Where the world comes to study the Bible

Isaiah 53 (52:13-53:12)

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Suffering Servant The Sin-Bearing Servant (52:13-53:12) The Fourth Servant Song (52:13-53:12) The Suffering Servant (52:13-53:12) Fourth Song of the Servant (52:13-53:12)
53:1-3  (1-3) 53:1-3  (1-3) 53:1-3  (1-3) 53:1-3  (1-3) 53:1-7  (1-7)
53:4-6  (4-6) 53:4-6  (4-6) 53:4-6  (4-6) 53:4-6  (4-6)  
53:7-9  (7-9) 53:7-9  (7-9) 53:7-9  (7-9) 53:7-9  (7-9)  
        53:8-9  (8-9)
53:10-12  (10-12) 53:10-12  (10-12) 53:10-12  (10-12) 53:10-12  (10-12) 53:10  (10)
        53:11  (11)
        53:12  (12)

READING CYCLE THREE

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This is a crucial text for the NT understanding of the ministry and identification of Jesus as YHWH's Suffering Servant. Note the places that it is quoted or alluded to in the NT.

1. 52:15 - Rom. 15:21

2. 53:1 - Rom. 10:16; John 12:38

3. 53:3 - Luke 18:31-33 (allusion); Mark 10:33-34 (allusion); John 1:10-11 (allusion)

4. 53:4 - Matt. 8:17; I Pet. 2:24 (allusion)

5. 53:5 - Rom. 4:25 (allusion); I Cor. 15:3 (allusion); Heb. 9:28 (allusion); I Pet. 2:24-25 (allusion)

6. 53:6 - I Pet 2:25 (allusion)

7. 53:7-8 - Matt. 26:63 (allusion); Matt. 27:12-14 (allusion); Mark 14:61 (allusion); Mark 15:5 (allusion); Luke 23:9 (allusion); John 19:9 (allusion); Acts 8:32-33 (quote); I Pet. 2:23 (allusion)

8. 53:9 - Matt. 27:57-60 (allusion); I Pet. 2:22

9. 53:10 - John 1:29 (allusion); Mark 10:45 (allusion)

10. 53:11 - John 10:14-18 (allusion); Rom. 5:18,19 (allusion); I Pet. 2:24 (allusion)

11. 53:12 - Luke 22:37; II Cor. 5:21 (allusion); Phil. 2:6,7 (allusion)

 

B. I am surprised that this very clear substitutionary text is not directly quoted more in the NT. My biases as a Christian evangelical are clearly seen in my understanding of this context. For me the OT must be interpreted in light of its own day (i.e., authorial intent), but also by the use of all Scripture (II Tim. 3:16), we must read the OT through the revelation of Jesus and the Apostles.

 

C. I think a helpful way to approach this powerful, and in a sense unique, OT song/poem would be to

1. identify the strophes

2. identify the speaker 

3. outline the message

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 52:13-15
13Behold, My servant will prosper,
He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.
14Just 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.
15Thus 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.

52:13 "will prosper" This verb (BDB 968, KB 1328, Hiphil imperfect) has two connotations.

1. to consider, to give attention to, to ponder - Isa. 41:20; 44:18; Deut. 32:29; Ps. 64:9

2. to prosper, "to have success" - I Sam. 18:15; Isa. 52:13; Jer. 20:11; 23:5

The question is which of these best parallel the series of verbs "high," "lifted," and "greatly exalted." Will the Servant be

1. listened to

2. lifted up

Both fit the context of chapters 44-55.

▣ "He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted" The threefold question of these verbs with similar meaning intensifies the idea.

1. will be high - BDB 926, KB 1202, Qal imperfect, cf. 6:1; 57:15

2. will be lifted up - BDB 669, KB 724, Niphal perfect (with waw), cf. 6:1; 33:10; 57:15

3. will be greatly exalted - BDB 146, KB 170, Qal perfect (with waw), cf. 5:16

 

52:14

NASB, NKJV,
LXX"were astonished at you"
NRSV"were astonished at him"
NJB"were aghast at him"
JPSOA"were appalled at him"
REB"recoil at the sight of him"
Peshitta"amazed at him"

The MT has "you," עליך (also LXX), but "him," וילע is read by the Targums and some Syriac versions. The UBS Text Project gives "you" a B rating.

There is a fluidity between the corporate focus ("you") and the individual ("him") in the Servant Songs. The individual ideal Israelite paid the price for corporate Israel (cf. 53:8) and corporate humanity!

▣ "My people" This is not in the Masoretic Hebrew text. The Servant is not identified with corporate Israel but an individual, ideal Israelite.

