By Christina M Wilson
The Fourth Servant Song Septuagint: Journal 2.52 discusses the Septuagint report of Isaiah 53:8-9.
Content: Part Six
8 In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken away from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death. 9 And I will give the wicked for his burial, and the rich for his death for he practised no iniquity, nor craft with his mouth. (Isaiah 53:8-9 LXE)
Questions About the Word “Judgment”
The phrase, “his judgment was taken away” is difficult to understand. The Greek word for “judgment” (κρίσις–from which we get our English word “crisis”) can mean a trial or the sentence passed down at a trial, including a pronouncement of innocence, as the case may be. “Who shall declare his generation?” is easier. In context, this phrase means that no one will be able to recite the names of his progeny in his lineage, “for his life is taken away from the earth.” “Before he bore any children” is implied.
As a whole then, the text reveals clearly that the Servant died (“because of the the iniquities of my people he was led to death”) and was buried (“I will give the wicked for his burial, and the rich for his death…”). His “humiliation” refers back to his dishonor (vs 3), the pain of his bearing “our” sins (vs 4), his trouble, suffering, and affliction (vs 4), his wounds, chastisement, and bruises (vs 5), and his not opening his mouth to defend himself.
Definitely, the “trial” was most unjust. Readers know this because the text constantly mentions the vicarious nature of the Servant’s suffering. That is, he bore the sins of others. He took upon himself the suffering justly due to others. Nor did he protest. He did not open his mouth to defend himself, and no one else rose up to defend him.
CONCLUSION CONCERNING “JUDGMENT”
Bearing in mind all of the above contextual considerations, it seems best to adopt here the reading derived from the Masoretic text. NET offers a stunning paraphrase which seems to catch the meaning.
He was led away after an unjust trial– but who even cared? (Isaiah 53:8 NET)
The NRS writes:
By a perversion of justice he was taken away. (Isaiah 53:8 RSV)
Paul also summarizes the content of verses 8-9:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried… (1Corinthians 15:3 ESV)
“The Wicked for His Burial”
9 And I will give the wicked for his burial… (Isaiah 53:9a LXE)
Here again, it remains difficult for readers today to discover an exact translation or paraphrase for the meaning of these words. The Greek specifically states, “I will give the wicked” (plural). The Greek word translated as “for” (ἀντί) however, can also mean “instead of” (Thayer). Although I will not press the point, it might be possible to understand the entire phrase as, “I will give the wicked in exchange for his burial.” In this regard, all four gospel accounts reveal how Pilate gave the notorious criminal Barabbas his freedom in exchange for fulfilling the Jewish leaders’ desire to have Christ crucified (Matthew 27:15-26).
“The Rich for His Death”
The Greek sentence reads, “I will give the wicked [in exchange for] his burial and the rich [in exchange for his death]; for he practised no iniquity, nor craft with his mouth” (2 Peter 2:22). Once again, the NET paraphrases the sense of the meaning:
They intended to bury him with criminals, but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb, because he had committed no violent deeds, nor had he spoken deceitfully. (Isaiah 53:9 NET)
Not only did the trial judge, the Roman governor Pilate, exchange an attested criminal (Barabbas) for the life of Messiah, but Christ also hung between two other convicted criminals (Luke 23:32, 39-41; John 19:18). Ordinarily, he would have been dumped into a pit or left out in the open (1) with the two convicted robbers, but Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, buried Jesus the Christ in his own immaculate tomb (John 19:38-41).
God, the Speaker in Isaiah 8b-9a
The text of Chapter 53 changes speaker in the latter portion of verse 8. Previously, a narrator, most likely Isaiah speaking for all the faithful people, spoke about the Servant, referring to him in third person (he, him). Yet, readers infer the presence of God in the background, because verse 1 begins with the second person direct address, “O Lord” (not present in the Masoretic).
In verse 8b, God himself speaks:
…because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death. (Isaiah 53:8b LXE) (2)
The use of first person continues through verse 9a in the Septuagint, although the Masoretic text changes back to third person plural (they). When considering these things, readers need always to bear in mind that the writers of the New Testament relied heavily upon the Septuagint in their understanding of the Old. Verse 9a Septuagint reads:
And I will give the wicked for his burial, and the rich for his death;… (Isaiah 53:9a LXE)
The verbs concerning the Servant are for the most part third person passive in the entire Fourth Servant Song. The song has others describing what will happen to the Servant, as though he is a passive spectator. The introduction of first person here in verses 8 and 9 is therefore startling.
Readers know that Isaiah himself is not the first person speaker. First, throughout the book, Isaiah never claims to be the “owner” of “my people” in the sense the phrase is used here. The prophet may at times identify with God’s people, but he never calls the people his own, as though he were their leader or great guide. Further, Isaiah is not the one who controls the death and burial of God’s Servant, as though he had power to direct events. Therefore, the speaker must be God.
IMPLICATIONS OF GOD AS SPEAKER
Why interject God’s first person voice at this moment in the text? Namely, the appearance of God inserting himself into the narrative in first person singular establishes the fact of his being in charge of this whole situation concerning his Servant. He claims the people as his own. He acknowledges that his own people’s iniquities lead to the Servant’s passive death. Further, God names himself as the one who controls the situation in detail. God arranges the exchange between the wicked and his Servant in burial, as well as the exchange with a rich man in his death.
If God were not in charge of this situation, would it make any sense for the Servant to pray to him in the Garden of Gethsemane that he remove “this cup” from his lips? (Luke 22:42). Jesus Messiah did not blame Pilate for his death. Rather, he acknowledged to this governor/judge that God directed these events (John 19:10-11). Even on the cross, the Servant knew that God’s will prevailed in this situation (Mark 15:34).
God is the one who delivered to Moses the laws and commandments concerning the sacrificial system to atone for the sins of the people. Here, in Isaiah 53:8b and 9a Septuagint, God continues to exert his control over the details of the sacrifice that he will declare sufficient to assuage his own sense of justice.
And God manifests his satisfaction with the sacrifice of his Servant in the very next verse.
To be continued Lord willing… Content: Part Seven
1 “Roman Funerary Practices,” accessed March 12, 2022 at Roman funerary practices – Wikipedia.
2 A NET translator’s note for their paraphrase of the Masoretic text acknowledges that the Hebrew does indeed contain the pronoun “my.” However, for reasons of their own, they prefer to substitute “his own people” for “my people.”