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BSFL HCSB Commentary Week of July 28, 2013 God Promises the Messiah
Focal Passage Outline and Scripture Passages:
The Messiah Became One of Us (Isa. 53:2-3)
The Messiah Suffered for Us (Isa. 53:4-9)
The Messiah Rescues Us (Isa. 53:10-12)
Bible Passage: Isaiah 53:2-12
What This Lesson Is About: The Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of Jesus. This lesson is
about Isaiah’s description of the nature and role of the coming Messiah.
How This Lesson Can Impact Your Life: This lesson can help you speak with greater confidence about
Jesus as the promised Messiah.
OVERVIEW OF BACKGROUND PASSAGE: Isaiah 53:2-12
The Healer: See this YouTube, or click on the link.
(52:13-53:12) Suffering and Vindication of the Lord’s Ideal Servant.
This fourth servant song describes in detail the servant’s suffering and vindication, themes introduced in
earlier songs (compare 49:4,7; 50:6-9). The song begins with the Lord’s declaration that His servant
would be greatly honored. Just as many had been shocked by the degree of the servant’s humiliation, so
many nations and even kings would be amazed by his glorious exaltation.
In the central section of the song (53:1-10) Israel confessed its former unbelief and acknowledged that the
servant’s suffering was on their behalf. Responding to the announcement of the servant’s future exaltation
(―our message‖ in 53:1 is better-translated ―the report just heard by us‖), Israel confessed that they never
had considered such a thing possible for they had not seen God’s power revealed through the servant.
They regarded him as insignificant and interpreted his intense sufferings as a sign of divine displeasure.
Now they were forced to reevaluate their former opinion. They now realized that the servant’s suffering
was due to their sins and for their ultimate benefit. Like stray sheep all Israel had wandered from the Lord,
and the servant had borne the punishment for their rebellion. He was innocent of wrongdoing, yet he
silently endured oppressive treatment and a humiliating death. The Lord had decreed that the servant was
to suffer; eventually He would vindicate and bless him.
The song ends as it began, with the Lord Himself declaring His pleasure with the servant. Because the
servant submitted to suffering and identified with sinful Israel, he would restore many to the Lord and be
richly rewarded for his efforts.
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The Messiah Became One of Us (Isa. 53:2-3)
2 He grew up before Him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He didn’t have an
impressive form or majesty that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.
Next week, we will examine the work of Christ from the New Testament perspective. However, in this
lesson, Isaiah will provide the Old Testament perspective. The lesson covers key verses in what scholars
call the fourth Servant Song (Isa. 52:13–53:12). A brief review of the Servant Songs in Isaiah will help us
set the stage for our lesson.
1. The Establisher of Justice (Isa. 42:1-4; Matt. 12:18-21)
2. The Bringer of Worldwide Salvation (Isa. 49:1-6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47)
3. The Tormented Teacher (Isa. 50:4-9; John 8:29; 15:10)
4. The Suffering Servant (Isa. 52:13–53:12; see below)
Some scholars have added a possible fifth servant song (Isa. 61:1-2), that Jesus read at the synagogue
Why do Christians think Jesus was the suffering servant about whom Isaiah wrote?
First, Matthew indicated Jesus’ healing ministry fulfilled Isaiah 53:4 (Matt. 8:17).
Second, and most dramatically, Philip interpreted Isaiah 53:7-8 as a prophecy about Jesus (Acts
Third, Mark 15:28 and Luke 22:37 reference Isaiah 53:12, seeing Jesus’ death between two sinners
as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Fourth, John quoted Isaiah 53:1 as being fulfilled in the rejection of Jesus (John 12:38).
Fifth, Peter tied Isaiah 53:9 to Jesus’ life, Isaiah 53:5 to Jesus’ death, and Isaiah 53:6 to Jesus’
atoning work for our sins (1 Pet. 2:22,24-25).
Before we analyze Isaiah 53, let’s recap our previous lessons to see how each has foreshadowed and
pointed to Jesus as the central figure in God’s Story:
June 2 God Begins the Story: Jesus would deal the fatal blow to the serpent.
June 9 God Chooses a People: Jesus is the Seed of Abraham through whom all nations
would be blessed.
June 16 God Delivers His People: Jesus is the Passover Lamb and Deliverer.
June 23 God Instructs His People: Jesus established the new covenant by shedding His own blood.
June 30 God Dwells Among His People: Jesus is our tabernacle.
July 7 God Establishes a Kingdom for His People: Jesus, Son of David, established the eternal
July 14 God Disciplines His People: Jesus demonstrated perfect obedience to God’s will.
July 21 God Restores His People: Jesus is the Provider of full restoration for the repentant.
A key aspect of the fourth Servant Song is the idea that Messiah became one of us (Isa. 53:2). Jesus
became human and dwelt among us (John 1:14). What of the references to the servant as a young plant or
a root out of dry ground? The analogy is of a young plant needing to establish a good root system to
draw moisture and nutrients from the soil. Yet, unfortunately, the young plant has its roots in dry ground,
meaning the plant will be less than well nourished or hearty.
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The analogy is then applied directly to the Servant in the words, He didn’t have an impressive form or
majesty. The phrase impressive form renders the same Hebrew word used in 1 Samuel 16:18 to describe
David as a handsome man. This Servant was not handsome. Nor from all appearances did He possess
majesty, meaning ―splendor‖ or ―grandeur.‖ Those who saw Him had no particular reason to look at Him
or to desire Him. God told Samuel man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord sees the heart (1
Around A.D. 200, the church father Clement of Alexandria cited Isaiah 53:2 as evidence that Jesus
―became an unsightly spectacle.‖ He went on to write, ―Yet, who is better than the Lord? He displayed not
beauty of the flesh, which is only outward appearance, but the true beauty of body and soul–for the soul,
the beauty of good deeds; for the body, the beauty of immortality.‖1
We can understand the verse to mean
the Servant possessed no extraordinary physical features that made Him stand out from the crowd. In
God’s Story, the most unassuming people are the real stars; never is this truer than when applied to Jesus.
