, and sends forth only a few shoots, indicating little more than that the power of vegetation is not altogether extinguished. The lineal descent of David was a Nazarene carpenter; and Jesus was supposed to be his son…Born in a stable – cradled in a manger – bred in Galilee – his supposed father a carpenter, and himself his assistant in his humble toils, – can this be the king whom Jehovah is to set on his holy hill of Zion, and to whom he is to give the heathen as his inheritance, and the uttermost ends of the earth as his possession? Is this he of whom the prophet so loftily sings, Isa 9:6-7?’ (Brown) Cf Mt 13:55f.

‘We judge altogether by likelihoods and outward appearances’, 1 Sam 16:7. ‘We judge of things according as they are to our senses. Many would have thought that some great emperor should have been the Messiah, rather than the poor child in the manger at Bethlehem. Most people will have it that truth is rather on that side that is accompanied and accommodated with outward authority, applause, and other advantages of learning and eminency, than among a few despicable men, such as the martyrs were.’ (Manton)

‘We envy and despise any worth that is veiled under meanness, as if it were a disgrace to us to take anything from those beneath us,’ Mt 13:55. (Manton)

This is why Christ is so differently perceived in the world: some see his outward meanness, others his inward excellence. Cf Lk 2:34; 1 Pet 2:7.

Do not look only upon the outward appearance of things, but on their inner value and beauty, lest you despise the things of God.

God accomplishes his greatest designs by the most unlikely and despised means. He thus shows his own glory, for ‘the weakness of the instrument directs our thoughts to the power of the supreme worker’ (Manton). Zec 4:6.

God delivers his people in times of greatest despair and unlikelihood.

Mean beginnings may grow up into great and glorious successes.

On Christ as a root, cf Rev 5:5; 22:16. The ‘dry ground’ is ‘the dead and withered stock of David’s house’ (Manton). The Messiah was expected to come from a noble background. He was to be the Son of David, 2 Sam 7:9. But he was born when this family was at a low ebb, with his supposed father a mere carpenter.

No beauty… – Applies, perhaps, to Jesus’ natural appearance, or (more appropriately) to that which was produced by his sufferings, Isa 52:14.

There are two elements here: a lack of beauty in him, and a lack of affection in ourselves.

‘There was nothing about him fitted to attract our notice, to fix our regard, to awaken our admiration.’ (Brown)

‘It was expected that he should have some uncommon beauty in his face and person, which should charm the eye, attract the heart, and raise the expectations of all that saw him. But there was nothing of this kind in him…he had “no form or comeliness,” nothing extraordinary, which one might have thought to meet with in the countenance of an incarnate deity. Those who saw him could not see that there was any beauty in him “that they should desire him”…Moses, when he was born, was exceedingly fair, to such a degree that it was looked upon as a happy presage, Acts 7:20; Heb 11:23. David, when he was anointed, was “of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to,” 1 Sam 16:12. But our Lord Jesus had nothing of that to recommend him.’ (Matthew Henry)

Here is a second cause of the rejection of the Messiah by the Jews: the abjectness of his external condition. ‘He was, in truth, all fair; there was no spot in him; he was “the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely.” The glory of God was in his countenance; he had a glory, “the glory of the Only-begotten of the Father.” He was all-glorious, but it was within; and they had no eyes to behold such glories.’ (John Brown)

Ps 45:2 So 5:10-16; suggest the beauty of Christ. However, (a) he is one thing to the spouse, and another to the unbelieving Jews; (b) he is one thing in his humiliation, Php 2:8; and another in his exaltation, Heb 1:3.

There is a lack of affection implied here (…that we should desire him). Christ is indeed said to be ‘the desired of all nations’, Hag 2:7, showing him as he ought to be welcomed, rather than as he so often is received.

‘He grew up…like a tender shoot’ Isa 53:2

AV: ‘For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant.’ RSV: ‘For he grew up before him like a young plant.’

This verse begins to answer the complaint of v1: ie, it gives the reasons why so few ‘believed our message’. Cf the connecting participle ‘for’ found in many translations.

