Isaiah 52:13-15 is an introduction to chapter 53, showing us the main concepts that we are going to explore in detail. Here, the Messiah is exalted to the greatest of heights on account of his redemptive sufferings.
- Isaiah 52:13
Behold, thy servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted.
We begin by looking at the success or exaltation of the servant in verse 13. This verse starts with the very pointed word “behold” – hiney – this word in the Hebrew calls a special attention to something. The word draws our attention to something important, the fact that the Messiah will succeed at His work.
Then, the key word translated “prosper” has a number of possible translations. It is possible to translate it “prudently” (KJV), to “act with intelligence” or “my servant will act wisely” (NIV). The NASB has caught the best meaning of this word, they chose the translation “prosper.” In context, “to prosper” is the best rendering of the word and refers to the Messiah, that He will act with such intelligence and skill that He will accomplish what He has set out to do. God is saying that in spite of the outward failure and the humiliation to come, the servant will prosper.
Then, adjectives are heaped up in an effort to span the heights to which He shall be raised. Three words summarize the Messiah’s post-resurrection experience and form an ascending climax. The word “high” simply means to rise and we believe it is a reference to the resurrection, stating that the Messiah will rise out of death. When we look at this entire section of Scripture, we see that His resurrection is part of the message. It will be the first step in His exaltation, the first of three steps.
Secondly, the word says “He will be lifted up.” This is to ascend higher than simply to arise. It is a reference to the ascension, where He is lifted up into Heaven. He will rise out from death. He will be lifted up in the ascension and then He will be “greatly exalted.” In the Hebrew, this means “to be exceedingly high,” very exceedingly high. This is a reference to his present session in Heaven at the right hand of God. Raised out of death, ascended into Heaven, and seated at the highest point of glory in the universe-at the right hand of God. The servant will succeed; the servant is going to be exalted.
One important cross reference dealing with the exaltation of the Servant is found in Acts 2:31-33:
…he (David) looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. “This Jesus, God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses Therefore, having been exalted to the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.”
Here is the “raising up out of death,” the resurrection experience. This is Peter’s Pentecost sermon and he states that the Messiah is raised to the right hand of God. In Acts 3:13, we encounter another statement:
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers has glorified His servant Jesus…
Again, we see a reference to the exaltation of the Servant.
The most famous exaltation phrase is found in Philippians 2:8-9 where Paul says that Yeshua was
…found in appearance as a man and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him.
All these ideas come from Isaiah 52:13, the idea that the Servant will be highly exalted. The question is, exalted out of what? This is where we come to the humiliation of the servant in Isaiah 52:14.
- Isaiah 52:14
Just as many were astonished at you, My people, So His appearance was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men.
Men looked at Yeshua and they were appalled, astonished by what they saw. This verse describes his appearance as so marred that He did not look like a human being. That is why they were appalled, He was so disfigured He did not even resemble a human being. All they saw on that cross was some swollen, writhing, fleshly form – it only resembled a human being. His exaltation is contrasted with the startling, astounding debasement He had experienced. However, the reason for this mistreatment is revealed in the next verse.
- Isaiah 52:15
Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand.
In this verse, we come to the victory of the servant. Is He going to be defeated by this humiliation? Verse 15 tells us no, the servant will be victorious and He will complete a mission, a mission to “sprinkle many nations” (NASB). Sprinkling is done by priests in order to bestow spiritual cleansing. An alternate translation of this word is to “startle.” Why two possible translations? These words come from two identical roots in Hebrew, one root means “to sprinkle” and one root means “to startle.” As a translator, you have to look at the context and determine which one would be the better one. If the correct root is the one which means “sprinkle,” then the emphasis of the verse would be that the Messiah is acting out His role as the great high priest (Hebrews 10). If sprinkle is correct, He is the great high priest. However, if startle is correct, the emphasis is on the fact that He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords suddenly exercising His authority over the nations of the world.
Jewish translators who wrote the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Hebrew text – translated this verse with the idea of startle or astonishment. They felt that this is the better root. I also think the idea here is to startle many nations; the kings of the earth are going to shut their mouths as a sign of respect. They are going to realize that they have miscalculated His importance. The rulers of the world will be astonished and they will finally understand the significance of Yeshua.
Paul quotes this verse in Romans 15:20-22. He explained to the Romans the reasons why he had not visited Rome and said he wants to go where the good news has not been proclaimed, where the Messiah’s name is not yet heard and so, he delays his coming to Rome.
And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man’s foundation; but as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand. For this reason I have often been hindered from coming to you”
Here, Paul takes a literal prophecy and derives an application (Rom. 15:20-22). He is using one of the four ways in which the New Testament uses Old Testament prophecy. He is applying this prophecy to his own life. This is also a good application for our own lives; we still need to go to places where the good news has never been heard. Paul is going to those who have not heard.
Kings will shut their mouths because of their profound astonishment over Him, and also because there is nothing they can say publicly or politically by way of self-justification or self-reliance. His greatness overwhelms them and the righteousness of His spiritual ministry sweeps the field. The exalted Messiah is now seen in a ministry so great that it spreads far beyond His own people.