The Servant, though unremarkable in appearance, was exposed to the worst of this world. He was
despised and rejected. The verb despised carries the idea of contempt or worthlessness; rejected means
to be kept at a distance, abandoned. The Servant was not accepted by society as a whole. Instead, He was
a man of suffering, knowing what sickness was. The term suffering is plural in Hebrew, indicating
either the full nature of the man’s suffering or multiple sufferings like physical and mental torment.
Sickness referred to any infirmity. He was like someone people turned away from, literally ―hiding their
faces from Him.‖ They did not want to look at Him nor for Him to look at them; a graphic display of
social rejection. The second use of despised underscored His rejection. The verse ends with an admission
on the people’s part that they didn’t value Him. Value means ―to think about someone or something.‖
They chose not to think of Him as a person of significance.
What about those of us who say we love Jesus? Do we ever come close to extolling Him to the extent
we should? Do we not sell Jesus short every time we fail to praise Him before our generation? Clement of
Alexandria was right when he saw the beauty of Jesus not so much in how He might have looked, but
rather in how He lived for God.
The Messiah Suffered for Us (Isa. 53:4-9)
4 Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him
stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But, He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.
6 We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished
Him for the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter
and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth.
8 He was taken away because of oppression and judgment; and who considered His fate? For He
was cut off from the land of the living; He was struck because of my people’s rebellion.
9 They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man at His death, although He had done
no violence and had not spoken deceitfully.
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As God’s suffering Servant, Jesus suffered for us. The last two words of this section title are very
important. Jesus did not merely succumb to the overwhelming deceit of the Jewish leadership of His day.
Nor did He fall victim to the irrepressible might of the Roman government. He suffered deliberately, on
purpose, as the central figure in God’s Story. He suffered and died ―for us.‖ Verse 4 juxtaposes two
contrasting realities: the reality of Christ’s suffering for us and the reality of our misjudgment of Him.
For His part, the Servant bore our sicknesses. The statement is emphatic in Hebrew. Yet, used to draw a
contrast between the Servant’s actions and the people’s assessment of Him, means ―surely.‖ Bore,
meaning ―to lift up,‖ is preceded by the personal pronoun ―He.‖ Thus He Himself bore. Then, our
sicknesses are placed ahead of the verb in the Hebrew text for emphasis. Similarly, our pains precedes the
verb rendered He carried. The verbs bore and carried are virtually synonymous, having the idea of lifting
and carrying a burden or load.
What did the magnanimous actions of the Servant get Him? Misjudgment. But we in turn mark the
greatest contrast to the Servant’s self-sacrifice. Regarded renders the same Hebrew verb translated
―value‖ in 53:3. Instead of valuing the Servant, the people thought Him stricken, struck down by God,
and afflicted. These words represent the Old Testament concept of divine retribution, punishment for
people who sinned against the Lord. Thus, people thought their low assessment of the Servant’s uncomely
appearance and insignificant social status was confirmed by the suffering He experienced. They believed
He was under God’s judgment or curse.
Isaiah shocked the audience by attributing the Servant’s suffering, not to any misconduct on His part,
but to the transgressions and iniquities of the very people who misjudged Him. Transgressions refer to
deliberate violations of God’s laws or boundaries; iniquities refer to deliberate twisting of God’s truth to
perversion. His suffering included being pierced, or wounded, and being crushed, implying to death. The
punishment for our peace referred to the price having to be paid to restore one’s wholeness. Peace,
shalom in Hebrew, referred to the entire wellbeing of a person. Punishment renders the Hebrew term for
discipline. We noted earlier in God’s Story how the Lord disciplines His people (July 14 lesson). In this
case, the Servant takes our discipline or punishment upon Himself. The result: we are healed by His
wounds. The Servant did what was necessary to remove the punishment of our sins from upon us, lifting
up our transgressions and bearing the load of our iniquities so He could affect healing for us.
Everyone is indebted to the Servant because all have sinned. Isaiah wrote, we all went astray like
sheep, the perfect simile for creatures who wander aimlessly once we stray from our Shepherd. The
opposite of following God as our Leader is to discard His way and to turn to our own way. Isaiah
admitted on behalf of all the people, they had turned from facing God to facing their own way. Yet, in
contrast to the waywardness of the people, the Lord has punished the Servant for the iniquity of us all.
The term LORD appears first in the Hebrew text for emphasis. In Christian theology, the Lord would be
equated with the Father in this context and Jesus with the Servant. Interestingly, the verb punished
translates a Hebrew term meaning ―to encounter.‖ Jesus, God’s Servant, encountered our iniquity, that is,
deliberate perversions, on the cross. Of us all reiterates the full scope of humanity. Thus, this verse
stresses all of us went astray…turned to our own way, and committed iniquity.
The Servant accepted His place in God’s Story without protest. Though He could have protested His
innocence, He did not open His mouth. The statement occurs twice in the verse for emphasis. He was
oppressed and afflicted, and like a lamb led to the slaughter, but He remained silent. The contrast
between the sheep that went astray (v. 6) and the lamb who submitted quietly to be slaughtered (v. 7) is
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The Servant was struck down due to people’s rebellion. He was taken away because of oppression
and judgment. New Testament readers know of the mock trial Jesus received. For the expedient of
calming the crowd and pacifying the religious leaders, Jesus was denied accurate judgment. In Hebrew,
the word rendered judgment can be translated ―justice.‖ Thus, when the Servant was given a dishonest
judgment, His justice was denied. Every Christian will remember how Jesus was scourged before being
nailed to the cross. The word oppression points in that direction but hardly does justice to the suffering
Jesus endured. As God’s Servant, He suffered immensely. Isaiah asked rhetorically, who considered His
fate? Yet, every person redeemed by Jesus’ blood should consider His fate often. Considered means ―to
meditate.‖ We can only appreciate the sacrifice the Servant made on our behalf when we meditate on all
He endured for us. He was cut off from the land of the living, meaning His oppression led to death. He
was struck because of My people’s rebellion. The phrase My people’s carries covenantal overtones.