‘He grew up before him’ – that is, before the Lord. Though men would not look at him, the eye of the Lord was ever upon him. Though his coming was welcomed by few, yet it was by divine appointment. Though we would despise and reject him, God was at work in his sufferings, and afterwards would raise him to glory. Acts 4:27f Indeed2 Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

He was like a ‘tender shoot’ = ‘suckling’ – used of a baby at the mother’s breast as well as of a shoot from a tree stump, or a plant sprouting out of the ground. He was a ‘tender shoot’, and not ‘a tall tree, full of limbs and branches’ (Manton).

Cf how tree and plants of various kinds are used to describe different human conditions: Nebuchadnezzar, Dan 4:20-22 The3 tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, 21:with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air – 22:you, oh king, are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth. The prosperous wicked, Ps 37:35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil; the miserable, Jer 17:6 he will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no-one lives. Christ himself is described as a branch, Isa 11:1: A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. Also Zec 3:8 Jer 23:5 33:15. This suggests both his present meanness, in the world’s view (he is a small, tender shoot, not a strong majestic tree), and his future glory (he will grow, and will bring forth much fruit), Ezr 17:22-24 “‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the field will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. “‘I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”

This whole verse suggests the adverse conditions with which the Servant would be confronted from birth to death.

How silently, how unnoticed, Christ came forth as a tender plant. You might think he could easily have been stamped on, or snapped. So it is with his gospel: at the beginning, it is as a grain of mustard seed, Mt 13:31f; cf Mk 4:27.

Here, then, is one great reason the Messiah was rejected by the Jews: the humbleness of his origins. He was a descendant of David, the most illustrious of all the kings of Israel. But the house of David had long ago lost its ancient honours. It had been cut down, like a mighty tree, so that only its root remained. But from this root a tender shoot sprouts forth, indicating that the life of that once-mighty tree has been altogether extinguished. The descendent of David was born in a stable, cradled in a manger, bred in Galilee – his supposed father a carpenter. Those who knew him mocked him, saying (Mt 13:55) “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56:Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” Can this be the king whom Jehovah is to set on his holy hill of Zion, and to whom he is to give the heathen as his inheritance, and the uttermost ends of the earth as his possession? Can this he of whom the prophet so loftily sings (Isa 9:6f) For4 to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

The world looks for an outward glory, it values pomp, ceremony, qualifications, eloquence, handsomeness. Christ is rejected because his is a glory which the world has no eyes to see. Cf 1 Cor 2:12 We5 have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 2 Cor 5:16 So from now on we regard no-one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

‘We judge altogether by likelihoods and outward appearances’, 1 Sam 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

‘We judge of things according as they are to our senses. Many would have thought that some great emperor should have been the Messiah, rather than the poor child in the manger at Bethlehem. Most people will have it that truth is rather on that side that is accompanied and accommodated with outward authority, applause, and other advantages of learning and eminency, than among a few despicable men, such as the martyrs were.’ (Manton) ‘We envy and despise any worth that is veiled under meanness, as if it were a disgrace to us to take anything from those beneath us,’ Mt 13:55. (Manton) This is why Christ is so differently perceived in the world: some see his outward meanness, others his inward excellence. Cf Lk 2:34 1 Pet 2:7. Do not look only upon the outward appearance of things, but on their inner value and beauty, lest you despise the things of God. ‘God will have his people love him for his own sake, not for the outward accommodation and advantage we have by him,’ Jn 6:26 (Manton). Consider the outward simplicity and meanness of (a) the ordinances, I Kng 5:12; (b) those who administer the ordinances, such as Moses, the stammerer; Amos, the herdsman, 1:1; Elisha, the ploughman, I Kng 19:19; Samuel, the boy; Timothy, the nervous youngster; (c) truly Christian behaviour, 2 Cor 1:12; (d) those who receive the faith, Jn 7:48 Jas 2:5; (e) the contrariness of Christianity to the customs and fashions of the world, Lk 14:12-14 16:15 Heb 13:2. See, then, (a) God accomplishes his greatest designs by the most unlikely and despised means. We ourselves are made from dust. He thus shows his own glory, for ‘the weakness of the instrument directs our thoughts to the power of the supreme worker’ (Manton). Zec 4:6. (b) we thus learn not to enquire prematurely or to probe too deeply into the deeper counsels of God, Isa 48:7. (c) God thus shows his displeasure at the pomp of the world, Isa 2:11-22. (d) God’s enemies are thus shamed, 1 Sam 17:42:he looked David over and saw that he was only a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him. (e) All cause of boasting is taken from the creature, 1 Cor 1:27-29. (f) God provides for the meannest to be esteemed, Jn 9:3. ‘God hath so tempered his providence, that he will leave no cause of contempt and disrespect among us’ (Manton).

