He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
Isaiah’s suffering servant will have no physical beauty to capture the eye-roving world, and this is partly because he will be “badly disfigured by persecution,” writes Ben Witherington in his new commentary on Isaiah. But that’s not all. On top of this disfigurement by violence, the servant appears to have been “stricken by some illness” (243). The term ‘stricken’ is a verb for disease, literally quasi leprosum in the Vulgate. This diseased condition is “one that probably causes disfigurement and repulsive appearance, and leprosy best fits this sort of description.” The badly disfigured shall be exalted by God — pure nonsense to a world that assumed outward beauty an evidence of God’s favor and disfiguring disease an evidence of God’s displeasure. Neither is a rule, and the suffering servant will destroy these divine stereotypes. Whether or not the servant will literally be disfigured by disease, he will be esteemed as such. “There is very little doubt that here we are talking about vicarious and substitutionary suffering,” Witherington states rightly of the text. “What is quite amazing is that it is not a person the people might have evaluated as suitable or exceptional who is called upon to perform this substitutionary suffering for God’s people, but one who to all outward appearances seemed ordinary, if not repulsive, the least likely candidate, humanly speaking” (245). Indeed, and this diseased one shall bear our diseases (Matt. 8:17).