Isaiah 53 is the gospel in the Old Testament. Many Jews and most rabbis will not read it. In fact, they are forbidden to read it.1 It concerns the vicarious sufferings and death of Jehovah’s Servant who we know and believe is Christ Jesus, our Lord. As a nation the Jewish people have remained opposed to Jesus of Nazareth, and have rejected Him as a blasphemer. They handed Him over to Pilate saying “we will not have this Man to reign over us.” However, the Bible says He is the King of the Jews! When asked Pilate declined the Jews’ request to alter the inscriptions he had written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin to read “He said He is the King of the Jews.” Without realizing it Pilate was aligning himself with the truth, after asking “what is truth?”
This fourth Song of the Suffering Servant actually begins with Isaiah 52:13 where it states that “My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.” These words are reminiscent of the description of the Lord Yahweh in Chapter 6, an allusion to the deity of the Servant, but then very suddenly switches to stating that many were to be appalled by the sight of Him as a man. It says that “His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.” This difficult to understand statement is to be followed by an even more startling, envy provoking statement:
“So, shall He sprinkle many nations.
Kings shall shut their mouths at Him;
For what had not been told them they shall see,
And what they had not heard they shall consider.”
The suffering Servant shall sprinkle the nations (an obvious reference to Gentiles), as the priest sprinkled the blood of an animal sacrifice to cleanse or sanctify the person or object being sprinkled. Kings will be so surprised and flabbergasted at Him that they will not be able to speak a word. For what the kings have not thought of or imagined possible, they shall have to contemplatively accept the reality of the suffering Servant.
Then comes the opening question of Isaiah 53: “Who will believe our report” and to whom has the Arm (signifying Strength) of the Lord been revealed “(or disclosed to take cognitive notice of Jehovah’s Intervention).2
It goes on to say that the Suffering Servant shall grow up before Jehovah God as a tender vulnerable plant, much like “a root” (it does not say sapling but a root, the source of a germinating plant) out of the dry and arid land of Israel. And when the people see Him, there will be nothing about Him that is physically attractive or desirous about Him. In fact, He is a despised Person, and the people will hide their faces from looking at Him. They will shy away and distance themselves from Him.
He will be a Man full of sorrows and constantly filled with or acquainted with grief (due to the constant opposition and unbelief of His own people). Then, comes the dawning of the unsuspected, increasingly deepening realization that “Surely, He had borne our griefs” and “carried our sorrows” (as like a beast of burden on its back). But the penetrating, painful truth is that “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”
Who is the pronoun “we” and the possessive “our” referring to? Was the prophet Isaiah using the editorial plural pronoun or do these words refer to us believers living today and looking back in time? Both are plausible. But the author of this article strongly suggests that “we” and “our” refer to a repentant Israel when the nation as a whole as well as individual Jews realize that they crucified their Messiah and God!
Zechariah 12:10-14 foretold of that coming day that will soon approach:3
“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. And the land shall mourn, every family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of Shimei by itself, and their wives by themselves; all the families that remain, every family by itself, and their wives by themselves.” (Emphasis given in bold).
Israel will be surrounded by enemies and the Lord Jesus shall return, His feet touching the Mount of Olives causing the land to split into two. The people shall see Jesus and recognize the One who was rejected and crucified, because His crucifixion wounds will still be visible. They will realize for the first time as a nation and individually, that Jesus whom they had crucified about 2000 years ago, is alive and is indeed their Messiah and Savior. He will save them from their enemies, and, stunningly, sorrowfully, and later joyfully realize that He is their Lord Jehovah. The ancient words of Isaiah chapter 53, by the wondrous working of the Spirit of grace and supplication, will be on their minds, hearts, and lips.
These are the words of a people looking back in history and speaking in the past perfect tense, with deep conviction and true repentance. There shall be a great mourning as Zechariah predicted: “Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” Their godly sorrow which leads to repentance, will turn to joy. They shall then know that the suffering Servant is the same “Strong Arm” of the Lord who delivered them from Egypt and opened the Red Sea, leading the Israelites across on dry land. What was forbidden and taboo will be the national and personal hymn of repentance to the glory of God because it is borne out of genuineness.
1. R.L. Solberg, Isaiah 53 -The Forbidden Chapter.
2. “The Lord has made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nation and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God (Isa. 52:10).” With a strong hand and an outstretched arm “describes God’s use of his power on behalf of Israel, particularly in Exodus 6:6, Deuteronomy 4:34; 5:15; 7:19; 9:29; 11:2; 26:8; Psalms 136:12; 2 Kings 17:36; Jeremiah 21:5; 27:5; 32:17; Ezekiel 20:33; 20:34; 2 Chronicles 6:32.
3. The speaker in first person is Yahweh throughout Zechariah chapters 12 to 14. Quoted in Revelation 1:7.
4. See John McArthur, Substituted Servant, Parts 1 & 2 (Isaiah 53:4-6) (YouTube); Steve Kreloff, Isaiah 53 and Israel’s Repentance (YouTube); David Baron, Exposition of Isaiah 53 (1922) Chapter 2, Penitent Confession: The History of Israel