Isaiah 53.1Throughout the past few chapters, Isaiah has been speaking prophetically about the coming Messiah – who would rise to Israel’s aid and destroy her enemies at the end of the age.  This was a glimpse into the future that most Jewish people throughout history have clung to in times of desperation.  The hope that one day the Messiah will come and correct the injustices done to God’s people was constantly before them – spurring them on.  Yet, what many (most) of the Israelites failed to understand was exactly “how” the Messiah would do these things.  While most accurately interpreted Isaiahs prophecies as the Messiah coming in power and might – they missed the alternate description of this same Messiah coming as a suffering servant, as described in chapters 52-53.

The end of Isaiah 52 and the whole of 53 could easily be described as the heart of the OT for Christians.  While meant to offer hope and perspective for God’s people, it has instead been the source of controversy for generations.  Somehow this vital imagery of the Messiah as a servant went unnoticed by the Jewish leaders throughout the inter-testimonial period (between Malachi and Matthew) and right up through Jesus day.  There are a myriad of reasons for this – but the main one is the seemingly incompatible drawing of the Messiah as both conquering King and suffering Servant.  The Messiah coming as a victorious executor of God’s wrath is understandable – but to be punished and suffer at the hands of men is a shocking insult to God Himself.

Ironically – it is this “shock” which Isaiah explicitly speaks of at the end of chapter 52.  In vs 13 he presents the coming Messiah as one that “many were appalled at” due to His “appearance being so disfigured beyond that of any man”.  In hindsight we can easily contribute this to the beatings inflicted upon Jesus as documented in the Gospels – yet for 1000 years people did not have the luxury of hindsight which we have today.

The word appalled is the Hebrew word “shamem” and it means to be “numb with shock; or amazed”.  Isaiah is prophetically seeing the act the Messiah being so abused that His outward appearance would no longer resemble that of a normal man (vs 14). He would suffer so brutally that even the most hardhearted men would shudder in shock at such mistreatment.  He would become so disfigured by the treatment of His enemies that men would be stricken with amazement and shock at what they saw.

Verse 15 then explains why this must happen: “so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him”.  Sprinkle is the Hebrew “nazah” and it refers to the sprinkling of blood upon the altar for the cleansing of sin as described throughout Leviticus.  The actual picture is the cultural act of a host sprinkling his guests with perfume water out of a silver sprinkler when they arrive for a feast at his home.  The word is purposefully used because Isaiah is attributing this disfigurement of the Messiah as a powerful act.  Many nations will be blessed with salvation due to the willing suffering of this coming Messiah/Servant.  As well, Kings will stand in jaw-dropping amazement when they fully understand what has happened.

Paul later quotes this very same passage in Romans 15:21 when speaking of his calling to share this good news to the entire world.

 

Be fruitful & multiply,

PK

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