13. Behold, my servant shall have prosperous success. After having spoken of the restoration of the Church, Isaiah passes on to Christ, in whom all things are gathered together. Some explain ישכיל (yăshkīl) to mean shall “deal prudently;” but, as it is immediately added that he shall be exalted, the context appears to demand that we shall rather understand it to denote “prosperous success,” for שכל (shākăl) also signifies “to be prosperous.” He speaks, therefore, of the prosperity of the Church; and as this was not visible, he draws their attention to the supreme King, by whom all things shall be restored, and bids them wait for him. And here we ought carefully to observe the contrasts which the Prophet lays down; for the mightiness of this king whom the Lord will exalt is contrasted by him with the wretched and debased condition of the people, who were almost in despair. He promises that this king will be the head of the people, so that under him as the leader the people shall flourish, though they be now in a state of the deepest affliction and wretchedness; because he shall have a prosperous course.
He calls Christ “his Servant,” on account of the office committed to him. Christ ought not to be regarded as a private individual, but as holding the office to which the Father has appointed him, to be leader of the people and restorer of all things; so that whatever he affirms concerning himself we ought to understand as belonging also to us. Christ has been given to us, and therefore to us also belongs his ministry, for the Prophet might have said, in a single word, that Christ will be exalted and will be highly honoured; but, by giving to him the title of “Servant,” he means that he will be exalted for our sake.
13 Behold, my servant introduces the new section with the same words as the first discussion of the Servant in 42:1. Here, as there, Behold serves not only as a stylistic element to mark the beginning of a new segment but also as a call to pay attention to this one who is going to be described. Here is the one through whom Israel’s covenant will be restored and through whom light will come to the nations. Thus it is not surprising that verbs of seeing and attending to are prominent in the first two stanzas (52:15; 53:1–3). If what this passage says about this man’s capacity for taking away sin is true, then by all means we should fix every bit of our attention on him.
accomplish his purpose. śkl is usually translated “be wise” or “prosper,” but neither of those translations gathers up the full sense of the context here: to act with such wisdom that one’s efforts will be successful (cf. Josh. 1:8; Jer. 10:21). Thus the text is not saying that the Servant will merely be a wise man. Even more so, it is not saying that the Servant will be a rich man. Rather, it is saying that he will both know and do the right things in order to accomplish the purpose for which he was called (Isa. 42:1; 49:2–3; 50:7–9). Whatever the intervening intimations of failure might be (49:4), the Servant and the world should know that he will not fail.
In consequence of the servant’s success in his mission, he will be high and lifted up, and very exalted. One must not overlook the significance of these words. “High and lifted up” (rwm and nśʾ) are used in combination four times in this book (and no place else in the OT). In the other three places (6:1; 33:10; 57:15) they describe God. Whom do they describe here? The same point may be made concerning exalted. The section 2:6–22 speaks forcefully against every exaltation of the human; v. 17 says that God will humble the exaltation of man, so that only God will be lifted up. Is it here, then, being said that the nation of Israel will be exalted to the place of God? Is it a prophet of Israel? In each case the answer must be no. This is the Messiah or no one. Paul’s great hymn in Phil. 2:5–11 is almost certainly a reflection on this passage (“taking the form of a slave, … he humbled himself”), and his declaration that God has “highly exalted” Jesus (v. 9) gives us his understanding of the referent here.
13. Here the fifty-third chapter ought to begin, and the fifty-second chapter end with Is 52:12. This section, from here to end of the fifty-third chapter settles the controversy with the Jews, if Messiah be the person meant; and with infidels, if written by Isaiah, or at any time before Christ. The correspondence with the life and death of Jesus Christ is so minute, that it could not have resulted from conjecture or accident. An impostor could not have shaped the course of events so as to have made his character and life appear to be a fulfilment of it. The writing is, moreover, declaredly prophetic. The quotations of it in the New Testament show: (1) that it was, before the time of Jesus, a recognized part of the Old Testament; (2) that it refers to Messiah (Mt 8:17; Mk 15:28; Lu 22:37; Jn 12:38; Ac 8:28–35; Ro 10:16; 1 Pe 2:21–25). The indirect allusions to it still more clearly prove the Messianic interpretation; so universal was that interpretation, that it is simply referred to in connection with the atoning virtue of His death, without being formally quoted (Mk 9:12; Ro 4:25; 1 Co 15:3; 2 Co 5:21; 1 Pe 1:19; 2:21–25; 1 Jn 3:5). The genuineness of the passage is certain; for the Jews would not have forged it, since it is opposed to their notion of Messiah, as a triumphant temporal prince. The Christians could not have forged it; for the Jews, the enemies of Christianity, are “our librarians” [Paley]. The Jews try to evade its force by the figment of two Messiahs, one a suffering Messiah (Ben Joseph), the other a triumphant Messiah (Ben David). Hillel maintained that Messiah has already come in the person of Hezekiah. Buxtorf states that many of the modern Rabbins believe that He has been come a good while, but will not manifest Himself because of the sins of the Jews. But the ancient Jews, as the Chaldee paraphrast, Jonathan, refer it to Messiah; so the Medrasch Tauchuma (a commentary on the Pentateuch); also Rabbi Moses Haddarschan (see Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament). Some explain it of the Jewish people, either in the Babylonish exile, or in their present sufferings and dispersion. Others, the pious portion of the nation taken collectively, whose sufferings made a vicarious satisfaction for the ungodly. Others, Isaiah, or Jeremiah [Gesenius], the prophets collectively. But an individual is plainly described: he suffers voluntarily, innocently, patiently, and as the efficient cause of the righteousness of His people, which holds good of none other but Messiah (Is 53:4–6, 9, 11; contrast Je 20:7; 15:10–21; Ps 137:8, 9). Is 53:9 can hold good of none other. The objection that the sufferings (Is 53:1–10) referred to are represented as past, the glorification alone as future (Is 52:13–15) arises from not seeing that the prophet takes his stand in the midst of the scenes which he describes as future. The greater nearness of the first advent, and the interval between it and the second, are implied by the use of the past tense as to the first, the future as to the second.
