Isaiah 52 and 53

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 (and Psalm 22)

John J. Pilch asks us to consider Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 as classic passages where shame appears. In these two passages, the language is all about humiliation at the hands of enemies. “Second Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant as having an appearance that was ‘marred beyond human semblance’ (Isa. 52:14, cf. Ps. 22:6) and as being ‘despised and rejected by men’ (Isa. 53:3, cf. Ps. 22:6).” (Pilch: p105.)

Pilch parallels Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, in both passages the word ‘despised’ literally means ‘shamed’. These unidentified enemies of the suffering servant of Isaiah and the psalmist know how to destroy a person. They “are culturally astute. They know how to add to the shame of the lamenter’s predicament. They mock him; laugh at him with an ear-to-ear laugh and ‘wag their heads’ (Ps. 22:7).” (Pilch: p106.) He asks his readers to take careful note of the ‘sign language’ in Isaiah 53, ‘wagging the head’, or shaking the head, at someone is a picture worth a thousand words in the cultures of the Old Testament!

Here in Isaiah 53, guilty or innocent, but most probably innocent, the Suffering Servant is utterly destroyed by the shaming of others. Shame reaches right to the core of the Servant’s being and feels like torture, like dying.


John J. Pilch; “Introducing the Cultural Context of the Old Testament;” Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 1991.

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