Exaltation of Israel, the servant of the Lord
v14 And the sons of them that afflicted thee Shall come bending unto thee, And all they that despised thee shall bow down At the soles of thy feet; And they shall call thee The city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. v15 Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, So that no man passed through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, A joy of many generations. (JPS)
v2 And the nations shall see thy triumph, And all kings thy glory; And thou shalt be called by a new name, Which the mouth of the LORD shall mark out. v3 Thou shalt also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, And a royal diadem in the open hand of thy God. (JPS)
v1 Arise, shine, for thy light is come, And the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. v2 For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, And gross darkness the peoples; But upon thee the LORD will arise, And His glory shall be seen upon thee. v3 And nations shall walk at thy light, And kings at the brightness of thy rising. (cf. Verse 10) (JPS)
v22 Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will lift up My hand to the nations, And set up Mine ensign to the peoples. And they shall bring thy sons in their bosom, And thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. v23 And kings shall be thy foster-fathers, And their queens thy nursing mothers; They shall bow down to thee with their face to the earth, And lick the dust of thy feet; And thou shalt know that I am the LORD, For they shall not be ashamed that wait for Me. (JPS)
v19 Behold, at that time I will deal with all them that afflict thee; And I will save her that is lame, And gather her that was driven away; And I will make them to be a praise and a name, Whose shame hath been in all the earth. (JPS)
v6 But ye shall be named the priests of the LORD, Men shall call you the ministers of our God; Ye shall eat the wealth of the nations, And in their splendour shall ye revel. v7 For your shame which was double, And for that they rejoiced: ‘Confusion is their portion’; Therefore in their land they shall possess double, Everlasting joy shall be unto them. (JPS)
The surprise of the Nations as Israel is exalted
v15 As in the days of thy coming forth out of the land of Egypt Will I show unto him marvellous things.’ v16 The nations shall see and be put to shame for all their might; They shall lay their hand upon their mouth, Their ears shall be deaf. (JPS)
v11 Behold, all they that were incensed against thee Shall be ashamed and confounded; They that strove with thee Shall be as nothing, and shall perish. (JPS)
v19 O LORD, my strength, and my stronghold, And my refuge, in the day of affliction, Unto Thee shall the nations come From the ends of the earth, and shall say: ‘Our fathers have inherited nought but lies, Vanity and things wherein there is no profit.’ (JPS)
Isaiah 52:14 states, “As many were astonished at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man and his form more than the sons of men:” But this sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn’t it? Well not necessarily, if you mean the suffering and crucifixion, million other criminals went through the same torture, in that case it could apply to a lot of people in history. There are many people who have gone through excruciating torture whose visage was marred and disfigured even more than that of Jesus. The massacre of Jews in the holocaust is one example I can think of off the top of my head as Jews were tortured and butchered mercilessly, but there are many other examples of brutal deaths and torture throughout human history, for instance under Caligula and Nero (see www.history.com).
Looking at the broader context of Isaiah 41 through to chapter 53, this passage makes much more sense if applied to Israel who is clearly identified as the servant of the Lord. Israel throughout its nation’s history has suffered, been bruised, crushed, oppressed and slaughtered in numbers by gentile nations. Beginning with the slavery in Egypt if at all it happened (historians say there is no historical evidence to support this event) and the slavery in Babylon among others (Davies, 2015)
Jewish afflictions. The Jews were oppressed, aggrieved and bruised by the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans at the time of Jesus and last but not the least the church itself. Since chapter 52:14 can apply to many people throughout history, it would be wise on our part to follow Isaiah’s presentation in the broader context of his book and take the servant of the Lord to mean Israel as a single entity based on what he tells us in the first three servant poems.
Let me move on now to chapter 53, the continuation of chapter 52:13-15. In verse 15 we are told that kings and nations of the world will be shocked when the servant of the Lord is lifted up and high. These people who are shocked at the end of chapter 52 are now speaking in verse 1 of the following chapter:
v1 Who would have believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the LORD been revealed? v2 For he shot up right forth as a sapling, And as a root out of a dry ground; He had no form nor comeliness, that we should look upon him, Nor beauty that we should delight in him. (JPS)
In verse 1 the astonished kings and nations of the world cannot believe what they are seeing or hearing, the individual who is exalted is not who they expected. Can you imagine how shocked the world will be if someone other than Jesus was exalted? Verse 2 states that, he grew up before him as a tender plant and like a root out of dry ground. This obviously describes the impossible conditions through which Israel as a nation came into being, just like a shoot out of dry ground. Sarah, Abraham’s wife was barren and way passed her child bearing age (if at all this is what truly happened) when God miraculously opened her womb and she gave birth to Isaac her child. Moreover, Rebecca, Isaac’s wife was also barren. God had to perform another miracle so that she could give birth to twins and finally Jacob became the progenitor of the Jews. Thus Jacob (Israel) “grew up as a tender plant, and like a root out of dry ground”.
“He had no form or majesty that we should look upon him, nor appearance that we should delight in him.” The Jews throughout history have been looked upon as subhuman, and have been called pigs or dogs by gentile nations. They have been persecuted and slaughtered like animals. Hitler for instance wanted to wipe them off the map of the world because he considered them an inferior race, literally not humans.6 He tortured them in concentrated camps. In the non-canonical books of the Maccabees, we see various kings and individuals whose aim was to completely wipe out the Jews.