God delivers his people in times of greatest despair and unlikelihood. Mean beginnings may grow up into great and glorious successes.


23:5:”The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.

33:15:”‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.

Mt 13:31 he told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32:Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

Mk 4:27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.

Jn 9:3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, ” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

‘…like a root out of dry ground’

Isa 53:2

On Christ as a root, cf Rev 5:5 22:16. ‘Mark, not the branch, but the root of David. Christ was David’s son and David’s Lord, Mt 22:45; yet “a root out of a dry ground”‘ (Manton).

The ‘dry ground’ is ‘the dead and withered stock of David’s house’ (Manton). ‘Jesus could not be explained in terms of his human environment, which in his day was dominated by a legalistic Judaism almost devoid of the refreshing moisture of God’s word truly understood and applied’ (Grogan).

‘The entry he made into the world, and the character he wore in it, were no way agreeable to the ideas which the Jews had formed of the Messiah and their expectations concerning him, but quite the reverse.’ (Henry) ‘It was expected that his extraction would be very great and noble. He was to be the Son of David, cf 2 Sam 7:9. But he sprang out of this royal and illustrious family when it was reduced and sunk, and Joseph, that son of David, who was his supposed father, was but a poor carpenter, perhaps a ship-carpenter, for most of his relations were fishermen. This is here meant by his being ‘a root out of dry ground’, his being born of a mean and despicable family, in the north, in Galilee, of a family out of which, like a dry and desert ground, nothing green, nothing great, was expected, in a country of such small repute that it was thought that no good thing could come out of it.’ (Henry)


Isa 53:2 he grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

Mt 22:45 If then David calls him ‘Lord’, how can he be his son?”

Jn 1:46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.

Rev 5:5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

22:16:”I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

53:3 He was despised and rejected by people,
one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness;
people hid their faces from him;
he was despised, and we considered him insignificant.

This verse moves on from the thought of onlookers failing to desire him, to that of them despising and rejecting him, refusing even to look at him. He was, in other words, ‘an object of general contempt.’ (Brown)

‘Few things went farther in hardening the great body of the Jews against the natural influence of the proofs brought forward by our Lord for his Messiahship, than his general rejection by the classes most distinguished for their rank and learning…The Pharisees, the most influential of the Jewish sects, called him a Samaritan and a demoniac. Herod and his men of war set him at nought. The rulers of the Jews handed him over to the Roman governor, that he might be crucified, as if unworthy even of dying any death appointed by Jewish law or usage for the punishment of a Jewish criminal. The people preferred Barabbas, a convicted sentenced robber and murderer, to him; and he was nailed to the middle cross, as deserving of greater infamy than either of his companions in suffering.

Here is a further reason for the general rejection of the Messiah by his countrymen: his numerous and severe sufferings. ‘The Jews expected a prosperous and happy prince for their Messiah. But the Messiah, when he came was distinguished by the unparalleled number, variety, and severity of his sufferings, both bodily and mental.’

53:4 But he lifted up our illnesses,
he carried our pain;
even though we thought he was being punished,
attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done.

‘Who are the speakers here? Probably the amazed onlookers of the first stanza, who appear from Isa 52:15 to be predominantly, if not exclusively, Gentiles’ (Grogan).

Does this verse refer to spiritual, or to physical, healing?  Both, according to the NT.  It is quoted in 1 Pet 2:24 in the context of atonement for sins (‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.’  And it is quoted in Mt 8:16-17 with reference to the taking away of sickness.  Note that Jesus himself seemed to connect the forgiveness of sins and the healing of the body, Mt 9:6.

We thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done – The corollary of this would seem to be ‘…but we were wrong!’  Opponents of the doctrine of penal substitution would therefore use this verse in support of their position.  But this is mistaken, especially in the context of the passage of the whole.  The meaning of the present verse is that ‘we (mistakenly) thought that God had punished him for his own sin’.  The verbs of verse 5, for example, should probably be regarded as ‘divine passives’, implying that he was wounded by God; crushed by God, and so on.  The matter is made yet more plain in v10, where we read that ‘the LORD desired to crush him and make him ill’.

