The Golden Passional of the Old Testament

Isaiah Chapter 53

No subject more important than the substitutionary death of Christ. Burdened with that thought, the author prepared for "Threshed Wheat" a series of studies in defence of the old interpretation of Isaiah 53, and as an exposition of that Golden Passional. Conscious of the timeliness of these studies, by the courtesy of the Editor, they are here reproduced.

The Hall-mark of Our Saviour. Dr. J. R. Miller tells a story of a Scottish mother who once accidentally wounded her child's wrist with a knife. To comfort him in his grief, she said: "Never mind, my bonnie bairn; your mither will ken you by that when you are a man." They had been separated for years, and when one day a fine-looking man called on the old woman and announced himself as her son, she was sceptical until he drew up his sleeve, and cried, "Mither, mither, dinna ye ken that?" In a moment the old woman had her boy in her arms. She knew him by the scar.

The scars are the hall-mark of Christ. So though we have never seen Him as we see each other, some day we shall, and then

"We shall know Him By the print of the nails in His hands."

We fail to recognise in much of the preaching of to-day the true Saviour of sinners. Men paint sometimes very sweet and winning pictures of the Christ. They picture the poetry of His actions, the unsullied whiteness of His thoughts, the moral stainlessness of His conduct, the sweetness of His words; but in all their portraits there is no trace of His sacred wounds, no vision of His atoning death. There cannot be a Saviour without the Cross. We fail to recognise the kind of Saviour for the lost many modern preachers proclaim.

1. Ever since this wonderful chapter we know of as the 53rd of Isaiah was written, it has been considered as peculiarly sacred and pregnant with meaning.

2. "It looks as if it had been written beneath the Cross of Golgotha," writes a great German scholar.

3. As far back as Apostolic days we find it was treasured. Polycarp, the disciple of John, called it "the Golden Passional of the Old Testament."

4. Luther said that every Christian ought to be able to repeat it by heart. (Can the reader do this? If not, will the reader set about to memorise it?)

5. Augustine considered the whole of Isaiah, and, of course, particularly the 53rd chapter, as "not a prophecy but a Gospel."

6. Dr. Culross has suggestively written: "It is a prelude to much that is most distinctive in New Testament doctrine, and is the root from which not a little of the thinking of Christian ages has grown. Its phraseology has entered largely into Christian speech, and it has supplied more texts to the Gospel preacher than any other portion of the Old Testament. There are individual phrases in it resembling peaks, from which we faintly descry vast realms of truth which we cannot yet explore, but which shine with a mystic light whose summit is Divine."

Heart of Consolation.
1. The Rabbis call this second section of Isaiah "The wonderful book of consolations," and

2. Isaiah 53 forms the very centre of that second section, and of course

3. Is the very heart of all true consolation.

History. So realistic is it that, as my old and valued friend, the late David Baron says "Instead of a prophecy uttered centuries in advance, it reads like an historic summary of the Gospel narrative of the sufferings of the Christ and the glory that should follow."

Torture. This has been called "The Torture Chamber of the Rabbis," and "the bad conscience of the Synagogue," and no Jew is allowed, on pain of severe penalties, to study it until of age.

Conversion. The fact is that no portion of Scripture has been used more than this in the conversion of Jews.

Puzzle. It certainly was a puzzling chapter to all Jews before and since Christ. The portrait it gives of a suffering Messiah was utterly at variance with the popular conception.

Fact. Yet until nearly in the eleventh century the Messianic interpretation of this chapter was almost universally accepted and adopted by the Jews.

A Sample. Here is a sample of Jewish interpretation as evidence of this. Jonathan ben Uzziel (first century) begins his Targum (i.e., paraphrase or commentary) with, "Behold My Servant Messiah shall prosper" (Isa 52:13).

An Important Date. Rabbi Solomon Yirchaki (or Rashi) 1040-1105, was the first to apply it to the Jewish nation. Right up to his time it was almost universally adopted by Jews that this had to do with the Messiah.

Synagogue. In the Jewish Synagogue on the Day of Atonement, in the Liturgy for that day is the following sentence: "We are shrunk up in our misery, even until now, our Rock hath not come nigh us; Messiah our Righteousness has departed from us. Horror hath seized upon us, and we have none to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities and our transgressions, and is wounded because of our transgression. He beareth our sins on His shoulders, that He may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed of our wounds at the time the Eternal will create Him (Messiah) as a new creature."

