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John Collins 4 April 2008 Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Annotated Translation
Behold, my Servant shall prosper1; he shall be high and lifted up, and he shall be very high. (14) The more2 great [people] were appalled at you— for his face was disfigured from human appearance3 and his form from the sons of man— (15) the more he shall astonish4 many nations; on account of him kings shall shut their mouths. For, that which had not been recounted to them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall understand. (13) (1) Who5 has believed what they heard from us?6 And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (2) And he grew up like a sapling7 before him and like a root out of dry ground, and [he had] no form to him and no splendor and8 we should look at him, and no appearance and we should desire him.
For the hiph. form of the verb , BDB gives act circumspectly, prudently, as the LXX, ESV and NIV translate, and prosper, have success, as the NRS and NAS translate. I have gone with prosper because the context focuses on the Servant’s exaltation despite his suffering, but both renderings are clearly possible.
Most translations, including ESV, NRS, and NIV, give Just as … So…; but BDB says that when
answered by it means the more…the more, and this makes sense for English readers in this context (B4348 pg 455). I add an article to many simply because “the more many” sounds awkward.
ESV: beyond human semblance; NAS: more than any man? The here is probably one of separation rather than comparison. Isaiah does not mean that this person is more disfigured than any other person, but that he is so disfigured that he hardly appears human [John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 373).
While the ESV, NIV and other evangelical commentaries translate here sprinkle, the LXX translates it qauma,sontai (astonish), and the NRS translates it startle. As Deilizsch argues, this Hebrew verb always takes an accusative or direct object referring to blood or water or whatever was used for sprinkling, never the thing or person sprinkled like an altar. Moreover, this line of Hebrew poetry runs parallel with the next line; together, they communicate the amazement the nations and their rulers will have before the Servant. Without this word, we loose nothing of his priestly sacrificial work communicated so clearly later in the poem. 5 Gesenius explains that this interrogative accompanied by the perfect here expresses a rhetorical question expecting a denial (Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar; Ed. E. Kautzsch [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910], 476). 6 There have been suggestions that this is the prophets (collectively) or even the Gentiles, but it fits better as a lament of the prophet as a representative of Israel that so many have turned from the faith the remnant has nearly become obsolete (Delitszsch, 504). 7 The LXX and the Syr both say that this is a young child, and, although refers to a “sucking one,” and can refer either to a human or a plant (see BDB 413), the parallelism supports the latter. See Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 374, n. 59; and Motyer who suggests that the image of the plant recalls the Messiah as the “holy seed” of 6:13 (The Prophesy of Isaiah, 428). 8 I have only kept this as “and” in keeping with the course translation rules. All of the major translations here choose to translate this as “that,” which makes better sense of the cohortative. Joüon and Muraoka explain this as an indirect cohortative “for us to remark him” (A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew [SubBi 27; Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2006], §116c).
(3) [He was] despised and forsaken by men, a man of sorrows and experienced with suffering9; and like a hiding of faces from him, he was despised and we did not esteem him. (4) Surely our suffering10 he himself has carried, and our sorrows he has born; and we esteemed him struck down, smitten by God and afflicted. (5) And [he was] pierced11 for our transgressions, [he was] crushed for our iniquities; chastisement for our peace12 [was] upon him, and by his stripes it was healed for us.13 (6) All we like the sheep have wandered; man has turned to his own way; and the Lord has caused to fall on him all of our iniquity. (7) He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, and he did not open his mouth; like the lamb led to the slaughter, and like a ewe before its shearers [is] silent, he also did not open his mouth. (8) By coercion and by judgment he was taken. And who has considered his descendents14? For he was cut off from the land of the living; struck down for the transgression of my people. (9) And they placed his grave with the wicked, and [he was] with the rich in his death,15
