on Isaiah 52 :13
My servant shall deal prudently - ישכיל yaskil, shall prosper, or act prosperously. The subject of Isaiah's prophecy, from the fortieth chapter inclusive, has hitherto been, in general, the deliverance of the people of God. This includes in it three distinct parts; which, however, have a close connection with one another; that is,
1. The deliverance of the Jews from the captivity of Babylon;
2. The deliverance of the Gentiles from their miserable state of ignorance and idolatry; and,
3. The deliverance of mankind from the captivity of sin and death.
These three subjects are subordinate to one another; and the two latter are shadowed out under the image of the former. They are covered by it as by a veil; which however is transparent, and suffers them to appear through it.
Cyrus is expressly named as the immediate agent of God in effecting the first deliverance. A greater person is spoken of as the Agent who is to effect the two latter deliverances, called the servant, the elect, of God, in whom his soul delighteth; Israel, in whom God will be glorified. Now these three subjects have a very near relation to one another; for as the Agent who was to effect the two latter deliverances, - that is, the Messiah, - was to be born a Jew, with particular limitations of time, family, and other circumstances; the first deliverance was necessary in the order of providence, and according to the determinate counsel of God, to the accomplishment of the two latter deliverances; and the second deliverance was necessary to the third, or rather was involved in it, and made an essential part of it. This being the case, Isaiah has not treated the three subjects as quite distinct and separate in a methodical and orderly manner, like a philosopher or a logician, but has taken them in their connective veiw. He has handled them as a prophet and a poet; he has allegorized the former, and under the image of it has shadowed out the two latter: he has thrown them all together, has mixed one with another, has passed from this to that with rapid transitions, and has painted the whole with the strongest and boldest imagery. The restoration of the Jews from captivity, the call of the Gentiles, the redemption by Messiah, have hitherto been handled interchangeably and alternately. Babylon has hitherto been kept pretty much in sight; at the same time, that strong intimations of something much greater have frequently been thrown in. But here Babylon is at once dropped, and I think hardly ever comes in sight again; unless perhaps in Isaiah 55:12, and Isaiah 57:14. The prophet's views are almost wholly engrossed by the superior part of his subject. He introduces the Messiah as appearing at first in the lowest state of humiliation, which he had just touched upon before, (Isaiah 50:5, Isaiah 50:6), and obviates the offense which would be occasioned by it, by declaring the important and necessary cause of it, and foreshowing the glory which should follow it.
This seems to me to be the nature and the true design of this part of Isaiah's prophecies; and this view of them seems to afford the best method of resolving difficulties, in which expositors are frequently engaged, being much divided between what is called the literal and the mystical sense, not very properly; for the mystical or spiritual sense is very often the most literal sense of all.
Abarbanel seems to have had an idea of this kind, as he is quoted by Vitringa on Isaiah 49:1, who thus represents his sentiments: Censet Abarbanel prophetam hic transitum facere a liberatione ex exilio Babylonico ad liberationem ex exilio Romano; et, quod hic animadversu dignum est, observat liberationem ex exilio Babylonico esse אות וראיה oth veraayah, signum et argumentum liberationis futurae; atque adeo orationem prophetae de duabus hisce liberationibus in superioribus concionibus saepe inter se permisceri. Verba ejus: "Et propterea verba, sive res, in prophetic superiore inter se permixtae occurrunt; modo de liberatione Babylonica, modo de liberatione extrema accipiendae, ut orationis necessitas exigit." Nullum hic vitium, nisi quod redemptionem veram et spiritualem a Messia vero Jesu adductam, non agnoscat. "Abarbanel supposes that the prophet here makes a transition from the deliverance from the Babylonish captivity to the deliverance from the Roman captivity; and (which is worthy of particular note) he observes that the deliverance from the Babylonish captivity is a sign and pledge of the future redemption; and that on this account it is we find in the preceding prophecies the circumstances of the two captivities intimately blended together. His words are the following: 'And, therefore, the words or subjects in the foregoing prophecy are very much intermixed; in one passage the redemption from the Babylonish captivity being treated of, in another the redemption from the general dispersion, as may be collected from the obvious import of the words.' No fault can be found with the above remark, except that the true and spiritual redemption procured by Jesus the Messiah is not acknowledged." - L.
on Isaiah 52 :13
Notes on Isaiah 52:13-15 and Isaiah 53:1-12
The most important portion of Isaiah, and of the Old Testament, commences here, and here should have been the beginning of a new chapter. It is the description of the suffering Messiah, and is continued to the close of the next chapter. As the closing verses of this chapter are connected with the following chapter, and as it is of great importance to have just views of the design of this portion of Isaiah, it is proper in this place to give an analysis of this part of the prophecy. And as no other part of the Bible has excited so much the attention of the friends and foes of Christianity; as so various and conflicting views have prevailed in regard to its meaning: and as the proper interpretation of the passage must have an important bearing on the controversy with Jews and infidels, and on the practical views of Christians, I shall be justified in going into an examination of its meaning at considerably greater length than has been deemed necessary in other portions of the prophecy. It may be remarked in general:
(1) That if the common interpretation of the passage, as describing a suffering Saviour, be correct, then it settles the controversy with the Jews, and demonstrates that their notions of the Messiah are false.
