BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 139 (556) (Oct. 1982): 312-329.

[Copyright © 1982 Dallas Theological Seminary; cited with permission;

                   digitally prepared for use at Gordon College] 



Isaiah’s Songs of the Servant

     Part 4:




The Career of the Servant

   in Isaiah 52:13-53:12




F. Duane Lindsey




      The fourth Servant song (Isa. 52:13-53:12) “may without

any exaggeration be called the most important text of the Old

Testament.”1 This is confirmed first by its numerous citations in

the New Testament (e.g., Luke 22:37; Acts 8:30-35; 1 Pet. 2:22-

25),2 and second by the voluminous Jewish and Christian litera-

ture which has been based on this prophecy down through the


      The messianic significance of the song is the basis of the New

Testament quotations and accounts in large part for the exten-

sive debate that surrounds this prophecy. While the sufferings of

Christ are expanded at length in the song (“there is only one brow

which this crown of thorns will fit”4), the dominant theme in

reality is the exaltation of Christ “victorious and triumphant

through his vicarious sufferings.”5 Pieper perceives that the

theme of the prophecy is “not the suffering of the Servant as

such, but rather His triumph over suffering and His exaltation

out of this humiliation.”6 Kelley similarly points out that the song

is not primarily concerned with suffering, for the suffering

has already come to an end (it is described in the past tense

in 53:3-6, and the verbs in the future tense speak of the Servant’s

triumph and glory—52:12; 53:10-11).7 Only a premillennial

understanding of Christ’s second advent, however, catches the

full significance of the Servant’s exaltation.8

      This twofold theme of “the sufferings of Christ and the glor-

ies that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:11) simply draws together the



The Career of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12         313


prominent thematic threads of the preceding Servant songs. As

the first two songs (Isa. 42:1-9; 49:1-13) emphasized the ulti-

mate success of Yahweh’s Servant-Messiah while alluding to His

sufferings (42:4; 49:4), so the third song (50:4-11) amplified the

sufferings and patient endurance of the Servant while implying

His ultimate vindication or exaltation (50:7-9).9 The distinctive

contribution of this fourth song is to present the details and

purpose of the Servant’s sufferings and death, particularly as

they relate to His exaltation and the ultimate success of His


      Unlike scholarly opinions on the other Servant songs, most

scholars agree on the extent of this fourth song—52:13-15

constituting an introduction or prologue to 53:1-12. Whybray’s

dissenting opinion that 52:13-15 is a separate and unrelated

poem is based on his unwarranted view that chapter 53 is “a song

of thanksgiving for the deliverance of God’s servant, Deutero-

Isaiah, from mortal danger.”10 But scholars disagree on nearly

everything else in the song. Problems abound regarding the text,

translation, and interpretation of virtually every verse in the


      As in the preceding two Servant songs, the fourth song also

begins a cycle of thought that culminates in a powerful message

of salvation (54:1-17).11

      One major problem is the identification of the speakers. It is

clear that Yahweh is speaking in 52:13-15,and again in 53:10 or

11-12. The intervening verses (53:1-9 or 10) are a report about

the humiliation, sufferings, and sacrificial death of the Servant.

Thus the song is a report within a divine utterance, beginning

and ending with Yahweh speaking. But who are the speakers of

the report? Three groups have generally been suggested: (1) the

prophet Isaiah (some say “Deutero-Isaiah”) as representative of a

group (usually the prophets),12 (2) the Gentile kings of 52:15,13 or

(3) the believing Jewish remnant.14 Evidence for the third view

will be presented in this exposition. Since no addressees are

indicated in the text, it is probably best to assume that both the

divine utterance and the report of the believing remnant are

addressed potentially to all mankind, similar to the first Servant

song (42:1-4).

      The message of 52:13—53:12 thus materializes: Yahweh

announces the exaltation of His Servant because of His satisfac-

tory substitutionary death for the sins of both His guilty people

and the Gentiles. The passage consists of five strophes, the cen-

314     Bibliotheca Sacra -October-December 1982


tral three of which compose the body of the report. Thus the

message has three units: (1) an introductory appraisal in which

Yahweh promises to exalt His Servant supremely, who though

deeply degraded, will both purify and receive the worship of

nations (52:13-15); (2) a confessional report in which believing

Israelites contrast their past rejection of the Servant with the

true meaning of His death (53:1-9); and (3) a concluding epi-

logue in which Yahweh promises to exalt His Servant because He

did His will in dying as a guilt offering (53:10-12).


            Yahweh Announces the Exaltation of His Servant Who

      Has Become Deeply Degraded to Purify Many Nations (52:13-15)


      13See, my servant will act wisely;

            he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

      14Just as there were many who were appalled at him—

            his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man

            and his form marred beyond human likeness—

      15 so will he sprinkle many nations,

            and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

      For those who were not told will see,

            and those who have not heard will understand.15


Yahweh’s announcement of His Servant’s exaltation (v. 13)

is developed along two lines: initially, many were appalled at Him

who was humbled below what was human (v. 14; cf. 53:1-9), but

ultimately kings and nations who have experienced His provi-

sion of purification from sins are amazed that He is exalted above

what is human (v. 15; cf. 53:10-12).16 Von Rad has aptly

observed, “The unusual aspect of this great poem is that it begins

with what is really the end of the whole story, the Servant’s

glorification and the recognition of his significance for the

world.”17 In a sense, these verses contain the vindication antici-

pated by the Servant in 50:8-9. Thus in this divine utterance

Yahweh (1) announces that His Servant will achieve success

(52:13) and (2) compares initial Jewish consternation with ulti-

mate Gentile comprehension (vv. 14-15).




