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The Servant, a Light to the Nations


Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;

he will bring forth justice to the nations.


He will not cry or lift up his voice,

or make it heard in the street;


a bruised reed he will not break,

and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;

he will faithfully bring forth justice.


He will not grow faint or be crushed

until he has established justice in the earth;

and the coastlands wait for his teaching.


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Isa 42:1-25. Messiah the Antitype of Cyrus.

God's description of His character (Isa 42:1-4). God addresses Him directly (Isa 42:5-7). Address to the people to attend to the subject (Isa 42:8, 9). Call to all, and especially the exile Jews to rejoice in the coming deliverance (Isa 42:10-25).

1. my servant—The law of prophetic suggestion leads Isaiah from Cyrus to the far greater Deliverer, behind whom the former is lost sight of. The express quotation in Mt 12:18-20, and the description can apply to Messiah alone (Ps 40:6; with which compare Ex 21:6; Joh 6:38; Php 2:7). Israel, also, in its highest ideal, is called the "servant" of God (Isa 49:3). But this ideal is realized only in the antitypical Israel, its representative-man and Head, Messiah (compare Mt 2:15, with Ho 11:1). "Servant" was the position assumed by the Son of God throughout His humiliation.

elect—chosen by God before the foundation of the world for an atonement (1Pe 1:20; Re 13:8). Redemption was no afterthought to remedy an unforeseen evil (Ro 16:25, 26; Eph 3:9, 11; 2Ti 1:9, 10; Tit 1:2, 3). In Mt 12:18 it is rendered "My beloved"; the only beloved Son, beloved in a sense distinct from all others. Election and the love of God are inseparably joined.

soul—a human phrase applied to God, because of the intended union of humanity with the Divinity: "I Myself."

delighteth—is well pleased with, and accepts, as a propitiation. God could have "delighted" in no created being as a mediator (compare Isa 42:21; 63:5; Mt 3:17).

spirit upon him—(Isa 11:2; 61:1; Lu 4:18; Joh 3:34).

judgment—the gospel dispensation, founded on justice, the canon of the divine rule and principle of judgment called "the law" (Isa 2:3; compare Isa 42:4; 51:4; 49:6). The Gospel has a discriminating judicial effect: saving to penitents; condemnatory to Satan, the enemy (Joh 12:31; 16:11), and the wilfully impenitent (Joh 9:39). Mt 12:18 has, "He shall show," for "He shall bring forth," or "cause to go forth." Christ both produced and announced His "judgment." The Hebrew dwells most on His producing it; Matthew on His announcement of it: the two are joined in Him.

2. Matthew [Mt 12:19] marks the kind of "cry" as that of altercation by quoting it, "He shall not strive" (Isa 53:7).

street—the Septuagint translates "outside." An image from an altercation in a house, loud enough to be heard in the street outside: appropriate of Him who "withdrew Himself" from the public fame created by His miracles to privacy (Mt 12:15; Mt 12:34, there, shows another and sterner aspect of His character, which is also implied in the term "judgment").

3. bruised—"It pleased the Lord to bruise Him" (Isa 53:5, 10; Ge 3:15); so He can feel for the bruised. As Isa 42:2 described His unturbulent spirit towards His violent enemies (Mt 12:14-16), and His utter freedom from love of notoriety, so Isa 42:3, His tenderness in cherishing the first spark of grace in the penitent (Isa 40:11).

reed—fragile: easily "shaken with the wind" (Mt 11:7). Those who are at best feeble, and who besides are oppressed by calamity or by the sense of sin.

break—entirely crush or condemn. Compare "bind up the broken-hearted" (Isa 50:4; 61:1; Mt 11:28).

flax—put for the lamp-wick, formed of flax. The believer is the lamp (so the Greek, Mt 5:15; Joh 5:35): his conscience enlightened by the Holy Ghost is the wick. "Smoking" means "dimly burning," "smouldering," the flame not quite extinct. This expresses the positive side of the penitent's religion; as "bruised reed," the negative. Broken-hearted in himself, but not without some spark of flame: literally, "from above." Christ will supply such a one with grace as with oil. Also, the light of nature smouldering in the Gentiles amidst the hurtful fumes of error. He not only did not quench, but cleared away the mists and superadded the light of revelation. See Jerome, To Algasia, Question 2.

truthMt 12:20 quotes it, "send forth judgment unto victory." Matthew, under the Spirit, gives the virtual sense, but varies the word, in order to bring out a fresh aspect of the same thing. Truth has in itself the elements of victory over all opposing forces. Truth is the victory of Him who is "the truth" (Joh 14:6). The gospel judicial sifting ("judgment") of believers and unbelievers, begun already in part (Joh 3:18, 19; 9:39), will be consummated victoriously in truth only at His second coming; Isa 42:13, 14, here, and Mt 12:32, 36, 41, 42, show that there is reference to the judicial aspect of the Gospel, especially finally: besides the mild triumph of Jesus coming in mercy to the penitent now (Isa 42:2), there shall be finally the judgment on His enemies, when the "truth" shall be perfectly developed. Compare Isa 61:1-3, where the two comings are similarly joined (Ps 2:4-6, 8; Re 15:2, 4; 19:11-16). On "judgment," see on Isa 42:1.

4. fail—faint; man in religion may become as the almost expiring flax-wick (Isa 42:3), but not so He in His purposes of grace.

discouraged—literally, "broken," that is, checked in zeal by discouragements (compare Isa 49:4, 5). Rosenmuller not so well translates, "He shall not be too slow on the one hand, nor run too hastily on the other."

judgment—His true religion, the canon of His judgments and righteous reign.

isles … wait, &c.—The distant lands beyond sea shall put their trust in His gospel way of salvation. Mt 12:21 virtually gives the sense, with the inspired addition of another aspect of the same thing, "In his name shall the Gentiles trust" (as "wait for" here means, Isa 30:18). "His law" is not something distinct from Himself, but is indeed Himself, the manifestation of God's character ("name") in Christ, who is the embodiment of the law (Isa 42:21; Jer 23:6; Ro 10:4). "Isles" here, and in Isa 42:12, may refer to the fact that the populations of which the Church was primarily formed were Gentiles of the countries bordering on the Mediterranean.