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Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
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CHAPTER 53

Isa 53:1-12. Man's Unbelief: Messiah's Vicarious Sufferings, and Final Triumph for Man.

The speaker, according to Horsley, personates the repenting Jews in the latter ages of the world coming over to the faith of the Redeemer; the whole is their penitent confession. This view suits the context (Isa 52:7-9), which is not to be fully realized until Israel is restored. However, primarily, it is the abrupt exclamation of the prophet: "Who hath believed our report," that of Isaiah and the other prophets, as to Messiah? The infidel's objection from the unbelief of the Jews is anticipated and hereby answered: that unbelief and the cause of it (Messiah's humiliation, whereas they looked for One coming to reign) were foreseen and foretold.

1. report—literally, "the thing heard," referring to which sense Paul says, "So, then, faith cometh by hearing" (Ro 10:16, 17).

arm—power (Isa 40:10); exercised in miracles and in saving men (Ro 1:16; 1Co 1:18). The prophet, as if present during Messiah's ministry on earth, is deeply moved to see how few believed on Him (Isa 49:4; Mr 6:6; 9:19; Ac 1:15). Two reasons are given why all ought to have believed: (1) The "report" of the "ancient prophets." (2) "The arm of Jehovah" exhibited in Messiah while on earth. In Horsley's view, this will be the penitent confession of the Jews, "How few of our nation, in Messiah's days, believed in Him!"

2. tender plant—Messiah grew silently and insensibly, as a sucker from an ancient stock, seemingly dead (namely, the house of David, then in a decayed state) (see on Isa 11:1).

shall grow … hath—rather, "grew up … had."

before him—before Jehovah. Though unknown to the world (Joh 1:11), Messiah was observed by God, who ordered the most minute circumstances attending His growth.

root—that is, sprout from a root.

form—beautiful form: sorrow had marred His once beautiful form.

and when we shall see—rather, joined with the previous words, "Nor comeliness (attractiveness) that we should look (with delight) on Him."

there is—rather, "was." The studied reticence of the New Testament as to His form, stature, color, &c., was designed to prevent our dwelling on the bodily, rather than on His moral beauty, holiness, love, &c., also a providential protest against the making and veneration of images of Him. The letter of P. Lentulus to the emperor Tiberius, describing His person, is spurious; so also the story of His sending His portrait to Abgar, king of Edessa; and the alleged impression of His countenance on the handkerchief of Veronica. The former part of this verse refers to His birth and childhood; the latter to His first public appearance [Vitringa].

3. rejected—"forsaken of men" [Gesenius]. "Most abject of men." Literally, "He who ceases from men," that is, is no longer regarded as a man [Hengstenberg]. (See on Isa 52:14; Isa 49:7).

man of sorrows—that is, whose distinguishing characteristic was sorrows.

acquainted with—familiar by constant contact with.

grief—literally, "disease"; figuratively for all kinds of calamity (Jer 6:14); leprosy especially represented this, being a direct judgment from God. It is remarkable Jesus is not mentioned as having ever suffered under sickness.

and we hid … faces—rather, as one who causes men to hide their faces from Him (in aversion) [Maurer]. Or, "He was as an hiding of the face before it," that is, as a thing before which a man covers his face in disgust [Hengstenberg]. Or, "as one before whom is the covering of the face"; before whom one covers the face in disgust [Gesenius].

we—the prophet identifying himself with the Jews. See Horsley's view (see on Isa 53:1).

esteemed … notnegative contempt; the previous words express positive.