      The Servant’s success will come through wise action

(52:13a). Before describing the exaltation of the Servant,

Yahweh affirms that it is the Servant’s wise and effective action

that will achieve success—“See, my servant will act wisely”

(v. 13a). MacRae correctly observes that this affirmation is a

The Career of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12         315


general statement of the effective accomplishment of the great

work of the Servant.”18

      Through the use of the demonstrative particle hn.ehi (“See,”

NIV), Yahweh both points to the Servant as if He were present

(confirmed by the direct address to the Servant in v. 14), and also

calls attention to the person and theme now to be introduced,19 a

theme which is “startlingly new and wonderfully important.”20

Westermann correctly recognizes the deliberate identification

between the opening words in this verse (“See, my servant”) and

the opening words of the first Servant song (in 42:1 the NIV

translates the same Hebrew phrase as found in 52:13 as “Here is

my servant”). He indicates that “the two songs go together in that

42:1-4 show the origin of the Servant’s work—his designation to

his office by God—and Chs. 52f. its culmination—God pro-

claims the success of his servant’s way and work.”21

      Yahweh’s Servant is named again in this prophecy only in

53:11. He speaks nowhere in the song and, except for the “you”

(NIV footnote) in 52:14, He is spoken of in the third person

throughout. Smith indicates that “we never hear or see Himself.

But all the more solemnly is He there: a shadow upon countless

faces, a grievous memory on the hearts of the speakers.”22

      The NIV translates the Hebrew word lyKiW;ya as “will act wisely”

in the text and “will prosper” in a footnote.23 Both ideas are

contained in the Hebrew word which has the primary meaning of

either “possess wisdom” (i.e., “be wise,” e.g., Ps. 2:10) or “use

wisdom” (i.e., “act wisely,” e.g., 1 Sam. 18:5}, or a secondary

sense of “to be prosperous or successful” (e.g., Josh. 1:7-8; 2

Kings 18:7; Prov. 17:8; Jer. 10:21).24 Delitzsch points out that

the word is never applied to such prosperity as a man enjoys

without any effort of his own, but only to such as he attains by

successful action.”25 A decision as to the correct nuance of the

verb in this verse depends in part on one’s understanding of the

relationship between the two clauses.

      Is the exaltation which is described in verse 13b the result of

the verb lyKiW;ya (which would then be translated “will act wisely”),

or is the exaltation a parallel description with the verb which

would then be translated “will prosper or be successful”? If the

former meaning were correct, the word would probably identify

the Servant’s effective action in dying as a substitutionary sacri-

fice for sin, this being the only pathway to ultimate success and

exaltation. With this meaning in mind, Culver states, “However

tragic the event appeared to be, the most practical, profitable,

316     Bibliotheca Sacra -October-December 1982


and successful event in the history of the world was the death of

Christ.”26 Culver’s statement is of course true, and the general

idea of this interpretation does fit into the context. However, in

view of the ambiguity of the verb lyKiW;ya in this context, the prefer-

ence for recognizing synonymous parallelism between the two

lines indicates that the translation “will prosper,” that is, by

being exalted, is the preferable one.27 Some scholars seek to

combine both ideas in the meaning of the verb,28 and the choice

of views and translations does not greatly affect the overall

thought of the verse.

      The Servant’s success is described as exaltation (52:13b).

The success which Yahweh has announced for His Servant is

described in terms of highest exaltation—“he will be raised and

lifted up and highly exalted” (v. 13b). The success of the Servant

is unfolded in three verbs which presuppose the inhuman

degradation which is viewed in verse 14. This clause does not

describe the result or consequences of the verb lyKiW;ya in the pre-

ceding clause29 (although it does describe the results of the im-

plied wise and effective action which led to the success indicated

in that verb). Yahweh draws on three verbs of exaltation (the first

two of which are reminiscent of Yahweh’s own exaltation in Isa.

6:1; cf. 57:15) to describe the Servant’s “superlative degree of

success.”30 Are these verbs synonymous or sequential? Urwick is

an example of those scholars who view these terms as an “accu-

mulation of synonyms”31 used to exhibit the glorious exaltation

of the Servant “to the height of God Himself.”32 Others regard the

verbs as describing “the commencement, the continuation, and

the result or climax of the exaltation.”33 Pieper specifies that they

precisely foretold the resurrection…, the ascension into

heaven…, and the sitting at the right hand of the Father.”34 In

general, the passage certainly predicts the postresurrection ex-

altation of Christ (cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31; Phil. 2:9) and, retrospec-

tively, appropriately allows for the three stages in that exaltation.





      A comparison is introduced in verse 14 with the words “Just

as’’ (the Hebrew: comparative conjunction is rw,xEKa). A problem of

syntax and interpretation arises in identifying the apodosis

(“even so” clause) that completes the comparison which is begun

in the protasis—“Just as there were many that were appalled at

him” (v. 14a). The problem is due in part to the presence of two

The Career of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12         317


clauses beginning with “so” (NKe) which may complete the compari-

son (vv. 14b and 15a). At least three solutions have been sug-

gested to this problem.35 Several scholars have suggested that the

protasis (v. 14a) is followed by a double apodosis (vv. 14b, 15a).36

Young has claimed that both NKe clauses are to be understood

parenthetically, with the apodosis suggested in the second

clause of verse 15 (“and kings will shut their mouths because of

him”).37 However, the majority of scholars correctly view verse

14b as an explanatory parenthesis and verse 15a (actually the

first two cola of the Hebrew text) as the completion of the

comparison.38 More specifically, while the apodosis does begin

with the first colon of verse 15 (“so will he sprinkle many na-

tions”), the structural points of the comparison with verse 14a

are found in the second colon (“and kings will shut their mouths

because of him”). “Just as many were appalled at his inhuman

treatment and disfigurement and death, so ‘kings’ will be aston-

ished when they comprehend the meaning of His debasement

and the universal application of that death.”39 Thus the compari-

son is between the “many” individuals (mainly Israelites) who are

appalled at the fact of the Servant’s suffering, and the “kings”

(representative of “many” nations) who will be awed at the effects

(expiatory purification or cleansing) which result from the Ser-

vant’s suffering.