▣ "His appearance was marred more than any man,

 And His form more than the sons of men" Jesus was beaten very badly, almost unrecognizable, first by the Sanhedrin and then by the Roman soldiers. The rabbis used this verse to say that the Messiah will have leprosy.

52:15

NASB, NKJV"sprinkle"
NRSV, JPSOA,
NET"startle"
NJB, LXX"astonished"
Peshitta"purify"

This is a sacrificial term (BDB 633 I, KB 683, Hiphil imperfect, cf. Exod. 29:21: Lev. 4:6; 8:11; 14:7). Many modern translations have "startle" (BDB 633 II, "cause to leap"), which comes from an Arabic root. This follows the LXX and the Vulgate.

The question is "What do the kings hear and see?"

1. a marred man (v. 14; 53:5)

2. a high, lifted up, and greatly exalted man (v. 13)

Does the verb of v. 15a mean:

1. startle with joy

2. startle with shock

3. sprinkled as a sacrifice (cf. 53:4-5,10)

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 53:1-3
1Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2For 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.
3He 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.

53:1 "Who has believed our message" The speaker (plural) is uncertain, but possibly (1) the faithful Jewish remnant or (2) the prophets. It is obvious that very few understood the concept of a suffering Messiah (cf. John 12:38; Rom. 10:16)! However, one day the kings of the earth will understand (cf. 52:15 and Phil. 2:6-11)!

For "believed" (BDB 52, KB 63, Hiphil perfect) see Special Topic at 42:3.

▣ "arm of the Lord" This is an anthropomorphic phrase (cf. 51:9; 52:9,10; Deut. 5:15, see Special Topic at 41:2) for YHWH's actions, here involving the ministry of the Servant.

53:2 "like a tender shoot" This (BDB 413) refers to His inconspicuous beginnings. It has some connotative relationship with the Messianic term "Branch" (BDB 666, cf. Isa. 4:2; 11:1,10). Both are used together in Isa. 11:1.

SPECIAL TOPIC: JESUS THE NAZARENE

▣ "He has no stately form or majesty

 That we should look upon Him" Jesus was not physically unusual or attractive. He did not stand out in a crowd in any way (i.e., He could melt into the crowd, cf. John 8:59; 12:36).

53:3 "He was despised" This verb (BDB 102, KB 117, Niphal participle) is used as a title, "The Despised One" in 49:7. The Qal passive participle is used in Ps. 22:6, which Christians believe describes Jesus' crucifixion (cf. Matt. 27:35,39,43,46; Mark 15:29,34; Luke 23:34; John 19:24; 20:25).

So many of the texts in this section of Isaiah are used in the NT. Isaiah clearly reveals God's redemptive plan for all humans (see Special Topic at 40:15).

The last two lines of v. 3 have been interpreted in several ways.

1. some of the rabbis said the Messiah would have leprosy (cf. v. 11)

2. some relate it to 52:14 and see it referring to the beatings Jesus received at the hands of Herod's and Pilate's guards

3. some relate it to Jesus' words in Matt. 26:31; Mark 14:27 (from Zech. 13:7) or John 16:32

 

▣ "sorrows" This word (BDB 456) can mean

1. physical pain - Exod. 3:7

2. emotional pain - Ps. 38:17-18; Jer. 45:3

It is used in this context (53:13-14) of the Servant suffering on behalf of Israel (cf. v. 8) and all mankind (cf. v. 6).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 53:4-6
4Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5But 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.
6All 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.

53:4 "griefs" The word literally means "sickness" (BDB 318, cf. Deut. 28:59,61), but is used in a much wider sense in Hebrew (Isa. 1:6; 6:10). This speaks of Jesus' substitutionary work (cf. Mark 10:45; II Cor. 5:21).

Many have tried to interpret this strophe and v. 5d as teaching that Jesus' death dealt with believers' sins and sicknesses, but this is to misinterpret the parallelism (cf. Ps. 103:3). "Sickness" is a Hebrew idiom for sin (cf. Isa. 1:5-6). My favorite charismatic author, Gordon Fee, has written a powerful booklet on this issue entitled The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels.

SPECIAL TOPIC: IS HEALING GOD'S PLAN FOR EVERY AGE?

▣ "bore. . .carried" These two verbs are parallel.

1. bore - BDB 669, KB 724, Qal perfect, used of bearing one's guilt, Gen. 4:13; Lev. 5:1,17; 7:18; Num. 5:31; 14:34; Ezek. 14:10; 44:12, but it is also used of someone or some animal bearing another's guilt, cf. Lev. 10:17; 16:22; Num. 14:33; Ezek. 4:4,5,6 and of the suffering Servant's redemptive ministry in Isa. 53:4

2. carried - BDB 687, KB 741, Qal perfect; this is literally "bear a heavy load," it is used of the Servant in v. 4 and v. 11 (Qal imperfect)

Notice the series of verbs in vv. 4-6 of what YHWH did to the Servant for humanity's benefit.