4. Surely … our griefs—literally, "But yet He hath taken (or borne) our sicknesses," that is, they who despised Him because of His human infirmities ought rather to have esteemed Him on account of them; for thereby "Himself took OUR infirmities" (bodily diseases). So Mt 8:17 quotes it. In the Hebrew for "borne," or took, there is probably the double notion, He took on Himself vicariously (so Isa 53:5, 6, 8, 12), and so He took away; His perfect humanity whereby He was bodily afflicted for us, and in all our afflictions (Isa 63:9; Heb 4:15) was the ground on which He cured the sick; so that Matthew's quotation is not a mere accommodation. See Note 42 of Archbishop Magee, Atonement. The Hebrew there may mean to overwhelm with darkness; Messiah's time of darkness was temporary (Mt 27:45), answering to the bruising of His heel; Satan's is to be eternal, answering to the bruising of his head (compare Isa 50:10).

carried … sorrows—The notion of substitution strictly. "Carried," namely, as a burden. "Sorrows," that is, pains of the mind; as "griefs" refer to pains of the body (Ps 32:10; 38:17). Mt 8:17 might seem to oppose this: "And bare our sicknesses." But he uses "sicknesses" figuratively for sins, the cause of them. Christ took on Himself all man's "infirmities;" so as to remove them; the bodily by direct miracle, grounded on His participation in human infirmities; those of the soul by His vicarious suffering, which did away with the source of both. Sin and sickness are ethically connected as cause and effect (Isa 33:24; Ps 103:3; Mt 9:2; Joh 5:14; Jas 5:15).

we did esteem him stricken—judicially [Lowth], namely, for His sins; whereas it was for ours. "We thought Him to be a leper" [Jerome, Vulgate], leprosy being the direct divine judgment for guilt (Le 13:1-59; Nu 12:10, 15; 2Ch 26:18-21).

smitten—by divine judgments.

afflicted—for His sins; this was the point in which they so erred (Lu 23:34; Ac 3:17; 1Co 2:8). He was, it is true, "afflicted," but not for His sins.

5. wounded—a bodily wound; not mere mental sorrow; literally, "pierced"; minutely appropriate to Messiah, whose hands, feet, and side were pierced (Ps 22:16). The Margin, wrongly, from a Hebrew root, translates, "tormented."

for … for—(Ro 4:25; 2Co 5:21; Heb 9:28; 1Pe 2:24; 3:18)—the cause for which He suffered not His own, but our sins.

bruised—crushing inward and outward suffering (see on Isa 53:10).

chastisement—literally, the correction inflicted by a parent on children for their good (Heb 12:5-8, 10, 11). Not punishment strictly; for this can have place only where there is guilt, which He had not; but He took on Himself the chastisement whereby the peace (reconciliation with our Father; Ro 5:1; Eph 2:14, 15, 17) of the children of God was to be effected (Heb 2:14).

upon him—as a burden; parallel to "hath borne" and "carried."

stripes—minutely prophetical of His being scourged (Mt 27:26; 1Pe 2:24).

healed—spiritually (Ps 41:4; Jer 8:22).

6. Penitent confession of believers and of Israel in the last days (Zec 12:10).

sheep … astray—(Ps 119:176; 1Pe 2:25). The antithesis is, "In ourselves we were scattered; in Christ we are collected together; by nature we wander, driven headlong to destruction; in Christ we find the way to the gate of life" [Calvin]. True, also, literally of Israel before its coming restoration (Eze 34:5, 6; Zec 10:2, 6; compare with Eze 34:23, 24; Jer 23:4, 5; also Mt 9:36).

laid—"hath made to light on Him" [Lowth]. Rather, "hath made to rush upon Him" [Maurer].

the iniquity—that is, its penalty; or rather, as in 2Co 5:21; He was not merely a sin offering (which would destroy the antithesis to "righteousness"), but "sin for us"; sin itself vicariously; the representative of the aggregate sin of all mankind; not sins in the plural, for the "sin" of the world is one (Ro 5:16, 17); thus we are made not merely righteous, but righteousness, even "the righteousness of God." The innocent was punished as if guilty, that the guilty might be rewarded as if innocent. This verse could be said of no mere martyr.

7. oppressedLowth translates, "It was exacted, and He was made answerable." The verb means, "to have payment of a debt sternly exacted" (De 15:2, 3), and so to be oppressed in general; the exaction of the full penalty for our sins in His sufferings is probably alluded to.

and … afflicted—or, and yet He suffered, or bore Himself patiently, &c. [Hengstenberg and Maurer]. Lowth's translation, "He was made answerable," is hardly admitted by the Hebrew.

opened not … mouthJer 11:19; and David in Ps 38:13, 14; 39:9, prefiguring Messiah (Mt 26:63; 27:12, 14; 1Pe 2:23).