BDB, 393, explains that וִידועַ חֹלִיis lit. “known of sickness.” I use that translation because, as Kidner explains, the sense may be that of a “physician’s voluntary involvement; for he is also a man of pain and sickness in the sense that he gives himself to these things and their relief” [Derrick Kidner, “Isaiah,” In The New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, ed. Donald Guthrie and J. A. Motyer, (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, NBC), 663]. 10 Bergey suggests the assonance of using the long vowel u sound 26 times in 53:4-6 may be onomatopoeic connoting sorrow [Ronald Bergey, “The Rhetorical Role of Reiteration in the Suffering Servant Poem (Isa 52:1353:12,” in JETS 40/2 (June 1997), 180]. 11 BDB (319), NIV; ESV and NRS, along with the LXX: wounded? In 51:9, the participle is used of a death wound. Delitzsch notes, “There were no stronger expressions to be found in the language, to denote a violent and painful death” [F. Delitszsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: Isaiah (Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, MA, 1996. vol 7), 509]. While the word pierced may be unnecessarily evocative of crucifixion, Isaiah’s point is that the Servant was fatally wounded, which matches the parallel line crushed. In context, the translation wounded is insufficient. 12 A genitive of result i.e. that “which leads to our peace” [Ronald J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax: An Outline, 2nd Ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976) §44.] 13 See Jouon-Muraoka for this use of the impersonal passive verb (§152fa) with an indirect object (§128ba): “a healing was performed for us.” 14 ESV and NAS; NIV descendents; NRS future; BDB gives all of these possibilities, but given the context, that the Servant was killed too soon and that later he is promised offspring, I have chosen to go with descendents. (BDB 189) 15 From the parallelism of these two lines, it seems that in Isaiah’s social context and from his perspective, it would have been morally suspect to have been buried in a rich man’s tomb; perhaps one had to be violent and wicked to have been rich: hence, the irony that the Servant was neither violent nor treacherous.
although he had done16 no violence, and no treachery17 was in his mouth. (10) And the Lord was pleased to crush him, and he has made him sick. If his soul will place [itself as] a guilt offering, he will see offspring and prolong days18; the pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand. (11) Because of the anguish of his soul he shall see [and] be satisfied. By his knowledge a righteous one, my Servant, will make many to be counted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. (12) Therefore I will divide for him [a portion] with the great,19 and he will divide spoil with the mighty, in return for the fact that20 he poured out his soul to death and was counted among transgressors, and he bore the sins of many and interposed on behalf of the transgressors. Q1. What are the historical circumstances of this prophet and his work, and what are the specific circumstances of this passage? Isaiah began prophesying in the Southern Kingdom of Judah while God brought judgment against his people in the North and South through Assyrian aggression (740-686 B.C.). First, King Pekah of Israel and King Rezin of Syria made an agreement in the Syrian-Israelite Coalition to force Judah to join their coalition against the Assyrians. This conflict is known as the Syro-Ephraimite War of 732 B. C and is recorded in 2 Kg 16:5-6.21 Isaiah tried to get Ahaz to trust the LORD, but he trusted in the Assyrians instead, leading to a century of subjugation. Later, during the reign of Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.) the Assyrians tried to force Judah and its king Hezekiah into paying tribute, a conflict recorded in Isaiah 3639. In the second large section of Isaiah, chapters 40-55, the prophet seems more removed from the center of Judean power and decision making, and his visions seem more abstract and lofty.22 While it is impossible to nail down the historical context of the Servant Song, specifically 52:13-53:12, with any
Perfect, when used with the wayiqtol, can be translated with the English pluperfect. BDB gives deceit as an option, and most translations go this way, but in context with violence, it seems to me that treachery fits better. 18 As a reward for vicarious suffering, the tragedy of verses 8-9, the Servant’s early death with no descendents, is reversed. 19 ESV; or great as most other translations including NIV, NAS, and NRS; BDB gives many as definition 1 and great as definition 2 for br;. The parallel with mighty in the next line leads me toward great, as well the fact that br here repeats the same word from the prologue in 52:14, where it is connected with nations and kings in 52:15. Isaiah is saying that this Servant whom the great men of the earth considered so despicable has now been raised (at least) to their level, not despite but through his suffering and humiliation.
