Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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Notwithstanding these and other prophecies of the Messiah, he is not recognized when he appears, v. 1. He is not the object of desire and trust for whom the great mass of the people have been waiting, v. 2. Nay, his low condition, and especially his sufferings, make him rather an object of contempt, v. 3. But this humiliation and these sufferings are vicarious, not accidental or incurred by his own fault, vs. 4-6. Hence, though personally innocent, he is perfectly unresisting, v. 7. Even they for whom he suffers may mistake his person and his office, v. 8. His case presents the two extremes of righteous punishment and perfect innocence, v. 9. But the glorious fruit of these very sufferings will correct all errors, v. 10. He becomes a Saviour only by becoming a substitute, v. 11. Even after the work of expiation is completed and his glorious reward secured, the work of intercession will be still continued, v. 12.

1. Who hath believed our report? and the arm of Jehovah, to whom (or upon whom) has it been revealed? ... is properly the passive participle of the verb to hear, the feminine being used like the neuter in Greek and Latin to denote what is heard, and may therefore be applied to rumour, to instruction, or to speech in general. (See ch. 28:9. 19. Jer. 49:14, and compare the Greek ... , Rom. 10:16. Gal. 3:2.1 Thess. 2:13.) The restricted application of the term to the news of the deliverance from Babylon is quite gratuitous. Some understand the whole phrase passively, as meaning 'that which we have heard;' others understand it actively, as meaning that which we have published in the hearing of others; which agrees well with the context and with Paul's quotation (Rom. 10: 16), and is perfectly consistent with the strict sense of the Hebrew words, though not sustained by any definite usage. That the words might have either of these senses in different connections, may be gathered from the fact, that in 2 Sam. 4:4, the qualifying noun denotes neither the author nor the recipient of the declaration, but its subject, so that in itself the phrase is quite indefinite. The implied negation is not absolute, but simply expressive of wonder at the paucity of true believers in the world at large, but more especially among the Jews, to whom some understand the passage as specifically referring, because it had already been predicted, in the foregoing verse, that the heathen would believe. There is no inconsistency, however, even if we take the words before us in their widest sense; because, as Calvin has observed, the Prophet interrupts his prediction of success and triumph to bewail the discouragements and disappointments which should intervene. The same thing had already been predicted indirectly in ch. 42:24, and similar objections to his own assurances occur in ch. 49:14, 24. The two clauses are parallel expressions of the same idea; to believe what God said, and to see his arm revealed, being identical. The advent of Christ, his miracles, his resurrection, his accession, are among the clearest proofs of the divine omnipotence and of its real exercise, a skeptical misgiving as to which is involved in a refusal to believe. The arm as the seat of active strength is often put for strength itself (2 Chr. 32:8. Jer. 17:5), and especially for the power of Jehovah (ch. 59:16. Deut. 4:34. 5: 15. 26:8). The manifestation of God's justice is commonly described by Isaiah as including at the same time the deliverance of his friends and the destruction of his enemies. (See above, ch. 51: 5.)

2. And he came up like the tender plant before him, and like the root from a dry ground; he had no form nor comeliness, and (when) we shall see him, no sight (or appearance) that we should desire it. Most of the modern writers make all that follows the first verse the language of the people acknowledging their own incredulity with respect to the Messiah, and assigning as its cause their carnal expectations of a temporal prince, and their ignorance of the very end for which he came. The common version he shall grow up is ungrammatical and gratuitously violates the uniformity of the description, which presents the humiliation of Messiah as already past. Out of a dry ground implies a feeble sickly growth, and as its consequence a mean appearance. Out of a dry ground and the parallel expression (before him) may be considered as qualifying both the nouns, and separated only for the sake of the rhythmical arrangement of the sentence. He had not, literally, there was not to him, the only form in which that idea can be expressed in Hebrew. Form is here put for beautiful or handsome form; as in 1 Sam. 16: 16, David is called a man of form, i. e. a comely person. The two nouns here used are combined in literal description elsewhere (e. g. Gen. 29:17. 1 Sam. 25:3). and in this very passage (see above, ch. 52:14). They denote in this case, not mere personal appearance, but the whole state of humiliation. In what sense the prophets thus grew up like suckers from a dry soil, or the Jewish nation while in exile, or the pious portion of them, or the younger race, it is as difficult to understand, or even to conceive, as it is easy to recognize this trait of the prophetic picture in the humiliation of our Saviour, and the general contempt to which it exposed him.

