Isaiah 42:1 Commentaries: "Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.
Isaiah 42:1
Behold my servant, whom I uphold; my elect, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit on him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XLII.

(1) Behold my servant . . .—Here the words point not, as before, to the visible, or even the ideal Israel, but to One who is the centre of both, with attributes which are reproduced in His people in the measure of their fulfilment of the ideal. “Elect” is another of the words with which Isaiah has fashioned the theology of Christendom. It meets us there four times (45:4, 65:9, 22), and is echoed and interpreted in the voice from heaven of Matthew 3:17. That voice fixed on the human consciousness of the Son of Man that He was “the servant of the Lord,” and throughout His life we trace an ever expanding and conscious reproduction of the chief features of Isaiah’s picture. Disciples like St. Matthew learnt to recognise that likeness even in what might seem to us subordinate details (Matthew 12:17-21).

I have put my spirit . . .—An echo from Isaiah 11:2, heard once more in Isaiah 61:1. The promise we note as fulfilled in closest connection with the utterance of the previous words in Matthew 3:16; Luke 3:22; John 1:32-33.

He shall bring forth judgment to . . .—The ministry of “the servant,” as extending to the Gentiles, is prominent in 2 Isaiah (Isaiah 49:6-7; Isaiah 52:15). It expands the thought of Isaiah 2:1-4. There the Temple is the centre from which the knowledge and the “judgment” (used here in the sense of law, or ordinance) flow; here it is from the personal teaching of “the servant.”

Isaiah 42:1. Behold my servant, &c. — “The prophet, having opened his subject with the preparation for the return from the captivity at Babylon, and intimated that a much greater deliverance was covered under the veil of that event, proceeded to vindicate the power of God, as Creator and Disposer of all things, and his infinite knowledge from his prediction of future events, and in particular of that deliverance; he then went still further, and pointed out the instrument by which he should effect the redemption of his people from slavery, namely, a great conqueror, whom he would call forth from the north and the east, to execute his orders. He now proceeds to the great deliverance, and at once brings forth into full view the Messiah, without throwing any veil of allegory over the subject.” For, though the person here spoken of has by some been supposed to be Cyrus, and by others Isaiah himself, and by others again the people of the Jews; yet we are directed by an infallible interpreter to understand the prophet as speaking of Christ. For to him St. Matthew has directly applied his words; nor, as Bishop Lowth has observed, can they, “with any justice or propriety, be applied to any other person or character whatever.” This is so evident, that not only the generality of Christians, but the Chaldee paraphrast, and divers of the most learned Jews, understand the passage of the Messiah, and of him alone; and pass a very severe sentence upon their brethren that expound it of any other person, and affirm that they are smitten with blindness in this matter. Indeed, to him, and to him only, all the particulars here following do truly and evidently belong, as we shall see. My servant — Though he was the only Son of the Father, in a sense in which no creature, man or angel, was, is, or can be his son; see Hebrews 1:2-5; yet, as Mediator, and with respect to his human nature, he sustained the character, and appeared in the form of a servant, learned obedience to his Father’s will, practised it, and was continually employed in advancing the interests of his kingdom. Whom I uphold — Whom I assist, and enable to do and suffer all those things which belong to his office; mine elect — Chosen by me to this great work of mediation and redemption; in whom my soul delighteth — Or, as רצתהis often rendered, is well pleased, both for himself and for all his people, being fully satisfied with that sacrifice which he shall offer up to me: see Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; 2 Peter 1:17; John 3:35. I have put my Spirit upon him

Not by, but without, measure, John 3:34; by which he is furnished with that abundance and eminence of graces and gifts which are necessary for the discharge of his high and mighty undertaking. He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles — He shall publish or show (as the word יציאoften signifies, and is translated Matthew 12:18) the law, counsel, or will of God concerning man’s salvation; and that not only to the Jews, to whom the knowledge of God’s law had been hitherto in a great measure confined, but to the heathen nations also.42:1-4 This prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, Mt 12:17. Let our souls rely on him, and rejoice in him; then, for his sake, the Father will be well-pleased with us. The Holy Spirit not only came, but rested upon him, and without measure. He patiently bore the contradiction of sinners. His kingdom is spiritual; he was not to appear with earthly honours. He is tender of those oppressed with doubts and fears, as a bruised reed; those who are as smoking flax, as the wick of a lamp newly lighted, which is ready to go out again. He will not despise them, nor lay upon them more work or more suffering than they can bear. By a long course of miracles and his resurrection, he fully showed the truth of his holy religion. By the power of his gospel and grace he fixes principles in the minds of men, which tend to make them wise and just. The most distant nations wait for his law, wait for his gospel, and shall welcome it. If we would make our calling and election sure, and have the Father delight over us for good, we must behold, hear, believe in, and obey Christ.Behold - This word is designed to call attention to the person that is immediately referred to. It is an intimation that the subject is of importance, and should command their regard.