      Many were appalled at the Servant’s inhuman disfigure-

ment (52:14). As already indicated, this verse begins with the

apodosis of a comparison—“Just as there were many who were

appalled at him” (v. 14a). The “many” individuals who are “ap-

palled at him” are probably Israelites in contrast to the “many

nations, and kings” of verse 15. The term “appalled” is used in

Ezekiel 27:35 to describe men’s reaction to the ruined city of

Tyre. It could be translated “amazed, shocked, aghast, or horri-

fied,” and indicates that those who gaze on the Servant are

petrified by paralyzing astonishment and stupefying surprise at

His deep abasement and degradation. The word is frequently

used when one is thought to be under divine judgment (Lev.

26:32; Jer. 18:16; 19:8); so it may also here imply that they think

He is suffering for His own sins (as in 53:3-4). The object of the

verb in the Hebrew is in the second person—“appalled at you”

(NIV footnote). The textual reading “him” is supported only by two

Hebrew manuscripts, the Targum, and the Syriac translation,

but is adopted by many scholars as more fitting to the context.

Driver retains “you” but with the implied antecedent “my people”

318     Bibliotheca Sacra -October-December 1982


(i.e., Israel).40 It is better with many other scholars to translate

you” with reference to the Servant, for a sudden change in

person (cf. the third person in the rest of the verse) is common in

Isaiah (cf. 31:6; 42:20).41 Yahweh has already spoken directly to

the Servant in 42:6-7 and 49:8, so it is not unusual here.

      The next two lines give a parenthetical reason for the horri-

fied shock at the Servant—“his appearance was so disfigured

beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human

likeness” (v. 14b, c) .Some scholars think these lines belong after

53:2,42 but there is no textual support for such a change. The

terms “appearance” and “form” clearly refer to the physical

appearance of the Servant. Unger understood “appearance” as a

special reference to His face,” and “form” as a reference to His

physical body in general.”43 Since this appearance is described

in the context of His sufferings and death (already implied in

49:4, 7; 50:6), it is not a reference to His normal appearance

throughout life. While Scripture gives no physical description of

Christ, it is extremely unlikely that He was repulsive in appear-

ance as indicated in Christian art before Constantine.44 While

later Christian art may have idealized His physical attractive-

ness, the disfigurement described in this verse is the result of His

trial-and-death sufferings. “Disfigured”45 and “marred” describe

the results of the Servant’s physical suffering, particularly lead-

ing up to and including the Crucifixion. The extent of His dis-

figurement is described by the adverbial phrases “beyond that of

any man” and “beyond human likeness.” Both phrases are intro-

duced by Nmi, denoting here “away from,” that is, destroying all

likeness to man, so as to suggest that His appearance no longer

appeared human: “He looked like a creature not of our race, so

much had sorrow smitten him.”46

      Nations will be purified and kings astonished because of

the results of the Servant’s disfigurement (52:15). Just as many

individuals were shocked at the Servant’s extreme degradation,

even so many nations will be purified through His expiatory

sufferings, leading to amazement on the part of kings who com-

prehend all this.

      The first colon of this compound apodosis (“so will he sprin-

kle many nations,” v. 15a), is one of the most controversial

clauses in the fourth Servant song. The contention centers

around the meaning of the Hebrew word hz.,ya (“he will sprinkle,”

NIV), traditionally understood to be from the verb hzAnA, “to sprin-

kle.” This is a technical Mosaic word for the sprinkling of water,

The Career of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12         319


oil, or blood as a cleansing or purifying ceremony. Fausset has

recognized that hzAnA “universally in the Old Testament means

either to sprinkle (with blood); to atone for guilt—as the high

priest makes an expiation [Lev. 4:6; 16:14, 19); or to sprinkle

(with water), as synonymous with purifying [Num. 19:18,21] or

cleansing [cf. Ezek. 36:25 where a different Hebrew word for

sprinkle means ‘to cleanse’]…. Both atoning for guilt and

purifying by the Spirit are appropriate to Messiah [John 13:8;

Heb. 9: 13-14; 10:22; 12:24; 1 Pet. 1:2),”47

      However, during the past century (since Gesenius) probably

the majority of scholars48 have taken the verb to mean “startle,”

either by emending the text or by assuming that the verb comes

from an otherwise unattested Hebrew root hzn (II) meaning “to

startle,” which is cognate to a supposed Arabic word meaning “to

spring up, jump, leap,” as in amazement.49 Thus the translation

proposed by this viewpoint is “many nations will marvel at him”

(NIV footnote). This provides a very fitting apodosis for the com-

parison begun in verse 14a. However, Young has championed

the meaning of “sprinkle,”50 along with a number of other con-

temporary scholars.51 Young has carefully refuted the translation

to spring up, to startle,” and has satisfactorily answered objec-

tions raised against the translation “to sprinkle.”52

      Perhaps the major objection to “sprinkle” is that when so

translated the fluid sprinkled is in the accusative case, whereas

here the “many nations” are in the accusative.53 However, Kay’s

refutation of this objection is still valid: This argument “is to

forget that in the passage before us the verb refers, not to a literal

process of sprinkling, but to an act of purification analogous to

that which was effected by ceremonial sprinkling.”54 Another

objection that a priestly role is out of context for the Servant in

this passage has been countered by Young who has called atten-

tion to a number of references to the Servant’s priestly work in

this fourth Servant song (cf. 53:10-12).55

      In conclusion, that the Servant will “sprinkle many nations”

is a metonymy of cause (sprinkling) for effect (cleansing), here

understood spiritually of His atoning work set forth in greater

detail in chapter 53. The Servant will cleanse and purify for God’s

use those nations for whom His death is an expiatory satisfaction

for sins.56 Unger related this cleansing more particularly to “mil-

lennial nations” which the Servant-Messiah will “sprinkle ex-

piatorily and cleanse for their role (as nations) in the Davidic-

Messianic earthly Kingdom (2 Sam. 7:8-15).”57

320     Bibliotheca Sacra -October-December 1982


      That “kings will shut their mouths because of him” (v. 15b)