3. Despised and forsaken of men (or ceasing from among men), a man of sorrows and acquainted with sickness, and like one hiding the face from him (or us), despised, and we esteemed him not. From the general description of his humiliation, the Prophet now passes to a more particular account of his sufferings. The phrase man of sorrows seems to mean one whose afflictions are his chief characteristic, perhaps with an allusion to their number in the plural form. Like one hiding his face from us, or like a hiding of the face from us, i. e. as if he hid his face from us in shame and sorrow. Here again the reader is invited to compare the forced application of this verse to the Prophets, to all Israel, to the pious Jews, or to the younger race of exiles, with the old interpretation of it as a prophecy of Christ's humiliation.

4. Surely our sicknesses he bore, and our griefs he carried; and we thought him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. The metaphor is that of a burden, and the meaning of the whole verse, that they had misunderstood the very end for which Messiah was to come. Sickness, as in the verse preceding, is a representative expression for all suffering. Our griefs, those which we must otherwise have suffered, and that justly. Henderson makes his English version more expressive of the writer's main drift by employing the idiomatic form, it was our griefs he bore, it was our sorrows he carried. The explanation of ... as meaning merely took away, is contradicted by the context and especially by the parallel phrase, which can only mean he bore or carried them. It is alleged indeed that one is never said to bear the sins of another, and some go so far as to explain these words as meaning that he bore with them patiently, while others understand the sense to be that he shared in the sufferings of others. The terms are evidently drawn from the Mosaic law of sacrifice, a prominent feature in which is the substitution of the victim for the actual offender, so that the former bears the sins of the latter, and the latter, in default of such an expiation, is said to bear his own sin. (See Lev. 5:1, 17. 17:16. 24:15. Num. 9:13. 14:33. Ex. 23:38. Lev. 10:17. 16:22.) For the use of the parallel term in the same vicarious sense, see Lam. 5:7. (Compare Ez. 18:19.) The application of these words by Matthew (8:17) to the removal of bodily diseases cannot involve a denial of the doctrine of vicarious atonement, which is clearly recognized in Matt. 20:28; nor is it an exposition of the passage quoted in its full sense, but, as Calvin well explains it, an intimation that the prediction had begun to be fulfilled, because already its effects were visible, the Scriptures always representing sorrow as the fruit of sin. Stricken, as in some other cases, has the pregnant sense of stricken from above, or smitten of God, as it is fully expressed in the next clause. (See Gen. 12:17. 2 Kings 15:5. 1 Sam. 6:9.) The verb translated afflicted was particularly applied to the infliction of disease (Num. 14:12. Deut. 28:22), especially the leprosy. Hence the old Jewish notion that the Messiah was to be a leper.

5. And he was pierced (or wounded) for our transgressions, bruised (or crushed) for our iniquities; the chastisement (or punishment) of our peace (was) upon him, and by his stripes we were healed. There may be a secondary and implicit reference to the crucifixion, such as we have met with repeatedly before in cases where the direct and proper meaning of the words was more extensive. The chastisement of peace is not only that which tends to peace, but that by which peace is procured directly. It is not merely a chastisement morally salutary for us, nor one which merely contributes to our safety, but, according to the parallelism, one which has accomplished our salvation, and in this way, that it was inflicted not on us but on him, so that we came off safe and uninjured. The application of the phrase to Christ, without express quotation, is of frequent occurrence in the New Testament. (See Eph. 2:14-17. Col. 1:20, 21. Heb. 13:20, and compare Isaiah 9:6. Mic. 6:5. Zech. 1:13.) The word translated stripes is properly a singular, denoting the tumour raised by scourging, here put collectively for stripes, and that for suffering in general, but probably with secondary reference to the literal infliction of this punishment upon the Saviour. We were healed, literally, it was healed to us. It was healed is a general proposition; with respect to us is the specific limitation. Healing is a natural and common figure for relief from suffering considered as a wound or malady. (Compare ch. 6:10. 19:22,30:26. Jer. 8:22, 17. 2 Chron. 7:14.) The preterite is not used merely to signify the certainty of the event, but because this effect is considered as inseparable from the procuring cause which had been just before described in the historical or narrative form as an event already past: when he was smitten we were thereby healed. It is therefore injurious to the strength as well as to the beauty of the sentence to translate it, that by his stripes we might be healed. The mere contingency thus stated is immeasurably less than the positive assertion that by his stripes we were healed. The same objection, in a less degree, applies to the common version, we are healed, which makes the statement too indefinite, and robs it of its peculiar historical form.