‘The Saviour is still rejected by the majority of those to whom his claims are presented. The Gospel is still discredited by the majority of those who hear it; and the reasons for this are substantially the same in the nineteenth that they were in the first century. “The natural man receiveth not the things of God.” Christ is not the kind of Saviour men merely born of the flesh wish for. The blessings of his salvation are not objects of their desire. Truth and holiness have no charms to their mind…Disbelief of the Gospel originates chiefly in moral causes.’ (John Brown)

53:5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds,
crushed because of our sins;
he endured punishment that made us well;
because of his wounds we have been healed.

The connective participle ‘but’ is very expressive: ‘we thought him punished by God on his own account, but we were utterly mistaken. It was not for his own sins that he died, but for ours.’

This verse represents the sufferings of the Messiah as:-

  1. Intentional. They were not natural, or accidental, but inflicted by others
  2. Severe
  3. Fatal. This is intimated here, and fully stated later
  4. Numerous
  5. Varied. He suffered in every way that an innocent man could suffer
  6. Penal. He suffered for transgressions, for iniquities. He endured what sin deserves
  7. Vicarious. The sins whose punishment he bore were not his, but ours
  8. Expiatory
  9. Saving
  10. Reconciling

How evil sin must be, that such as sacrifice was necessary to effect our salvation. How great God’s love must be, to have appointed such as means of salvation. How great our obligation must be to devote our lives to such a God and to such a Saviour! How hopeless must be the condition of those who despise and reject the servant of the Lord!

Sin as a disease. Sin leads to misery and loathsomeness; it has a deeply unhealthy and contagious effect upon others; it leads eventually to death – the second death. Various remedies have been devised, but they are all at best palliatives. The only effective cure is that mentioned here – the wounds of the righteous servant of God. ‘The expiatory sufferings of Christ, when the sinner believes, changes his state. They take him our of the pestilential region of the Divine curse, and translate him into the health-breathing region of the Divine favour. In the Divine influences, for which they open the way, is given a powerful principle of health, which penetrates into the very first springs of thought, and feeling and action; and, in the views which these sufferings give us of the holy benignant character of God, the malignity of sin, the vanity of the world, the importance of eternity, there are furnished, as it were remedies fitted to meet and remove all the various external symptoms of this worst of diseases.’ (John Brown)

By his wounds we are healed – See Mt 8:17 n.

Isaiah 53 and the doctrine of Imputation

Those who deny imputation as the grounds of our justification declare it to be a legal fiction, a miscarriage of justice, or even a manifestation of cosmic child abuse. Yet at the same time, it is the biblical explanation for the ground of our redemption. No biblical text more clearly teaches this concept of transfer or imputation than that of Isaiah 53, which the New Testament church singled out as a crucial prophetic explanation of the drama of redemption.

R.C. Sproul, Tabletalk, Feb 10

53:6 All of us had wandered off like sheep;
each of us had strayed off on his own path,
but the LORD caused the sin of all of us to attack him.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray – This suggests that, while all have wandered far from our Shepherd, we have also lost contact with each other. We are no longer a flock, but a crowd of stragglers. Each has gone astray in his own way. Everyone has his own errors, sins, miseries and dangers.

1. To open sin.
2. To secret sin.
3. To good deeds.
4. To religion.

In turning to our own way, we are not only alienated from God, but from each other. Hence the warring and fighting, the jealousy and hatred, the selfishness and quarreling that mark so much of our life together.

Note, too, that we were not driven from the fold; we abandoned it. The sheep are not merely objects of pity, but of blame.

Iniquity – can mean sin itself, or, as here, guilt, or the punishment which sin deserves.