has been understood in three different senses: ( 1) they keep their

mouths firmly closed to avoid contamination from the Servant,58

(2) they are speechless from “their inability to say anything by

way of self-justification,”59 and (3) they are silent in reverential

awe and honor before the Servant.60 The vital question, however,

is whether or not these kings (and the nations they represent) are

expressing trust in the Servant and His priestly purification

ministry. Although Pieper claims that “there is nothing whatever

in 52:15 to indicate that the gentiles come to the obedience of

faith,”61 a more positive answer is at least implied in the rest of

the verse—“For those who were not told will see, and those who

have not heard will understand” (v. 15c). This states the reason

for Gentile astonishment. The Servant’s atoning death and its

significance will be comprehended by “kings” (probably synec-

doche of the part for the whole, representing the nations and

peoples of the earth) as the basis of their reverential awe. That

this comprehension and reverence includes faith in the priestly

work of the Servant is evident in that a major point of the verse

seems to be that the Servant’s substitutionary death (to be de-

scribed in chapter 53) is in place of Gentiles (52:15) as well as

Israelites (53:1-9). Since 53:1-9 is a confession of faith on the

part of a future generation of Israelites, it seems that the compre-

hension and awe on the part of the Gentiles in 52:15 would

include the concept of faith. The Apostle Paul refers to this verse

in connection with taking the gospel to those Gentiles who hear it

for the first time (Rom. 15:21). But the ultimate fulfillment may

relate to the Gentiles of the end time who understand and accept

the message of the Servant’s person and redemptive work, result-

ing in their salvation and entrance into the blessing of the millen-

nial kingdom.62


      Believing Israelites Confess Their Past Misunderstanding

            of the Servant’s Death Which They Contrast

                        with Its True Meaning (53:1-9)


      Two features of general import in this passage are the identi-

fication of the speaker or speakers, and the question of its liter-

ary genre. A brief review of suggestions regarding literary genre

produces a list which includes “a prophetic liturgy…[in] the

form of a dirge” which is sung by “a chorus,”63 a prophetic alle-

gory or parable of Israel’s humiliation and triumph,64 or an indi-

The Career of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12         321


vidual thanksgiving (i.e., acknowledgment or declarative

praise) psalm.65 Whybray has defended the entire poem (53:1-12,

but not 52:13-15) as being an individual thanksgiving psalm,

not in form only, but also in fact, the unusual feature in his view

being that the sufferer is Deutero-Isaiah himself who is de-

scribed in the third person by a group of persons who “confess

their own guilt, which was at least partly the cause for his

suffering.”66 However, Westermann has more correctly recog-

nized that the genre of the individual thanksgiving psalm

does no more than form the background” for Isaiah 53 which “con-

tains a second strand which is closely woven into it a

confession on the part of those who experienced salvation.”67

      The question of the identity of the speaker or speakers has

received three general answers: (1) the Gentile kings of 52:15;68

(2) the prophet himself as representative either of the prophets of

Israel, of “all the heralds of the Messiah” (i.e., in both the Old

and New Testaments),69 or of the nation Israel;70 or (3) the nation

Israel (excluding the prophet)—either the exiles in Babylon, 71 or

a future believing remnant of Israel.72 In refutation of the view

that the speakers are Gentiles, Skinner has pointed out that “the

nations’ and ‘kings’ [of 52:15] are surprised by the Servant’s

exaltation [better, atoning death] because they had not previous-

ly heard of it; whereas those who now speak (v. 1) have heard but

could not believe.”73 There is substantial positive evidence for the

identity of the speakers as repentant Israelites. Paul quotes

Isaiah 53:1 in Romans 10:16 as a complaint against the unbelief

of Israel. Also in Isaiah 53:8 it is declared that the sins for which

the Servant is stricken are those of “my people,” that is, Israel.

Delitzsch has argued that “whenever we find a ‘we’ introduced

abruptly in the midst of a prophecy, it is always Israel that

speaks.”74 The NIV has correctly translated the verbs in 53:1-9 in

the past tense, suggesting that the speakers are looking back-

ward to the Servant’s sufferings and death. Leupold has painted

this interesting picture: “So to speak, here we seem to hear two

disciples standing on the street corner in Jerusalem reviewing

the things that happened on Good Friday in the light of the better

insight that came after Pentecost.”75 It should be noted with

Unger, however, that the speakers “in the fullest prophetic

scope [are] the remnant of Israel, who will turn in faith to the

Messiah at His second advent (Zech. 12:10—13:1; Rom. 11:26).”76

      The confessional report consists of three stanzas: (1) believ-

ing Israelites confess that their superficial estimation of the

322     Bibliotheca Sacra -October-December 1982


Servant led to His rejection (53:1-3), (2) they contrast their mis-

taken moral judgment concerning the Servant with His vicarious

suffering (53:4-6), and (3) they contrast the unjust circum-

stances of the Servant’s death with His sinless submission






      1Who has believed our message

            and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

      2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,

            and like a root out of dry ground.

      He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,

            nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

      3He was despised and rejected by men,

            a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.

      Like one from whom men hide their faces

            he was despised, and we esteemed him not.


