Isaiah 52:13 The Suffering Servant: Isaiah Devotional 2.43

Continued  from Isaiah Devotional 2.42

The Suffering Servant Song Begins

Septuagint Isaiah 52:13 (LXX) begins a new section that extends through the end of chapter 53. This magnificent portion is known popularly as the great Suffering Servant song. It is the fourth Servant Song in Isaiah (1).

Brief Outline

Differences with the Masoretic

THREE VERBS VERSUS FOUR
DIFFERENT MEANINGS
…..1. First Verb: “My Servant shall understand”
…..2. Second Verb: [My Servant shall] “be exalted”
…..
3. Third Verb: [My Servant shall be] “glorified exceedingly”

Second Verb: [My Servant shall] “be exalted”

An interesting feature of the Septuagint is that it shares the same language as the New Testament. Further, the Koine Greek of the New Testament is very similar to modern Greek. For example, when I studied Greek, I learned to read Koine with modern pronunciation. Anyone who reads modern Greek most likely could read the New Testament with ease, as well as the Septuagint. Further, the Septuagint translators of the Hebrew Bible wrote only three hundred years before Christ ministered and his followers later wrote what became known as the New Testament. In other words, the language hadn’t changed much between the two events. Beyond this, the “lingua franca” of the Mediterranean region, including Palestine, was Greek. There is strong textual evidence that the authors of the New Testament quoted the Septuagint freely. All this goes to say that the New Testament authors knew their Scripture in Greek.

The Septuagint Greek word for “shall be exalted” is “ὑψωθήσεται” (eep-so-thee-se-tay). In a concrete-literal sense, the word means to be raised or lifted up in elevation. The base word (root, or lemma) can refer to something that is high in elevation. Examples of this usage in Isaiah occur with reference to the house of the Lord, which will be located on the top of a high hill (Isaiah 2:2) and cedars, which have grown to a great height (Isaiah 2:13). An example of this word being used as an adjective to indicate height occurs in the phrase “high hill” Isaiah 30:25. The prophet writes of a “high cave” in Isaiah 33:16.

The same word also supplies a broad range of metaphorical meanings. In fact, its metaphorical occurrences in Isaiah far outnumber its concrete-literal occurrences. For example, Septuagint Isaiah uses “ὑψωθήσεται” to indicate raising children (1:2 and 51:18), to lift the voice loudly in calling to or addressing others (13:2, 37:23, 40:9, 52:8), to indicate strength or power (an “exalted: arm, as in Isaiah 26:11), and to be lifted up with pride (19:13). Additionally, Isaiah often uses the word to indicate an honorable or socially elevated position. This usage resembles the word “glorified.” See Isaiah 2:17 and 4:2.

In several places, Isaiah uses the word “exalt” or “lift” ambiguously. In these instances, the word contains elements of both physical height and socially positional exaltation. One well known example occurs in Isaiah 6:1. Another example occurs in Isaiah 2:2. There the prophet states that in the last days the house of the Lord will be physically on top of the mountains and physically lifted up above the hills. However, the text undoubtedly contains the further element of exaltation (height) in the sense of glory. Isaiah writes with ambiguity in other places, as well. Isaiah 57:15 provides excellent examples of multiple uses of the adjective “high.” The context in this verse indicates both physical height and exaltation of position.

Nevertheless, Isaiah’s use of the word “ὑψωθήσεται” (eep-so-thee-se-tay) to indicate being lifted or raised up in physical height is relatively infrequent. A study of the Greek text of Isaiah (by means of a Greek concordance) reveals a significantly greater usage of several synonyms to indicate a physical lifting in height. In other words, had the Gospel of John never been written, it would be highly justifiable to interpret “ὑψωθήσεται” (eep-so-thee-se-tay) in Isaiah 52:13 LXX as a repetitious synonym of the following word, which is “shall be glorified.”

Because the Hebrew text uses three verbs in this location instead of the Septuagint’s two, the meaning of physical height and socially positioned honor for the Servant becomes clearer. Compare the Greek and Hebrew below.

Behold, my servant shall understand, and be exalted, and glorified exceedingly. (Isaiah 52:13 LXE)

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. (ESV)

“Look, my servant will succeed! He will be elevated, lifted high, and greatly exalted– (NET)

NEW TESTAMENT APPLICATION

The New Testament presents Jesus as Israel’s incarnated Savior and Isaiah’s prophesied Servant of God (Matthew 2:2; 27:11, 37; John 5:19). Jesus exploited the ambiguity inherent in the word “ὑψωθήσεται.” He recalled to his listeners Moses’s bronze serpent, which he “exalted” or “lifted up” in the wilderness. Moses had used a pole to physically elevate the serpent where everyone could see it (Numbers 21:5-9). Jesus explained to Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be “lifted up,” just as Moses “lifted” the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14). In saying this, Jesus referred to his crucifixion. But he chose to use the word “ὑψωθήσεται”  rather than one of its more common synonyms, just as Isaiah had chosen in Isaiah 52:13 LXE. Two other times John uses this word in connection with Jesus’s being physically elevated on the cross. These occur in John 8:28 and 12:34. (See also John 8:28 mGNT and John 12:34 mGNT).