Rebellion refers to all acts of deliberate violation of God’s boundaries.
The Servant died like a wicked man though He had done no wrong. Words like grave and death
conjured up images of just rewards for wicked people. Yet the Servant had done no violence and had not
spoken deceitfully. Neither the Servant’s actions nor words warranted death. They made His grave with
the wicked, reminds us of Jesus’ dying between two malefactors. Some Christians think of Joseph of
Arimathea when they read the phrase with a rich man at His death. Nicodemus, also wealthy, aided in
the burial of Christ (John 19:38-39).
How does the Servant’s suffering and death relate to us today? Because Jesus took our punishment on
Himself, we can thank Him for doing so and trust Him to forgive us. He paid a debt we incurred but could
not pay. Later in God’s Story, the writer of Hebrews said Jesus ―endured a cross and despised the shame‖
for ―the joy that lay before Him‖ (Heb. 12:2). That joy resulted from bringing God’s plan of salvation to
fruition in the redemption of repentant sinners from all over the world. We always can celebrate the truth
foretold by Isaiah, the Messiah suffered and died for us.
The Messiah Rescues Us (Isa. 53:10-12)
10 Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely. When You make Him a restitution offering,
He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and by His hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be
11 He will see it out of His anguish, and He will be satisfied with His knowledge. My righteous
Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil,
because He submitted Himself to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet He bore the sin
of many and interceded for the rebels.
God’s Story involved the crushing of His Servant. One really gets the sense of God’s sovereignty from
this passage. At first glance, that the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely sounds harsh and cruel.
Indeed, pleased renders the Hebrew verb meaning ―to delight in.‖ We might question how the Lord could
delight in crushing His innocent Servant. Did God take delight in Jesus’ death on the cross? The proper
understanding spotlights God’s delight in the Servant’s death as the path of salvation for sinners. Jesus did
not just die; He died for us. God loves us so much, that He took delight and was pleased His Servant
submitted to being crushed so we might regain life. Jesus was not the helpless victim of misguided
religious leaders or the prey of bloodthirsty Romans. Rather He laid down His life of His own accord
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Thus, the Servant became a restitution offering, a specialized sin offering that included making
restitution to the offended party, whereby guilty sinners could find atonement through offering a sacrifice.
The Servant served as our restitution offering, paying the price for our sins and bringing atonement and
forgiveness. (Verse 10 is the only place in Scripture a person served as a restitution offering.) The promise
the Servant will see His seed and prolong His days indicated the Servant’s death would not be the final
chapter of His story. By the Servant’s hand the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished. The word
pleasure derives from the verb pleased used earlier in the verse. Will be accomplished means ―succeed‖
or ―be effective.‖ The Lord’s pleasure, that sinners have guilt removed and receive atonement, will
succeed because of the Servant.
God’s Servant justifies many through His sacrificial gift of Himself. In the midst of His anguish, the
Servant will see salvation’s door opened for sinners. He will be satisfied with His knowledge. Knowing
His self-sacrifice effected redemption of lost sinners brings satisfaction to Christ. Thus God declared My
righteous (one who has conformed to God’s way) Servant will justify many. As God’s righteous
Servant, Jesus did His Father’s will (John 5:30). The result of His work is that He will justify many. This
verb is from the same root as righteous. Therefore to justify means ―to make righteous.” God makes us
righteous just like Jesus when we repent of our sins and put our faith in Jesus. As Edward Mote expressed
in his 1834 hymn The Solid Rock:
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
See:< https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkMapZB8qMk> especially at measure number 228.
Additionally, the Servant will carry their iniquities. Once again the idea of carry is ―to bear a load.‖ In
this case, the heavy burden is humanities’ iniquities. The term iniquities appear before the verb in
Hebrew for emphasis. Also, the pronoun He appears before the verb to stress the Servant Himself will
bear this load.
God amply rewards His faithful Servant for submitting Himself to death (Isa. 53:12, perhaps the basis
for the great christological hymn in Philippians 2:5-11). Isaiah’s suffering Servant and the exalted Christ
are one and the same Person. The Servant will receive from God the many as a portion and the mighty
as spoil. The terms portion and spoil refer to rewards of military conquest. People’s souls are at stake in
the spiritual warfare between Satan and the Lord. Ironically, because He submitted Himself to death, the
Servant became the conquering Redeemer of humankind. Though shortsighted people counted Him
among the rebels, God’s long-term plan mandated His Servant bear the sin of many. The Servant
interceded for the rebels of whom He was thought to be a part.
What about us? Do we appreciate the fact the Servant, Jesus Christ, suffered because God allowed it?
Do we acknowledge with gratitude how justification is made possible by the Servant’s selfless sacrifice?
Messiah’s suffering was to rescue us and to justify us through faith. Jesus did not die in a series of
unfortunate incidents. He purposefully suffered to bring us justification, to make us righteous before God.
We can share our testimonies about Jesus with greater confidence knowing all He did for us. Let’s lead
others to trust Him to remove the sin from their lives as He has done for us. Finally, let us all thank God
for sending Jesus to die for our sins. Jesus is God’s righteous Servant and the Messiah who rescues us.
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Biblical Truths of This Lesson in Focus
• The Messiah became one of us to experience our humanity and to show us how to live for God.
• The Messiah vicariously suffered to pay the sin debt we incurred but could not pay.
• We show gratitude to God by speaking with greater confidence about Jesus as the promised Messiah.