My servant - This phrase denotes properly anyone who acknowledges or worships God; anyone who is regarded as serving or obeying him. It is a term which may be applied to anyone who is esteemed to be a pious man, or who is obedient to the commands of God, and is often applied to the people of God Genesis 50:17; 1 Chronicles 6:49; 2 Chronicles 24:9; Daniel 6:20; Daniel 9:2; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 1 Peter 2:16; Revelation 7:3; Revelation 15:3. The word 'servant' may be applied either to Isaiah, Cyrus, or the Messiah; and the question to whom it refers here is to be decided, not by the mere use of the term, but by the connection, and by the characteristics which are ascribed to him who is here designated as the 'servant' of Yahweh. There have been no less than five different views in regard to the personage here referred to; and as in the interpretation of the whole prophecy in this chapter, everything depends on this question, it is of importance briefly to examine the opinions which have been entertained.

I. One has been that it refers to the Jewish people. The translators of the Septuagint evidently so regarded it. They render it, Ἰακώβ ὁ παῖς μοῦ, κ.τ.λ. Iakōb ho pais mou, etc. - 'Jacob is my servant, I will uphold him; Israel is my chosen one, my soul hath embraced him.' Jarchi also so interprets the passage, but so modifies it as to understand by it 'the righteous in Israel;' and among the moderns, Rosenmuller, Paulus, and some others adopt this interpretation. The principal reason alleged for this interpretation is, that the phrase 'servant of Yahweh,' is used elsewhere in a collective sense, and applied to the Jewish people. Rosenmuller appeals particularly to Isaiah 41:8-9; to Isaiah 42:19, and to Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 48:20; and argues that it is to be presumed that the prophet used the phrase in a uniform manner, and must therefore be supposed here also to refer to the Jewish people. But the objections are insuperable.

1. In Isaiah 42:6, the servant of Yahweh here referred to, is plainly distinguished from the people, where God says, 'I will give thee for a covenant of (with) the people.'

2. The description which the prophet gives here of the character of the 'servant' of Yahweh, as meek, mild, gentle, quiet, and humble Isaiah 42:2-3, is remarkably unlike the character which the prophet elsewhere gives of the people, and is as remarkably like the character which is everywhere given of the Messiah.

3. It was not true of the Jewish people that they were appointed, as is here said of the 'servant' of God Isaiah 42:7, to 'open the blind eyes, and to bring the prisoners out of prison.' This is evidently applicable only to a teacher, a deliverer, or a guide; and in no sense can it be applied to the collected Jewish people.

II. A second opinion has been, that by the 'servant of Yahweh' Cyrus was intended. Many of the Jewish interpreters have adopted this view, and not a few of the German critics. The principal argument for this opinion is, that what precedes, and what follows, relates particularly to Cyrus; and an appeal is made particularly to Isaiah 45:1, where he is called the Anointed, and to Isaiah 44:28, where he is called the Shepherd. But to this view also, the objections are obvious.

1. The name 'servant of Yahweh,' is, it is believed, nowhere given to Cyrus.

2. The description here by no means agrees with Cyrus. That he was distinguished for justice and equity is admitted (see the note at Isaiah 41:2), but the expressions used here, that God would 'put his Spirit upon him, that he should not cry, nor lift up his voice, so that it should be heard in the streets,' is one that is by no means applicable to a man whose life was spent mainly in the tumults of war, and in the pomp and carnage of battle and conquest. How can this description be applied to a man who trod down nations, and subdued kings, and who shed rivers of blood?

III. Others suppose that the prophet refers to himself. Among the Jews, Aben Ezra, and among others, Grottoes and Doderlin held this opinion. The only reason for this is, that in Isaiah 20:3, the name 'servant' of Yahweh is given to Isaiah. But the objections to this are plain, and insuperable.

1. Nothing can be urged, as we have seen, from the mere use of the word 'servant.'

2. It is inconceivable that a humble prophet like Isaiah should have applied to himself a description expressive of so much importance as is here attributed to the servant of God. How could the establishment of a new covenant with the people of God, and the conversion of the pagan nations Isaiah 42:6-7, be ascribed to Isaiah? And in what sense is it true that he was appointed to open the eyes of the blind, and to lead the prisoners from the prison?