Literally, ‘caused to alight on him’; or, ‘caused to meet him’, cf Nu 35:19 Jud 15:12 1 Kings 2:25. ‘The word is expressive of fierce hostile attack. Jehovah is represented as making the iniquity of man to fall on – to make a hostile assault on – his righteous servant.’ Our transgressions would ‘meet him’ and slay him as if he were the guilty one instead of us. If the above interpretation is correct, then it continues the metaphor introduced in the first part of the verse: ‘The strayed flock, by wandering, has exposed itself to the wild beasts of the wilderness, who are ready to devour it, -striking emblem of the dangers to which we have exposed ourselves by our sins, the guilt of which, like a band of ravening wolves, stands ready to devour us. But Jehovah, instead of allowing us to be devoured, does not spare his Son, but delivers him up for us all – appoints him to come between us and our destroyers, and to meet the attack which would have been ruinous to us.’ (John Brown)

‘Here is a picture of the willful and yet purposeless waywardness of sin, with probably a suggestion that this is an offence against love as well as holiness, for the divine Shepherd is a tender, loving image in the Bible (cf esp. 40:11)’ (Grogan).

‘This is mentioned not only as our infelicity (that we go astray from the green pastures and expose ourselves to the beasts of prey), but as our iniquity. We affront God in going astray from him, for we turn aside every one to his own way, and thereby set up ourselves, and our own will, which is the malignity of sin. Instead of walking obediently in God’s way, we have turned wilfully and stubbornly to our own way, the way of our own heart, the way that our own corrupt appetites and passions lead us to. We have set up for ourelves, to be our own masters, our own carvers, to do what we will and have what we will.’ (Matthew Henry)

Kidner points out that in the Heb the verse has an identical beginning and ending (‘all we…we all’), ‘grace wholly answering sin’. The remedy has as universal an application as the need.

The state here described is a state of (a) misery: we have strayed from the safety and security of the pasture-ground; (b) error: we ought not to have strayed; (c) helplessness: the strayed flock never returns unless brought back.

53:7 He was treated harshly and afflicted,
but he did not even open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block,
like a sheep silent before her shearers,
he did not even open his mouth.
53:8 He was led away after an unjust trial—
but who even cared?
Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living;
because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.

Similar in form to Isa 1:13 (‘iniquity and solemn assembly’, RSV; ‘evil assemblies’, NIV), in that the two nouns represent related aspects of the same fact. ‘By an unjust trial a judicial murder was to be perpetrated.’ Terrible to be murdered by the lawless; still more terrible to be put to death by those entrusted with upholding the law.

‘It seemed as though he would die without issue, which was regarded as a great misfortune or worse in that society’ (Grogan).

This phrase ‘strongly suggests not only a violent, premature death, but also the just judgement of God (cf, eg, Gen 9:11 Ex 12:15), not simply the oppressive judgement of men’ (Grogan).

53:9 They intended to bury him with criminals,
but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb,
because he had committed no violent deeds,
nor had he spoken deceitfully.

The paradoxical linking of ‘the wicked’ and ‘the rich’ represents two aspects of the burial of Jesus: the human intention and the divine intervention, Mt 27:57-60.

53:10 Though the LORD desired to crush him and make him ill,
once restitution is made,
he will see descendants and enjoy long life,
and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him.

The word ‘yet’ also occurs in v4. In each case, it introduces a statement which will balance one partial truth against another, leading to a fuller picture. ‘In v4 penal suffering is balanced – and so interpreted – by substitution; here man’s unjust treatment of the Servant is balanced – and also interpreted – by God’s saving purpose in the Servant’s sufferings’ (Grogan).

He will see his offspring – ‘Those who were to enjoy the blessings of Messiah’s reign are most frequently spoken of as the children of God – the younger brethren of his first-born Son, the Messiah, “the first-born among many brethren.” Yet, in one passage, we find the Messiah represented as “the Father of the coming age,” and saying, in reference to his followers, “Behold I and the children which God hath given me;” and they are represented as “born again by his word.” (Ps 22:30; Heb 2:13; 1 Pet 1:23) The disciples of the prophets were called their sons…When “he was cut off out of the land of the living,” and laid in the land of the dead, it seemed as if he would have no posterity. His enemies, no doubt, count on its being so. But the enigmatic declaration was to be fulfilled, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die” – falling into the ground, be dead, – “it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” His followers are his seed – his children: produced by his energy – bearing his image.’ (Brown)

‘We stray like sheep (v6), we return as children.’ (Motyer)

‘He shall not begin, and not finish; he shall not shed his invaluable blood upon hazardous terms; but shall see and reap the sweet fruits thereof; as the joyful mother forgets her pangs, when she delightfully embraces and kisses her living child.’ (Flavel)

53:11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work,
he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done.
“My servant will acquit many,
for he carried their sins.

