First Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
The Shame of the Servant,
The Glory of the Nation
52:13 Behold, my servant shall deal wisely, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. 14 Like as many were astonished at you (his appearance was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men), 15 so shall he sprinkle many nations; 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 understand.
53:1 Who has believed our message?
To whom has the arm of YHWH been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him as a tender plant,
and as a root out of dry ground.
He has no good looks or majesty.
When we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised,
and rejected by men;
a man of suffering,
and acquainted with disease.
He was despised as one from whom men hide their face;
and we didn’t respect him.
4 Surely he has borne our sickness,
and carried our suffering;
yet we considered him plagued,
struck by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities.
The punishment that brought our peace was on him;
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray.
Everyone has turned to his own way;
and YHWH has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed,
yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth.
As a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and as a sheep that before its shearers is mute,
so he didn’t open his mouth.
8 He was taken away by oppression and judgment;
and as for his generation,
who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living
and stricken for the disobedience of my people?
9 They made his grave with the wicked,
and with a rich man in his death;
although he had done no violence,
neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased YHWH to bruise him.
He has caused him to suffer.
When you make his soul an offering for sin,
he shall see his seed.
He shall prolong his days,
and the pleasure of YHWH shall prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light and be satisfied.
My righteous servant will justify many by the knowledge
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out his soul to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
World English Bible
These verses formed the last of the so-called “Servant Songs” from Second Isaiah. This eloquent song was penned in two different voices. It began and ended with God’s pronouncement about the Servant (beginning: 52:13-15; ending: 53:11b-12). The middle (53:1-11a) was the chorus of the witnesses. The theme was novel and even scandalous: honor came through shame.
God voiced the theme when he presented his Servant. The presentation by God was an honor in itself. But what was God presenting? What image did he hold up to view? An image that caused not applause, but befuddlement. An image of shameful degradation. But, notice the reaction from the other nations. Gossip was replaced by attention. Ridicule was replaced by silence. The marred image was a revelation that all would understand.
The chorus of witnesses picked up on the theme. The Servant was merely ordinary, even hated. He was not counted among the honorable. In fact, everyone assumed this shameful one was even rejected by God himself. Yet, his honor was in suffering, for, through his suffering (and death), he carried the guilt of the nation. And insure the future glory of the nation.
(Notice the Servant never spoke in these verses. His praise came from the praises of the witnesses. They pointed to the purpose and glory God gave the Servant.)
In the end, God glorified his Servant because he was willing to die for the sins of the people. His actions were like the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement that took away the sins of the nation.
In the context of Second Isaiah, the author wrote these words to give the exiles in Babylon hope. Glory would come through suffering. But, the identity of the Servant for the exiles remains a matter of speculation. Did the author have a particular leader of the people in mind? Did he have the people themselves in mind? Or both? Of course, Christians point to Christ on the cross as the fulfillment of these verses. But, there is no evidence any Jew connected the idea of the Suffering Servant with the expected Messiah until the risen Christ was preached by his followers. In fact, it was the genius of the early Christians to promote the idea of the Messiah in the light of Isaiah 52-53. Why was Jesus the Messiah? Because, by his death, he was Second Isaiah’s Servant. And he would return as the glorious “Son of Man” from Daniel on the last day.
Drink in the images of the Servant as you read them or hear them at Good Friday services. And be amazed how God could turn the image of the shameful to his glory.
Meditate on these images. How has God used your shame (and pain) for his glory?