IV. A fourth opinion, which it may be proper just to notice, is that which is advocated by Gesenius, that the phrase here refers to the prophets taken collectively. But this opinion is one that scarce deserves a serious refutation. For,

1. The name 'servant of Yahweh,' is never given to any collection of the prophets.

continued...

CHAPTER 42

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.The person and office of Christ appointed by the Father. Isaiah 42:1-9. A new song to God for his gospel among the Gentiles, Isaiah 42:10-16. The idolatry of the heathen, and obstinacy of the Jews, Isaiah 42:17-25.

The prophet, having in the former chapter detected the vanity of idols, by their gross ignorance of future things, and having given one eminent instance of God’s certain foreknowledge of things to come, in the prediction of the destruction of Babylon, and the deliverance of the Jews out of it by Cyrus, he now addeth another more eminent and remote example of it, and foretelleth the coming of the Messiah, and several great effects or consequences thereof; which he rather doth, because this was the person by whom the idols were to be utterly abolished, as was foretold, Isaiah 2:18, compared with Isaiah 42:2-4, and as it fell out in the event; this having been observed not only by Christians, but even by the learned heathens, not without astonishment, that at that time when Christ came into the world idols were generally struck dumb, and the oracles ceased. My servant; the person of whom he here speaketh is by some supposed to be Cyrus, and by others Isaiah himself, and by others the people of the Jews. But the most and best interpreters understand this place of Christ. And although I am sensible that some learned men have done wrong to the sacred text, and to the Christian cause, by expounding some places of Christ without sufficient evidence, yet this is one of the many places in this prophecy which cannot without manifest violence be applied to any other; which is so evident, that not only the generality of Christians, but divers of the most learned Jews, understand it of the Messiah, and of him alone; and pass a severe censure upon their brethren that expound it of any other person, and affirm that they are smitten with blindness in this matter. Moreover this place is expressly interpreted of Christ, Matthew 12:18, &c.; and to him, and to him only, all the particulars here following do truly and evidently belong, as we shall see.

Whom I uphold; whom I will assist and enable to do and suffer all those things which belong to his office to do.

Mine elect; chosen by me to this great work of mediation and redemption, to which he is said to be sealed and sent, John 6:27,29, and predestinated, 1 Peter 1:20, and chosen of God, 1 Peter 2:4.

Delighteth; or, as this same word is oft rendered, is well-pleased, both for himself and for all his people, being fully satisfied with that sacrifice which he shall offer up to me.

I have put my Spirit upon him; I have furnished him with that abundance and eminency of gifts and graces which are necessary for the discharge of his high and hard employment.

Shall bring forth; shall publish or show, as this word is translated, Matthew 12:18; shall bring to light what before was hid in his breast, or in his Father’s bosom.

Judgment: this word is very ambiguous, and elsewhere is put for punishment, which cannot be meant here, because the whole context speaks of his mercy and sweetness, and not of his severity; but here it is clearly put for God’s law, as this very word is expounded here below, Isaiah 42:4, and as it is frequently used in the Holy Scriptures, as Psalm 119, and elsewhere: which also best agrees with the bringing forth or publishing of it here mentioned, publication being necessarily required and constantly used about laws. And this interpretation is confirmed by the following words,

to the Gentiles. For the great things which Christ published unto all the world, both Jews and Gentiles, was nothing else but the law, and will, and counsel of God concerning man’s salvation, and the way and means of obtaining it.

To the Gentiles; not only to the Jews, to whom the knowledge of God’s laws had been hitherto appropriated, but to the heathen’ nations of the world.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,.... The Targum is,

"behold my servant the Messiah;''

and Kimchi on the place says, this is the King Messiah; and so Abarbinel (f) interprets it of him, and other Jewish writers, and which is right; for the prophet speaks not of himself, as Aben Ezra thinks; nor of Cyrus, as Saadiah Gaon; nor of the people of Israel, as Jarchi; but of Christ, as it is applied, Matthew 12:17 who is spoken of under the character of a "servant", as he is; not as a divine Person, for as such he is the Son of God; but as man, and in his office as Mediator; a servant of the Lord, not of angels, or men, but of his divine Father; who chose him, called and sent him, and assigned him his work; which was principally the redemption of his people, and which he diligently, faithfully, and fully performed; in which he was "upheld" as man and Mediator by his Father, not only in his being as man, but was strengthened and helped in his mediatorial service so that he did not sink under the mighty weight of the sins of his people, or of the wrath of God: or, "whom I lean upon" (g); as a master on his servant, so Kimchi; he relied on him to do the work he undertook; he trusted him with his own glory, and the salvation of his people. This prophecy is ushered in with a "behold"; exciting attention to what is said concerning Christ, as of the greatest importance; directing the eye of faith to him for righteousness and salvation; and as expressive of admiration at him, that he who was the Son of God should become a servant, and undertake the salvation of men:

mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth: this character of "elect" may respect the choice of the human nature to the grace of union with the Son of God; which was chosen out from among the people, and separated from them for that purpose; and was preordained to be the Lamb slain for the redemption of man, and appointed to glory; and likewise the choice of Christ to office, to be the Mediator between God and man; to be the Saviour and Redeemer of the Lord's people; to be the Head of the church, and to be the foundation and the corner stone of that spiritual building; and to be the Judge of quick and dead: and with him, as such, was the Lord "well pleased, or delighted"; with his person; as the Son of God; and with all his chosen, as considered in him; with what he did as his servant; with the righteousness he wrought out; with the sacrifice he offered up; and with his sufferings and death, through which peace and reconciliation were made with God for sinners:

I have put my Spirit upon him; my Holy Spirit, as the Targum; not on him as a divine Person, as such he needed him not; but as man, with which he was filled without measure at his incarnation, and which rested upon him, and qualified him for his work and office, as Prophet, Priest, and King:

he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles; the Gospel, the produce of divine wisdom; the Gospel of God, whose judgment is according to truth; the rule of human judgment in things spiritual and saving, and by which Christ judges and rules in the hearts of his people; this he brought forth out of his Father's bosom, out of his own heart, and published it in person to the Jews, and by his apostles to the converted by it, became subject to his rule and government. Gentiles, who being converted by it, became subject to his rule and government.

(f) Mashmiah Jeshuah, fol. 9. Colossians 1. 2. Chizzuk Emunah, p. 299. (g) "qui innitar", Munster, "innitar ei, vel illi", Pagninus, Calvin; "in eo", Montanus.

Behold {a} my servant, {b} whom I uphold; my elect, in whom my soul {c} delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth {d} judgment to the Gentiles.

(a) That is, Christ, who in respect to his manhood is called here servant. The prophets used to make mention of Christ after they declared any great promise, because he is the foundation on which all the promises are made and ratified.

(b) For I have committed all my power to him, as to a most faithful steward: some read, I will establish him: that is, in his office by giving him the fulness of my Spirit.

(c) Only he is acceptable to me and they that come to me by him: for there is no other means of reconciliation, Mt 12:18, Eph 4:1

(d) He will declare himself governor over the Gentiles and call them by his word, and rule them by his Spirit.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. The election, equipment, and mission of the Servant.

Behold my servant] LXX. reads Ἰακὼβ ὁ παῖς μου (“Jacob my servant”) and in the next line, Ἰσραὴλ ὁ ἐκλεκτός μου (“Israel my chosen”).

whom I uphold] Cf. ch. Isaiah 41:10.

mine elect] R.V. my chosen. Used of Israel ch. Isaiah 43:20, Isaiah 45:4; cf. the verb in Isaiah 41:8 etc.; and Deuteronomy 7:7 &c.

I have put my spirit upon him] The Servant’s function being prophetic, he is, like the prophets, endowed with the spirit of Jehovah. Cf. ch. Isaiah 11:2 ff., where the Messiah is endowed with the Spirit for His royal functions.

he shall bring forth (or send forth) judgment to the nations] This is the ultimate purpose of the Servant’s being raised up,—the diffusion of the true religion throughout the world. The word “judgement” (mishpâṭ) occurs three times in these few verses, and evidently in a special sense. The plural is often used of the ordinances (lit. “judicial decisions”) of Jehovah; these are sometimes viewed as a unity and described by the sing. (see ch. Isaiah 51:4; Jeremiah 5:4; Jeremiah 8:7). This is the sense here; it means the religion of Jehovah regarded as a system of practical ordinances. All recent commentators instance the close parallel of the Arabic dîn, which denotes both a system of usages and a religion. This the Servant shall “send forth” to the nations by his prophetic word. The best commentary on the passage is ch. Isaiah 2:1-4.

