Chapter 22d - Isaiah 52:14 and 52:15

Continued from Chapter 22c

52:14: “So marred was his appearance unlike that of a man, and his form unlike that of the sons of men”

Let the truth be told

Although many post-New Testament descriptions of Jesus on the cross paint a gruesome agonizing picture of his suffering the Gospels do not describe his appearance as being in a form unrecognizable as a human being.

Isaiah’s description is best understood when one views pictures of horrific Jewish suffering during the Holocaust and the contempt of their oppressors toward them. That is literal fulfillment of the verse not one that comes from the imagination of Christians contemplating on the agony of crucifixion,

52:15: “So shall he startle many nations”

The Hebrew text

What is the meaning of the word nazah? Some Christians maintain that nazah, which has the meaning of “sprinkle” carries with it the thought of expiation in verse 15. It is thought the verse portrays the servant as a priest who “sprinkles” (that is, spiritually cleanses) the nations. They then claim that this verse refers to the supposed power of Jesus to make “many nations” the beneficiaries of his blood. That is, Jesus was expected “to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17) and have their “hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience” (Hebrew 10:22). However, this interpretation is problematic.

Both grammatically and in terms of the sacrificial system the correct meaning of verse 15 has no relationship to the priestly sprinkling of atonement blood at all. In every other instance where the object or person sprinkled is indicated, the verb is used in conjunction with a preposition (such as “onto,” “upon,” or “before”). This combination does not occur in verse 15. The proper rendering of the verb, nazah, in this verse is not “sprinkle,” but “scatter” in the sense of being startled and confused. It indicates the astonishment of the nations as they scurry about in shock over the turn of events. In sprinkling, one scatters a liquid into innumerable droplets. Similarly, the inhabitants of the nations will be scattered as well. There is no reference here to Jesus spiritually cleansing the nations.

52:15: “[K]ings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they perceive.”

What did the kings hear about Jesus and when did they hear it?

Attempting to apply verses 52:13-15 to Jesus is an exercise in futility. Some Christians say verse 15 refers to a situation when Jesus returns a second time. Why do they say after a second coming? Because the person of Jesus has already been exalted, lifted up and made very high by the great homage paid by national rulers, but not to the satisfaction of many Christians. The behavior of the majority of these rulers has never been anything to be proud of and these Christians hope for a more ethical and moral fulfillment.

Although rulers of nations with populations professing to be followers of Jesus have paid homage to Jesus does this fulfill verse 15? What is it that these rulers were not told that they now saw, what is it that they did not hear before that they now understand? Look at the behavior of the rulers of Christian Europe and other continents: the kings, queens, nobleman and other rulers elected and unelected, to whom this supposedly refers. There are an estimated 2.6 billion people in the world (and eighty-one countries with Christian majorities) who call themselves Christian, although many deny that those outside their denomination, sect or group are Christians. From a Christian perspective, is it simply reverential acknowledgement of Jesus as a superior being to themselves that is called for in verse 15? Or was there to be an elevated sense of morality, temperance of blood lust and pecuniary appetite as well? For, in truth, the rulers of these Christianized nations continued and still continue to support perverse behavior.

© Gerald Sigal