Other Jewish Interpretations. Several other interpretations and identifications have been given of the Servant, such as Jeremiah; others say Isaiah was meant; and Hezekiah, Joshua, or Job have also been suggested.

Past. If for seventeen hundred years the Jews beheld the Messiah in Isaiah's portrait, so also the Christian Church for eighteen centuries has identified this portrait with Christ.

Present. To the amazement and disgust of loyal Bible students there has arisen a school of Gentile modern thinkers who deny that Isaiah 53 has anything to do with Christ. To our sorrow hosts of ministers of religion take that view. This is alarming!

1. We see in this modern attack on Isaiah 53 an attempt against the Atonement.

2. Of course the truth of the Atonement does not depend completely on Isaiah 53.

1. Our Lord Himself recognised and taught that Isaiah 53 was a prophecy concerning Himself (see Luk 22:37. Note "In Me," "Concerning Me).

2. Paul recognised the message of the Servant sent to ignorant nations as the good news concerning Christ. (See how Paul refers to Isa 52:15 in Rom 15:21.)

3. John finds in Israel's refusal of Jesus the direct fulfilment of the prophet's heart-broken cry concerning unbelief. (John quotes Isa 53:1, in Joh 12:38.)

4. Matthew recognised in Christ's healing miracles the Servant who was to carry our sicknesses and to exhaust Himself with our healing. (He quotes Isa 53:4, in Mat 8:17.)

5. Mark recognises in the two robbers the transgressors with whom Isaiah's Servant was to be catalogued. (Isa 53:12 in Mar 15:28.)

6. Philip, when filled with the Holy Spirit, and speaking under His command, answers the Eunuch's question on the identity of the Servant by preaching to him Jesus (Act 8:2).

7. Israel is sometimes called the Servant of Jehovah, but never as here in Isa 53:11, "My Righteous Servant" (Isa 41:8; Isa 43:10; Isa 44:1).

8. Note "For the transgression of My people was He stricken"-one Person suffering for a people.

9. This 53rd chapter portrays an innocent Servant suffering for others (Psalm 51:9). "He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth." Was this true of the Nation? Were they innocent? What has the first chapter of Isaiah to say about this?

10. The suffering Servant portrayed here in Isaiah 53 is a voluntary sufferer. Read Isa 53:12 : "He hath poured out His soul unto death." Did the Jews go voluntarily into captivity? Were they not dragged into it by force?

11. The suffering Servant portrayed in Isaiah 53 is an unresisting Sufferer. "He opened not His mouth." "He is brought as a lamb." "He opened not His mouth" (Isa 53:7). Was that Jewish Nation an unresisting one? A very hasty glance at their history is quite sufficient to convince us of this.

12. The sufferings of the Servant ended in death Isa 53:8, "cut off" (see 9). Have the sufferings of the Jewish nation ended in the death of that nation? The nation, in spite of centuries of persecution, is very much alive.

13. "Oh," says the critics, "nowhere else in Scripture have we suffering associated with the Messiah, hence this chapter is out of harmony with all previous conceptions of the Messiah, and cannot be accepted as applicable to Christ. An individual with such features has no analogy in Hebrew prophecy" But that is not true. What about Genesis and Psalms.

14. "Is it not impossible," says some, "or at least improbably inconsistent, for the same prophet first to have identified the servant with the Nation, and then to present Him to us as an individual?" Our reply is "No."

15. The Experimental Argument. We know the orthodox view is the correct one because it has brought salvation to us. We found the Atoning Saviour here, and that brought salvation to us. Now we can say: "Surely He hath borne my griefs, and carried my sorrows. He was wounded for my transgressions; He was bruised for my iniquities. With His stripes I am healed. Alleluia!"

IV. ITS STYLE. Jewels are best appreciated when in a suitable setting. The Golden Passional of the Old Testament is more valued when its setting, style, and outline are noted.

1. It differs in style from all the rest of Isaiah.

2. It is "broken, sobbing, and recurrent," whereas the rest of Isaiah runs smoothly with "formed flowing sentences."

3. This peculiarity is so pronounced that, "added to the fact that, if it be omitted, the prophecies on either side readily flow together, have led some critics to suppose it to be an insertion, borrowed from an earlier writer."

4. But that is no argument. Principal G. A. Smith, who is favourable to Higher Criticism, sensibly exclaims, "Surely both style and words are fully accounted for by the novel and tragic nature of the subject."

