This section of Isaiah contains many memorable verses, but perhaps the most revered passage, by Christians at least, comes in Isaiah 53. Many years ago, I took a class on Isaiah from one of the foremost Hebrew scholars in the world, David Noel Freedman. When we were studying Isaiah 53, an elderly Jewish woman in the class asked, “How could God allow one person to suffer for someone else’s sin?” It was a good question.
Dr. Freedman explained how Jewish scholars interpret this passage as a reference to Israel. The woman was still not satisfied with the professor’s answer. Thus, finally, Dr. Freedman offered the Christian interpretation of the passage as a prophecy of Jesus as the Messiah. The woman was still mystified, and maybe we should be too. How could God punish one person for someone else’s sin? It does not seem fair.
However, if this passage is, as I believe, a prophecy pointing forward to Jesus, and if Jesus really was, as I also believe, God in human flesh, then it was God who took the punishment of our sins upon himself. If this is the correct interpretation of Isaiah 53, then the transaction described in these verses moves from looking unfair, to looking, well, like amazing grace.
Rather than take this amazing grace for granted, we would do better to stand before this passage of Scripture in awe and astonishment and even bewilderment as that elderly Jewish woman did. However, if we soak ourselves in this passage long enough, and prayerfully seek understanding, as the Ethiopian eunuch did in Acts 8, then our astonishment should yield eventually to thankful reception of God’s indescribable gift of salvation (2 Corinthians 9:15).