Isaiah 42 – The Servant’s Song
A. The LORD speaks of His Servant.
1. (1-4) The character of the Servant.
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
He will not cry out, nor raise His voice,
Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.
A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench;
He will bring forth justice for truth.
He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”
a. Behold! My Servant: The LORD calls to all people – the people of Israel, and the coastlands – and tells them to behold (study, set focus upon) His Servant.
i. “The word ebed can refer to a slave (Exodus 21:20-21) or a vassal king (2 Samuel 10:19), an individual subject (Genesis 21:25) or a tributary nation (1 Chronicles 18:2, 6, 13). In all those cases the term refers to a person or group characterized by dependence and servitude.” (Lindsey)
ii. The New King James Version rightly capitalizes Servant because the context demonstrates this is a clear reference to Jesus. Additionally, Matthew quotes Isaiah 42:1-5 and plainly says it is a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus (Matthew 12:16-21). So, in this, the LORD commands all peoples to put their focus on Jesus.
iii. Jesus described Himself as a servant in Matthew 20:25-28, Matthew 23:11, Mark 9:35, Mark 10:43-45. Peter, in his Acts 3 sermon, gives our Savior the title His Servant Jesus (Acts 3:13 and 3:26). In Acts 4, the praying people of God speak of Your holy Servant Jesus (Acts 4:27, 4:30). But Jesus isn’t just a servant. He is The Servant, and everyone should behold, as the LORD says, My Servant.
iv. What do we see when we behold Jesus, the LORD’s Servant? Among many things, we see Him as the Servant. As Jesus said in Matthew 20:26-28 (also recorded in Mark 10:43-45), Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. When Jesus said let him be your servant, it means being a servant is a choice. When Jesus said let him be your slave, it showed how deep service should go. When He said that He did not come to be served, but to serve, it shows the essential heart of a servant. When Jesus said and to give His life a ransom for many, it showed how far servants go.
v. But Jesus, the Servant, is more than an example to us. He is our Servant. He serves us; not only in what He did in the past, but also, He serves us every day through His constant love, care, guidance, and intercession. Jesus did not stop serving when He went to heaven; He serves all His people more effectively than ever from heaven.
b. My Servant whom I uphold: This was certainly true for Jesus, but it is true also in the way the LORD deals with all His servants. He promises to uphold His servants. When someone is the servant of another, the servant is required to give full service and obedience to the master. But the master is also required to take care of the servant. The LORD always can say My Servant whom I uphold.
i. There may be another sense in this; Redpath believes it speaks of the Father’s trust in and dependence on the Son. “The picture is taken from an Eastern court, where a monarch is in a procession, and as he walks he leans upon a favorite courtier. This verse, in fact, could well be translated, ‘Behold, my servant, upon whom I lean.’ It is an indication of a special favor and confidence. So we have the picture of God the Father leaning upon God the son, counting upon Him and trusting Him to fulfill all His purposes.”
c. My Elect One in whom My soul delights: Jesus is the ultimate Elect One, our election is really a matter of being chosen in Jesus. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4, He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. In whom My soul delights shows that for the LORD, election is not a cold, calculating, technical thing. It is connected deeply with His love and approval. When God chooses someone, His soul delights in them. If you are chosen in Jesus before the foundation of the world, then God says, “My soul delights in you.”
i. Understanding this helps us to receive God’s favor, instead of trying to give Him a reason to delight His soul in us! Many of us are trying to earn the approval of God, instead of realizing it is His free gift, received by faith, because He has chosen – elected – to delight His soul in us.
d. I have put My Spirit upon Him: Jesus was filled with the Spirit and did ministry in the power and flow of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16).
e. He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles: The ministry of the Servant, the Messiah, would not be restricted to the Jewish people. He would also have a ministry to the Gentiles, bringing justice and righteousness to them.
f. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice: This doesn’t mean that Jesus never spoke loudly. It refers to His gentle, lowly heart and actions. Jesus didn’t make His way by bluster and loud, overwhelming talk, but by the Spirit of God upon Him.