1. smitten by God, v. 4 - BDB 645, KB 697, Hophal participle

2. afflicted (by God), v. 4 - BDB 776, KB 853, Pual participle

3. pierced through for our transgressions, v. 5 - BDB 319, KB 320, Poal participle

4. crushed for our iniquities, v. 5 - BDB 193, KB 221, Pual participle

5. the chastening for our well being (no verb) upon Him, v. 5

6. by His scourging we are healed, v. 5

This is the textual foundation for the doctrine of the vicarious, substitutionary atonement.

▣ "Smitten of God" It was God's will that Jesus die (cf. v. 10; John 3:16; Mark 10:45; II Cor. 5:21). Jesus' trial and death were not accidents or mistakes, but the plan of God (cf. Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:28; I Pet. 1:20).

53:5 "pierced. . .crushed" As "bore" and "carried" in v. 4 were parallel, so too, these verbs.

1. pierced - BDB 319, KB 320, Poal participle usually by a sword in battle, but not here. The same root means "polluted" for mankind's purification and forgiveness.

2. crushed - BDB 193, KB 221, Pual participle; this verb is used several times in Isaiah

a. 57:15 - Niphal participle, "the heart of the contrite"

b. 3:15 - Piel imperfect, "crushing My people"

c. 19:10; 53:5 - Pual participle, "to be crushed"

d. 53:10 - Piel infinitive construct, "to crush"

It denotes one who is humbled. In this context by YHWH Himself for the greater good of all mankind.

53:6 This is the OT counterpart to Rom. 3:9-18,23; 5:12,15,18; 11:32; Gal. 3:22. This shows the terrible development of the Fall of Genesis 3 (cf. Gen. 6:5,11-12; Ps. 14:3; 143:2).

▣ "the iniquity of us all to fall on Him" Jesus died for the sins of the entire world. Everyone is potentially saved by Christ (cf. John 1:29; 3:16-17; Rom. 5:18; Titus 2:11; I John 2:2; 4:14). Only willful unbelief keeps anyone from God.

Some commentators have tried to make a restrictive distinction between the "all" [twice] of v. 6 and "the many" of vv. 11d and 12e. However, the parallelism of Rom. 5:18, "all" and "the many" of 5:19, clearly shows that they refer to the same group (i.e., fallen humanity made in the image and likeness of YHWH, Gen. 1:26-27).

God desires all humans to be saved - John 4:42; I Tim. 2:4; 4:10; II Pet. 3:9).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 53:7-9
7He 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.
8By 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?
9His 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.

53:7 "Like a lamb" The sacrificial allusion is significant (cf. John 1:29 and II Cor. 5:21).

▣ "He did not open His mouth" This means the Servant did not attempt to defend Himself. There are several allusions to this in Jesus' trials.

1. Jesus' night trial before Caiaphas - Matt. 26:63; Mark 14:61

2. Jesus' trial before Pilate - Matt. 27:12-14; Mark 15:5; John 19:9

3. Jesus before Herod the Tetrarch - Luke 23:9

 

53:8 "For the transgression of my people" This phrase shows that the term "Servant" in this context cannot be national Israel. The Servant dies (cf. 8c) for Israel.

This song/poem has several rare and unusual verbals.

1. 52:15, "what had not been told" - Pual perfect (BDB 707, KB 765)

2. 52:15, "they will understand" - Hithpolel perfect (BDB 106, KB 122)

3. 53:4, "smitten" - Hophal participle (BDB 645, KB 697)

4. 53:4, "afflicted" - Pual participle (BDB 776, KB 853)

5. 53:5, "pierced" - Poal participle (BDB 319, KB 320)

6. 53:5, "crushed" - Pual participle (BDB 193, KB 221)

7. 53:7, "led" - Hophal imperfect (BDB 384, KB 383)

8. 53:8, "considered" - Polel imperfect (BDB 967, KB 1319)

 

53:9 This verse describes so explicitly the crucifixion and burial of Jesus (cf. Matt. 27:38-59), as does Psalm 22.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 53:10-12
10But 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.
11As 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.
12Therefore, 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.

53:10 "But the Lord was pleased
  To crush Him, putting Him to grief
"

Notice the agent and object of these verbs.