6. All we like sheep had gone astray, each to his own way we had turned, and Jehovah laid on him the iniquity of us all. This verse describes the occasion or rather the necessity of the sufferings mentioned in those before it. It was because men were wholly estranged from God, and an atonement was required for their reconciliation. All we does not mean all the Jews or all the heathen, but all men without exception. The common version, have gone astray, have turned, does not express the historical form of the original sufficiently, but rather means we have done so up to the present time, whereas the prominent idea in the Prophet's mind is that we had done so before Messiah suffered. The figure of wandering or lost sheep is common in Scripture to denote alienation from God and the misery which is its necessary consequence. (See Ezek. 34:5. Matt. 9:36.) The entire comparison is probably that of sheep without a shepherd (1 Kings 22: 17. Zech. 10:2). The original expression is like the sheep (or collectively the flock) i. e. not sheep in general but the sheep that wander or have no shepherd. The idea of a shepherd, although not expressed, appears to have been present to the writer's mind, not only in the first clause but the last, where the image meant to be presented is no doubt that of a shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. This may be fairly inferred not merely from the want of connection which would otherwise exist between the clauses, and which can only be supplied in this way. nor even from the striking analogy of Zech. 13:7 where the figure is again used, but chiefly from the application of the metaphor in the New Testament, with obvious though tacit reference to this part of Isaiah, to Christ's laying down his life for his people. (See John 10: 11-18 and 1 Peter 2: 24, 25.) The meaning given to the last verb in the margin of the English Bible (made to meet) is not sustained by etymology or usage, as the primitive verb does not mean simply to come together, but always denotes some degree of violent collision, either physical, as when one body lights or strikes upon another, or moral, as when one person falls upon i. e. attacks another. The secondary senses of the verb are doubtful and of rare occurrence. (See above, on ch. 47:3, and below on ch. 64:4 ) The common version (laid upon him) is objectionable only because it is too weak, and suggests the idea of a mild and inoffensive gesture, whereas that conveyed by the Hebrew word is necessarily a violent one, viz. that of causing to strike or fall. If vicarious suffering can be described in words, it is so described in these two verses. Compare Rom. 4:25. 2 Cor. 5:21. 1 Pet. 2:22-25.

7. He was oppressed and he humbled himself, and he will not open his mouthas a lamb to the slaughter is brought, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumband he will not open his mouth. Having explained the occasion of Messiah's sufferings, the Prophet now describes his patient endurance of them. The second verb has been usually understood as a simple repetition of the same idea in other words. Thus the English Version renders it, he was oppressed and he was afflicted. Besides the tautology of this translation which would prove nothing by itself, it fails to represent the form of the original, in which the pronoun is introduced before the second verb, and according to usage must be regarded as emphatic. By far the simplest and most natural construction is to give it its ordinary sense as a conjunction and emphatic pronoun, he was oppressed and he himself submitted to affliction, or allowed himself to be afflicted. There is then no tautology nor any arbitrary difference of tense assumed between the two verbs, while the whole sense is good in itself and in perfect agreement with the context. All interpreters render ... as a preterite or a present, which is no doubt substantially correct, as the whole passage is descriptive. It seems desirable, however, to retain, as far as possible, the characteristic form of the original, especially as it is very hard to account for the repeated use of the future here, if nothing more was intended than might have been expressed by the preterite. At all events, the strict translation of the form should be retained, if it can be done without injury to the sense, which is certainly the case here, as we have only to suppose that the writer suddenly but naturally changes his position from that of historical retrospection to that of actual participation in the passing scene. and, as if he saw the victim led to the slaughter, says, 'he will not open his mouth.' Besides those places where Christ is called the Lamb of God (e. g. John 1:29. 1 Peter 1:18, 19. Acts 8:32, 35), there seems to be reference to this description of his meek endurance in 1 Peter 2:23.