      In these verses believing Israelites confess that at first they

did not properly value the Servant, that is, their superficial

estimation of His humble appearance led them to reject Him. In a

word, the Servant was “totally misunderstood because of His

seeming insignificance.”77

      They lament that so few have experienced Yahweh’s provi-

sion through the Servant (53:1). Two rhetorical questions

summarize the scarcity of true believers among Israel. The first

question emphasizes that few have believed the message of salva-

tion —“Who has believed our message?” (v. 1 a). Such a question

expecting a negative answer (“few” or “none”) is used to assert

that few of their nation previously responded to the message

about the Servant. “Our message” can be understood as “the

message we have proclaimed,”78 or “the message we have

heard.”79 The context favors the latter translation, viewing the

speakers (or their ancestors) as the recipients who disbelieved

the message about the true nature and purpose of the Servant’s

sufferings.80 That the content of the message pertains to the

Servant’s sufferings and death at least as much as to His subse-

quent exaltation (including resurrection; cf. 53:10), rather than

specifically to His exaltation, is seen in the parallelism with “the

arm of the LORD” in verse 1b, a term speaking of Yahweh’s power

to save.

      The second rhetorical question—“to whom has the arm of

the LORD been revealed?” (v. 1b)—amplifies the first, and asserts

The Career of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12         323


that few have experienced the power of Yahweh to save. The “arm

of Yahweh” is frequently a reference to His power to save (cf. 51:9;

52:10). While some have taken it here as a direct reference to the

Servant (i.e., a messianic title or description),81 it is more likely

either a reference to the content of “our message” (i.e., God’s

salvation provided through the sacrificial, substitutionary death

of the Servant), or to the power of Yahweh in the Holy Spirit

effecting faith in those who respond to the message (i.e., effica-

cious grace).82

      The connection between 53:1 and the preceding verse

(52:15) has been observed by Hengstenberg: “Those [the Gentile

kings] understand what they formerly did not hear; Israel,

on the contrary, does not believe that which they have heard.”83

      They report that their nation was not impressed by the

Servant’s outward appearance (53:2). This verse describes “the

humble condition of the Messiah before his sufferings”84 as re-

ported by the repentant Israelites of the last days. The Servant’s

humble surroundings held no attraction for a nation expecting a

messianic King of regal splendor and military power. The Ser-

vant is first compared to a stunted plant struggling for life —“He

grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry

ground” (v. 2a). During the Servant’s “hidden years” (cf. Isa.

49:2),85 He was known by Yahweh though unknown by the world.

In fact He was under the care and concern of Yahweh, being

prepared by Him as a Servant-disciple (Isa. 50:4).86 “Tender

shoot” (lit., “suckling”) is a horticultural term (not a nursing

child) referring to “a tender twig that grows on the trunk or

branch of a tree and draws its life and strength therefrom.”87 It is

true that the trunk from which the “tender shoot” springs is that

of “the proud cedar…of the Davidic monarchy [which] had been

felled” (Ezek. 17:22),88 though that may go beyond the purpose of

the figure in this verse. “Root” is probably a synecdoche for a

stem or shoot that springs from the root, and may be a messianic

allusion to Isaiah 11:1. Some scholars view the “dry ground” as

the house of Jesse or of David.”89 Kay refers it to “the barren soil

of human nature.”90 If this part of the simile is intended to have a

specific parallel, it is more likely a reference to the miserable

external circumstances of an enslaved nation and a corrupt age.91

      The Servant lacked the regal splendor desirable to the nation

—“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in

his appearance that we should desire him” (v. 2b) .The Servant’s

lack of “beauty” (lit., “form” —a term used to describe the physi-

324     Bibliotheca Sacra -October-December 1982


cal attractiveness of Joseph [Gen. 39:6] and David [1 Sam.

16:18]) is neither a statement that He is naturally physically

repulsive, nor (in this verse) a reference to His disfiguration

through His sufferings, but rather an estimation of His undesir-

ability by the nation who misunderstood and rejected Him.

“There was no kingly form, no regal majesty, no royal appear-

ance. They wanted a king, but they got a carpenter.”92

      They report that their nation despised and devalued the

Servant (53:3). First, the Servant was rejected as an associate of

suffering: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sor-

rows, and familiar with suffering” (v. 3a). The twofold occurrence

in this verse of the word “despised” sets the mood and expresses

the theme of the verse, for the verb “despised” includes the

thought of rejection (cf. Esau’s birthright in Gen. 25:34).93 Cul-

ver states that “despised” is “the most comprehensive of all the

terms here, involving that complete act of the whole man when he

utterly and completely refuses something.”94 The phrase “re-

jected by men” may mean “shunning men” (NEB has “he shrank

from the sight of men”), but is probably to be translated in a

passive sense, “shunned by men.”95 It could also mean “lacking

men (of rank),” that is, dignitaries avoided Him. The traditional

translation, “rejected by men,” probably retains the proper

sense. It is highly unlikely that the Servant’s description as “a

man of sorrows” and One “familiar with suffering” refers to His

illness or a disease such as leprosy.96 Rather, it is a reference

either to His association with the sick and suffering class in

contrast to dignitaries, or to His sufferings on the cross.97 The

word “sorrows” can refer to “pains and sorrows of all kinds,

physical and mental.”98 The phrase “familiar with suffering” is

literally an “associate of grief, trouble, woe, misfortune, or evil.”99

Both “sorrows” and “suffering” are probably figurative for all

kinds of pain and suffering, with particular reference to the

Servant’s sufferings on the cross. Payne indicates that “it is

Difficult…to pinpoint any statement in the Song which une-

quivocally refers to natural sickness” and that “there is no word

in the passage which cannot be used of sufferings inflicted by

human beings.”100

      Second, the Servant was despised as an object of displea-

sure: “Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised,

and we esteemed him not” (v. 3b) .The first part of this clause is

literally, “as a hiding of faces from him” (or “from us”), and so has

been translated “As a man who hid his face from us,”101 or even

The Career of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12                     325


“As one from whom God hides his face.”102 However, the context

pictures the reaction of men to the Servant, so the NIV translation

seems preferable. The word “despised” is deliberately repeated

for emphasis. Culver points out the oddity that the word is used

of Antiochus Epiphanes in Daniel 11:21, and so he suggests that

in the minds of His persecutors, Jesus Christ “was in the same

class with the reprobate who desecrated the holy altar with the

carcass of a sow!”103 The finality of the Servant’s rejection is

reflected in the words “we esteemed him not,” aptly translated as

we held him of no account,”104 or “we reckoned him as

nothing.”105 Thus the contemporaries of the Servant so totally

despised and devalued Him that they ranked Him as “zero.”



