Now the Servant steps into full view again. We cannot mistake Him, for 52:13 echoes the words that first heralded His presence in 42:1. But this time He is going to command our attention for much longer. This fourth Song is the most elaborate and poignant of them all. It is the jewel in the crown of Isaiah’s theology, the focal point of his vision. And yet it comes upon us suddenly, almost intrusively. It is as though, just as we were in danger of forgetting His central importance, the Servant steps forward again and insists that we look at Him and acknowledge that nothing that we have just been contemplating is possible without Him. He is the key to it all. At the same time, however, He is self-effacing. For in this Song He never utters a word. He is as silent as a lamb (53:7). His presence is powerful, but it is others who bear witness to Him, not He Himself. And the first witness is none other than the Lord God: “See, My Servant.”
God’s wisdom revealed (52:13-15): This first stanza is in a sense a summary of the entire Song; it begins at the end so to speak, with the Servant’s exaltation (v. 13). It then reverts to His deep suffering (v. 14) and concludes with reflection on the stunned reaction that the sudden reversal in His fortunes will bring (v. 15). Sprinkling, with blood, water or oil, had to do with cleansing, with making a person or thing fit to be in the presence of God. The One that the people regarded as unclean (they were appalled at Him, v. 14) will turn out to be the One who cleanses others. It is a paradox so astounding that it will dry up every accusation and cause every mouth to be stopped (v. 15) The wisdom of God displayed in the Servant will utterly confound human wisdom.
Despised and rejected (53:1-3): The speakers in verses 1-6 are witnesses. We no longer see the Servant through the eyes of outsiders, but through the eyes of insiders, Israelites who have come to understand the meaning of the Servant’s sufferings, and announce it to the world. It is through their witness that those who formerly had not heard come to see and understand. The witnesses begin by reflecting on their own past attitude to the Servant (vv. 1-3). At first He had shown promise. He had grown up before the Lord like a tender shoot, like a dead plant suddenly springing to life in a wasteland (v. 2a). But that promise did not seem to be fulfilled. The more He grew the less impressive He became. He appeared ordinary, even unattractive (v. 2b). And when, in the course of His work He met strong opposition, derision and suffering, He became even less desirable to know (v. 3). Even those who did not actively persecute Him found it more prudent to turn away than to take His part. To their shame, the witnesses confess that this is exactly what they themselves had done (v. 3). Perhaps they had not expected the Servant’s sufferings to become so severe that He would lose His life. But this is what happened. The words [pierced and crushed] in verse 5 indicate a violent death. His human tormentors had merely been instruments that were providentially used; it was God who had struck Him down (v. 4b).
Healed by His wounds (53:4-6): In this third stanza, the witnesses testify to the completely new understand of the Servant’s death that they have now arrived at. Yes, it was God, ultimately, who crushed Him, but it was not because He deserved it. The witnesses realize that they themselves deserved those sufferings and that death, but that the Servant took their place. Substitution was not a new thought to the Israelites; it was enshrined in the Law of Moses. But now the witnesses see that this same principle is at work in the suffering and death of the Servant. Their peace with God, the healing of their broken relationship with Him, was secured by the Servant’s death (v. 5). He was pierced for their transgressions and crushed for their iniquities. The comfort they have received, the good news of their pardon, has been provided at tremendous cost.
The sinless, silent sufferer (53:7-9): In this fourth stanza a lone witness speaks, most likely Isaiah himself. At his call back in chapter 6, confronted with the awesome holiness of God, he had confessed that he himself was unclean and that he dwelt among unclean people (v. 5). Immediately he was assured of his own cleansing (by the symbolism of a live coal taken from the altar). But what of his fellow Israelites, given their deep-dyed sinfulness exposed in chapters 1-5? How could they ever be pardoned without God’s holiness being compromised? Now Isaiah sees the answer (v. 8b). They were like sheep that had gone astray, but the Servant, like a lamb, had been slaughtered in their place (v. 7). This stanza carries us beyond the Servant’s death to His burial, and ends on a rather uncertain note. The Servant was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich (v. 9). He was an innocent man who had been done to death like a criminal, and His burial was a mixture of honor and dishonor. If His career ended at that point it would be hard to tell what even God’s final verdict on Him had been. Was His work finished to God’s satisfaction or not?
Crowned with glory and honor (53:10-12): In this final stanza we get the answer to that question. First we hear from Isaiah (vv. 10-11a), then from the Lord (vv. 11b-12), and both affirm the same central truth. The Servant’s death will not be the end of His career. God will place His seal of approval on His work by raising and exalting Him, and the will of the Lord (all of God’s plans) will prosper in His hand. Like a guilt offering, the Servant’s death will provide perfect satisfaction for sin (v. 10). But in startling contrast to what happened in a normal guilt offering, the victim, in this case, will not cease to exist. He will die, yes. But afterwards He will see the light of life, be satisfied (see the fruit of His sacrifice), and justify many (bring them into a right relationship with God) (v. 11). That is, the Servant will accomplish His God-given mission not only by His death, but also by His life beyond death. He will be a new kind of guilt offering that will utterly surpass anything that has gone before.
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Reflection Questions:
Has the Lord Jesus Christ become the key to your life; not just on Sundays, but for every minute of every day? What will it take for you to get there?
Are you aware what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for you; if so, how are you announcing it to the world?
How are you building on your relationship with God?