The activity of being crucified surely does not indicate an exaltation of social position or honor. Rather, being “lifted up” or “exalted” on a cross is just about the lowest, most shameful condition that ever could befall a person in biblical days. Nevertheless, because Jesus submitted himself to the physical lifting up of crucifixion, God gave him the highest exaltation (glory) of any human being ever (Philippians 2:8-9). Now the word Paul uses in the Philippians text is an intensified form of the same verb the prophet uses in Isaiah 52:13. And this is also the verb that Jesus chose to indicate the manner of his death by being nailed to a cross.

In summary, by means of the cross, God exalted Jesus both physically (being nailed to the cross lifted him up) and positionally (because he endured the cross, God exalted, that is glorified, him.) Although we as readers today may never know this side of the grave exactly what Isaiah intended in 52:13, we can be assured that God understands the effective use of literary ambiguity (double meaning) at least as well as we. In explaining the cross to others, Jesus emphasized the physical aspect of the word “ὑψωθήσεται.” Yet, in his letters Paul indicates its metaphorical use in terms of glory. Quite possibly, through Isaiah, God intends both.

CONTEXT DETERMINES MEANING

(See Isaiah Devotional 2.42 for a previous discussion of this verse’s context.)

The broadest context of Isaiah 52:13 LXE is God’s Servant in relation to God’s comforting Zion. The specific near context of this verse is the suffering the Servant will endure. The fourteen verses immediately following 52:13 establish the context of the Servant’s suffering joined with Zion’s deliverance. All the verbs of verse 13 occur within this context.

“Lifted Up” in the Context of God’s Mercy on Zion

At least two other uses of “lift up” or “exalt” occur in Isaiah within the context of God’s merciful saving of his people. First, the text presents an early example in Isaiah 30:18 LXE. The story line of this chapter is Israel’s sin, God’s punishment of his people, God’s urging them to repentance, and the saving mercy he will display when they do. Verse 18 announces the means God will use to enact his grace. That means is his “exaltation,” or “lifting up.” We have already noted the double meaning of this word: one physical (the cross) and one metaphorical (glory). Note the richness of this verse when read in a Christian context.

And the Lord will again wait, that he may pity you, and will therefore be exalted that he may have mercy upon you: because the Lord your God is a judge: blessed are they that stay themselves upon him. Isaiah 30:18 LXE

A second example of Isaiah’s use of “exalt” ὑψόω (eep-so-oh) in the context of his mercy occurs in Isaiah 33:10.

Isaiah 33:10 Now will I arise, says the Lord, now will I be glorified; now will I be exalted. (LXE)

In the above text, the final verb of the three is ὑψωθήσομαι (eep-soe-thee-so-may). This is the same verb in a slightly different grammatical form as the one Isaiah uses in 52:13. The entire context of chapter 33 concerns God’s saving his people from her enemies. Yet the underlying cause of Israel’s misery remained her own sin. Isaiah 33:24, just a few verses down, establishes the context as that of God’s mercy over sin. Ultimately, God achieves his purpose of giving mercy by means of his “exaltation” on the cross. There he dealt with the sin of his people.

Third Verb: [My Servant shall be] “glorified exceedingly” 

The third verb Isaiah uses in Isaiah 52:13 Septuagint is “shall be glorified exceedingly” The verb itself is “δοξάζω” (dox-sa-zoe). The intensifier “exceedingly” is an adverb. “Glorify” is a frequent verb in all of Greek Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. Its most common meaning is the one here. God’s Servant will be honored, held in a high position of great esteem; he will radiate God’s beauty and excellence.

Summary

Isaiah 52:13 Septuagint uses three verbs that foreshadow, or prophesy, the life of God’s Servant. The first is “shall understand.” God’s Servant will understand God’s ways and purpose and will live accordingly. Messiah Jesus fulfilled this prophecy (Matthew 13:54; Luke 2:52; 20:39-40; John 2:24-25). A second verb is “exalt.” It can be translated as “lift up.” Messiah Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when he was lifted up on the cross. The third verb is “shall be glorified.” Messiah God’s Servant Jesus also fulfills this prophecy. First, God resurrected him from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3). Second, God “exalted” him (lifted him up) to heaven (Acts 1:9). Finally, God gave him the name that is above all other names and to him every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth (Philippians 2:9-11) (2).

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1 The four Servant Songs occur in Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12.

2 Some readers may notice that in this post I break two of the rules a certain branch of hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) holds dear. First, I use the New Testament to inform my interpretation of the Old. I do this because this is a Christian post. Jesus God’s Son, albeit in the New Testament, teaches his followers to do just this (Luke 24:27, Jesus “hermeneuticked” to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.) Second, in Septuagint Isaiah 52:13, the word “ὑψωθήσεται” (eep-so-thee-se-tay) has two possible and plausible lexical meanings for the same text. I see no reason to suppose that God, being aware of this, would not have intended both meanings. Both interpretations would be correct in context. Who, then, am I to even think of imposing my hermeneutical rules upon God Most High (who is lifted up in both height and glory)? And unfortunately, Isaiah is no longer present with us for me to ask him how he understood God’s word.

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