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Isaiah 53:2

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

For he shall grow up - Supposes something to have preceded; as it might be asked, what or who shall 'grow up before him,' etc. As the translation now stands, no correct answer can be given to this question. The translation then is wrong, the connection broken, and the sense obscured. זרוע zeroa, translated the arm, from the root zara.

  1. To sow, or plant; also seed, etc.
  • The limb which reaches from the shoulder to the hand, called the arm; or more properly beginning at the shoulder and ending at the elbow.
  • The translator has given the wrong sense of the word. It would be very improper to say, the arm of the Lord should grow up before him; but by taking the word in its former sense, the connection and metaphor would be restored, and the true sense given to the text. זרע zera signifies, not only the seed of herbs, but children, offspring, or posterity. The same word we find Genesis 3:15, where Christ is the Seed promised. See also Genesis 22:17, Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 28:14. Hence the Seed of the woman, the Seed promised to the patriarchs is, according to Isaiah, the Seed of the Lord, the Child born, and the Son given; and according to St. John, 'the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.' זרע then, in this place, should be understood to mean Jesus Christ, and him alone. To speak here of the manifestation of the arm or power of God would be irregular; but to suppose the text to speak of the manifestation of Jesus Christ would be very proper, as the whole of the chapter is written concerning him, particularly his humiliation and sufferings, and the reception he should meet with from the Jewish nation.

    "The first verse of this chapter is quoted John 12:38, and the former part of the same verse Romans 10:16. But no objection of importance can be brought forward from either of these quotations against the above explanation, as they are quoted to show the unbelief of the Jews in not receiving Christ as the promised Messiah."

    He hath no form nor comeliness "He hath no form nor any beauty" -

    Ουκ ειδος αυτῳ, ουδε αξιωμα, ἱνα ειδωμεν αυτον· ουδε θεωρια, ἱνα επιθυμωμεν αυτον.

    "He hath no form, nor any beauty, that we should regard him; nor is his countenance such that we should desire him."

    Symmachus; the only one of the ancients that has translated it rightly.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    For he shall grow up before him - In this verse, the prophet describes the humble appearance of the Messiah, and the fact that there was nothing in his personal aspect that corresponded to the expectations that bad been formed of him; nothing that should lead them to desire him as their expected deliverer, but everything that could induce them to reject him. He would be of so humble an origin, and with so little that was magnificent in his external appear ance, that the nation would despise him. The word rendered ‹he shall grow up‘ (ויעל vaya‛al from עלה ‛âlâh ), means properly, “to go up, to ascend.” Here it evidently applies to the Redeemer as growing up in the manner of a shoot or sucker that springs out of the earth. It means that he would start, as it were, from a decayed stock or stump, as a shoot springs up from a root that is apparently dead. It does not refer to his manner of life before his entrance on the public work of the ministry; not to the mode and style of his education; but to his starting as it were out of a dry and sterile soil where any growth could not be expected, or from a stump or stock that was apparently dead (see the notes at Isaiah 11:1). The phrase ‹before him‘ (לפניו lepânâyv ), refers to Yahweh. He would be seen and observed by him, although unknown to the world. The eyes of people would not regard him as the Messiah while he was growing up, but Yahweh would, and his eye would be continually upon him.

    As a tender plant - The word used here (יונק yônēq from ינק yânaq to suck, Job 3:12; Joel 2:16), may be applied either to a suckling, a sucking child Deuteronomy 32:25; Psalm 8:3, or to a sucker, a sprout, a shoot of a tree Job 8:16; Job 14:7; Job 15:30; Ezekiel 17:22; Hosea 14:7. Jerome here renders it, Virgultum. The Septuagint renders it, Ἀνηγγείλαμεν ὡς παιδίον ἐναντίον αὐτοῦ anēngeilamen hōs paidion enantion autou - ‹We have made proclamation as a child before him.‘ But what idea they attached to it, it is impossible now to say; and equally so to determine how they came to make such a translation. The Chaldee also, leaving the idea that it refers to the Messiah, renders it, ‹And the righteous shall be magnified before him as branches which flourish, and as the tree which sends its roots by the fountains of water; thus shall the holy nation be increased in the land.‘ The Syriac translates it, ‹He shall grow up before him as an infant.‘ The idea in the passage is plain. It is, that the Messiah would spring up as from an ancient and decayed stock, like a tender shoot or sucker. He would be humble and unpretending in his origin, and would be such that they who had expected a splendid prince would be led to overlook and despise him.

    And as a root - (וכשׁרשׁ vekashoresh ). The word ‹root‘ here is evidently used by synecdoche for the sprout that starts up from a root (see the notes at Isaiah 11:10, where the word is used in the same sense).