1–4. Israel as the Lord’s Servant. The features of the portrait are these: (1) It starts from the thought of ch. Isaiah 41:8 ff., the election by which Israel is constituted the Servant of Jehovah; but this is immediately followed by (2) the equipment of the Servant with the Divine Spirit, and (3) the mission for which he is raised up, viz., to be the organ of the true religion to the world (Isaiah 42:1). (4) The manner and spirit of the Servant’s working are then described; his unobtrusiveness and tenderness (3 f.). (5) His unflinching constancy in the prosecution of his work, and his final and complete success. The whole description is singularly elevated, and impressive; Jehovah speaks of His Servant as He sees him, and as he shall yet be revealed to the world.

If the Servant of the Lord here described is Israel, he is obviously not Israel in its actual condition of bondage and inefficiency. He is Israel according to its idea,—the Divine ideal after and towards which Jehovah is fashioning the people. This ideal is personified, and it is the vividness of the personification that leads many readers to think that an individual must be meant. But such impressions are not greatly to be trusted. It is a very hazardous thing to set limits to the possibilities of O.T. personification. The real question is whether the characteristics ascribed to the Servant are capable of being realised by the nation of Israel, or whether they are such as to demand a separate and personal embodiment. Even if it should be found that some details do not readily fall in with the national interpretation it would not at once follow that that interpretation was false; for no one argues that our Lord’s parables must be literally true stories, because they contain features to which no spiritual meaning can be attached. But that consideration need not trouble us in this passage, for it will be seen that all that is here said of the Servant is applicable to Israel in the ideal light in which it is here presented. Certainly no historic individual of that age can possibly be the subject of the picture.Verses 1-8. - ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE SERVANT OF THE LORD, AND THE WORK WHICH HE WILL PERFORM. There are comparatively few who deny that, in this place at any rate, the "Servant of the Lord" is the Messiah. (So the Targum on the passage; so Abar-barnel; so, among moderns, Oehler, Delitzsch, and Mr. Cheyne.) The portraiture has "so strong an individuality and such marked personal features, that it cannot possibly be a mere personified collective;" and it goes so "infinitely beyond anything of which a man was ever capable that it can only be the future Christ" (Delitzsch). It may be added that St. Matthew (Matthew 12:17-21) distinctly applies the passage to our Lord. Verse 1. - Behold. "Behold," as Mr. Cheyne says, "invites the attention of the world - both of the Jews and of the nations - to a new revelation." It looks back to the similar expression of vers. 24 and 29 of the preceding chapter, which draw down the curtain upon the idol-gods, while this "behold" reveals One who is to occupy their place, and to be a worthy object of the worship of mankind, My Servant; i.e. my true and perfect servant, utterly obedient (John 4:34; Hebrews 3:2); not, like Israel, my rebellious and faithless servant; not, even, like my prophets, yielding an imperfect obedience, Whom I uphold. "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself" (John 5:26). As the fount or origin of Divinity (πηγὴ Θεότητος), the Father supports and sustains even the Son and the Spirit. Mine Elect (comp. 1 Peter 2:6). Christ was "chosen" from all eternity in God's counsels to the great work of man's redemption, and to be the Mediator between God and man. I have put my Spirit upon him (see Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 61:1; and for the fulfilment, comp. Luke 2:40; Luke 3:22; Luke 4:18-21; Luke 3:34). He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles; i.e. "he shall publish," or "cause to be published, to the Gentiles, the true Law of God - religion on its practical side." The publication of Christianity throughout all the world has abundantly fulfilled this promise or prophecy. The call of the Gentiles had been already declared by Isaiah in his earlier preaching (ch. 2:2; 11:10; 19:22-25; 25:6; 27:13, etc.). Jehovah has thus placed Himself in opposition to the heathen and their gods, as the God of history and prophecy. It now remains to be seen whether the idols will speak, to prove their deity. By no means; not only are they silent, but they cannot speak. Therefore Jehovah breaks out into words of wrath and contempt. "Behold, ye are of nothing, and your doing of nought: an abomination whoever chooseth you." The two מן are partitive, as in Isaiah 40:17; and מאפע is not an error of the pen for מאפס, as Gesenius and others suppose, but אפע from עפע equals פּה (from which comes פּה), פּעה, Isaiah 42:14 (from which comes אפעה, Isaiah 59:5), to breathe, stands as a synonym to און, הבל, רוח. The attributive clause בּכם יבחר (supply אשׁר חוּא) is a virtual subject (Ewald, 333, b): ye and your doings are equally nil; and whoever chooses you for protectors, and makes you the objects of his worship, is morally the most degraded of beings.
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