i. “He is not self-assertive: probably the three verbs here are cumulative, stressing his quiet, unaggressive demeanour, but shout (‘shriek’) could suggest that he is not out to startle, cry out (‘raise his voice’) not to dominate or shout others down, raise his voice (‘make his voice heard’) not out to advertise himself.” (Motyer)
ii. “Think for a moment about the modesty of God. He is always at work: He guides the sun, the stars, and the universe. He controls every galaxy. He refreshes the earth constantly. But He works so quietly that many people now try to make out there is no God at all…. That is the hallmark of reality in service. God’s artists do not put their signatures to the pictures they create. His ambassadors do not run after the photographer all the time to get their pictures taken. It is enough that they have borne witness to the Lord.” (Redpath)
g. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench: This is another reference to the gentle character of Jesus. A reed is a fairly fragile plant, yet if a reed is bruised, the Servant will handle it so gently that He will not break it. And if flax, used for tinder to start a fire, does not flame but only smokes, He will not quench it into extinguishing. Instead, the Servant will gently blow on the smoking flax, fanning it into flame again.
i. Often we feel that God deals roughly with our weaknesses and failures. Just the opposite is true. He deals with them gently, tenderly, helping them along until the bruised reed is strong and the smoking flax is in full flame.
ii. “Think again of that reed: something that has been crushed, or hurt by unkindness, a life that is somehow bent and bruised and shattered, without strength or beauty. There is nothing attractive about a reed, and there is certainly nothing very pleasant about the circumstances in which it lives! Usually it grows in a smelly, unsavory swamp.” (Redpath)
iii. “We call ourselves Christians, but if you are like me, sometimes you are desperately ashamed of how dimly your light burns. There is far more smoke than fire: so little prayer, so little real testimony, so much depression and discouragement. But the Lord says He will not extinguish the smoking flax.” (Redpath)
iv. “He is not dismissive of others: however useless or beyond repair (bruised reed), however ‘past it’ and near extinction (smouldering wick) they may seem. The negative statements imply their positive equivalents: he can mend the broken reed, fan into flame the smouldering wick. The former has been internally damaged, the latter lacks the external nourishment of oil. The Servant is competent both to cure and to supply.” (Motyer)
v. Jesus sees the value in a bruised reed, even when no one else can. He can make beautiful music come from a bruised reed, as He puts His strength in it! Though a smoking flax – used for a wick on an oil lamp – is good for nothing, Jesus knows it is valuable for what it can be when it is refreshed with oil. Many of us are like the bruised reed, and we need to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16). Others are like the smoking flax and can only burn brightly for the LORD again when we are drenched in oil, with a constant supply coming, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
vi. Jesus wants us to have His heart towards the lowly, broken, and hurting. It’s easy to pass them by just as quickly as the priest and the Levite passed the man on the road to Jericho. “The superficial Christian worker ignores that kind of situation. He wants a sphere to serve where it will be worthy of his talent, if you please. A task where his abilities will be recognized and used, something that is big enough to justify all the training he has undergone. In the eyes of the Lord, the test of the real servant is, does he bend with the humility of Jesus Christ over a bruised reed and smoking flax?” (Redpath)
h. He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged: The Servant is gentle, but not weak. He will bring forth justice for truth. There aren’t two ways about it; it will happen, and failure or discouragement will not stop the Servant.
i. Isn’t it wonderful that Jesus never gets discouraged? When we think of the job that He has to do, the obstacles He must overcome, and the tools He needs to work with, it is amazing that He never becomes discouraged. It is because He has all power and authority.
ii. Fail is the same word as smoking in smoking flax He will not quench. Discouraged is the same word as bruised in a bruised reed He will not break. “So here is the Servant of the Lord…there are no bruises about Him; He is no mere smoking flax. He is well able to do the task of redemption because He is free from all the weaknesses and failures of His people. He has no flaws or blemishes – He is perfection and majestic strength.” (Redpath)
i. Till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law: The work of the Servant will extend to the whole earth, and all the peoples – even those in the distant coastlands – shall serve Him.
2. (5-9) The LORD of glory and His promise to His Servant.
Thus says God the LORD,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it,
Who gives breath to the people on it,
And spirit to those who walk on it:
“I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles,
To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prison,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.