                                                Editor’s Note


An exposition of the remaining portion (Isa. 53:4-12) of this Servant song will

appear in the January-March 1983 issue.




1 Ivan Engnell, “The ‘Ebed Yahweh Songs and the Suffering Messiah in

      Deutero-Isaiah,’” Bulletin of John Rylands Library 31 (January 1948): 73.

Delitzsch has called this prophecy “the most central, the deepest, and the loftiest

thing that the Old Testament prophecy, outstripping itself, has ever achieved”

(Franz Delitzsch, Isaiah, Commentary on the Old Testament [Grand Rapids:

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973], 2:203).

2 If lost from the Old Testament, this passage could almost be reconstructed

      from its quotations in the New Testament (Page H. Kelley. “Isaiah,” in The

      Broadman Bible Commentary, ed. Clifton J. Allen, 12 vols. [Nashville: Broadman

      Press, 1971], 5:340-41). Culver has observed, “Perhaps the most distinguished

      thing about it [Isa. 52: 13-53: 12) is the fact that this very portion stands in the

      background of almost every New Testament treatment of the great events con-

      nected with our Lord.s passion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, exalta-

      tion, and second coming” (Robert D. Culver, The Sufferings and the Glory of the

      Lord’s Righteous Servant [Moline, IL: Christian Service Foundation, 1958],


3 “The extant literature on the monumental fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is so

      vast that, perhaps, no person could read it in a lifetime” (Robert F. Pfeiffer, p. 3 of

      preface to Frederick Alfred Aston, The Challenge of the Ages: New Light on Isaiah

      53, rev. ed. [Scarsdale, NY: Research Press, 1969]).

4 F. B. Meyer, Christ in Isaiah: Expositions of Isaiah XL-XV (New York: Fleming

      H. Revell Co., 1895), p. 158; for the identification of the Servant of Yahweh with

      the Davidic Messiah, see F. Duane Lindsey, “Isaiah’s Songs of the Servant, Part 1:

      The Call of the Servant in Isaiah 42:1-9,” Bibliotheca Sacra 139 (January-March

      1982): 15.

5 Engnell, “The ‘Ebed Yahweh Songs,” p. 74.

6 August Pieper, Isaiah II: An Exposition of Isaiah 40-66, trans. Erwin E.

      Kowalke (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing Co., 1979), pp. 430-31.

7 Kelley, “Isaiah,” p. 341.

326      Bibliotheca Sacra -October-December 1982


8 Cf. Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 2,

      Isaiah-Malachi (Chicago: Moody Press, 1982), pp. 1293-1301.

9 See the previous articles in this series: F. Duane Lindsey, “The Call of the

      Servant in Isaiah 42: 1-9,” Bibliotheca Sacra 139 (January-March 1982): 12-31,

      “The Commission of the Servant in Isaiah 49:1-13,” Bibliotheca Sacra 139

      (April-June 1982): 129-45; and “The Commitment of the Servant in Isaiah 50:

      4-11.” Bibliotheca Sacra 139 (July-September 1982): 216-29.

10 R. N. Whybray. Isaiah 40—66. New Century Bible Commentary (Grand

      Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981), p. 169; cf. R. N. Whybray.

      Thanksgiving for a Liberated Prophet: An Interpretation of Isaiah Chapter 53

      (Sheffield: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 1978).

11 Cf. Robert B. Chisholm, “Toward a Form Critical/Structural Analysis of

      Isaiah,” course paper for 158 Old Testament Theology III, Dallas Theological

      Seminary, Fall 1980. pp. 62-63.

12 E. W. Hengstenberg. Christology of the Old Testament and a Commentary

      on the Messianic Predictions. abridged ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications,

      1970), p. 234.

13 James Muilenburg, in “The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66,” The Interpre-

      ter’s Bible. ed. George R. Buttrick, 12 vols (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956),


14 Delitzsch, Isaiah, 2:310-11.

15 All Scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version (NN)

      unless designated otherwise. Abbreviations used for other translations in this

      article are NASB (New American Standard Bible) and NEB (New English Bible).

16 Cf. Claus Westermann. Isaiah 40—66: A Commentary (Philadelphia: West-

      minster Press, 1975), p. 255.

17 Gerhard von Rad, The Message of the Prophets (New York: Harper & Row,

      1968). p. 223.

18 Allan A. MacRae, The Gospel of Isaiah (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977). p. 131.

      Delitzsch has noted, “This very first verse contains, according to Isaiah’s custom,

      a brief, condensed explanation of the theme” (Isaiah, 2:304).

19 William Orwick, The Servant of Jehovah: A Commentary. Grammatical

      and Critical. Upon Isaiah LII. 13-LIII. 12 (Edinburgh: T. & T, Clark. 1977),


20 Culver. The Sufferings and the Glory. p. 23.

21 Westermann. Isaiah 40—66, p. 258.

22 George Adam Smith. The Book of Isaiah, 2 vols., The Expositor’s Bible (New

      York: Hodder & Stoughton, n.d.), 2:342.

23 Driver’s revocalization of the verb to read lyKiW;ya (“he will be bound.” that is.

      bound as a form of punishment. such as hanging”) is unwarranted (G. R. Driver.

      “Isaiah 52:13-53:12: The Servant of the Lord,” In Memorium Paul Kahle. ed.

      Mathew Black and Georg Fohrer (Berlin: Alfred Topelmann, 1968). p. 90.

24 Orwick sees this secondary meaning growing out of a metonymy of effect for

      cause, the resultant success being put for the wisdom itself (The Servant of

      Jehovah, p. 98).