8. Rather, "He was taken away (that is, cut off) by oppression and by a judicial sentence"; a hendiadys for, "by an oppressive judicial sentence" [Lowth and Hengstenberg]. Gesenius not so well, "He was delivered from oppression and punishment" only by death. English Version also translates, "from … from," not "by … by." But "prison" is not true of Jesus, who was not incarcerated; restraint and bonds (Joh 18:24) more accord with the Hebrew. Ac 8:33; translate as the Septuagint: "In His humiliation His judgment (legal trial) was taken away"; the virtual sense of the Hebrew as rendered by Lowth and sanctioned by the inspired writer of Acts; He was treated as one so mean that a fair trial was denied Him (Mt 26:59; Mr 14:55-59). Horsley translates, "After condemnation and judgment He was accepted."

who … declare … generation—who can set forth (the wickedness of) His generation? that is, of His contemporaries [Alford on Ac 8:33], which suits best the parallelism, "the wickedness of His generation" corresponding to "oppressive judgment." But Luther, "His length of life," that is, there shall be no end of His future days (Isa 53:10; Ro 6:9). Calvin includes the days of His Church, which is inseparable from Himself. Hengstenberg, "His posterity." He, indeed, shall be cut off, but His race shall be so numerous that none can fully declare it. Chyrsostom, &c., "His eternal sonship and miraculous incarnation."

cut off—implying a violent death (Da 9:26).

my people—Isaiah, including himself among them by the word "my" [Hengstenberg]. Rather, Jehovah speaks in the person of His prophet, "My people," by the election of grace (Heb 2:13).

was he strickenHebrew, "the stroke (was laid) upon Him." Gesenius says the Hebrew means "them"; the collective body, whether of the prophets or people, to which the Jews refer the whole prophecy. But Jerome, the Syriac, and Ethiopiac versions translate it "Him"; so it is singular in some passages; Ps 11:7, His; Job 27:23, Him; Isa 44:15, thereto. The Septuagint, the Hebrew, lamo, "upon Him," read the similar words, lamuth, "unto death," which would at once set aside the Jewish interpretation, "upon them." Origen, who laboriously compared the Hebrew with the Septuagint, so read it, and urged it against the Jews of his day, who would have denied it to be the true reading if the word had not then really so stood in the Hebrew text [Lowth]. If his sole authority be thought insufficient, perhaps lamo may imply that Messiah was the representative of the collective body of all men; hence the equivocal plural-singular form.

9. Rather, "His grave was appointed," or "they appointed Him His grave" [Hengstenberg]; that is, they intended (by crucifying Him with two thieves, Mt 27:38) that He should have His grave "with the wicked." Compare Joh 19:31, the denial of honorable burial being accounted a great ignominy (see on Isa 14:19; Jer 26:23).

and with … rich—rather, "but He was with a rich man," &c. Gesenius, for the parallelism to "the wicked," translates "ungodly" (the effect of riches being to make one ungodly); but the Hebrew everywhere means "rich," never by itself ungodly; the parallelism, too, is one of contrast; namely, between their design and the fact, as it was ordered by God (Mt 27:57; Mr 15:43-46; Joh 19:39, 40); two rich men honored Him at His death, Joseph of Arimathæa, and Nicodemus.

in his deathHebrew, "deaths." Lowth translates, "His tomb"; bamoth, from a different root, meaning "high places," and so mounds for sepulture (Eze 43:7). But all the versions oppose this, and the Hebrew hardly admits it. Rather translate, "after His death" [Hengstenberg]; as we say, "at His death." The plural, "deaths," intensifies the force; as Adam by sin "dying died" (Ge 2:17, Margin); that is, incurred death, physical and spiritual. So Messiah, His substitute, endured death in both senses; spiritual, during His temporary abandonment by the Father; physical, when He gave up the ghost.

because—rather, as the sense demands (so in Job 16:17), "although He had done no," &c. [Hengstenberg], (1Pe 2:20-22; 1Jo 3:5).

violence—that is, wrong.

