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. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)
Isaiah 53, the fourth Servant Song, takes the perspective of the congregation, the beneficiaries of God’s Servant. We see in this song, that for the most part, the Servant is misinterpreted due to His sufferings and overall rejection by the nation. The last thing any of us would have expected, when considering God’s plan to restore Israel and save the whole world, would be a suffering and apparently defeated Messiah!
Isaiah predicts that Israel would actually believe that the Servant was a figure under God’s judgment, suffering the just recompense of a blasphemer. Did he not hang on a tree ? Is that not the mark of a man cursed of God? Didn’t the Pagan Kings of Canaan hang on trees. in Joshua? Isn’t that the fate of Saul, Absalom and the children of Saul? Is it not written in the law of Moses.
And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God); that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.(Deuteronomy 21:22-23)
The man hanging between heaven and earth, derelict of all of his friends and lovers, and even abandoned by God himself, truly was cursed by God. He is even made to wear the crown of the curse, for thorns and thistles are the result of our sin and defection from God. This tormented soul, writhing in agony, suspended between heaven and earth , helpless before his jeering enemies, is a horrifying object of pity.
And He is alone. The Servant must alone represent the whole of humanity, “all we like sheep”. Thus he is radically separated from all of us. The prophecy juxtaposes the plural ‘all we…” and “us” over against the singular, “He…himself…”, who took our place in judgment as a substitute.
“He is despised…we hid our faces from him…”
“Surely He bore our griefs…”
“All we like sheep have gone astray, but the Lord laid the iniquity of us all upon Him“.
This utter isolation and complete estrangement that he underwent is the end of Sin; the absolute cutting off from all that makes life bearable. It is where sin takes a person in the end and for eternity, utter aloneness. “He is despised and rejected…a man of sorrows…” Small wonder they esteemed him “smitten of God and afflicted”.No person could ever be so alone as the Servant of the Lord was, when he stood as our scapegoat, our sin bearing substitute.
This was the stumbling block for Saul of Tarsus, it is what caused him to utterly hate the name of Jesus, and all who called upon his name. How dare they proclaim that the Messiah of Israel, died the death of a man cursed of God! He that hangs is cursed of God!! How could they say that Messiah was accursed? The Messiah represents triumph and victory, not ignoble death.
It would take a revelation from God to see the truth hidden in the horrifying sight of the Servant of God, hanging there,suffering and defeated… . His hands and feet are pierced and bound, he is so helpless he couldn’t even wipe away his sweat and tears, nor cover his naked body before the crowd of onlookers. What could he have possibly done to have incurred this wrath?
The Prophet Isaiah reveals to us what we couldn’t understand in any other way.
‘This man was cursed of God indeed, there is no denying it…But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:…the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. This is what we didn’t see, that His sufferings were vicarious, he was bearing the sufferings we deserved, for the Servant’s work was to become our scape goat, and to take upon himself the punishment for our sins,iniquities and transgressions.
The word “wounded” is a word that refers to piercing, He was pierced for our transgressions. Transgressions are acts of open defiance and rebellion. The word “Bruised” means ‘crushed’, the Servant was crushed on account of our iniquities, that is the lawless, perversity of our nature.
The God appointed sacrificial system ordained that an Ox be one of the offerings. What does an Ox do for man? The Ox is the strong, bearing the heavy burden for the weak. Isaiah tells us that the Servant “took up on himself our griefs, and sorrows...” and carried them away for us, unto judgment and death. All of the foul consequence of our sin, the anxiety and fear, stress, regret, shame, confusion, sorrow, physical and mental ache, in short everything that squeezes out our life as a result of our sin, He shouldered for us.
Isaiah reveals to us also, that the horror the Servant underwent, was penal. In his passion, He was taking upon himself the “chastisement necessary to our peace with God…”, the stripes were what we deserved. This is what it took to give us peace with God, nothing less. Someone had to pay, justice had to be satisfied, the demands of holiness had to be answered!
So the Servant took the place of the many, that is, of all of us. So this was the mysterious task appointed the Servant by God. This is what it would take to “Bring Jacob back to God…“and to shine the light of God’s salvation into the darkness of the nations.