BDB gives this phrase as the best translation of pg 1065; most translations go with the the virtually equivalent because. Isaiah’s point is that the Lord will reward the Servant for his willingness to suffer unjustly on behalf of the guilty. 21 C. John Collins, A Study Guide For the Old Testament Prophetical Books (Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO, Spring 2008), 33. 22 Collins has made this point in his lectures (Covenant Seminary, 4 April 2008).
certainly since other chapters in Isaiah come out of chronological order, it is prudent to place them along with their context after the events narrated in 36-39, or shortly after 700 B.C.23 Q2. What is the assumed form in which covenant institutions (e.g., kingship, worship, etc.) are administered, and how is this drawn upon and enriched? Isaiah does not explicitly identify the Servant in this passage with the Davidic figure in chapters 7-12, but there are some similarities. The Servant seems to be a representative of his people, he is described like King YHWH in Isaiah 6 as “high and lifted up,” and other nations are said to be subjected to him. Likewise, he is not said to be a priest in Aaron’s order, but he does surprisingly priestly things, even if they are things that no Aaronic priest would have actually done: he will off himself as a guilt offering, justify many, bear iniquity like a sheep, accept vicarious punishment, carry transgressions, and allow himself to be counted among transgressors. Q3. What is the literary relation of this text to its larger context, and what is the literary structure of the passage itself? As mentioned, Isaiah 40-55 seems to consist of a unique section within the book, less tied to historical events in Isaiah’s day than Isaiah 1-39. Within these chapters we find the only songs in Isaiah about the Servant of the Lord, the final of which begins in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. These songs are interspersed throughout other material that forcast Judah’s exile in Babylon on account of its idolatry, but Isaiah also announces consolation of God’s people in this section. Ronald Bergey has persuasively argued, on the basis of linguistic features of the text and not just content, for a division of 52:13-53:12 into four stanzas. While there are many, the primary feature is voice, or who is speaking. In the first and fourth stanzas, the prologue and epilogue, the Servant of the Lord is addressed by the Lord as “My Servant.” The middle two stanzas, the body, there is a shift in perspective from “we” and “our” to “he” and “his,” a feature that contrasts the way God’s people incorrectly perceived his Servant and what was actually the case. Thus, Bergey gives us this outline: A. "My servant's" success and exaltation (52:13-15) B1· "We" considered him insignificant (53:1-3) B2. "Our" recognition of his sufferings for "us" (53:4-6) B’1. "He" suffered and died, though innocent (53:7-9) B'2. "His" sufferings according to Yahweh's will (53:10-11b) A'. "My servant's" accomplishments and reward (53:11c-12)”24 Q. 4 - What imagery does the prophet use? Almost all of the language in this song is imagistic. There is imagery of unjust murderous oppression by powerful authorities, cultic sacrifice, military victory leading to political superiority, public humiliation, and animal husbandry. Q5. What would constitute fulfillment of predictive elements?
Robert B Chisholm, Handbook on the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 92; and Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66 (Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 8. 24 Bergey, 179. Motyer gives a different outline, but his argument is based entirely on content rather than linguistic features within the text [J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 423].
Even though literarily the figure described in 52:13-53:12 is an individual, there is much debate over whether that figure’s historical referent should be identified as the collective people of Israel, an individual Messiah like Jesus, or Isaiah himself.25 Isaiah seems to be saying that the Servant of the Lord’s reversal of fortunes will symbolize, represent, and actually win an identical reversal of fortune for the Lord’s people as a whole. While Isaiah certainly saw Judah destined for humiliation and later exaltation, it is hard to see how he could have imagined this sinful nation ever becoming righteous enough to atone for its own sins in the way he describes. It is much more likely that he looked forward, just like he did in chapters 7-12, to a time when a person would come and identify himself with his people by taking their punishment, more specifically, by recapitulating their abandonment by God to human injustice on the way to winning his own and their justification.26 Jesus self consciously understood that his calling from God was to fit himself into the role Isaiah had described here for the Servant of the Lord. Thus, in his own words and the other writings of the New Testament, we see many explicit statements that the time forecast by Isaiah had finally come with Jesus’ ministry, substitutionary death and resurrection, and the sending of the gospel to the Gentiles.27 Q6. What elements are conditional and unconditional? This portion of Isaiah is an unconditional prophecy according to Fairbairn’s first category. Isaiah is revealing the graciousness of the Lord through the work of the Servant. We see in verse 10,“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” This prophecy will come to fruition based on God’s will alone. Q7-8. How did the people respond to the message? How does this passage speak to the people of God in their current condition, their role in the story, and God’s future for them? From what we know of the history of Israel during the reign of Manasseh through to the exile, Judah as a whole did not repent of its idolatry and look exclusively for a deliverer from the Lord. Isaiah is telling God’s people then and now that we are participants in a story that is going somewhere, that God is committed to delivering his people even if that means identifying with them in the suffering they have brought upon themselves.
