Praising the Suffering Servant

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Praise of the suffering servant

Isaiah 52:13???53:12*This is one of the most famous passages in Isaiah and one of the most famous messianic prophecies in the Bible. In its format, this poem is an encomium???a poem that praises its subject with such formulas as a formal introduction to the subject, the distinguished ancestry of the subject, a catalog of praiseworthy acts and attributes, the superiority of the subject to all rivals, and a conclusion urging the reader to emulate the person or quality being praised. This song of the suffering servant is actually a parody of the conventional encomium: although it praises the subject with the conventional categories, it inverts them and praises him for what the world at large would regard as unpraiseworthy qualities. A lead-in promises to praise the subject in standard terms (52:13), but the suffering servant is then praised for being marred beyond parallel (52:14???15), for being of undistinguished ancestry and social standing (53:1???2), for acts that by conventional standards would render him contemptible (53:3???6), and for a life???s conclusion that is the opposite of a conventional success story (53:7???9). Verses 3???6 stress the subject???s redemptive actions, and verses 7???9 highlight their tragic nature when judged by ordinary standards of success. The concluding section reads more like a standard encomium, as the suffering servant is praised for what his suffering has accomplished (53:10???12). Even here there are reversals and paradoxes, as the suffering servant triumphs not because he defeated his enemies in open combat for personal benefit but because he gave his life for others.

He Was Wounded for Our Transgressions

52:13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;he shall be high and lifted up,and shall be exalted.14 As many were astonished at you???his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,and his form beyond that of the children of mankind???15 so shall he sprinkle many nations;kings shall shut their mouths because of him;for that which has not been told them they see,and that which they have not heard they understand.53:1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,and like a root out of dry ground;he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,and no beauty that we should desire him.3 He was despised and rejected by men;a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faceshe was despised, and we esteemed him not.4 Surely he has borne our griefsand carried our sorrows;yet we esteemed him stricken,smitten by God, and afflicted.5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,and with his stripes we are healed.6 All we like sheep have gone astray;we have turned???every one???to his own way;and the Lord has laid on himthe iniquity of us all.7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,yet he opened not his mouth;like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,so he opened not his mouth.8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;and as for his generation, who consideredthat he was cut off out of the land of the living,stricken for the transgression of my people?9 And they made his grave with the wickedand with a rich man in his death,although he had done no violence,and there was no deceit in his mouth.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.11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,make many to be accounted righteous,and he shall bear their iniquities.12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,because he poured out his soul to deathand was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many,and makes intercession for the transgressors.

*Source: ESV Literary Study Bible

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