8. From distress and from judgment he was taken; and in his generation who will think, that he was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgression of my people, (as) a curse for them? Every clause of this verse has been made the subject of dispute among interpreters; but the general meaning is most probably the one expressed in the above translation.

9. And he gave with wicked (men) his grave, and with a rich (man) in his death; because (or although) he had done no violence, and no deceit (was) in his mouth. They appointed him his grave with the wicked, but in his death he really reposed with a rich man, viz. Joseph of Arimathea, who is expressly so called, Matt. 27:57. Malefactors were either left unburied or disgraced by a promiscuous interment in an unclean place. As the Messiah was to die like a criminal, he might have expected to be buried like one; and his exemption from this posthumous dishonour was occasioned by a special providential interference.

10. And Jehovah was pleased to crush (or bruise) him, he put him to grief (or made him sick); if (or when) his soul shall make an offering for sin, he shall see (his) seed, he shall prolong (his) days, and the pleasure of Jehovah in his hand shall prosper. Here begins the account of the Messiah's exaltation. All the previous sufferings were to have an end in the erection of God's kingdom upon earth. As the first clause is in contrast with the last of v. 9, it may be read, and (yet) Jehovah was phased, i. e. notwithstanding the Messiah's perfect innocence. The sense is not, that Jehovah was pleased with his being crushed, which might imply that he was crushed by another, but that Jehovah was pleased himself to crush or bruise him, since the verb is not a passive but an active one. In the text of the English Version we find when thou shalt make etc.; but as Jehovah is nowhere else directly addressed in this whole context, the construction in the margin (when his soul shall make) is the one now commonly adopted. The word soul may be explained as referring the oblation to the life itself, which was really the thing offered; just as the blood of Christ is said to cleanse from all sin (1 John 1:7). meaning that Christ cleanses by his blood, i. e his expiatory death. As the terms used to describe the atonement are borrowed from the ceremonial institutions of the old economy, so those employed in describing the reward of the Messiah's sufferings are also drawn from theocratical associations. Hence the promise of long life and a numerous offspring, which of course are applicable only in a figurative spiritual sense. The seed here mentioned is identical with the mighty, whom he is described as sprinkling in ch. 52:15, and as spoiling in v. 13 below, whom he is represented in v. 11 as justifying, in v. 5 as representing, in v. 12 as interceding for. They are called his seed, as they are elsewhere called the sons of God (Gen. 6:2), as the disciples of the prophets were called their sons (1 Kings 2:25), and as Christians are to this day in the east called the offspring or family of the Messiah.