See Brueggemann, 149; Goldingay, The Message of Isaiah 40-55 (London: T & T Clark, 2005), 473-88; and Childs, 423. 26 Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 407. 27 See Romans 15:21; John 12:38; Romans 10:16; Mark 9:12; Matthew 8:17; 1 Peter 2:22, 24; Matthew 26:63, 67; Matthew 27:12-14; Mark 14:60-61; 1 John 3:5; Romans 5:19; and Luke 22:37.
Bibliography Alexander, Joseph A. Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1953. Barre, M. L. 2000. “Textual and Rhetorical-Critical Observations on the Last Servant Song (Isaiah 52:1353:12)”. Catholic Biblical Quarterly. 62: 1-27. Bergey, R. 1997. “The Rhetorical Role of Reiteration in the Suffering Servant Poem (Isa 52:13-53:12)”. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 40, no. 2: 177. Brueggemann, Walter. Isaiah 40-66. Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. Brown, Francis, Edward Robinson, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, and Francis Brown. The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon: With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1979. Buth, Randall. “The Hebrew Verb in Current Discussions.” Journal of Translation and Textlinguistics 5:2 (1992): 91-105. Bullock, Charles. An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books. Chicago: Moody Press, 1986. Calvin, Jean. Isaiah. The Crossway Classic Commentaries. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000. Childs, Brevard S. Isaiah. The Old Testament library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001. Chisholm, Robert B. Handbook on the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002. Collins, C. John. Grammatical Supplements for Introductory Hebrew (Revised 1999, 2005). Saint Louis: Covenant Theological Seminary, 1998. __________. A Study Guide for the Old Testament Prophetical Books (Revised 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006, 2008). Saint Louis: Covenant Theological Seminary, 1996. __________. Verb tenses in Biblical Hebrew poetry (Revised 2005). Saint Louis: Covenant Theological Seminary, 1998. Keil, C.F., and F. Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes. Vol 7. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971. Elliott, M. W., and Thomas C. Oden. Isaiah 40-66. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 11. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2007. Fairbairn, Patrick. The Interpretation of Prophecy. Students’ reformed theological library. London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1964. Gesenius, Wilhelm, E. Kautzsch, and A. E. Cowley. Hebrew Grammar. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. Goldingay, John. Isaiah. New International Biblical Commentary, 13. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001.
__________. The Message of Isaiah 40-55. London: T & T Clark, 2005. Goldingay, John, and David Payne. Isaiah 40-55. Vol. 2, Commentary on Isaiah 44:24 – 55:13. The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. London: T & T Clark, 2006. Joüon, Paul, and T. Muraoka. A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Subsidia Biblica, 14/1-14/2. Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblio, 1991. Kidner, Derrick. “Isaiah.” In The New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, ed. Donald Guthrie, and J. A. Motyer, 628-665. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994. Longman, Tremper, Raymond B. Dillard, and Raymond B. Dillard. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. Motyer, J. A. Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1999. __________. The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. Oswalt, John. The Book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. __________. Isaiah: The NIV Application Commentary : from Biblical Text- to Contemporary Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. __________. 2005. “Isaiah 52:13-53:12: Servant of All”. Calvin Theological Journal. 40: 85-94. Pruitt, Elizabeth H. “A Lexical Analysis of צדקin Isaiah 40-55.” M.A. Thesis, Covenant Theological Seminary, 2007. Rogland, M. F. Alleged non-past uses of QATAL in classical Hebrew. Studia Semitica Neerlandica, 44. Assen: Van Gorcum, 2003. Waltke, Bruce K., and Michael Patrick O'Connor. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990. Williams, Ronald James. Hebrew Syntax: An Outline. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976. Young, Edward J. The Book of Isaiah: The English Text, with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Vol. 3, Chapters 40 to 66. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1992.
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