25 Delitzsch, Isaiah, 2:305.

26 Culver, The Suffering and the Glory. p. 28; cf. Smith, Isaiah, 2:347; Joseph

      Addison Alexander. Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah (2 vols. in 1) (Grand

      Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1953), 2:226.

27 Cf. MacRae, The Gospel of Isaiah, p. 131.

28 Whybray. Isaiah 40—66, p. 169; Westermann. Isaiah 40—66. p. 258.

29 Contra Delitzsch, Isaiah. 2:305; MacRae, The Gospel of Isaiah, p. 131;

      Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah: The English Text with Introductio,.

      Exposition, and Notes, 3vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,

      1965. 1969, 1972),3:335; also see note 26.

The Career of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12      327


30 H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Isaiah, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book

      House, 1971).2:224.

31 Orwick. The Servant of Jehovah. p. 99.

32 Gleason L. Archer, “Isaiah,” in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, ed. Charles

      F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962). p. 646.

33 Delitzsch, Isaiah, 2:305.

34 Pieper. Isaiah II, p. 431.

35 Cf. Robert R. Dewbury, “An Exegetical Study of Isaiah 52: 13-53: 12,” (Th.M.

      thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1975), p. 25.

36 “As thus explained, the sense would be, their abhorrence of him was not

      without reason (‘so marred from man his look…’), and it shall not be without

      requital (‘so shall he sprinkle many nations’) (Alexander, Isaiah, 2:287); cf. W. H.

      Brownlee, The Meaning of the Qumran Scrolls for the Bible (New York: Oxford

      University Press, 1964), p. 292.

37 Young, Isaiah, 3:336-37. “Thus the contrast appears between the action of

      the many with respect to the servant and that of the kings; the many are

      astounded, the kings close their mouths” (p. 337).

38 For example, Delitzsch, Isaiah, 2:306; Leupold, Isaiah, 2:224; Westermann,

      Isaiah 40—66, p. 258; Unger, Commentary, 2:1294-95.

39 Kenneth L. Barker, personal correspondence, April 14, 1982. Barker has

      recognized this structural correspondence in the comparison: vylAfA (v. 15) answers

      to j~yl,fA (v. 14), UcP;q;yi (v. 15) answers to Umm;wA (v. 14), MykilAm; (v. 15)

      answers to MyBira (v. 14). Cf. Unger, Commentary, 2:1295; Dewbury, “Isaiah

      52:13-53:12,” p. 26. But many commentators view the comparison in a much

      more general sense. “The point of the comparison is this: As astonishing as would

      be his humiliation, so astonishing would be his exaltation (as described in v. 15)”

      (Gleason L, Archer, “Isaiah,” p. 646). Statements of the comparison are affected, of

      course, by the scholar’s view of the verb hz.,ya in verse 15.

40 Driver, “Isaiah 52:13-53:12,” p. 91; in his translation, on the basis of the

      Targum and rhythm he even inserts after “you” the words “O my people, for many

      days”! MacRae also takes “you” as Israel scattered in exile, to which the Servant’s

      appearance is compared in the next line (“the suffering of Israel will be paralleled

      by the suffering that the Servant must undergo” [MacRae, The Gospel of Isaiah,

      p. 132]). Unfortunately, the NASB adopts this rendering.

41 For example, Urwick, The Servant of Jehovah, p. 100.

42 Whybray, Isaiah 40—66, p. 169.

43 Unger, Commentary, 2:1294.

44 Delitzsch, Isaiah, 2:307.

45 The Hebrew word translated “disfigured” is tHaw;mi which is represented in

the Dead Sea Scroll 1QIsaa as ytHwm. This has been translated, “I have

anointed.” As Payne points out, this “would offer something approaching a

Messianic identification of the Servant” (D. F. Payne, “The Servant of the Lord:

Language and Interpretation,” The Evangelical Quarterly 43 (July-September


46 Culver, The Suffering and the Glory, p. 35.

47 A. R. Fausset, “Job-Isaiah,” A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and

      Practical on the Old and New Testaments, by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset,

      and David Brown (reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,

      1978), 2:728.

48 A. B. Davidson asserted flatly, “It is simple treason against the Hebrew

      language to render ‘sprinkle.’ The interpreter who will do so will ‘do anything’“

      (cited by Culver, The Suffering and the Glory, p. 31). Less bluntly but just as

      assuredly, Pieper states that “there is today [1919] virtually only one opinion”

      (Pieper, Isaiah II, p. 432). See also Driver, “Isaiah 52:13-53:12,” p. 92.

            328      Bibliotheca Sacra -October-December 1982


49 Delitzsch, Isaiah, 2:308.

50 Edward J. Young, “The Interpretation of hzy in Isaiah 52:15,” Westminster

      Theological Journal (May-October 1941): 125-32; reprinted in Edward J. Young,

      Studies in Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), pp.

      199-206. Cf. Young, Isaiah, 3:338, and the extensive refutation of “startle” in

      Urwick, The Servant of Jehovah, pp. 103-4.

51 For example, Unger, Commentary, 2: 1295 and von Rad, The Message of the

      Prophets, p. 721; North takes the term in the sense of sprinkling, but for the

      purpose of neutralizing infection or contagion by the person or thing sprinkled

      (Christopher R. North, The Second Isaiah: Introduction, Translation and Com-

      mentary to Chapters XL--LV (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 235.

52 Young, “The Interpretation of hzy,” pp. 129-31.

53 This has led some scholars to translate the verb as “spurt, scatter,” so that

      the nations are scattered in judgment (Pieper, Isaiah II, pp. 432-33; Culver, The

      Suffering and the Glory, pp. 30-31).

54 W. Kay, “Isaiah: Introduction, Commentary and Critical Notes,” in The Bible

      Commentary, ed. F. C. Cook, vol. 5 (reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Book

      House, 1981), p. 266, n. “A.”