(2) If this was written at the time when it is claimed by Christians to have been written, then it settles the controversy with infidels. The description is so particular and minute; the correspondence with the life, the character, and the death of the Lord Jesus, is so complete, that it could not have been the result of conjecture or accident. At the same time, it is a correspondence which could not have been brought about by an impostor who meant to avail himself of this ancient prophecy to promote his designs, for a large portion of the circumstances are such as did not depend on himself, but grew out of the feelings and purposes of others. On the supposition that this had been found as an ancient prophecy, it would have been impossible for any impostor so to have shaped the course of events as to have made his character and life appear to be a fulfillment of it. And unless the infidel could either make it out that this prophecy was not in existence, or that, being in existence, it was possible for a deceiver to create an exact coincidence between it and his life and character and death, then, in all honesty, he should admit that it was given by inspiration, and that the Bible is true.
(3) A correct exposition of this will be of inestimable value in giving to the Christian just views of the atonement, and of the whole doctrine of redemption. Probably in no portion of the Bible of the same length, not even in the New Testament, is there to be found so clear an exhibition of the purpose for which the Saviour died. I shall endeavor, therefore, to prepare the way for an exposition of the passage, by a consideration of several points that are necessary to a correct understanding of it.
Section 1. Evidence that It was Written Before
The Birth of Jesus of Nazareth
On this point there will be, and can be, no dispute among Jews and Christians. The general argument to prove this, is the same as that which demonstrates that Isaiah wrote at all before that time. For a view of this, the reader is referred to the Introduction. But this general argument may be presented in a more specific form, and includes the following particulars:
(1) It is quoted in the New Testament as part of the prophetic writings then well known (see Matthew 8:17; John 12:38; Acts 8:28-35; Romans 10:16; 1 Peter 2:21-25). That the passage was in existence at the time when the New Testament was written, is manifest from these quotations. So far as the argument with the infidel is concerned, it is immaterial whether it was written 700 years before the events took place, or only fifty, or ten. It would still be prophecy, and it would still be incumbent on him to show how it came to be so accurately accomplished.
(2) It is quoted and translated by writers who undoubtedly lived before the Christian era. Thus, it is found in the Septuagint, and in the Chaldee - both of which can be demonstrated to have been made before Christ was born.
(3) There is not the slightest evidence that it has been interpolated or corrupted, or changed so as to adapt it to the Lord Jesus. It is the same in all copies, and in all versions.
(4) It has never even been pretended that it has been introduced for the purpose of furnishing an argument for the truth of Christianity. No infidel has ever pretended that it does not stand on the same footing as any other portion of Isaiah.
(5) It is such a passage as Jews would not have forged. It is opposed to all their prevailing notions of the Messiah. They have anticipated a magnificent temporal prince and a conqueror: and one of the main reasons why they have rejected the Lord Jesus has been, that he was obscure in his origin, poor, despised, and put to death; in other words, because be has corresponded so entirely with the description here. No passage of the Old Testament has ever given them greater perplexity than this, and it is morally certain that if the Jews had ever forged a pretended prophecy of the Messiah, it would not have been in the language of this portion of Isaiah. They would have described him as the magnificent successor of David and Solomon; as a mighty prince and a warrior; as the head of universal empire, and would have said that by his victorious arms he would subdue the earth to himself, and would make Jerusalem the capital of the world. They never would have described him as despised and rejected by people, and as making his grave with the wicked in his death.
(6) Christians could not have forged and interpolated this. The Jews have always jealously guarded their own Scriptures; and nothing would have so certainly excited their attention as an attempt to interpolate a passage like this, furnishing at once an irrefragable argument against their opinions of the Messiah, and so obviously applicable to Jesus of Nazareth. It is, moreover, true, that no Jewish writer has ever pretended that the passage has either been forged, or changed in any way, so as to accommodate it to the opinions of Christians respecting the Messiah. These remarks may seem to be unnecessary, and this argument useless, to those who have examined the authenticity of the sacred writings. They are of use only in the argument with the enemies of Christianity. For, if this passage was written at the time when it is supposed to have been, and if it had reference to the Lord Jesus, then it demonstrates that Isaiah was inspired, and furnishes an argument for the truth of revelation which is irrefragable. It is incumbent on the unbeliever to destroy all the alleged proofs that it was written by Isaiah, or, as an honest man, he should admit the truth of inspiration and of prophecy, and yield his heart to the influence of the truth of the Bible. In general, it may be observed, that an attempt to destroy the credibility of this portion of Isaiah as having been written several hundred years before the Christian era, would destroy the credibility of all the ancient writings; and that we have as much evidence that this is the production of Isaiah, as we have of the credibility or the authenticity of the writings of Homer or Herodotus.
on Isaiah 52 :13
52:13 Behold - This is the beginning of a new prophecy, which is continued from hence to the end of the next chapter . My servant - That it is Christ who is here spoken of, is so evident, that the Chaldee paraphrast, and other ancient, and some later Hebrew doctors, understand it directly of him, and that divers Jews have been convinced and converted to the Christian faith, by the evidence of this prophecy. Prosper - This is fitly put in the first place to prevent those scandals which otherwise might arise from the succeeding passages, which describe his state of humiliation. Very high - Here are three words signifying the same thing to express the height and glory of his exaltation.