Sidebar: How These Events Fit into God’s Grand Story
Isaiah utilized his fourth Servant Song to describe the unrivaled agony the Messiah would suffer on behalf
of sinful people. The song (Isa. 52:13–53:12) is noted for contrasting the noble, selfless acts of the Servant
with the ignoble, selfish misconduct of humanity.
In God’s Story, Jesus Christ completely fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies about the suffering Servant. Those of
us who know Jesus in the pardon and forgiveness of our sins can praise Him for all eternity.
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How These Events Fit into God’s Grand Story: Isaiah utilized his fourth Servant Song to describe the
unrivaled agony the Messiah would suffer on behalf of sinful people. The song (Isa. 52:13–53:12) is noted
for contrasting the noble, selfless acts of the Servant with the ignoble, selfish misconduct of humanity.
In God’s Story, Jesus Christ completely fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies about the suffering Servant. Those of
us who know Jesus in the pardon and forgiveness of our sins can praise Him for all eternity.
The Book of Isaiah in the New Testament: The prophet Isaiah lived over 700 years before Jesus came.
He was one of the great eighth-century prophets along with Amos, Hosea, and Micah. Along with
Deuteronomy and Psalms, the Book of Isaiah is one of the most frequently cited Old Testament books in
the New Testament. In fact, the Book of Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament more times than all the
other prophetic books put together. Most of the Isaiah quotations concern prophecies fulfilled in Jesus
Christ. The prophecies from chapters 1-39 emphasize the son of David/Son of God who would fulfill
God’s promises to David. The prophecies in chapters 40-66 focus on the Suffering Servant of the Lord.
Background Context: The Suffering Servant of the Lord is the theme of the focal passage. The word
servant appears in the singular 20 times in Isaiah 41-54. At times Israel is the servant (41:8-9; 44:1-2,21;
49:3). God wanted Israel to be His Servant, but Israel failed and needed help from an individual Servant,
who would restore Israel and the light to the nations (49:5-6). The New Testament consistently shows the
servant figure is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Passages such as 42:1-4 and especially 52:13—53:12
specifically come to mind as being fulfilled in Jesus. The later passages are the most famous and provide
the biblical basis for this lesson.
The Jews of the first century had not considered the Suffering Servant to be a picture of the Messiah.
They emphasized the passages in the Old Testament that promised a coming king, and they saw the king
as a powerful and victorious king who would defeat their enemies and restore Israel’s glory. Jesus saw
Himself as the Messiah King promised to David but also as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Without the
cross there would be no crown. The people rejected Jesus because He would not be their kind of king.
Even the disciples misunderstood what Jesus tried to teach them about the necessity of His rejection,
crucifixion, and resurrection. Only after the resurrection were they able to understand.
ISAIAH: The Historical Background: Isaiah’s ministry spanned the period from his call vision (about
740 B.C.) until the last years of Hezekiah (716-687) or the early years of Manasseh (687-642). The
prophet lived during the reigns of the Judean kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and perhaps the first
years of Manasseh. He was contemporary with the last five kings of Israel: Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah,
and Hosea. The tragic fall of Samaria to the Assyrian King Sargon II in 722 B.C. occurred during his
In northwest Mesopotamia, the energetic monarch Tiglath-pileser III (745-727) founded the mighty
Assyrian Empire. A series of vigorous successors succeeded him: Shalmaneser V (726-722), Sargon II
(721-705), Sennacherib (704-681), and Esarhaddon (680-669). With Asshurbanipal (668-627) the empire
began to crumble and ultimately fell to the Babylonians in 612-609 under the command of Nabopolassar
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During this same period Egypt experienced a resurgence of power in the 25th Dynasty (about 716-663)
and occasioned international intrigue among the Palestinian states to overthrow Assyria. The petty states
of Palestine—Syria, Philistia, Moab, Edom, Ammon, Arabia, Tyre, Israel, and Judah—were ultimately
conquered or made tributary to Assyria. With strong feelings of nationalism these states fomented
rebellion and duplicity, a world of intrigue born of political and economic frustrations. In this era Isaiah
exercised his prophetic ministry, a large part of which was politically involved with Judah and to a lesser
extent Israel. He advocated policies of state in line with the religious creed of authentic prophecies.
Personal Life of Isaiah: Isaiah, the son of Amoz, was born in Judah, no doubt in Jerusalem, about 760
B.C. He enjoyed a significant position in the contemporary society and had a close relationship with the
reigning monarchs. His education is clearly evident in his superb writing that has gained him an eminence
in Hebrew literature hardly surpassed by any other. He had a thorough grasp of political history and dared
to voice unpopular minority views regarding the state and the economy. His knowledge of the
religious heritage of Israel and his unique theological contributions inspire awe. He was alive to what was
transpiring in the court, in the marketplace, in high society with its shallowness, and in the political
frustrations of the nation.
Isaiah was called to be a prophet of Yahweh in striking visions that he experienced in the Temple about
740 B.C., the year that the aged Judean king Uzziah died (Isa. 6). The elements in that vision forecast the
major themes of his preaching, particularly the transcendent nature of Yahweh, which may serve as a
modern translation of Hebraic ―holiness.‖ God warned him that his ministry would meet with
disappointment and meager results but also assured him that forgiveness would ever attend the penitent
(Isa. 6:5-7; 1:19-20) and that the ultimate promises of God would be realized (Isa.6:13d).
For a dramatization, see the following:< https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK0pT-pglLA>
The prophet was married and was the father of two sons whose names symbolized Isaiah’s
public preaching: Mahershalalhashbaz (= the spoil speeds; the prey hastes), a conviction that Assyria
would invade Syria and Israel about 734 B.C., and Sherajashub (a remnant shall return), a name that
publicized his belief in the survival and conversion of a faithful remnant in Israel
(Isa.1:9; 7:3; 8:1, 4; 10:20-23).