Pronouns. It is important to notice the personal pronouns. Much of the meaning of the poem depends on the use of the pronouns "we" and "he."

Mysterious. A student has drawn attention to the element of mystery in this Passional: "Most wonderful and mysterious of all is the spectral fashion in which the prophecy presents its Hero. He is named only in the first line: elsewhere He is spoken of as He. We never hear or see Himself. But all the more solemnly is He there."

V. ITS SETTING. It is necessary to observe the structure of the Book in order that we might see clearly its setting.

1. At first sight the book of Isaiah falls into two great divisions-1st, chapters 1 to 39; 2nd, chapters 40 to 66. On closer inspection it can more readily be divided into three:

a. Denunciatory-1-35. Prophetic.

b. Deliverance-36-39. Historic.

c. Consolatory-40-66. Messianic.

2. This third section falls into three sections:

a. Comfort-40-48.

b. Servant-49-57.

c. Future Glory-58-66.

3. In this poem of the broken heart there are 15 verses.

4. It is the middle chapter of the middle section of the third book.

5. It has been pointed out how remarkable is the structure of the book of Isaiah when compared with the Bible:

a. Bible has 66 books, Isaiah 66 chapters.

b. As the Bible has two great divisions (Old and New Testaments) so Isaiah.

c. There are 39 books in the first division of the Bible- that is the Old Testament-and there are 39 chapters in the first division of Isaiah. There are 27 books in the New Testament; 27 chapters in second section of Isaiah.

d. The prevailing note in the Old Testament is Law, and prevailing note in first section of Isaiah is Judgment; prevailing note of the New Testament is Grace, and of second section of Isaiah, Comfort.


1. There are 15 verses in the Poem. The Poem begins at 52:13.

2. These fall into five sections or stanzas of three verses each.

3. In the Hebrew the strophes appear, not of equal (as in A.V. or R.V.) but of increasing length.
1st, 9 lines.
2nd, 10 lines.
3rd, 11 lines.
4th, 13 lines.
5th, 14 lines.

4. Each strophe begins with one word or two words, which summarise the meaning of the whole strophe, and forms a title for it:

a. Behold-Servant.

b. Who hath believed-Faith.

c. Surely He hath borne-our Substitute.

d. He was oppressed-His oppression.

e. And it pleased the Lord-Lord's pleasure.

The Outline.

1. Study the chart on the next page.

2. Note its first stanza:

a. We have God's Ecce Homo.

b. The Servant would gain success through His prudence.

c. This first stanza is really a summary of the whole of the poem, and contains in brief the whole story of Messiah's suffering and the glory that should follow.

VII. THE MYSTERY OF CONTRADICTION. Have you noticed the bundle of apparent contradictions in this Golden Passional? Calmet points out: "The Old Testament plainly foretold that the Messiah would be God and man: exalted and debased: master and servant, priest and victim; prince and subject; involved in death and yet a victor over death; rich and poor, a King, a conqueror glorious, a man of griefs; exposed to infirmities, unknown, and in a state of abjection and humiliation." But how bewildering all this must seem!

Look at Isaiah 53.
1. Root out of a dry ground (Isa 53:2)-Yet fruitful (Isa 53:10).

2. No form or beauty (Isa 53:2)-Yet God's Servant (Isa 53:11).

3. Despised and rejected (Isa 53:3)-Yet the appointed Messiah.

4. Suffering unto death (Isa 53:8)-Yet ever living (Isa 53:10).

5. Without generation (Isa 53:8)-Yet numerous seed (Isa 53:10).

6. Rejected and beaten (Isa 53:4)-Yet prospered (Isa 53:10).

7. Cut off (Isa 53:8)-Yet prolonging His days (Isa 53:10).

8. Growing up (Isa 53:2)-Yet Eternal Son.

9. A tender Exotic (Isa 53:2)-Yet bearing and enduring an awful storm.

10. No beauty to lead us to desire Him (Isa 53:2)-Yet the desire of all nations.

11. Wounded to death-Yet those wounds that led to death are life to us.

12. Jehovah laid upon Him (Isa 53:6)-Yet He was Jehovah Himself.

13. Helpless in the hands of His persecutors. Yet omnipotent and delivering others from their oppressors (7).

14. Dying-Yet dividing the spoil (Isa 53:12).

1. No wonder the Jews were embarrassed when they abandoned the old view.

2. In the Lord Jesus they harmonise.

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