Isaiah Bible Study (The God Who Saves)

Isaiah 53:1-6, The Suffering Servant

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Isaiah is describing the coming servant of the Lord in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. In Isaiah 52:13-15 we learn that the servant will be successful but many will find him appalling because of the work he would do (extreme suffering of the cross) and the effect of his work (cleansing and covenant to the Gentiles). The first verse of Isaiah 53 is a hinge verse. The response of the people will be the rejection of the servant. Though they have seen the arm of the Lord they will not believe the message proclaimed about Christ (Romans 10:16-17; John 12:36-39). Isaiah continues to describe the work of the servant in verses 2-6. Isaiah 53:1 is a hinge verse because it speaks about why the people will reject the servant (his work and the effect of his work) in 52:13-15 but also about the rejection in 53:2-6. We see the first word of verse 2 is “for” which shows that the prophecy is continuing to describe the rejection that the servant will experience.

The Servant’s Appearance (53:2)

The second verse contains some interesting details about the beginnings and the life of the servant. The prophecy declares that the servant will grow up before the Lord like a young plant. First, this pictures the close relationship between the servant and the Lord. God is giving careful attention to what is happening in the life of the servant. The servant grows up before the sight of the Lord.

Further, to grow up like a young plant speaks to humble and even contemptible beginnings. The servant will not grow up before the Lord like a grand stately oak tree. Rather, he will be like a young plant. Remember that the beginnings of Jesus are also contemptible to the people of Israel. People rejected Jesus because he came from Galilee (cf. John 7:41; John 7:52). Nathaniel declared that nothing good could come from Nazareth (John 1:46). So even the servant’s beginnings will cause people to reject the revealing of the arm of the Lord.

The servant will be a root out of dry ground. The image of a root and shot are used previously in Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1,10). The image is to remind the reader that this is a messianic prophecy. The servant is the prophesied Christ. Notice also that the servant will grow out of dry ground. Isaiah has used the dry ground imagery as a reference to the condition of Israel (cf. Isaiah 32:15; 35:1,6; 40:3). Israel is a spiritual wilderness but the servant will come in the time of spiritual destitution and bring peace, joy, salvation, and redemption. Remember that the prophecy of John the Baptizer was that he would be a voice crying out in the wilderness. This was not geographic (though we read John in the wilderness during his ministry) but a description of the spiritual condition of Israel. So during this spiritual darkness the servant will come with the Lord watching him and will be in close relationship with him even though his beginnings will be considered contemptible.

Now the author describes the appearance of the servant. We were already told that what the servant will experience will cause his appearance to be “marred beyond human semblance.” His physical body will be wrecked by accomplishing the Lord’s task. Notice in the second half of verse 2 that three times the point is made that he will not look like royalty. He had no form, no majesty, and no beauty that we would desire him. There is nothing impressive about looking at Jesus. This is where every television show and movie goes wrong. Jesus always looks physically better than everyone else in the movie. But this was not the reality. He was no different looking than the average person in that time. He did not have the glorious look of earthly kings. He certainly had no royal look that characterized the splendor of who he truly was: God in the flesh. He is the opposite of King Saul. He did not look like a king.

The Servant’s Reception (53:3)

Though he is the servant of the Lord revealing the salvation and power of the Lord to the world, he was considered contemptible, despicable, and revolting. Instead of following the servant, they shunned him. The servant will be forsaken and rejected by the people. Further, he is called a man of sorrows. This does not mean that he went around sad. The point is that he experienced suffering, pain, and sickness. These things were familiar to him. He was not immune to suffering, sickness, and pain but experienced them also.

Then we read even a more troubling response in the second half of verse 3. We treated him as “one from whom men hide their faces.” This is a picture of people shunning him like he had a horrible disease. Not only this, we did not think he mattered at all. We considered him as amounting to nothing. We considered him insignificant and did not value him. This is truly amazing. The servant of the Lord who has come to bring peace, joy, salvation, and redemption would be rejected by people and deemed insignificant by people.

The Servant’s Actions (53:4)

The servant is successful in his work. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. The words for “griefs” and “sorrows” are the same Hebrew words in verse 3. The servant bore our pains, sufferings, and sicknesses. We are going to see the servant “bear” many things in this prophecy. We need to know what this means. What does it mean that the servant “bore” our griefs?