During the dark days when the Assyrians took over one Palestinian state after another, Isaiah firmly
contended that the Judean monarchs ought to remain as neutral as possible, to refrain from rebellious acts,
and to pay tribute. When the Israelites and Syrians jointly attacked Judah for refusing to join the anti-
Assyrian coalition (Isa.7:1-9; 8:1-15), he deplored the dangerous policy of purchasing protection from the
Assyrians. In 711 B.C. when the city of Ashdod rebelled against Assyria, Isaiah assumed the garb of a
captive for three years calling on Hezekiah not to take the fatal step of joining the rebellion. No doubt he
was instrumental in influencing Hezekiah to reject the seditious plot (Isa.20:1-6). That same resolute
policy assured Isaiah that Jerusalem would not fall to Sennacherib in 701 B.C. despite the ominous
outlook the Assyrian envoys forecast (Isa. 36-37). Isaiah soundly castigated Hezekiah for entertaining the
seditious Babylonian princelet whose real purpose was to secure military aid for a rebellion in south
Babylonia in an effort to overthrow Sennacherib (Isa. 39).
Literary and Theological Pronouncements: Israel made no clear separation of church and state;
accordingly most of the utterances of Isaiah are religious and political in character in spite of their literary
diversity. Underlying his conceptual world was his inaugural vision: Yahweh was the ultimate King; His
nature was infinite holiness or transcendence; His holiness manifested itself in righteousness (Isa. 5:16).
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Yahweh was the electing, endowing, forgiving God, possessing plans and purposes for His servant Israel
by which they might secure the Abrahamic promise of world blessedness. The vision of Isaiah indicated
the resistance this program would encounter but concluded with the certainty of its performance.
With this theological perspective Isaiah inveighed against the errant nation of Judah (Isa.1:2-9; 2:6-
22; 3:1-4:1) even using the guise of a love song (5:1-7). He pronounced six ―woes‖ on the immoral nation.
His wrath also attacked Israel (Isa. 9:8-21; 28:1-29). Among other travesties, Judah was rebellious, evil,
iniquitous, alienated, corrupters, a sick people, unfilial in attitude, purposeless in their excessive
religiosity, idolaters, proud ones whose land was filled with esoteric charlatans, brass in their defection,
thankless and unappreciative, drunkards, monopolists of real estate, wise in their own eyes, morally
indiscriminate. The character of true religion was absent; they needed to desist from evil, to learn to do
good, to seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow (Isa. 1:17).
Though the indictments were severe, Isaiah still held out the hope of forgiveness to the penitent (Isa.1:18-
31) and pointed to days coming when God would establish peace (Isa. 2:1-4; 4:2-6). He promised
the Messiah, the son of David, who would assume the chief role in the fulfillment of the Abrahamic-
Davidic covenant promises (Isa. 9:2-7; 11:1-9).
Isaiah is remembered for his magnificent conception of God. The thrice-repeated term ―holy‖ is equivalent
to holiness to the nth or infinite degree (6:3). Yahweh is Lord of all, King of the universe, the Lord of
history who exhibits His character in righteousness, that is, in self-consistent acts of rightness (Isa. 5:16).
The prophet criticized the vanity and meaninglessness of religion’s pride. He demanded social and
religious righteousness practiced in humility and faith. He strongly affirmed God’s plans that would not
lack fulfillment, announcing that the Assyrian king was but the instrument of God and accountable to
Him. He stressed, too, the Day of Yahweh, a time when the presence of God would be readily
discoverable in human history. Isaiah was certain that a faithful remnant would always carry on the
divine mission (Shearjashub, Isa.1:9). The messianic hope was considered the blueprint of history
fulfilled, the hope of humankind toward which all creation moves.
The Disciples of Isaiah: During the ministry of Isaiah when the Judeans discounted his stern warnings, he
ordered that his ―testimony‖ and ―teaching‖ be bound and sealed—no doubt in a scroll—and committed to
his disciples until history proved his words true (Isa. 8:16). Most people did not accept Isaiah’s message,
but he had disciples who did. They formed the backbone of a prophetic party in Judah who preserved
his writings, sustained his political and religious power so that he had access to the person of the king, and
arranged the final form of his preaching in written form as can be seen by constant referral to the prophet
in third person rather than first.
In Isaiah’s time the great military power that threatened the Palestinian states was Assyria. In much of the
book that now bears the name of Isaiah, the reigning power was Babylon, which did not rise to power until
after 625 B.C., over 50 years after Isaiah’s death. Some Bible students think that the writings that reflect
the Babylonian period may be the work of the disciples of Isaiah, who projected his thought into the new
and changed situation of the Babylonian world. Others would say in the Spirit Isaiah was projected
supernaturally into the future, thus able to know even the name of Cyrus, King of Persia (44:28; 45:1).
The Prophetic Critique of Foreign Affairs: Israel’s prophets such as Amos, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and
Isaiah devoted considerable attention to political pronouncements regarding foreign nations. Those thus
singled out included Babylon (Isa. 13-14), Moab (Is. 15-16), Damascus (Isa. 17:1-14), Ethiopia (Isa. 18),
Egypt (Isa. 19-20), and Tyre (Isa. 23). The importance of these prophetic utterances are historical, though
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political and religious principles can be profitably drawn from them.
Every national capital hosted embassies of other friendly nations with their diplomatic staffs. Such
visiting ambassadors were responsible to their home governments to report the relevant news. These
prophetic speeches to the nations proved significant in that they represented a strong minority group
feeling, the religious and political thought of a traditional Yahwistic block with strong backing from the
right wing of the government. The speeches of Isaiah or his disciples would be relayed to the foreign
capitals as a significant utterance on foreign affairs. They also informed God’s people of His world plans,
giving encouragement of final victory.
ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:
The Early Church’s use of Messianic Passages
By Thomas D. Lea, associate professor of New Testament, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
SHORTLY AFTER PAUL was converted, he appeared publicly in the synagogues of Damascus to
proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah and the very Son of God (Acts 9:20-22). Luke indicates that Paul
bewildered his Jewish opponents with arguments that proved Jesus was the Messiah. Although Acts does
not demonstrate precisely how Paul proved Jesus’ messiahship, we should understand that he used the Old
Testament messianic passages and proclaimed that they were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.
