“Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—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.” (Isaiah 52:13-15)
As we examine the servant song of Yahweh from Isaiah 52:13-53:12, today’s verse is Isaiah 52:14: “As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—“ (Isaiah 52:14).
“As many were astonished at you.” The personal pronoun “you” continues to refer to the subject of Isaiah’s prophecy and God the Father’s revelation: the Servant of Yahweh. The adjective “many” means a great number, numerous and abundant. Who are the many? They are most likely the people in “many nations” and their “kings” (v. 15).
The many will be “astonished” meaning appalled, horrified, and devastated. Why? This is because the execution of the Servant of Yahweh will be beyond human cruelty. Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “The Servant must undergo inhuman cruelty to the point that he no longer looks like a human being. His appearance is so awful that people look at him in astonishment (53:2–3; Ps. 22:6; Matt. 26:67; 27:30; John 19:3).”
“His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,” This statement provides further explanation for the preceding verb “astonished.” What the many will see will be a human figure so deformed and mutilated as to become repugnant and ugly to those who see Him. In fact, the Servant is so disfigured that He no longer looks like a human being.
Psalm 22:14-17 says, regarding the brutal crucifixion of the Christ, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me;”
“And his form beyond that of the children of mankind—“The prophet invokes Hebrews poetic parallelism in order to further express Yahweh’s thoughts. The mutilated human appearance of the Servant who suffers such cruelty goes beyond that of anyone else who has ever lived. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but given the full weight of what Jesus Christ experienced on the cross in bearing the sins of His people, it is most accurate.
John Calvin explains that, “The cause of their astonishment was this: that He (the Servant) dwelt among men without any outward show. The Jews did not think that the Redeemer would come in that condition or attire. When He came to be crucified, their horror was greatly increased.”
Isaiah 52:14 provides us with valuable background and insight to what the Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-11. “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Why did the Christ experience such pain and suffering? Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
In commenting on Hebrews 12:2 and Jesus’ enduring the cruelty of crucifixion, Dr. John MacArthur writes, “Jesus persevered so that he might receive the joy of accomplishment of the Father’s will and exaltation (cf. Heb. 1:9; Ps. 16:9–11; Luke 10:21–24).
We must always remember that the atonement for our sins not only took place on a blood stained cross but also was experienced in the fresh spring air of an empty tomb.
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!