First, bearing our griefs does not mean that he had pain and suffering in our place (we will see this more clearly in Matthew in a moment). No one would think of using the word “bore” in this way. Please keep this in mind when we see that the servant bore other things in this prophecy.

Second, notice the Hebrew parallelism in verse 4. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Griefs and sorrows are synonymous terms. Also, borne and carried are synonymous terms. The text itself tells us that bearing our griefs means that he carried our griefs.

Third, this is why some translations read this way. “But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain” (NET). “Yet is was our weaknesses he carried” (NLT). “Surely he took up our pain” (NIV). These English translations are rightly expressing the mean of “bore.”

Finally, the Hebrew word “bore” is nasa which means “to carry, to lift up.” The Hebrew word for “carry” is sabal which means “to bear, carry, drag along a burden, to shoulder.”

Please get this firmly into your mind. When we read that Jesus bore something we must think that he carried something. It is like saying that a donkey bore the wood. It simply means that the donkey was carrying something. When the apostle Paul writes to the Galatians to, “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:1) it simply means that we help carries their load. If there is nothing else you get from the lesson please get this idea that when Jesus bore something, it means he carried it or lifted it up. So the picture is beautiful in Isaiah 53:4. Jesus came to take away/carry away our pains, our weaknesses, and illnesses. We see Jesus doing this in Matthew 8:17 when he was healing the people of their sicknesses and diseases. He did not take those diseases on himself. He simply took those diseases and sicknesses away.

Even though Jesus was going around healing the people and forgiving their sins, notice how we considered him. We saw the servant as being stricken, beaten, and afflicted by God. This is the essence of what we see the people saying when Jesus is on the cross. They declared that God rightly sent suffering and afflictions. The people thought it was right that Jesus was on that cross and that God had put Jesus on that cross for his own sins and errors. The work of the servant will not be recognized by the people as the work of God.

For Us (53:5)

But the prophet wants to clear up this misunderstanding. When the servant comes and is marred beyond human semblance, people are going to think that this was the punishment of God against him. Even though he came to take away our diseases and sicknesses, the people would say that the servant was cursed by God. But that is not what the servant experienced what he did. It was not the punishment of God against him. Notice the first word of verse 5 is contrasting. “But he was wounded for our transgressions.” It was not his own sins that put him on the cross. It was our sins. The word translated “transgressions” is literally “rebellion,” as the NLT and NET reflect in their translations. He was wounded and slain for our rebellion.

The NKJV reads that he was “bruised for our iniquities.” However, “bruised” is not a strong enough word for this Hebrew word. The Hebrew word means “to break in pieces.” Thus, most translations read, “He was crushed for our iniquities.” Our rebellion to God is the reason the servant must be wounded and crushed. Our rebellion caused there to no longer be peace between us and our God. Peace was lost by our disobedience. But what the servant would experience in this suffering/chastisement would bring us peace again. This suffering was designed to secure our peace with God. By his wounds we received healing. The relationship with God could be healed through the suffering the servant would endure. We considered him nothing and thought he was punished by God when in fact he suffered because of our rebellion.

Our Guilt, Not The Servant’s (53:6)

Thus, the prophecy continues to emphasize that the guilt is with us, not with the servant. We went astray like wandering sheep. We deliberately turned from the path. Notice that we did not do this by accident. “We have turned.” We made the conscious decision to turn from the Lord. There is no one who is not under this condemnation. All have gone astray like sheep. Everyone has turned from the way of the Lord to his own way. The point is that we are reason for the suffering of the servant. It is our guilt, not the servant’s guilt. His death was for our sins. Notice the carrying imagery that is used. The consequences of our sins have arrived at the servant. Our sins have fallen on him so that he carried them. God chose the servant to be the answer for our sins. Jesus will bear the sins. Jesus will take up our sins. Jesus will carry away our sins. We rebelled. Jesus did not. Yet Jesus will suffer so that we can have peace with God and be healed from our sins.

So what will you do with Jesus? Will you despise and regard him as nothing as many others have? Will you not value his suffering and death that he did for your healing? Or will his act of sacrifice and love cause you to give your life completely to him?

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