New Testament writers used many Old Testament passages to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah, the
most important being Psalm 2:7; 110:1; 118:22-23; Isaiah 28:16; 40:3-5; 42:1-4; several passages from
Isaiah 53; and Malachi 3:1. Outside of the Gospels, Acts shows the most frequent use of Old Testament
passages for this purpose, and several messianic references are employed in Romans, Galatians, Hebrews,
and 1 Peter. The Old Testament is referred to many more times, of course, to explain some doctrine other
than Jesus’ messiahship or to illustrate a New Testament truth. We cannot always tell whether a specific
Old Testament messianic reference made by the Gospels reflects more the teaching of Jesus or the beliefs
of the early church as Jesus inspired the writers.
The Old Testament references appear in a number of forms. A writer frequently quoted from the Old
Testament, reproducing the words almost exactly as they appear in the Old Testament. Or a writer
paraphrased the Old Testament passage to support a specific point that he affirmed. Or he clothes his New
Testament language in words he adapted from the Old Testament, in which cases the words differ in some
measure from the Old Testament.
A New testament writer could choose from at least two sources to quote from the Old Testament: (1) the
Hebrew Old Testament called the Masoretic test; (2) the Greek Old Testament, called the Septuagint,
which was translated in Egypt in the third century BC. Most of the Old Testament references made by
New Testament writers resemble the Septuagint. However, some of the references differ sufficiently from
both the Septuagint and the Masoretic to indicate the likelihood that other textual sources were available
in addition to these two, sources we know little or nothing about now.
As Christian writers pored over the Old Testament, they looked at it from the position of their new
commitment to Christ. C.F.D. Moule has stated:
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The Christians began from Jesus—from his known character and mighty deeds and sayings, and
his death and resurrection; and with these they went to the scriptures, and found that God’s
dealings with his People and his intentions for them there reflected did, in fact, leap into new
significance in the light of these recent happenings. Sooner or later this was to lead, through a
definition of what God had done, to something like a definition of who Jesus was.
The study of the Old Testament led Christian writers to affirm at least two points about Jesus:
1. The revelation of God in the Old Testament pointed forward to him.
2. The messiahship and lordship of Jesus were confirmed by the resurrection and witnessed to by the
Christian usage of the Old Testament thus came largely from a desire to demonstrate that Jesus was truly
the Messiah spoken of by the prophets. This particular emphasis would give a Jew a compelling reason to
consider the Christian claims for Christ. This type of usage of the Old Testament was not as common
where the intended audience was largely Gentile.
In Acts 2:34-35 Peter refers to Psalm 110:1; this same Old Testament reference is also quoted by Jesus in
Mark 12:36 and the parallels in other Gospels. The tone of the psalm is somewhat war-like and the
Hebrew superscription ascribes the writing to David. If David is indeed the author, this lifelong warrior
naturally would use imagery from the battlefield to describe the conquests of the Messiah. The psalm
contains an utterance of a revelation by Jehovah in which the Lord of the psalmist is assigned a place at
the right hand of Jehovah. The passage may be seen as an utterance prophetically spoken by David
concerning the Messiah.
In the New Testament usage, Peter concluded with the statement that Jesus was raised from the dead. He
then asserted abruptly that this same Christ has been exalted into the heavens and is seated at the right
hand of the Father. To prove this assertion, Peter quoted Psalm 110:1. The use of the term, ―right hand,‖
signifies that Christ was raised to the place of highest honor by Jehovah. Also, the exaltation that Christ
receives is more than the original dominion that he possesses as God. The reference is to a majesty that
comes as a reward to his suffering and obedience. The Old Testament text as used here by Peter closely
resembles the Septuagint, but in this instance the Septuagint also follows closely the Masoretic.
Peter likely learned to refer this psalm to Jesus by listening to Jesus’ own interpretation of the writing
(Mark 12:36 and parallels). Jesus was conscious of being the Messiah and understood this Old Testament
passage to describe the majesty and exaltation that he received from Jehovah by virtue of his obedience.
Peter followed Jesus’ direction, saw that the prophecy was not fulfilled in David, and could only be
fulfilled in one who ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
Another passage which gives evidence of Jesus’ influence in interpretation is the reference to Psalm
118:22, as it appears in Acts 4:11 and again in 1 Peter 2:7. Jesus quotes from Psalm 118:22-23 in
Matthew 21:42 and parallels.
Some feel that the psalm was used by a group of pilgrims proceeding to the Jewish Temple for worship.
In the Old Testament, the ―stone‖ referred to Israel, despised by the nations but chosen by God to
accomplish his purpose. The pilgrims were rejoicing in this fact.
Peter referred to this psalm in Acts 4:11 to amplify the principle that a rejected stone has now become the
chief cornerstone of Christian faith. Also, since ―stone‖ is in the Old Testament a reference to Israel, Peter
was saying that God’s purpose for Israel finds its fulfillment in the single-handed work of Christ. Peter
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was eager to lead the Jewish leaders to recognize that the one whom they had rejected by their unbelief
had been installed as the true author of salvation to mankind. His reference here is not a deliberate
quotation from either the Septuagint or the Masoretic, but has similarities to both.
Peter’s reference to this same text in 1 Peter 2:7 bears a close similarity to the text of the Septuagint of
Psalm 118:22. The reference occurs amidst a section in which Peter refers to Jesus in terms of ―stone‖ or
―rock.‖ In 2:7 Peter affirmed that this ―stone,‖ Jesus the Messiah, is precious for the believer. In 2:8, he
referred to Isaiah 8:14-15 to demonstrate the fearful consequences of rejecting Jesus. Peter noted that
Christ was made the ―head of the corner,‖ a reference that refers to ―a massive cornerstone which is set
not in the foundation, but at the upper corner of the building, to bind the walls firmly together.‖3
Peter’s use of the Old Testament here need not be seen to state that the psalmist himself made a deliberate
prophecy about Jesus. The words simply may indicate that God accomplished a marvelous work by the
use of materials rejected by the world. The life of Jesus strikingly illustrates this principle.
