The Mystery of Isaiah

A Tragedy That Turns Into A Triumph

Paradox – that is what we are confronted by! Isaiah 'hits' our imagination and our spiritual perceptions in chapter 52:13 through 53:12 with statements relating to the Mystery Man that excite and shock.

When we read: "Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled and by very high" we sense grandeur, glory and greatness. As we reflect upon it in isolation, it would be very easy to be impressed by the implications of the words.

The Servant is wise in His dealings with people and their circumstances; He has the right word for the occasion, and His manner doesn't make a petitioner feel embarrassed or demeaned for asking. Is it any wonder then that He is exalted, extolled and lifted up on high?

From that one verse in isolation we would believe that the Mystery Man is the glamour person of society, the esteemed sage. But then comes the paradox by Isaiah. In verses 14 and onward we find Him dethroned, disfigured and despised. "Just as many were appalled at you, so his visage was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men."

Between verses 13 and 14 something has happened. No time scale has been given, but it becomes self evident that a period of time has elapsed and a change of mood has arisen. It doesn't take much imagination to realize what has happened. The society of the day was glad to enjoy His fame and to stand in His shadow whilst He was popular.

When He challenged them about moral, spiritual or relational values which made them feel guilty, embarrassed or 'unspiritual' it was time for Him to go. There are many like incidents in history to verify such an attitude change, so our imagination will not be too far off beam in this case.

The beautiful one has become the ugliest one. He has also become a substitute. Even in our language the term 'scapegoat' is understood as being someone who is blamed for something which really wasn't his or her fault. Those who know the Tenach (Old Testament Scriptures) realize that the term comes with Scriptural overtones, as we may read in the account of the lot falling to the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement as recorded in Leviticus chapter sixteen.

The prophet goes to great descriptive lengths to make us realize that the Servant, otherwise known to us as the Mystery Man, has endured some horrific experience that was not caused by His own error of judgement or act of indiscretion. Indeed, "For the transgression of my people he was stricken" (Isaiah 53:8).

He has suffered violation to His person because He has spoken and lived the Truth, and the reaction from the nation has been such that it wants to get rid of Him. The leaders of the nation accuse Him of being a trouble maker, even a blasphemer, and therefore of being worthy of death.

Isaiah doesn't use the word picture only of a scapegoat; rather it is the imagery of the Passover Lamb which he stresses in the 53rd chapter. His whole terminology is flavoured by this concept. Those with some knowledge of the Passover Lamb incident recorded in Exodus 12 will readily grasp what Isaiah is portraying.

The unblemished lamb was to be cared for by the household for four days, then slaughtered. Its blood was to be placed on the lintel and door posts. The innocent lamb was a substitute sacrifice for rebellious, indifferrent, sinful, enslaved individuals. As substitute, the lamb provided a covering, protection from the Avenging Angel, because it stood in the place of the person and suffered death, which is the penalty for sin against God.

The Passover account makes it clear that God considered the lamb as a substitute, and as such took the sin of the individual, indeed nation, and placed it upon the lamb. That is why such an act is called Redemption.

Isaiah pushes us to the inevitable conclusion that the Servant has become in the mind of God the Passover Lamb fulfilment. This is the significance of chapter 53:4-6. "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

"But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

There would be those who read the account and cry out "unfair" and they would be right. But we must remember that Isaiah is revealing to the readers what God has done to overrule an act of vindictiveness by society upon the Servant. Here in fact is an insight into the awesomeness of God's power.

He takes the murderous intent of humanity which deserves His wrath, and yet His mercy wants them to find forgiveness through Faith. So God makes use of their hostility towards the Servant. The Lord God says in effect, "You have done your worst to My Best, now behold I will show you My Power by making use of your worst upon My Best!"

He accomplishes this by making the unblemished One represent the people. In fact that applies to all of us. So, what the people thought was an expedient political move, God turned around and made into act producing redemption and a new spiritual beginning!

How do we know that?

Isaiah goes on to inform his readers that the One put to death is not its captive – that somehow or other, not here defined, the Servant has come back to life, otherwise the use of the word 'see' in the following sentences would make no sense. "He shall see His seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand."

"He shall see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied. By his knowledge my righteous Servant shall justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong."

In the Exodus story of the Passover the power of God over Egyptian bondage was made known. The people of Israel were redeemed and their faith journey had begun. Isaiah would have us apply a similar viewpoint to the events of 52:13 – 53:12.

The spiritual significance is that the Mystery Man has stood in the place of judgement and prevailed over Sin and Death. That means He can offer those who apply His substitutionary act to their own lives a Faith journey to the Promised Land of Glory.