Behold—awakening attention to the striking picture of Messiah that follows (compare Jn 19:5, 14).
my servant—Messiah (Is 42:1).
deal prudently—rather, “prosper” [Gesenius] as the parallel clause favors (Is 53:10). Or, uniting both meanings, “shall reign well” [Hengstenberg]. This verse sets forth in the beginning the ultimate issue of His sufferings, the description of which follows: the conclusion (Is 53:12) corresponds; the section (Is 52:13; 53:12) begins as it ends with His final glory.
extolled—elevated (Mk 16:19; Eph 1:20–22; 1 Pe 3:22).
Ver. 13.—My Servant shall deal prudently; rather, shall deal wisely; i.e. shall so act throughout his mission as to secure it the most complete success. “Wisdom is justified of her children,” and of none so entirely justified as of him “in whom were all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hid away” (Col. 2:3). Exalted and extolled; or, high and lifted up—the same expressions as are used of the Almighty in ch. 6:1 and 57:15. Even there, however, seems to the prophet not enough; so he adds, “and exalted exceedingly” (comp. ch. 53:10–12 and Phil. 2:6–9).
13 ישׂכיל עבדי, “my servant succeeds.” This optimistic assertion is typical of ones made in the Vision about the work of emperors chosen to do YHWH’s work, from Tiglath-Pileser through Cyrus. It is especially true of the Persians. God chose unlikely men for the task, those not necessarily in line for the throne. This was true of Cyrus and of Darius, and it will be true of Artaxerxes. They gained the seat of power, then each decreed that the temple in Jerusalem be built (Ezra 1–6). Here the unlikely successor who has now established himself on the throne of the Persian Empire is introduced in Jerusalem.
Baltzer (395–96) notes that this verse exalts the servant three times: he will rise, he will be carried up, and he will be very high. He compares this to the depiction of Moses in Deut 34 where Moses climbs a mountain, dies, and is buried there. He also notes other exaltation texts including those in the Testament of Moses.
Startled at the Servant’s exaltation (Isa. 52:13). The Servant suffered and died, but He did not remain dead. He was “exalted and extolled, and [made] very high.” The phrase “deal prudently” means “to be successful in one’s endeavor.” What looked to men like a humiliating defeat was in the eyes of God a great victory (Col. 2:15). “I have glorified Thee on the earth,” He told His Father; “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (John 17:4).
Jesus was not only raised from the dead, but His body was glorified. He ascended to heaven where He sat at the right hand of the Father. He has all authority (Matt. 28:18) because all things have been put under His feet (Eph. 1:20–23). There is no one in the universe higher than Jesus. What an astonishment to those who esteemed Him the lowest of the low. (See Phil. 2:1–11.)
52:13. Two important points are made in this verse: the Servant will act wisely, doing what the Lord wants Him to do, and He will be … highly exalted. His being lifted up refers not to the kind of death He died on the cross, but to His being exalted at God’s right hand (Phil. 2:9; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).
52:13 Jehovah’s Servant dealt prudently throughout His earthly ministry. He was exalted in Resurrection, lifted up in Ascension, and made very high in glory at God’s right hand.
52:13 Exalted and extolled and be very high may refer to three successive events, describing the Servant’s resurrection, ascension, and glorification (Rom. 4:24, 25). Or the three phrases might simply emphasize the great exaltation of the Lord’s servant (Phil. 2:9–11).
52:13 high … lifted up … exalted. Ultimately, when the Servant rules over His kingdom, He will receive international recognition for the effectiveness of His reign (cf. Phil 2:9).
52:13 act wisely. Succeed at his task (cf. ESV footnote). high and lifted up. See note on 6:1. In John 12:38–41, John brings the vision of Isaiah 6 together with the fourth Servant Song and says that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory; this repeated phrase justifies John’s reading.
52:13 Exaltation of the servant, the Messiah, follows his suffering (v. 14; 53:3–9; see note on 51:17).
52:13 my Yahweh begins to speak again. This section in vv. 13–15 is a prologue about what the Servant will accomplish and what will happen to him in 53:1–12.
servant In 49:3, the Servant of Yahweh has inherited the role of God’s people, the entire identity of the people of Israel. He is acting on their behalf—carrying out their vocation.
shall achieve success The Servant will act according to Israel’s wisdom traditions, primarily articulated in the book of Proverbs.
Personified Wisdom in the Old Testament
and he shall be lifted up The Servant shares in Yahweh’s role as the restorer of His people and—within the larger context of Isaiah—is the way Yahweh brings reconciliation.
he shall be very high The Servant is being elevated to the status of a king, in respect and renown. The kings will be astonished at this. See note on v. 14.
52:13 act wisely. The Servant will discern and perform God’s will, and as a result achieve His glorious purpose (Luke 24:26; 1 Pet. 5:10).
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