Isa 53:1-12

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Home > The Old Testament > Isaiah > Chapter 53
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  • Isa 53:1. This verse seems to be a sort of response to Isa 52:10, which says "The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God." Isa 52:8-10 seems to describe a day of triumph, jubilation and, especially in context, revelation. It seems that it is precisely the process of bringing about this triumph and jubilation that seems to be the concern of the Isa 52:11ff, for the very notion of triumph presupposes a process. That is, if things always seem to be going well, it would be unnatural to describe the situation as triumphant. Rather, the triumphant joy and singing of Isa 52:9 takes on meaning precisely because of the change that occurs. Although 52:9 mentions the change that takes place in Jerusalem, the change discussed does not involve only Jerusalem. Rather, there is a change that, at least in some sense, seems to involve the LORD. That is, the LORD "makes bare his holy arm" (52:9), and this baring takes place "in the eyes of all the nations."
Isaiah then seems to go on in describing the how this process of change takes place. Verse 11 describes how the people will make an exodus out of Babylon (toward Zion, presumably). The beginning of Isa 52:12 qualifies this exodus, but the last part of verse 12 seems to shift the narrative(/poetic) focus from the people's actions to the LORD's actions: "the LORD will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your [rearguard]." In verse 13, Isaiah begins to discuss the role that the servant will play in this process of "redeem[ing] Jerusalem (52:9) and "bring[ing] again Zion" (52:8). Like Jerusalem itself, it seems the servant's role in bringing about Zion will also be significantly defined in terms of a triumph which brings about a dramatic change of situation.
In this context, Isa 52:14-15 introduce another aspect of this bringing about of triumph--namely, that this will occur in a manner that seems to catch many off guard. It is this "astonishment" (52:14), in particular, that seems to set the stage for this question in 53:1, "Who hath believed our report?" This question thus marks the beginning of several passages which will discuss why this servant's role will be so unexpected and astonishing. That is, this question seems to be posed largely because what has been described is not only hard to hear as a prophecy for Isaiah's current listeners to believe, but because the events that will occur will also be difficult for those amongst whom the events taking place occur. The question then, suggest a sort of collapse in time and distance, and perhaps identity, between those who hear Isaiah's message and those who witness the events that Isaiah is prophesying about. This sets the stage for the second question: "to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"
  • Isa 53:2: A root out of dry ground. This may be a figurative expression for "one of parentage not in line for succession to the throne" (see Watts, p. 230). Possibly the dry ground could refer to the apostasy of Israel. Christ uses "ground" as a metaphor for the reception of the Gospel as in parable of the sower and allegory of the olive tree.
  • Isa 53:2: Tender plant. The Hebrew word here, yowneq, means "sucker or suckling," most literally. The LXX uses the word paidion here, which means infant or child. The Messiah is referred to in several other books of scripture as a branch (e.g. Jer 23:5; Jer 33:15; Zech 3:8).
  • Isa 53:10: Offering for sin. Although most translations are similar to the KJV for this phrase, others think that "offering" has too much of a sacrifice connotation. The NET suggests translating this verse as follows, "Though the Lord desired to crush him and make him ill, once restitution is made, he will see descendants and enjoy long life, and the Lord’s purpose will be accomplished through him" (empahsis added). Bernd Janowski (see reference below) argues that equating the Servant of this passage with a sacrificial animal (per the guilt offering of Lev 5:14-26 or the scapegoat of Lev 16:10, 20-22) leads to a dead end for the following reasons: there is no mention of blood or a priest official; the terminology in this passage ("to bruise" in particular) is not sacrificial; the scapegoat ritual for the elimination of disaster is not comparable with the Servant's vicarious surrender of life and the scapegoat gets rid of Israel's guilt whereas the Servant bears it. Janowski proposes an alternative interpretation based on "contexts in which—as in Gen 26:10 and 1 Sam 6:3-4, 8, 17, etc.—guilt-incurring encroachments and their reparation are the theme." The idea is that when the we of verse 6 recognize that the Servant is bearing our sins (vv. 4-6), we will be changed and blessed as his seed. (Notice, however, that in Mosiah 14:10 Abinadi's quotation of Isaiah is given with the exact same wording and the "offering of sin" phrase is also used in Mosiah 15:10.)
  • Isa 53:11: Bear. Here, the Hebrew word cbl ("bear") is not the same word translated bear in Lev 16:22 (nsa). The connotation in Lev 16:22 seems to be more of a "taking away" sense of bear whereas the connotation of cbl here seems to be more the "carrying a load" sense of bear, which also seems more consistent with verse 4 (Cf. Mosiah 14:4, 11; other suffering and sin contexts for the word bear in modern scripture also seem more consistent with the cbl sense than the nsa sense).

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  • Watts, John D. W. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 25: Isaiah 34-66." Word Books, Publisher: Dallas, Texas (ISBN 084990224X).
  • Isa 53: Alternate translation. A less beautiful translation that attempts to better communicate the poetic structure of the chapter is here
  • Isa 53:10. See Janowski, Bernd, "He Bore Our Sins: Isaiah 53 and the Drama of Taking Another's Place" in The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources (ISBN 080280845X), pp. 48-74.


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