The Marring of the Servant of the Lord

In 2 Parts

There is an aspect to the humility of Christ, that has not received much attention. That aspect is the humility He endured going from His eternal place with the Father, to His place as a man among men. I do believe that Isaiah 52:14 deals with this subject. However, the translation of this verse has undergone significant changes over the past centuries. A change that has hidden its true meaning. We seek here to recover that original meaning.

Isa. 52:13 Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
14 As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:
15 So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.

Traditionally, verse 14 is thought to describe the horrible abuse Christ endured on account of His beating, scourging, and crucifixion. According to modern translations, the abuse was so horrific, it turned him into something unrecognizable as a human.

Isaiah 52:14 (just as many were horrified by the sight of you) he was so disfigured he no longer looked like a man; (NET)

Just as many were appalled at you — his appearance was so disfigured that he did not look like a man, and his form did not resemble a human being (CSB)

But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man.(NLT)

We will see shortly, that this understanding is relatively new, as translations go.

This is not to minimize the abuse Jesus endured, for that truly was horrific. But is that what this verse is describing? I think not. There is another way of viewing this verse, that I believe is closer to its true intent.

To come to a true understanding of this passage, we must answer one question. Is the marring of the visage and form referring to Jesus in His incarnate form as man, or to the pre-incarnate form of the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah? I believe that the proper interpretation is based upon the marring of the visage and form of the pre-incarnate Servant of the Lord, the Messiah. To explain, His true visage and form was "marred" when He came in the likeness of men, and took upon Himself the form of a servant. This is the marring or disfigurement I believe this passage speaks of1.

The translation of verse 14 has varied over the centuries. We will look at these variations shortly.

First of all, there is nothing in these three verses that speak of or point to the beatings or abuse, as being the reason for His visage and form being marred. It is not until later in the prophecy (chapter 53), that we are told of His being wounded, bruised, and bearing stripes. But the writer does not connect these to His marring.

I believe what we have here is Isaiah’s version of the description of Christ, emptying Himself and becoming poor. It would help us to understand, that it is not His visage and form as a man, that was marred or disfigured. The visage and form that was marred was His being the Servant of the Lord, the Arm of the Lord, the Messiah. It was this form that was marred, as we shall see.

Isaiah begins the Servant passages, or prophecies, in chapter 41. It is admitted by most Bible Scholars, that these Servant passages speak of the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah.

52:13 Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.

Here, as God speaks through Isaiah, He says His Servant shall deal prudently, or wisely. He shall also be exalted and extolled. He shall be very high. This exaltation is not given a time-frame or window, in which it will happen. As with many of God’s sayings, because He sees the end from the beginning, He simply proclaims the end result of an action. This is what we have here. God is stating that as a result of His servant dealing wisely, He shall be exalted.

Paul also tells us of this exaltation. Because of Christ’s obedience unto the death of the cross,

Phil. 2:9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The exaltation of the Servant of the Lord comes after His obedience to His Father, which is the ultimate act of wisdom. Given our topic, it is important to notice that even those, “under the earth,” are to bow the knee and confess Jesus is Lord. This can only be a reference to those in She’ol/Hades and Tartarus.

14 As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:

Many were “astonied” (or, astonished) at the Servant of the Lord. The word, translated here as astonied, can mean to be appalled or to be awestruck. The Servant caused many to have a visceral reaction to His appearance. They were either appalled and repulsed, or they stood in awe and wonder. How the Servant could cause such distinct and opposing reactions is amazing. Those who were appalled, were so, because they could not accept that the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah, would come in the manner that He did. Hence, they would reject Him because He did not appear as they had anticipated. Isaiah informs us later of the reaction of those who saw Him, but rejected Him.

2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Pay particular attention to the phrases in verse two.

He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

Isaiah says for those who saw Him, there was no glory or beauty in His appearance or presentation that should cause them to desire Him or to be able to recognize His true self. If you were to put Jesus in a lineup with seven other Judeans, then ask someone to pick out the Messiah, there would be nothing about Him that stood out. He looked like a Judean among other Judeans. Those who were awestruck, were struck in faith. They were amazed that this one before them is the Messiah, the Anointed of God. They were able to look past the outer appearance of being a servant and see with the eyes of faith, that He was indeed “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

His visage was so marred” — The visage is that which meets the eyes. Marred is a disfigurement or a corruption of something’s original or intended form. So here, we have a statement saying,
The Servant of the Lord’s outer appearance was corrupted or disfigured from that which was His from the beginning ('arche, Jn. 1:1-3).

This is critical to our understanding. As we have already noted, it is the marring of the visage and form of the pre-incarnate Servant of the Lord, the Messiah, that this verse speaks of, not the marring of a man. How was the Servant of the Lord's outer appearance marred?

It was not just His outer appearance or visage that was corrupted and disfigured, but His form as well. The visage is that which strikes the eyes. What would strike your eyes if you could look upon the pre-existent Messiah? It would be the radiating Glory of God (think the Transfiguration). The form is the actual shape, outline, or figure of something. However, it is not just signifying a shape or figure, but the quality and shape of a thing. It is the difference between describing something as beautiful, as opposed to something that is plain or unattractive. This is the same word used to describe Rachel in contrast to Leah [Gen. 29:17]. His beautiful form was disfigured, as well as His glory marred.

What is the cause of this disfigurement of His visage and form? In the KJV, as well as other translations, they lean toward the familiar idea that He became marred “more than” man or the sons of men. This is a translation of the Hebrew preposition, #h4480 מִן min. “Min” has a wide range of meanings, which depends upon its context. Along with "more than", it also means, "on account of", which in this context, makes the most sense. It also harmonizes with the two passages of Paul (2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:7). It is very possible that this verse (Isa. 52:14), is where Paul received his imagery of the emptying of Christ and His becoming poor.

1I believe a brief example of this marring is seen in comparing Jesus as He appeared in His Transfiguration, with how the disciples viewed Him in his typical day to day life. This could certainly be classed as a marring or disfigurement.