I am the LORD, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another,
Nor My praise to carved images.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
And new things I declare;
Before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
a. Thus says God the LORD: The promise of the Servant and His ministry is so wonderful, that the One making the promise should state His credentials. Just as when we take out a loan, the bank asks for assurance we can fulfill our promise, so this verse is another “credit check” on God. God the LORD is more than happy to do so. First look up, because He created the heavens and stretched them out. Then look down, because He spread forth the earth and that which comes from it. Then look in a mirror, because He gives breath to the people on it. The God who did such great things can fulfill His promises about the Servant.
b. I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand: Specifically, this is a promise from the LORD to the Servant – Jesus Christ. Jesus must have received remarkable encouragement from passages like this when He faced difficult and trying times during His earthly ministry.
i. Called You in righteousness: “Because there was nothing unholy or unrighteous in My calling, You can be confident that the calling will be fulfilled.”
ii. Will hold Your hand: “I am with You always, to love and guide You. I will never leave You. I am holding Your hand all the time!”
iii. I will keep You: “You will not get lost or left behind. I am always there to watch over You and keep You.”
iv. And give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles: “You will fulfill the purpose I have called You to. You will bring salvation, not only to Your people, but also to those afar off, who seem beyond salvation.”
v. To open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison: “I will use You to do miraculous works of restoration and healing, both physically and spiritually. You will be used to bring sight and freedom to many.”
vi. What glorious promises, each fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus! By extension, these promises also belong to us. Jesus prayed, As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world (John 17:18). We are sent as Jesus was sent and can receive these same promises as belonging to us.
c. I am the LORD, that is My name: Such glorious promises need confirmation, and the assurance that the One making the promises is able to fulfill them.
i. I am the LORD: “This is the famous tetragrammaton, or name of four letters, which we write Jehovah, Yehovah, Yehveh, Yeveh, Jhuh, Javah, etc. The letters are Y H U H. The Jews never pronounce it, and the true pronunciation is utterly unknown.” (Clarke)
d. My glory I will not give to another: First, no one else can fulfill these promises, because God will not share His glory with any other.
i. It is important to understand that Jesus shares in the glory of the Father. Jesus prayed, And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. (John 17:5) If God the Son and God the Father each share glory, and the LORD shares His glory with no one, it means that the Father and the Son are the LORD God. The LORD God – Yahweh – is one God in Three Persons.
e. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare: God is master of both the past (the former things) and the future (new things). Being the master of both the future and the past, God has the present well in hand also.
i. We see this especially in the way that God can declare…new things, even before they spring forth. As Peter said, so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place (2 Peter 1:19). God’s prophetic word fulfilled shows us the confidence we can have in His word.
B. The work of the LORD’s Servant.
1. (10-12) Praise for the victory of the Servant.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
And His praise from the ends of the earth,
You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
You coastlands and you inhabitants of them!
Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voice,
The villages that Kedar inhabits.
Let the inhabitants of Sela sing,
Let them shout from the top of the mountains.
Let them give glory to the LORD,
And declare His praise in the coastlands.
a. Sing to the LORD a new song: This sounds like a Psalm (Psalm 33:3, 40:3, 98:1, and others), because it is a song of praise. Who the Servant is and what He does is so glorious, it has to bring out a new song of praise.
b. You coastlands and you inhabitants of them: Who should sing this new song? Everyone who has been touched by the work of the Servant. Since even the coastlands were blessed by the Servant (Isaiah 42:4), they should praise Him also.
2. (13-17) The LORD brings judgment against all who serve false gods.
The LORD shall go forth like a mighty man;
He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war.
He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud;
He shall prevail against His enemies.
“I have held My peace a long time,
I have been still and restrained Myself.
Now I will cry like a woman in labor,
I will pant and gasp at once.
I will lay waste the mountains and hills,
And dry up all their vegetation;
I will make the rivers coastlands,
And I will dry up the pools.
I will bring the blind by a way they did not know;
I will lead them in paths they have not known.
I will make darkness light before them,
And crooked places straight.
These things I will do for them,
And not forsake them.