He will be satisfied when he understands what he has done

AV: – ‘He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.’
NIV – ‘ After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.’
RSV – ‘He shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.’
NRSV – ‘Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.’
GNB – ‘After a life of suffering, he will again have joy; he will know that he did not suffer in vain.’

According to Knight, a literal translation would be: ‘From the travail of his soul, his nephesh, he shall see—he shall be satisfied’.  The Qumran text and the LXX add the word ‘light’.

Motyer (TOTC) says that if the word ‘light’ is to be included, then it has the metaphorical meaning of ‘joy’.

To be satisfied ‘is probably a shortened form of the idiom ‘to live long’ (for the full form ‘to be satisfied with days’ see 1 Chron. 23:1; 2 Chron. 24:15).’ (Harmon)

Commenting on v10f, Goldingay (UBCS) says that these verses challenge the assumption, voiced earlier in the chapter, that the servant was a self-appointed martyr:

‘On the contrary, his suffering came about by Yahweh’s will. That immediately modifies two earlier observations. First, in a sense the people had been right all along when they inferred that Yahweh was bringing about the servant’s suffering, and that this came about as a result of wrongdoing (v. 4b). Where they were wrong was in assuming that it was his own wrongdoing that he was suffering for. That people often suffer for their own wrongdoing is standard OT and NT thinking (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:29–30), but the story of Job shows that one must not assume this always to be the case. Second, even when people came to realize that he was taking up their sufferings and pains (v. 4a), they had not said all that needed to be said. Behind the servant’s action (or passion) lay the master’s will.’

53:12 So I will assign him a portion with the multitudes,
he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful,
because he willingly submitted to death
and was numbered with the rebels,
when he lifted up the sin of many
and intervened on behalf of the rebels.”

He bore the sin of many – ‘Some have been embarrassed by the apparently restrictive nature of this expression. But Jeremias has argued that, according to the pre-Christian Jewish interpretation of it, “the many” were “the godless among both the Jews and the Gentiles.” The expression therefore is “not exclusive (‘many, but not all’) but, in the Semitic manner of speech, inclusive (‘the totality, consisting of many’),” which was “a (Messianic) concept unheard of in contemporary rabbinical thought.”’ (Stott, The Cross of Christ)

Calvin: ‘I have followed the ordinary interpretation, that “he bore the sin of many,” though we might without impropriety consider the Hebrew word (răbbīm) to denote “Great and Noble.” And thus the contrast would be more complete, that Christ, while “he was ranked among transgressors,” became surety for every one of the most excellent of the earth, and suffered in the room of those who hold the highest rank in the world. I leave this to the judgment of my readers. Yet I approve of the ordinary reading, that he alone bore the punishment of many, because on him was laid the guilt of the whole world. It is evident from other passages, and especially from the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, that “many” sometimes denotes “all.”’

Numbered with the transgressors – Christ identified himself with sinners in his baptism.

Isa 53 in the teaching of Jesus

‘Careful students of the Gospels have detected numerous references by Jesus himself, sometimes only in a single word, to Isaiah 53. For example, he said he would be “rejected” (Mk 9:12; cf. Is 53:3), “taken away” (Mk 2:20; cf. Is 53:8) and “numbered with the transgressors” (Lk 22:37; cf. Is 53:12). He would also be “buried” like a criminal without any preparatory anointing, so that (he explained) Mary of Bethany gave him an advance anointing, “to prepare for my burial” (Mk 14:8; cf. Is 53:9). Other allusions may well be his description of the stronger man who “divides up the spoils” (Lk 11:22; cf. Is 53:12), his deliberate silence before his judges (Mk 14:61; 15:5; Lk 23:9; Jn 19:9; cf. Is 53:7), his intercession for the transgressors (Lk 23:34; cf. Is 53:12) and his laying down his life for others (Jn 10:11, 15, 17; cf. Is 53:10). If these be accepted, then every verse of the chapter except Isaiah 53:2 (“he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him”) is applied to Jesus in the New Testament, some verses several times. Indeed, there is good evidence that his whole public career, from his baptism through his ministry, sufferings and death to his resurrection and ascension, is seen as a fulfillment of the pattern foretold in Isaiah 53.’ (Stott, The Cross of Christ, p145)