In the redemptive context of the second unit, the burden of suffering that precedes or lays the groundwork for Jehovah’s redemption, although common to all suffering entities, differs from one to the next. First, on the heels of the ideal vassal’s mission to the nations, the wicked—all non-Zion entities—suffer a full measure of covenantal malediction for their crimes of injustice, oppression, and idolatry. Second, Jehovah’s righteous people—those who repent/return and emulate the righteousness of his ideal vassal—suffer persecution and ignominy in the interim before Jehovah redeems them. Their suffering, however, serves as a purifying influence, vouchsafing their repentance and sanctification rather than itself generating redemption.
Third, Jehovah’s ideal vassal suffers marring and ignominy while fulfilling his role as an exemplar of righteousness and as a proxy savior of his people. As Jehovah’s vassal, he answers for his people’s disloyalties to their suzerain, taking upon himself the covenantal maledictions that are rightfully due to them. His suffering for their sake lends substance to his mediatory role on their behalf, meriting Jehovah’s deliverance of a remnant of his people from a mortal threat. The Bifid Structure identifies that threat as universal destruction wrought by the king of Assyria/Babylon in Jehovah’s Day of Judgment (see Parts I–IV).
Lastly, as becomes evident in Part V, the suffering figure, by suffering his people’s maledictions (Isaiah 53:4–8), brings about the entire scope of his people’s redemption: the forgiveness of sins or removal of guilt that originate with transgression; the reversal of covenant curses, including the curse of death; the deliverance and exaltation of a repentant remnant called Zion/Jerusalem; and so forth.
From this last category of redemptive suffering flows the ideal vassal’s own redemption. His reversal of circumstances—from a “marred” condition that “appalls many” (Isaiah 52:14) to one of healing and universal eminence (Isaiah 52:13, 15; cf. 57:18–19)—derives from the same redemption Jehovah ordains for all. The ideal vassal’s transformation from suffering to salvation, from humiliation to exaltation, and so forth, serves as a paradigm of Zion/Jerusalem, whom Jehovah similarly heals and exalts: “The price of our peace he incurred, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5); “Awake, arise; clothe yourself with power, O Zion! Put on your robes of glory, O Jerusalem, holy city” (Isaiah 52:1).
That kind of reversal, however, doesn’t immediately apply to Jehovah himself, who, as we have seen, is the suffering figure of Isaiah 53:1–10. Although he too suffers, he doesn’t experience curse reversals in his lifetime. Besides being “despised,” “disdained,” “harassed,” “pierced,” and “crushed,” he is also led “like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:3–7). He is “taken” (lqh), “cut off from the land of the living,” and buried (Isaiah 53:7–9). God wills to crush him, causing him “suffering” or “sickness” (hlh) (Isaiah 53:10), as he bears his people’s iniquities (Isaiah 53:4–6).
His very life is “an offering for guilt” (’asam) (ibid.). He is “pierced for our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). The use of sacrificial imagery, such as the “guilt offering” (’asam) of a “lamb” (seh) to depict the offering of his life means that the typological antecedent of animal sacrifice most nearly represents what happens to the suffering figure. The price of suffering he pays for his people’s peace and healing (Isaiah 53:5), in other words, is in the nature of an atoning sacrifice for transgression. In the absence of a human type and precedent for such atonement, his suffering is described in terms of a sacrificial proxy.
Jehovah’s ideal vassal, on the other hand, doesn’t undergo a sacrificial death. Although, like King Hezekiah (cf. Isaiah 38:9–20), he “pours out his soul unto death,” he ends up receiving an inheritance among the “many” or “great” (rabbim) (Isaiah 53:12). With them, he “divides the spoils” of war following his victory over his people’s enemies (ibid.; cf. Isaiah 9:3; 41:2; 45:1), evidence that he survives his ordeal. His reversed condition resembles the ancient Near Eastern pattern of the arrested sacrifice of the king and possesses a type in King Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:1–6; 39:1).
(Taken from The Literary Message of Isaiah, pp 225–227.)