They shall be turned back,
They shall be greatly ashamed,
Who trust in carved images,
Who say to the molded images,
‘You are our gods.’
a. The LORD shall go forth like a mighty man: This day of praise is a day of victory for the LORD over all false gods. He shall prevail against His enemies.
b. He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war…. He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud…. I will cry like a woman in labor: The LORD does this work of judgment with energy. He isn’t passive or dispassionate in His judgment. When the LORD sets things right on the earth, He does it with zeal.
i. The difference between He shall cry out, yes shout aloud and He will not cry out, nor raise His voice (Isaiah 42:2) shows the difference between the first and Second Coming of Jesus. The first coming was meek and lowly; the Second Coming will be loud and demonstrative.
c. I will lay waste the mountains and hills: No obstacle can get in the way of the LORD’s work. Mountains and hills can’t get in His way. Rivers and pools will not stop Him. Even the blindness of others will not prevent His plan. In the end, it is certain that they shall be greatly ashamed, who trust in carved images.
3. (18-20) The deaf and blind come to the Servant.
“Hear, you deaf;
And look, you blind, that you may see.
Who is blind but My servant,
Or deaf as My messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as he who is perfect,
And blind as the LORD’s servant?
Seeing many things, but you do not
Observe; opening the ears, but he does not hear.”
a. Hear, you deaf; and look, you blind, that you may see: Who are the deaf and the blind the LORD speaks to here? They are the deaf and blind among God’s people. The LORD has already spoken to the blind among the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:16). Now, He speaks to the blind that He calls My servant, the deaf whom He calls My messenger.
i. Obviously, a blind man will have trouble being a good servant. A deaf man will have trouble being a good messenger.
b. Seeing many things, but you do not observe: This is a word to these blind ones who think they can see. They act as if they can see, but they really can’t observe anything. They will stay blind and deaf as long as they can’t admit their need.
c. He does not hear: What is the cure? It begins with knowing our condition. When the deaf know they are deaf, and the blind know they are blind, they know their need, and do not deceive themselves about their condition.
i. When Jesus healed a man born blind, He used the occasion to speak about spiritual blindness and its cure. In the diagnosis of Jesus, only those who know they are blind can be healed of their blindness. Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.” (John 9:39-41)
4. (21-25) The LORD defends His defrauded people.
The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake;
He will exalt the law and make it honorable.
But this is a people robbed and plundered;
All of them are snared in holes,
And they are hidden in prison houses;
They are for prey, and no one delivers;
For plunder, and no one says, “Restore!”
Who among you will give ear to this?
Who will listen and hear for the time to come?
Who gave Jacob for plunder, and Israel to the robbers?
Was it not the LORD,
He against whom we have sinned?
For they would not walk in His ways,
Nor were they obedient to His law.
Therefore He has poured on him the fury of His anger
And the strength of battle;
It has set him on fire all around,
Yet he did not know;
And it burned him,
Yet he did not take it to heart.
a. The LORD is well pleased…He will exalt the law and make it honorable: The LORD God is pleased to bring this justice on the earth, and to exalt and honor the law.
i. Though under the new covenant, we do not come to God on the basis of the law, it does not mean that the law of God is bad. As Paul wrote in Romans 7:12, Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. The weakness of the law is not in the law, but in us. The law perfectly suits the purpose God intended for it: to display God’s holy standard, to expose our sin, and to show us the need for salvation in Jesus.
b. But this is a people robbed and plundered: God looks upon His people and sees the pain and devastation the world, the flesh, and the devil has wrought upon them. They are robbed and plundered, they are for prey, and no one delivers. Worst of all, no one says, “Restore!”
c. Who gave Jacob for plunder, and Israel to the robbers? Who did this? Isaiah’s answer is almost shocking: Was it not the LORD, He against whom we have sinned? In this circumstance, God allowed the low, defeated place of Israel as discipline for their sin, for their chosen blindness and deafness.
d. For they would not walk in His ways, nor were they obedient to His law: The painful and low place of Israel was meant to draw them back to the LORD. We can know that the LORD only used these measures after He had exhausted far gentler measures. Yet even these sharp measures did not work: Yet he did not know…Yet he did not take it to heart.
e. It has set him on fire all around: This correction from the LORD felt like fire to Israel, yet they did not respond to it. In 1 Peter 4:12-19, Peter also relates trials and correction from the Lord to fire: Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you…. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? God’s purpose in the fiery trial is to bring us to repentance and softness of heart, and the more we resist that work, the more the fire will burn! We should respond as Peter said we should in 1 Peter 4:19: Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator. Is the fire of God’s correction burning away the sin and impurity in your life, or is it just making you blacker and harder?
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org