The application of Psalm 118:22 to the Messiah may well have been first Old Testament prophecy
undertaken by Jesus himself. In Matthew 21:42 and parallels Jesus is shown engaged in a debate with the
chief priests and elders. Prior to this reference to the psalm, Jesus’ authority was questioned (Matt. 21:23-
27). He then used the Psalm reference to show that God made him the crucial issue in a personal decision
for or against salvation.
Peter probably was present to hear Jesus’ interpretation on this occasion, and later he used the principles
he learned from Jesus when he addressed the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7). Following the leadership
of Jesus, Peter even widened the application of the reference, for in 1 Peter 2:7 his reference to ―builders‖
likely includes mankind in general. In the Matthew 21:42 passage Jesus spoke more precisely of civil
authorities, but in a true sense all of those who attempt to build their lives apart from Christ are guilty of
rejecting God’s stone.
The New Testament refers to many passages from Isaiah 53: Isaiah 53:1 is quoted in Romans 10:16;
Isaiah 53:4 is the object of a reference in Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:12 is referred to in Mark 15:28 and
Luke 22:37; a most impressive collection of references appears in 1 Peter 2:22-25. In this last section
Peter described the death of Christ with language drawn from Isaiah 53. He did not quote the Old
Testament, but his description of Christ’s passion is replete with Isaiah’s words and phrases. In 1 Peter
2:21 Peter set forth the example of Christ as one who suffered for doing well; he further described the
nature of these sufferings in 2:22-25; in 2:22 he drew on the language of Isaiah 53:9 to show the
innocence of Christ; in 2:23 he drew on the description of Isaiah 53:7 to picture the patience of Christ
amidst his sufferings; in 2:24 he used Isaiah 53:5 to show the vicarious nature of Christ’s suffering; Isaiah
53:6 is referred to in 1 Peter 2:25 to contrast the helplessness of lost mankind with the hopefulness of
Many modern interpreters identify the ―servant of the Lord‖ in Isaiah 53 with the nation of Israel.
However, in this passage, Peter identified the sufferings of Christ with those of Isaiah’s servant, and he
sees the Old Testament reference as messianic [and thus, personal to Jesus rather than national to Israel.]
The towering figure of Jesus provided the influence and instruction that New Testament writers needed in
order to learn to use the Old Testament in a messianic sense. Such passages as Mark 4:34 and Luke
24:27,45 suggest that Jesus frequently explained his teachings to his followers. We might also imagine
that Jesus privately instructed his followers in many items of Old Testament interpretation not recorded in
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Scripture. Such passages as Matthew 16:12 and 17:13 and John 2:22 provide evidence that the words of
Jesus gave his disciples much object for thought and reflection, even after his death. Such passages as
John 2:17 and 12:16 show that the disciples learned to interpret events in Jesus’ life in the light of certain
Old Testament statements. We may properly understand, then, that instructions and directions from Jesus
himself provided the incentive for them to seek messianic references to him in the Old Testament.
The Servant Songs in Isaiah. By Daniel B. McGee, professor of religion, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
THE PASSAGES KNOWN AS the Servant Songs in Isaiah provide some of the most meaningful
material in the Bible. At the same time, these passages have been among the most disputed and debated
verses in the Bible. Scholars even do not agree on which particular verses should be identified as the
Servant Songs material. The most commonly accepted identifications include Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6;
50:4-9; and 52:13 to 53:12. The bracketed figures indicate the extended limits proposed by some
scholars. Some add 61:1-3, which has much of the same content and spirit as the other four songs.
The significance of these passages is they portray the Chosen of God as a servant. This understanding of
God as servant is at the heart of the Christian view of Christ and His mission. Although there may be
disagreement about many aspects of interpreting these passages, there can be no disputing the centrality of
the revelation about the nature of the God of the Christian faith contained in these passages. This
revelation proclaims the absolutely revolutionary view of a God who enters human history to be a servant
The strong word ―behold‖ in Isaiah 42 introduces God’s proclamation to His people that a matter of
greatest importance is to be revealed. God announced that His Chosen One would be a servant. Note the
close association between God and the chosen one. God claims Him with the recurring possessive
pronoun my servant and my chosen ―in whom my soul delights‖ and within whom God’s spirit dwells (v.
1, RSV). God would take Him by the hand (v.6) and give His glory to no one else (v.8). The point is
clear that the Servant would come at God’s command, on God’s mission, and with God’s power. The
Servant’s task is to bring forth justice (some translations say judgment). The term used here is misphat
(mish-POT), most often translated ―justice for the oppressed‖; but its most general meaning is ―right
order.‖ Setting things right seems to be the most appropriate interpretation here.
The Servant’s style is described with an emphasis on how He would not be like what many people
expected from God’s representative. He would not be loud and ostentatious, seeking publicity before the
crowds (v.2). Unlike Cyrus the king (Isa. 45:1-13), the Servant would be gentle and meek. This
understanding is reflected in the New Testament reference to this passage in describing Christ. ―He would
not wrangle or cry aloud, nor would any one hear his voice in the streets‖ (Matt. 12:19, RSV).
The Servant also would be gentle with those who are in need. He would be careful not to break a bruised
reed and would prevent the smoldering wick from being extinguished (v. 3). His purpose would not be
destruction, but reclamation.
A final characteristic of the Servant would be His patient endurance. Although the opposition would be
great, He would not become discouraged of fail (v. 4). The reason for His success would be that He
comes in the power of the Creator of the universe (vv. 5-7).