10. Transition from His humiliation to His exaltation.

pleased the Lord—the secret of His sufferings. They were voluntarily borne by Messiah, in order that thereby He might "do Jehovah's will" (Joh 6:38; Heb 10:7, 9), as to man's redemption; so at the end of the verse, "the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand."

bruise—(see Isa 53:5); Ge 3:15, was hereby fulfilled, though the Hebrew word for "bruise," there, is not the one used here. The word "Himself," in Matthew, implies a personal bearing on Himself of our maladies, spiritual and physical, which included as a consequence His ministration to our bodily ailments: these latter are the reverse side of sin; His bearing on Him our spiritual malady involved with it His bearing sympathetically, and healing, the outward: which is its fruits and its type. Hengstenberg rightly objects to Magee's translation, "taken away," instead of "borne," that the parallelism to "carried" would be destroyed. Besides, the Hebrew word elsewhere, when connected with sin, means to bear it and its punishment (Eze 18:20). Matthew, elsewhere, also sets forth His vicarious atonement (Mt 20:28).

when thou, &c.—rather, as Margin, "when His soul (that is, He) shall have made an offering," &c. In the English Version the change of person is harsh: from Jehovah, addressed in the second person (Isa 53:10), to Jehovah speaking in the first person in Isa 53:11. The Margin rightly makes the prophet in the name of Jehovah Himself to speak in this verse.

offering for sin—(Ro 3:25; 1Jo 2:2; 4:10).

his seed—His spiritual posterity shall be numerous (Ps 22:30); nay, more, though He must die, He shall see them. A numerous posterity was accounted a high blessing among the Hebrews; still more so, for one to live to see them (Ge 48:11; Ps 128:6).

prolong … days—also esteemed a special blessing among the Jews (Ps 91:16). Messiah shall, after death, rise again to an endless life (Ho 6:2; Ro 6:9).

prosper—(Isa 52:13, Margin).

11. Jehovah is still speaking.

see of the travail—He shall see such blessed fruits resulting from His sufferings as amply to repay Him for them (Isa 49:4, 5; 50:5, 9). The "satisfaction," in seeing the full fruit of His travail of soul in the conversion of Israel and the world, is to be realized in the last days (Isa 2:2-4).

his knowledge—rather, the knowledge (experimentally) of Him (Joh 17:3; Php 3:10).

my … servant—Messiah (Isa 42:1; 52:13).

righteous—the ground on which He justifies others, His own righteousness (1Jo 2:1).

justify—treat as if righteous; forensically; on the ground of His meritorious suffering, not their righteousness.

bear … iniquities—(Isa 53:4, 5), as the sinner's substitute.

12. divide—as a conqueror dividing the spoil after a victory (Ps 2:8; Lu 11:22).

him—for Him.

with … greatHengstenberg translates, "I will give Him the mighty for a portion"; so the Septuagint. But the parallel clause, "with the strong," favors English Version. His triumphs shall be not merely among the few and weak, but among the many and mighty.

spoil … strong—(Col 2:15; compare Pr 16:19). "With the great; with the mighty," may mean, as a great and mighty hero.

poured out … soul—that is, His life, which was considered as residing in the blood (Le 17:11; Ro 3:25).

numbered with, &c.—not that He was a transgressor, but He was treated as such, when crucified with thieves (Mr 15:28; Lu 22:37).

made intercession, &c.—This office He began on the cross (Lu 23:34), and now continues in heaven (Isa 59:16; Heb 9:24; 1Jo 2:1). Understand because before "He was numbered … He bare … made intercession." His meritorious death and intercession are the cause of His ultimate triumph. Maurer, for the parallelism, translates, "He was put on the same footing with the transgressors." But English Version agrees better with the Hebrew, and with the sense and fact as to Christ. Maurer's translation would make a tautology after "He was numbered with the transgressors"; parallelism does not need so servile a repetition. "He made intercession for," &c., answers to the parallel, "He was numbered with," &c., as effect answers to cause, His intercession for sinners being the effect flowing from His having been numbered with them.

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