    Out of a dry ground - In a barren waste, or where there is no moisture. Such a sprout or shrub is small, puny, and withered up. Such shrubs spring up in deserts, where they are stinted for want of moisture, and they are most striking objects to represent that which is humble and unattractive in its personal appearance. The idea here is, that the Messiah would spring from an ancient family decayed, but in whose root, so to speak, there would be life, as there is remaining life in the stump of a tree that is fallen down; but that there would be nothing in his external appearance that would attract attention, or meet the expectations of the nation. Even then he would not be like a plant of vigorous growth supplied with abundant rains, and growing in a rich and fertile soil, but he would be like the stinted growth of the sands of the desert. Can anything be more strikingly expressive of the actual appearance of the Redeemer, as compared with the expectation of the Jews? Can there be found anywhere a more striking fulfillment of a prophecy than this? And how will the infidel answer the argument thus furnished for the fact that Isaiah was inspired, and that his record was true?

    He hath no form - That is, no beauty. He has not the beautiful form which was anticipated; the external glory which it was supposed he would assume. On the meaning of the word ‹form,‘ see the notes at Isaiah 52:14. It is several times used in the sense of beautiful form or figure (Genesis 29:17; Genesis 39:6; Genesis 41:18; Deuteronomy 21:11; Esther 2:17; compare 1 Samuel 16:18). Here it means the same as beautiful form or appearance, and refers to his state of abasement rather than to his own personal beauty. There is no evidence that in person he was in any way deformed, or otherwise than beautiful, except as excessive grief may have changed his natural aspect (see the note at Isaiah 52:14).

    Nor comeliness - (הדר hâdâr ). This word is translated honor, glory, majesty Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalm 29:4; Psalm 149:9; Daniel 11:20; excellency Isaiah 35:2; beauty Proverbs 20:29; Psalm 110:3; 2 Chronicles 20:21. It may be applied to the countenance, to the general aspect, or to the ornaments or apparel of the person. Here it refers to the appearance of the Messiah, as having nothing that was answerable to their expectations. He had no robes of royalty; no diadem sparkling on his brow; no splendid retinue; no gorgeous array.

    And when we shall see him - This should be connected with the previous words, and should be translated, ‹that we should regard him, or attentively look upon him.‘ The idea is, that there was in his external appearance no such beauty as to lead them to look with interest and attention upon him; nothing that should attract them, as people are attracted by the dazzling and splendid objects of this world. If they saw him, they immediately looked away from him as if he were unworthy of their regard.

    There is no beauty that we should desire him - He does not appear in the form which we had anticipated. He does not come with the regal pomp and splendor which it was supposed he would assmne. He is apparently of humble rank; has few attendants, and has disappointed wholly the expectation of the nation. In regard to the personal appearance of the Redeemer, it is remarkable that the New Testament has given us no information. Not a hint is dropped in reference to his height of stature, or his form; respecting the color of his hair, his eyes, or his complexion. In all this, on which biographers are usually so full and particular, the evangelists are wholly silent. There was evidently design in this; and the purpose was probably to prevent any painting, statuary, or figure of the Redeemer, that would have any claim to being regarded as correct or true. As it stands in the New Testament, there is lust the veil of obscurity thrown over this whole subject which is most favorable for the contemplation of the incarnate Deity. We are told flint he was a man; we are told also that he was God. The image to the mind‘s eye is as obscure in the one case as the other; and in both, we are directed to his moral beauty, his holiness, and benevolence, as objects of contemplation, rather than to his external appearance or form.

    It may be added that there is no authentic information in regard to his appearance that has come down to us by tradition. All the works of sculptors and painters in attempting to depict his form are the mere works of fancy, and are undoubtedly as unlike the glorious reality as they are contrary to the spirit and intention of the Bible. There is, indeed, a letter extant which is claimed by some to have been written by Publius Lentulus, to the Emperor Tiberius, in the time when the Saviour lived, and which gives a description of his personal appearance. As this is the only legend of antiquity which even claims to be a description of his person, and as it is often printed, and is regarded as a curiosity, it may not be improper here to present it in a note. This letter is pronounced by Calmer to be spurious, and it has been abundantly proved to be so by Prof. Robinson (see Bib. Rep. vol. ii. pp. 367-393). The main arguments against its anthenticity, and which entirely settle the question, are:

    1. The discrepancies and contradictions which exist in the various copies.

    2. The fact that in the time of the Saviour, when the epistle purports to have been written, it can be demonstrated that no such man as Publius Lentulus was governor of Judea, or had any such office there, as is claimed for him in the inscriptions to the epistle.

    3. That for fifteen hundred years no such epistle is quoted or referred to by any writer - a fact which could not have occurred if any such epistle had been in existence.

    4. That the style of the epistle is not such as an enlightened Roman would have used, but is such as an ecclesiastic would have employed.

