Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.(Isaiah 53:1-3)
We have been looking at the 4th Servant Song of Isaiah, the first part of which is God’s introduction to the one whom He designates as “My Servant”,in the beautiful yet mysterious words of Isaiah 52:13-15,
Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
We come now to the second part of the prophecy, which is the penitential confession of the nation of Israel. It occurs at the end of the tribulation, when the chosen nation will be brought face to face with the realization that the one they had rejected and pierced, was and is their Saviour and Messiah.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.(Zechariah 12:10)
The whole tone of this prophecy is that of heartfelt remorse, godly sorrow and a bitter sense of regret, as the Nation is caused to “look on Me, (The LORD) whom they have pierced and mourn as for Him as for an only Son…”, in that last day when God grants his long estranged people, a complete and lasting repentance.
Who has believed our message? And to whom is the Arm of the LORD revealed?
The implied answers to these questions is, “few if any at all…” have believed in the message of a lowly Servant who has bought full salvation for God’s people, through his own suffering and death.
Those who do believe in the message, do so only because of a gift of revelation, “Flesh and blood didn’t reveal this to (them), but the Father in heaven”, has shown them that hidden in the spectacle of the defeated, crucified servant, derelicted of all friends, lovers and even God himself, is all of the power and wisdom of God.
The “Arm of the Lord”, is personified and appealed to directly earlier in the prophecy of Isaiah, for it is a metaphor for God in His mighty power.
Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? (Isaiah 51:9-10)
Israel wanted to see the power of God, or as Paul put it “the Jews seek after a sign”
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:(I Cor 1:18)
But for the most part, the nation couldn’t perceive the power of God in the figure of the suffering, Servant. He wasn’t what they considered to be “powerful”, he didn’t fit the ideal that they held of the Messiah. They had misread the prophecies, so they rejected Him , as the confession that they will soon make affirms,
For He grew up before Him as a tender plant- The servant’s development was in lowliness and obscurity. Slowly and quietly, without fanfare,He lives before God, and among an enslaved and humiliated nation. He is born in Bethlehem, but raised in Nazareth, literally “Shootsville”.
A tender plant is a frail shoot, a “sucker” coming out of a trunk or branch, merely a twig that normally would be pruned.
By contrast, Isaiah had earlier predicted that the Messiah would be as a vigorous shoot out of the stump of the felled house of Jesse, and would become an “Ensign” for all to see and seek God thereby,
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord…And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.”(Isaiah 11:1-2,10)
But that is a prediction of the Messiah as revealed in glory.
Here in Isaiah 53, Israel confesses that all they could see of Jesus of Nazareth, was one as a root out of dry ground, that is an unlikely growth, in an unpromising environment.
Israel in the first century had certainly become “dry ground“spiritually speaking. The Priesthood had become corrupt, rationalistic and self-serving. The people of Israel were defeated and occupied by a pagan power, Rome, and there hadn’t been a prophet, nor a “Son of David” upon the throne for more than four centuries. No one expected anything of the tiny shoot, (Netzer) from Nazareth.
He has no form or comeliness, there is no beauty that we should desire Him…
The confession of the nation will acknowledge that there was nothing in Jesus, of the greatness, charisma , power and beauty that they had expected to see in the Messiah. Jews were looking for something else, The same is true for all men. It is only possible to see the beauty hidden in Jesus the Messiah, when one is allowed to see the desperate need for salvation from sin and it’s power and consequences.