The second Servant Song is in the form of the Servant’s words as He addressed the nations. He told of
how God called Him from birth and prepared Him for His mission to Israel (vv. 1-2). Through Israel all
people would see God’s glory (v. 3).
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Then the Servant reflected the difficulty of His mission by confessing His strength was not adequate for
the task (vv. 1-2). Through Israel all people would see God’s glory (v.3).
Then the Servant reflected the difficulty of His mission by confessing His strength was not adequate for
the task (v. 4). This confession did not lead to despair, however, because the Servant’s hope was not in
His own strength, but rather in the power of the One who had called Him (vv. 4-5). This radical
theocentricism is central to the entire servant theme because at the heart of the Servant’s faith is a sense of
absolute dependence upon God.
A final element of the Servant Songs that is developed in this passage is the idea that the Servant would be
called to serve not just Israel, but all nations. It would be too small a task to serve only Israel; rather, He
would be a light to all nations (v. 6). This larger mission is affirmed and reviewed in verses 7-13 where
the prophecy is made that the Servant would be rejected by Israel but would be honored in all nations as
He fulfilled his mission of freeing captives and having compassion on the afflicted.
The third song begins as does the second, with the Servant speaking. He said God had given to Him both
the gift of speaking and hearing (vv. 4-5). With His God-given speech, He can sustain those who are
weary; and with His ear, He may hear and be obedient to God. This openness to God would save Him
from rebellion and despair.
Submission to God’s will prepared the Servant to endure rebuke and suffering (v. 6). The suffering of the
Servant that had been hinted at in the first two songs (42:4; 49:4-7) is amplified here. The forms of abuse
described here (beatings, pulling the beard out of the face, and spitting) were common forms of public
ridicule of criminals. In the face of this abuse, the Servant could be certain that with God’s help He would
be able to stand with flint-like toughness (v. 7). He would not be ashamed because in God’s eyes He is
innocent and justified (v. 8). In the end those who condemn and abuse Him would disintegrate like old
garments eaten by moths (v. 9). The theme here is that the Suffering Servant, through God’s power,
would be victorious.
The fourth Servant Song may stand as the most important Old Testament passage for the Christian faith.
From the beginning, those who found God revealed in Christ understood this passage as descriptive of the
work and mission of Christ (for example, Luke 22:37; Acts 8:30-35; 1 Pet. 2:22-25). In this song the
vicarious purpose of the Servant’s suffering was revealed.
God spoke initially to proclaim the success of His Servant (52:13). Although His suffering would
disfigure Him beyond human semblance, all nations would be startled by what he revealed (52:14-15).
Chapter 53 contains the now familiar, but always compelling account of the Servant’s life story of
suffering. From the beginning He would be repulsive and revolting to the world. All men would reject
Him and turn their faces from him (vv. 2-3). Then the bold claim is made that the Servant’s suffering that
would burden and disfigure Him would result from human sin: ―Surely he hath borne our griefs, and
carried our sorrows . . .‖ (v. 4). The Servant would take the burden of suffering on himself for our
transgressions: ―with his stripes we are healed‖ (v. 5). The senseless suffering now makes sense. In
God’s economy of things, the tragedy of innocent suffering is the means by which human sin is
conquered. The rest of the chapter points to the voluntary and patient suffering of the innocent Servant
and how such suffering would be victorious over all sin.
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The history of interpreting the meaning of these passages is complex and filled with many diverse views.
At the heart of any interpretations is the Identification of the Suffering Servant.1
Most of the debates have
centered on whether the Servant represented a single individual or a collective group. Some, although not
all, of the different individuals who have been suggested as referred to by the Servant are Moses,
Hezekiah, Cyrus, Isaiah, Jeremiah. Deutero-Isaiah, Josiah, and Ezekiel. It should be noted that there is
little support among scholars today for any of these candidates. None of these individuals could claim to
perform the full function or ministry of the Servant.
Some scholars have proposed the author was referring to the nation of Israel or some segment thereof,
such as a righteous remnant, the Davidic dynasty, the priestly or prophetic order, or some ideal model of
the nation of Israel. One of the difficulties in the collective theory is the Servant at times is pictured as
having a ministry to Israel and thus being distinct from Israel (49:5-6). Also, He speaks in such
autobiographical terms, especially in songs two, three, and four, that He must be understood as an
individual. One solution to this puzzle has been the suggestion that there is a progression in the four songs
from a collective view to, finally in the fourth song, an unequivocal understanding of the Servant as an
This view is held widely today.
Whatever the disagreements may be among the different interpreters regarding who the prophet Isaiah had
in mind, there is little dispute that from the very beginning Christians have seen the fulfillment of the
Suffering Servant prophesy in Jesus Christ. They understood that this truly revolutionary perception of
God was incarnated in the life and ministry of Christ.
All four Gospel accounts interpret Christ in terms of the Servant described in these songs. Mark (12:1-3)
began his Gospel with a reference to Isaiah 40:3. The same references are found in Matthew 3:1-3; Luke
3:1-6; and John 1:19-23. In Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; and Matthew 3:17, the messianic reference at Jesus’
baptism seems clearly to be taken from Isaiah 42:1. The same reference from Isaiah is seen in the
transfiguration passages of Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-8; and Luke 9:28-36. The miracles of Jesus are
seen as a fulfillment of Isaiah 42:1-4 (Matt. 12:15-21). Jesus’ entire style of ministry is understood as
fulfilling Isaiah 53: ―For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a
ransom for many‖ (mark 10:45, RSV).
Jesus Himself understood His ministry in terms of the servant image (Luke 22:37). Although He did not
use the specific term ―servant of the Lord,‖ Paul described Christ as the One who according to Scriptures
died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3). The most important conclusion regarding the Servant Songs is that their
vision of God’s Suffering Servant provides a central ingredient in the Christian understanding of God as
revealed in Christ.