    5. That the contents of the epistle are such as a Roman would not have used of one who was a Jew.

    See these arguments presented in detail in the place above referred to. It may be added, that this is the only pretended account which bas come down to us respecting the personal appearance of the Saviour, except the fable that Christ sent his portrait to Abgar, king of Edessa, in reply to a letter which he had sent requesting him to come and heal him; and the equally fabulous legend, that the impression of his countenance was left upon the handkerchief of the holy Veronica.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    No where in all the Old Testament is it so plainly and fully prophesied, that Christ ought to suffer, and then to enter into his glory, as in this chapter. But to this day few discern, or will acknowledge, that Divine power which goes with the word. The authentic and most important report of salvation for sinners, through the Son of God, is disregarded. The low condition he submitted to, and his appearance in the world, were not agreeable to the ideas the Jews had formed of the Messiah. It was expected that he should come in pomp; instead of that, he grew up as a plant, silently, and insensibly. He had nothing of the glory which one might have thought to meet with him. His whole life was not only humble as to outward condition, but also sorrowful. Being made sin for us, he underwent the sentence sin had exposed us to. Carnal hearts see nothing in the Lord Jesus to desire an interest in him. Alas! by how many is he still despised in his people, and rejected as to his doctrine and authority!
    Ellen G. White
    Prophets and Kings, 710

    For more than a thousand years the Jewish people had waited the coming of the promised Saviour. Their brightest hopes had rested upon this event. For a thousand years, in song and prophecy, in temple rite and household prayer, His name had been enshrined; and yet when He came, they did not recognize Him as the Messiah for whom they had so long waited. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” John 1:11. To their world-loving hearts the Beloved of heaven was “as a root out of a dry ground.” In their eyes He had “no form nor comeliness;” they discerned in Him no beauty that they should desire Him. Isaiah 53:2. PK 710.1

    The whole life of Jesus of Nazareth among the Jewish people was a reproof to their selfishness, as revealed in their unwillingness to recognize the just claims of the Owner of the vineyard over which they had been placed as husbandmen. They hated His example of truthfulness and piety; and when the final test came, the test which meant obedience unto eternal life or disobedience unto eternal death, they rejected the Holy One of Israel and became responsible for His crucifixion on Calvary's cross. PK 710.2

    In the parable of the vineyard, Christ near the close of His earthly ministry called the attention of the Jewish teachers to the rich blessings bestowed upon Israel, and in these showed God's claim to their obedience. Plainly He set before them the glory of God's purpose, which through obedience they might have fulfilled. Withdrawing the veil from the future, He showed how, by failure to fulfill His purpose, the whole nation was forfeiting His blessing and bringing ruin upon itself. PK 710.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Gospel Workers 1915, 49

    The messengers of Christ, those whom He sends in His stead, will have the same feelings, the same earnest interest. And those who are tempted to think that their labor is not appreciated, and are inclined to be discouraged, should remember that Jesus had just as hard hearts to deal with, and had a more trying experience than they have had or ever can have. He taught the people with patient love. His deep, searching wisdom knew the wants of every soul among His listeners; and when He saw them refuse the message of peace and love that He came to give them, His heart felt anguish to the very depths. GW 49.1

    *****

    The world's Redeemer did not come with outward display, or a show of worldly wisdom. Men could not see, beneath the guise of humanity, the glory of the Son of God. He was “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He was to them as “a root out of a dry ground,” with “no form nor comeliness,” [Isaiah 53:3, 2.] that they should desire Him. But He declared, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” [Isaiah 61:1.] GW 49.2

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    Ellen G. White
    The Desire of Ages, 23

    Nearly two thousand years ago, a voice of mysterious import was heard in heaven, from the throne of God, “Lo, I come.” “Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me.... Lo, I come (in the volume of the Book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God.” Hebrews 10:5-7. In these words is announced the fulfillment of the purpose that had been hidden from eternal ages. Christ was about to visit our world, and to become incarnate. He says, “A body hast Thou prepared Me.” Had He appeared with the glory that was His with the Father before the world was, we could not have endured the light of His presence. That we might behold it and not be destroyed, the manifestation of His glory was shrouded. His divinity was veiled with humanity,—the invisible glory in the visible human form. DA 23.1

    This great purpose had been shadowed forth in types and symbols. The burning bush, in which Christ appeared to Moses, revealed God. The symbol chosen for the representation of the Deity was a lowly shrub, that seemingly had no attractions. This enshrined the Infinite. The all-merciful God shrouded His glory in a most humble type, that Moses could look upon it and live. So in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, God communicated with Israel, revealing to men His will, and imparting to them His grace. God's glory was subdued, and His majesty veiled, that the weak vision of finite men might behold it. So Christ was to come in “the body of our humiliation” (Philippians 3:21, R. V.), “in the likeness of men.” In the eyes of the world He possessed no beauty that they should desire Him; yet He was the incarnate God, the light of heaven and earth. His glory was veiled, His greatness and majesty were hidden, that He might draw near to sorrowful, tempted men. DA 23.2

    God commanded Moses for Israel, “Let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8), and He abode in the sanctuary, in the midst of His people. Through all their weary wandering in the desert, the symbol of His presence was with them. So Christ set up His tabernacle in the midst of our human encampment. He pitched His tent by the side of the tents of men, that He might dwell among us, and make us familiar with His divine character and life. “The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us (and we beheld His glory, glory as of the Only Begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth.” John 1:14, R. V., margin. DA 23.3

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