11. From (or of) the labour of his soul (or life) he shall see, he shall be satisfied; by his knowledge, shall my servant (as) a righteous one justify (or give righteousness to) many, and their iniquities he shall bear. In this verse Jehovah is again directly introduced as speaking. The first word is explained by some as a particle of time, after the labour of his soul; by others as implying freedom or deliverance. Most interpreters follow the Vulgate in making it denote the efficient or procuring cause, pro eo quod laboranit anima ejus. The English Version makes it partitive; but this detracts from the force of the expression, and implies that he should only see a portion of the fruit of his labours. Satisfied, not in the sense of being contented, but in that of being filled or abundantly supplied, applied to spiritual no less than to temporal enjoyments. (Ps. 17:15. 123:3. Jer. 31:14.) Some interpreters regard this as a case of hendiadys, in which the one word simply qualifies the other: he shall see, he shall be satisfied, i. e. he shall abundantly see or see to his heart's content. The only satisfactory construction of his knowledge is the passive one which makes the phrase mean by the knowledge of him upon the part of others; and this is determined by the whole connection to mean practical experimental knowledge, involving faith and a self-appropriation of the Messiah's righteousness, the effect of which is then expressed in the following words. That justification in the strict forensic sense is meant, may be argued from tho entire context, in which the Messiah appears, not as a Prophet or a Teacher, but a Priest and a Sacrifice, and also from the parallel expression in this very verse. In the next clause the common version (my righteous servant) is forbidden by the Hebrew collocation, which can only mean the righteous one, my servant, or my servant (as) a righteous person. All mistake and doubt as to the nature of the justification hero intended, or of the healing mentioned in v. 6, or of the cleansing mentioned in oh. 52:15, is precluded by the addition of the words, and he shall bear their iniquities. The introduction of the pronoun makes a virtual antithesis, suggesting the idea of exchange or mutual substitution. They shall receive his righteousness, and he shall bear their burdens.

12. Therefore will I divide to him among the many, and with the strong shall he divide the spoil, inasmuch as he bared unto death his soul, and with lhe transgressors was numbered, and he (himself) bare the sin of many, and for the transgressors he shall make intercession. The simple meaning of the first clause is that he shall be triumphant; not that others shall be sharers in his victory, but that he shall be as gloriously successful in his enterprise as other victors ever were in theirs. The Jewish objection, that Christ never waged war or divided spoil, has been eagerly caught up and repeated by the rationalistic school of critics. But spiritual triumphs must be here intended, because no others could be represented as the fruit of voluntary humiliation and vicarious suffering, and because the same thing is described in the context as a sprinkling of the nations, as a bearing of their guilt, and as their justification. The many and the strong of this verse are the nations and the kings of ch. 52: 15, the spiritual seed of v. 8 and 10 above. (Compare ch. 11: 10 and Ps. 2:8.) The last clause recapitulates the claims of the Messiah to this glorious reward. The application of this clause to our Saviour's crucifixion between thieves (Mark 15:28) does not exhaust the whole sense of the prophecy. It rather points out one of those remarkable coincidences which were brought about by Providence between the prophecies and the circumstances of our Saviour's passion. Intercession, not in the restricted sense of prayer for others, but in the wider one of meritorious and prevailing intervention, which is ascribed to Christ in the New Testament, not as a work already finished, like that of atonement, but as one still going on (Rom. 8:34. Heb. 9:24. 1 John 2:1), for which cause the Prophet here employs the future form. The phrase translated inasmuch as does not simply mean because, but instead, or in lieu (of this) that, which expresses more distinctly the idea of reward or compensation. The most specious objection to the old interpretation of this verse, as teaching the doctrine of vicarious atonement, is that ... , when directly followed by a noun denoting sin, invariably means to forgive or pardon it, except in Lev. 10:17, where it means to atone for it, but never to bear the sins of others, which can only be expressed by ... , as in Ezek. 18:19i 20. (See Gen. 50:17. Ex. 10:17. 32:32. 34:7. Ps. 32:5. 85:2. Job 7:21.) It is no sufficient answer to this argument to say that the parallel expression determines the meaning of the phrase in question; since all parallelisms are not synonymous, and no parallelism can prove anything in opposition to a settled usage. But although the parallel phrase cannot change or even ascertain the sense of this, it does itself undoubtedly express the idea which the objector seeks to banish from the text; since no one can pretend to say that ... means to pardon, and it matters not on which side of the parallel the disputed doctrine is expressed, if it only be expressed at all. Little or nothing would be therefore gained by proving that ... ... only means to pardon. But this is very far from being proved by the usage of the Hebrew verb, which itself presupposes the doctrine, that the only way in which a holy God can take away sin is by bearing it; in other words he can forgive it only by providing an atonement for it. This alone enables him to be supremely just and yet a justifier, not of the innocent, but of the guilty. Thus the usage so triumphantly adduced to disprove the doctrine of atonement, is found, on deeper and more thorough scrutiny, itself to presuppose that very doctrine.