He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.(Isaiah 53:7-9)
The Servant Songs of Isaiah, are an increasingly detailed unveiling of the task assigned to the one God chose to “bring Jacob back to God“, and to “reveal God’s splendor to the ends of the earth”. How would this be accomplished?
The Servant will live close to God, he will be his disciple, listening daily for his word. His devotion to God will bring upon him the hatred and reproach of a world which has rejected God. He will even be tempted to be weary, and made to think that all has been in vain, for the Servant will be fully human.
Isaiah predicts that the Servant would have a ministry of the Word. He is called to establish truth in the earth, to a world which has long since rejected truth.His bearing with people will be gentle, he throws no one away, not even a “dimly burning flax“, or “a bruised reed“. He will speak the Father’s Word to the weary ones, refreshing them, restoring them to God. The broken, ruined and stained will be revived by the ministry of God’s servant.
But we realize as these songs unfold, that the task of worldwide reconciliation to God demands something much more of the Servant than teaching people, and bearing long with difficult ones. It becomes obvious that the task assigned to the Servant to “establish truth” and righteousness in the earth, and “to bring Jacob back to God“, demands an ultimate service; the laying down of His life as a substitutionary sacrifice. The Servant takes our place in Judgment. He pours out his own life for ours.
He was oppressed and afflicted yet opened not his mouth… This is a reference to the trial of the servant before human judgment. The Servant is silent when all of his “rights” are denied him, He offers no self-defense, no argument in his favor.He is like a lamb, led to the slaughter, completely compliant, in the face of outrageous injustice to his person.
He was taken from prison and from judgment:…the emphasis again is on the injustice of his trial and imprisonment. He was stripped of all of his rights and denied “due process”when He was led out to die an unjust death.
…who shall declare his generation? – The sense is ‘Who among his contemporaries even gave it a thought?’ Or, an alternative understanding is,’Who among his contemporaries spoke out for him?’. The idea is that his own generation did not recognize the Servant, they were indifferent to what happened to him, not seeing the significance of his actions.
…for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken… The Word “Cut off” , gazar, always has a violent meaning in the Hebrew bible. He was slain, he died a violent death, He was taken out at a relatively young age.
Why must the Servant die such a violent death? The answering phrase literally continues, “…Because of the rebellion of my people, the blow to Him/to them”. Motyer has it in his commentary, “…my people whose was the blow/to whom the blow belonged.”* The blow that should have landed on we, his redeemed people, instead landed on God’s servant.
… And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death… The text says literally, that “He was assigned a grave with the wicked ones…” . This was startlingly fulfilled in the gospel account of Jesus hanging on a cross between two thieves. Jesus warned his disciples the night he was betrayed that the scripture in Isaiah must be fulfilled, that in him, “He was numbered with the transgressors”.
We are also startled and amazed, by the next clause, that the Servant would be assigned a tomb, “…with the Rich one in his deaths…”. Note that the “wicked ones” are plural, but the “Rich one is singular”. He is talking about specific details, actual people. Jesus was executed between two malefactors, but buried in a rich Senator’s personal tomb. Isaiah saw that detail, 700 years earlier.
…because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Either this is saying, that the Servant was tried, and executed as a sinner, “Even though he had done no violence…”, or it is saying that the Servant was given an honorable burial after these outrages, “because he had done no violence…”. It could be both are true, and that like other prophecies, it has a dual meaning.
* Inter Varsity Press, The Prophecy of Isaiah Motyer, Alec