[P]ierced through, and there accompanies this thought usually that of a piercing through unto death. Perhaps there is also included the idea of a violent death. The thought is that because we had transgressed, he was pierced through unto the death. The parallel expression, crushed because of our iniquities, means that because we had done iniquitously he was crushed or bruised. The participle suggests the complete destruction of the person involved. Both the expressions in the first part of this verse are to be taken with the statements concerning the servant in verse 4. The transgressions and iniquities, whatever may be the original sense of those words, here refer not to the transgression of human laws but the law of God. If the iniquities are merely unfortunate errors that we have made, and so in the light of human standards we are not all that we might be, that is one thing. It is then very difficult to understand why our failure to live up to or obey human laws should result in the death of the servant as our substitute. If, on the other hand, the prophet is talking about something far more serious, then the profundity of the passage immediately becomes clear.

The sins we had committed were borne by the servant. Inasmuch as sin, however, is something immaterial, how can one be said to bear it? The answer is that sin involves not merely an inward corruption of the heart but also guilt before God. In saying that the servant bore our sins, therefore, Isaiah is in reality declaring that he bore the guilt of our sins. Yet even guilt is intangible; but guilt involves liability both to censure and to punishment, and with this we meet the heart of the matter. When the servant bore the guilt of our sins, we are saying that he bore the punishment that was due to us because of those sins, and that is to say that he was our substitute. His punishment was vicarious. Because we had transgressed, he was pierced to death; and being pierced and crushed was the punishment that he bore in our stead. It may be that in the violence of the figures used there is a secondary reference to the actual death of the crucifixion, but the main thrust is that as our substitute he bore the penalty that was rightfully ours.

If, however, the language is to have meaning, the servant must be one who was himself utterly free of transgression and iniquity, else his vicarious suffering could be of no avail. If one who himself was iniquitous bore the sins of another, then there is a travesty upon justice, for the sinbearer in this case would have need that his own sins be borne by another. Inasmuch as the vicarious suffering is for those who had transgressed God’s holy law, and inasmuch as the vicarious punishment of the servant actually sets us free in the sight of a holy God, we may say with assurance that there is only One of whom these words may be spoken, namely Jesus the Christ. (The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3, 347, 348)

Edward J. Young