1. YHWH was pleased (lit. "it was the will of" - BDB 342, KB 339, Qal perfect). This verb means "to delight in" (cf. 58:2; 62:4) or "desire" (55:11). It is even used of YHWH's pleasure to put someone to death in I Sam. 2:25. It is shocking to use a verb like this in connection with the unfair, painful treatment of the righteous Servant. YHWH had a redemptive plan (see Special Topic at 40:15)!

2. YHWH's will and purpose was "to crush" (Piel infinitive construct, cf. v. 5) and "put to grief" (Hiphil perfect, BDB 317, KB 311). The verb means "to make sick" (JPSOA) or "sore by hitting." There was a high and costly price to pay for human redemption! YHWH and His Servant paid it fully and freely!

 

NASB"If He would render Himself as a guilt offering"
NKJV, NRSV"When You make His soul an offering for sin"
TEV"His death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness"
NJB"if he gives his life as a sin offering"
JPSOA"if he made himself an offering for guilt"
Peshitta"he laid down his life as an offering for sin"

This phrase is so simple yet so profound. It involves

1. the will of YHWH

2. the will of the Servant

3. the sinful ones who chose to receive this guilt offering (implied)

This is the Hebrew theological concept of "corporality." It is illustrated by

1. the sacrificial system (Leviticus 1-7), but especially the Day of Atonement (cf. Leviticus 16)

2. the sin of Achan affecting the Israeli army (Joshua 7)

3. the clear explanation in Romans 5:12-21

4. another great example in II Cor. 5:21

One innocent One paid the price to set free all the guilty ones!

"He will prolong His days" It is obvious that the Servant dies (cf. vv. 8,9,12). Therefore, this verse must refer to life after death!

Notice all the things that YHWH will do for Him.

1. He will see His offspring (lit. "seed"), v. 10

2. He will prolong His days (this must refer to His afterlife), v. 10

3. the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand (i.e., YHWH's plan to restore fellowship with mankind), v. 10

4. He will see it and be satisfied, v. 11 (refers to YHWH's good pleasure [will]), v. 10e

5. He will justify the many, v. 11

6. allot Him a portion with the great, v. 12

7. He will divide the booty with the strong, v. 12

Poetry is always difficult to interpret. Some of these items are uncertain!

53:11 "it" The LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls have "lights" (NRSV, NJB). The MT does not have "it" (see NKJV). The UBS Text Project thinks "light" may have dropped out of the text (B rating).

▣ "By His knowledge" the NRSV has "he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge." The question of "what knowledge" seems to relate to

1. see His offspring (v. 10c)

2. prolong His life (v. 10d)

3. prospering of YHWH's will (v. 10e)

4. results of His anguish (v. 11a)

 

▣ "the Righteous One. . .justify" These are both formed from one root (BDB 842, 843). YHWH's sin-bearing (cf. vv. 11e) Servant will accomplish righteousness for all who believe and receive (cf. John 1:12; 3:16; Rom. 10:9-13).

▣ "the many" See note at "all" of v. 6.

▣ "He will bear their iniquities" The same verb (BDB 687, KB 741, Qal imperfect) was also used in v. 4. See note there.

53:12a,b "He will divide the booty with the strong" This is a war metaphor of victory. It is not to be taken literally, but figuratively of spiritual victory (cf. 52:13)!

▣ "He poured out Himself to death" This verb (BDB 788, KB 881, Hiphil perfect) is literally "be naked" or "be bare" or "to empty." It is used in Isaiah in several senses.

1. to uncover a weapon, Isa. 22:6

2. for the Spirit being given (i.e., poured out), Isa. 32:15

3. BDB calls it a metaphor in this text reflecting the Piel usage #3 (cf. Ps. 141:8)

4. KB calls it "to tip out," a metaphor "to throw away one life to death"

 

▣ "And was numbered with the transgressors" Luke 22:37 quotes this verse as being spoken by Jesus in Gethsemane when the soldiers and guards came to arrest Him.

Notice the same word (BDB 833) was used of Israel's sin in v. 8 and all humans' sin in v. 5.

▣ "He Himself bore the sin of many" This means substitutionary, vicarious atonement (cf. Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; 14:24; II Cor. 5:21; Gal. 1:4; I Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14). The UBS Text Project thinks "sin" should be plural (B rating).

▣ "And interceded for the transgressors" And He still does (cf. Rom. 8:27,34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24; I John 2:1)!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Does the title "My Servant" refer to the Jews or the Messiah?

2. Why are the numerous references to the Gentiles' inclusion so significant in this passage?

3. Why did God choose the Jews?

4. Why did the Servant suffer?

5. Why was God pleased to crush Him?

6. What does Isa. 53:6 say about sin?

7. Why has this passage been so influential on the church?

 

Related Topics: Bible Study Methods