55 Young, “The Interpretation of hzy,” pp. 131-32.

56 Mark A. Arrington, “The Identification of the Anonymous Servant in Isaiah

      40-55” (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary. 1971), p. 52.

57 Unger, Commentary, 2:1295.

58 North, Second Isaiah, p. 235; this peculiar view scarcely requires refutation.

59 Archer, “‘Isaiah,” p. 646.

60 Young, Isaiah, 3:339.

61 Pieper, Isaiah II, p. 434.

62 Unger, Commentary, 2:1295.

63 Von Rad, The Message of the Prophets, pp. 222-23.

64 J. Lindblom, The Servant Songs in Deutero-Isaiah: A New Attempt to Solve

      an Old Problem (Lund: Lunds Universitets Arsskrift, 1951), pp. 37-51.

65 Cf. Whybray’s summary of the views of J. Begrich and O. Kaiser (Whybray,

      Thanksgiving for a Liberated Prophet. pp. 110-12).

66 Ibid., p. 127; cf. esp. pp. 109-39.

67 Westermann, Isaiah 40—66, p. 257.

68 Muilenburg, “The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40—66,” 5:614.

69 Hengstenberg, Christology, abridged ed., p. 234.

70 Young, Isaiah, 3:340.

71 Whybray, Isaiah 40—66, p. 171.

72 Delitzsch, Isaiah, 2:310-11; Unger, Commentary, 2:1295; Culver, The Suf-

      fering and the Glory, p. 41; cf. Leupold, Isaiah, 2:225; Pieper, Isaiah II, pp.

      434-35 (Pieper refers only v. 1 to Isaiah speaking for the school of the prophets).

73 J. Skinner, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah: Chapters XL--LXVI (Cambridge:

      University Press, 1951), p. 136.

74 Delitzsch, Isaiah, 2:310.

75 Leupold, Isaiah, 2:225.

76 Unger, Commentary, 2: 1295.

77 Leupold, Isaiah, 2:225.

78 Young thus says the message is “what we have caused to be heard” (Isaiah, 3:341).

79 For example, E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament and a

      Commentary on the Messianic Predictions (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications,

      1956), 2:275-76. Though incorrectly identifying the speakers as the Gentiles of

      52:15, MacRae asserts that 53:1 is “not primarily a complaint by a group of

      prophets lamenting that their proclamation is not being generally received, but

      rather an exclamation by new converts who are overwhelmed by the wonder of

                        The Career of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12      329


      salvation that has come to them” (The Gospel of Isaiah, p. 134).

80 Westermann combines both ideas: “a thing of which they have heard…and,

      as such, tidings which they themselves have to pass on to others” (Isaiah 40—66,


81 Kay, “Isaiah,” 5:267.

82 Cf. Young, Isaiah, 3:341.

83 Hengstenberg, Christology, 2:276.

84 Hengstenberg, Christology, abridged ed., p. 234.

85 Lindsey, “The Commission of the Servant,” pp. 129-45.

86 Lindsey, “The Commitment of the Servant,” pp. 218-20.

87 Young, Isaiah, 3:341.

88 Urwick, The Servant of Jehovah, p. 110.

89 Pieper, Isaiah II, p. 436.

90 Kay, “Isaiah,” 5:267.

91 Delitzsch, Isaiah, 2:312; cf. Culver, The Suffering and the Glory, p. 50.

92 Culver, The Suffering and the Glory, p. 52; similarly, Pieper says, “There is

      nothing here of rank or position, wealth, power, or outward pomp or grandeur,

      nothing of what appeals to the eye of natural man as brilliant and imposing”

      (Isaiah II, p. 436); cf. Young, Isaiah, 3:342. MacRae treats this verse in a similar

      fashion, indicating that “the character of Jesus was undoubtedly one of rare

      charm and attractiveness,” but that He did not impress the speakers, whom

      MacRae views as the Gentile “leaders in distant nations” who would not be

      attracted to “a Galilean peasant” (The Gospel of Isaiah, p. 135).

93 E. J. Young, Isaiah Fifty-Three (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub-

      lishing Co., 1952), p. 38.

94 Culver, The Suffering and the Glory, p. 53.

95 Aston, Challenge of the Ages, p. 6.

96 B. Duhm’s view, as summarized by Christopher R. North, The Suffering

      Servant in Deutero-Isaiah: An Historical and Critical Study (Oxford: Oxford

      University Press, 1956), pp. 47-48.

97 Cf. Pieper: “Before all others, the Servant was the object of suffering, sought

      out, so to speak, by suffering as the one object on earth to whom suffering

      pertained. All the suffering that pertained to this cursed world, He attracted to

      Himself, v. 6b. This suffering and these sorrows are not physical infirmity; they

      are the guilt of sin, wrath, curse, and punishment, taken from us and laid upon

      Him” (Isaiah II, pp. 437-38).

98 Ibid., p. 437.

99 Cf. ibid. Contrast D. Winton Thomas who claims that the verb comes from fdy

      II, meaning “to be quiet, submissive,” and so translates “brought low by sickness”

      (“A Consideration of Isaiah LIII in the Light of Recent Textual and Philological

      Study,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 44 [January-March, 1968]:79,


100 Payne, “The Servant of the Lord,” pp. 134-35. In possible parallel to the

      lament motif in both the individual lament and individual thanksgiving or de-

      clarative praise psalms, Payne notes that “the psalms of lament often present the

      reader with a succession of different portrayals of suffering, which make it very

      difficult to pin down the precise cause of the psalmist’s complaint” (p. 134; cf.

      Westermann, Isaiah 40—66, p. 262).

101 Thomas, “Isaiah LIII,” pp. 79, 83.

102 Urwick, The Servant of Jehovah, pp. 115-17.

103 Culver, The Suffering and the Glory, p. 57.

104 Thomas, “Isaiah LIII,” p. 79.

105 J. L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Double-

      day & Co., 1968), p. 129.


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