53:3 “He was despised, shunned by men, a man of suffering, familiar with disease. As one who hid his face from us, he was despised, we held him of no account.” Rashi notes, “So is the custom of this prophet: he mentions all Israel as one man, e.g., (44:2), ‘Fear not, My servant Jacob’; (44:1) ‘And now, hearken, Jacob, My servant.’ Here too (52:13), ‘Behold My servant shall prosper,’ he said concerning the house of Jacob.” As to the nature of the sufferings described here, Ibn Ezra writes, “The pains and sick-nesses spoken of are the sufferings of exile; and [וִ ידוּעַ; here, “familiar with”] means that he was taught and accustomed to have the yoke of exile pass over him.” And the nations could not even look at Israel because of the loathing they felt towards him.

53:4 “Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, our suffering that he endured. We accounted him plagued, smitten and afflicted by God.” We now begin to get into the theological crux of the passage, and for Ibn Ezra, it is simply a matter of Israel, the righteous servant, suffering because of the sins of the nations. He states that the substance of the verse is this: “It was we who caused his sickness; yet he carried it, and bore all the pains wherewith we pained him. . . . [I]t was God who smote him and afflicted him because the sicknesses ought to have come upon us, whose laws were altogether vanity, but they came upon Israel instead, whose law was a law of faithfulness.”

The explanation of Radak goes further, beginning with a philosophical discussion, which is common in his writings: Based on Ezekiel 18:20, which states that the son cannot be punished for the sins of his father, or vice versa, how much more then is it true that “one man cannot suffer for another man, or one people for another people. What then is the meaning of surely he has carried our sicknesses, and he was pierced for our transgressions, and by his wounds we are healed?” He does not find Lamentations 5:7 to provide an answer to the question (there it is stated that the sons are suffering for the sins of their fathers), explaining the verse with reference to Exodus 20:5, viz., “when the children still continue to adhere to the works of their fathers.” He also finds Lamentations 5:7 to be spoken by Jeremiah “in the style of mourners,” thus uttered more out of emotion than reason.

How then are these expressions to be interpreted? The words are merely the thoughts of the Gentiles: “[I]t is not asserted that Israel actually bore the iniquity of the Gentiles, but the latter only imagine it to be the case when they see, at the time of [their] deliverance, that the faith which Israel adhered to was the true one, while that they themselves had adhered to was the false.” Thus, in the Gentiles’ attempt to explain the paradox—why did Israel suffer when Israel was so righteous whereas we enjoyed peace and tranquility while “adhering to falsehood”?—“it follows, therefore, that the sickness and pain which ought to have fallen upon us [the Gentiles] has fallen upon them [Israel], and they are our ransom [koper] and atonement [kappara ]. While they were in exile,” we wrongly surmised that God had smitten them for their iniquity; we now realize “that it was not for their iniquity but for ours, as it is said, ‘He suffered pangs for our transgressions.’”

What a remarkable explanation! The text clearly speaks of vicarious, atoning suffering—indeed, there are some who believe that this was what Ibn Ezra had in mind when he spoke of the passage being “extremely difficult”—and Radak recognizes that fact. But, since he finds the concept to be contrary to biblical truth, he must write it off to the wrong thinking of the Gentile nations, which is quite a stretch, to put it mildly. Perhaps all the supposed reflections of the nations in this passage are just the product of their incorrect thinking—which is the precise opposite of the whole lesson that the chapter is allegedly teaching, viz., that the Gentiles finally understand why Israel suffered and how righteous and beloved Israel is.

Interestingly, Rashi has no problem interpreting the text in vicarious terms, explaining that the opening word אָ כֵ ן, which is normally translated as “surely,” actually means “but,” thus, “But he bore our sicknesses.” In other words, as Rashi explains, “But now we see that this came to him not because of his low state, but that he was chastised with pains so that all the nations be atoned for with Israel’s suffering. The illness that should rightfully have come upon us, he bore. . . . We thought that he was hated by the Omnipresent, but he was not so, but he was pained because of our transgressions and crushed because of our iniquities.”

From: The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, Chapter 2 JEWISH INTERPRETATIONS OF ISAIAH 53 by Michael L. Brown (edited)

 

Commentary:

3He was despised, shunned by men, A man of suffering, familiar with disease. As one who hid his face from us, He was despised, we held him of no account.

He was despised, shunned by men: Jesus was not despised and shunned by men. Multitudes followed him everywhere he went. Twelve men left their way of life to follow and care for him. He was loved and highly esteemed. He did have religious enemies and intentionally infuriated religious leaders at synagogue’s and merchant’s at the Temple. But they could not attack him because of his legion of followers.

This verse fits me today. And there will be many more who despise, shun and hold me of no account simply for declaring this truth: I am the Lord’s righteous servant described in this chapter.

a man of suffering, familiar with disease: Jesus wept one time. He is never portrayed as a man of suffering, familiar with disease. Yes, he suffered at death as did legions of others in his time but he was not a man of suffering during his life.

As a colon and skin cancer survivor with over twenty-two surgical scars from many different accidents including a gun shot to the abdomen, emotional scars from a dysfunctional home as a child, and 20 years of head and jaw pain from nightmares and grinding my teeth I am a man of suffering familiar with disease.

None of which prepared me for the suffering I have endured by the hand and power of G-d after I offered myself for guilt to HaShem (though He removed the nightmares and constant head pain).

4Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, Our suffering that he endured. We accounted him plagued, Smitten and afflicted by God;

Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, Our suffering that he endured: The sickness is not being righteous. The suffering is twofold: theirs and mine. They suffer the sickness of not being in right standing with G-d. I have suffered by the chastisement and punishment laid on me by the hand and power of G-d to make me suitable for His purpose. That purpose includes teaching righteousness.

We accounted him plagued, Smitten and afflicted by God: This describes a man that G-d does not like, a sinner whose life is full of bad events, sickness and sorrows. It could never apply to Jesus.

A person with flawed features from birth was considered cursed and afflicted by G-d. King David would have nothing to do with the lame, blind and disfigured. I was born disfigured with no right breast with a smaller right shoulder and withered arm.

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