Even in the book of Esther, we see one fella named Haman who was burnt on genocide of the Jewish people when they were ruled under the Persians. Thus Jacob (Jews) had no form or majesty to be looked upon or to be delighted in. so we have many anti-Semitic sentiments or hatred of the Jewish race throughout history.
v3 He was despised, and forsaken of men, A man of pains, and acquainted with disease, And as one from whom men hide their face: He was despised, and we esteemed him not. v4 Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; Whereas we did esteem him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. (JPS)
|Niewyk, D L, Nicosia F R, (2000). The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press p52|
Jesus cannot be the one mentioned here and I will give reasons why. Was Jesus despised and rejected of men? Was his entire life characterized of illness, a man of sorrows and familiar with illness or diseased? Jesus was not a man from whom men hide their face. The following passages in the New Testament speak to the contrary:
v7 But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judaea, v8 And from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and from beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they had heard what great things he did, came unto him. v9 And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship should wait on him because of the multitude, lest they should throng him. (KJV)
v52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (KJV)
v14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. v15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. (KJV)
As clearly seen in the quoted passages, Jesus was not despised of men; he was actually adored and praised by many and multitudes followed him all the time. If you think about it something does not make sense in the gospels. Jesus was adored by people throughout the gospels, especially the Jerusalem triumphal entry; everyone is praising him singing Hosanna in the highest, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. One week later at his trial these same people who were rooting for him cry out crucify him!! crucify him!! Is it possible that our gospel writers may not have told us the whole truth and nothing but the truth? After all, we have seen that they were capable of twisting and distorting passages in the Old Testament to fit Jesus in. What’s to stop them from tweaking the actual story of Jesus?
We have seen misapplications, mistranslations and misquotations of the Hebrew Scriptures in order to present Jesus as the long awaited one. What’s to stop them from fabricating, adding or subtracting from the actual story? How is it possible the same people who adored him all over sudden turn against him a week later? Or perhaps one can argue it’s the nature of man, betrayals and denials are not a new or surprising thing to happen. Friends, family or people in general can turn against you at any given time. It is possible so I will reserve my judgment. Although it is highly unlikely that every single individual in those multitudes turned from loving him and singing his praises into hating him to the point of demanding that he dies. And all this happening within a week?
v5 But he was wounded because of our transgressions, He was crushed because of our iniquities: The chastisement of our welfare was upon him, And with his stripes we were healed. v6 All we like sheep did go astray, We turned every one to his own way; And the LORD hath made to light on him The iniquity of us all. v7 He was oppressed, though he humbled himself And opened not his mouth; As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, And as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; Yea, he opened not his mouth. (JPS)
Let me just make one point clear before I continue my exegesis, when I say Israel is the servant of the Lord, I do not mean the whole nation but just the few righteous remnant that observe the Mosaic Law and have not departed from it. These few righteous remnants have been punished together with their wicked rebellious and disobedient country men. Despite being innocent, they get to be punished as a result of the sins of others. Nehemiah describes the affliction and reproach of the righteous remnant:
Neh_1:3 And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. (KJV)
v8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away, And with his generation who did reason? For he was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due. v9 And they made his grave with the wicked, And with the rich his tomb; Although he had done no violence, Neither was any deceit in his mouth.’ (JPS)
Throughout Isaiah 53, the prophet is using poetry to convey the description of this servant of the Lord. So the passage should be based on a figurative understanding, and not taken literally. “For he was cut out of the land of the living, as a result of the transgression of my people, they were afflicted.” This statement although speaking of an individual is actually describing a group of people as a single entity. The latter part of verse 8 in the Hebrew Bible states “they were afflicted”. The Christian bibles mistranslate it as “he was afflicted”. “And his grave was set with the wicked and with the wealthy”. Jesus was buried alone, I earlier spoke of this. He was not buried with the wicked or rich. “Neither was there any deceit in his mouth” clearly applies to the righteous remnants of Israel as Zephaniah explicitly states.
Zep 3:13 The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid. (KJV)
v10 Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him by disease; To see if his soul would offer itself in restitution, That he might see his seed, prolong his days, And that the purpose of the LORD might prosper by his hand: v11 Of the travail of his soul he shall see to the full, even My servant, Who by his knowledge did justify the Righteous One to the many, And their iniquities he did bear. v12 Therefore will I divide him a portion among the great, And he shall divide the spoil with the mighty; Because he bared his soul unto death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet he bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors. (JPS)
Jesus did not see his seed or prolong his days, and what does it mean that he shall prolong his days, isn’t he God? Will Jesus who is God and possessor of all things be allotted a portion with the great? How can he be rewarded if he owns everything? The passage cannot be speaking of Jesus.
Some explain Isaiah 53 as a description of king Uzziah, who was king of the southern kingdom of Judah. Uzziah at one point infuriated God and thus contracted leprosy and lived out the rest of his life isolated or quarantined. There is a possibility that Isaiah was drawing a parallel between the life of Uzziah and the nation of Israel, and saw the suffering of Uzziah as punishment for the sins of Israel. This would explain some of the features that do not seem to fit the life of Jesus.
While others think of this passage as describing Jeremiah who was imprisoned, despised and crushed under the cruelty and wickedness of his countrymen. This is how vague the passage is such that it can be applied to anyone for that matter. Consider this passage about Jeremiah for instance, which sounds a lot like what Isaiah speaks of in chapter 53.
Jer 11:19 But I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter; and I knew not that they had devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered. (KJV)
In order to get the full gist of Isaiah 53, it is important to read chapters 52 and 54 and see what is happening there in order to make sense of 53. The subject of this chapter is not the Messiah, you can read the whole chapter no mention of the Messiah is ever made or hinted.