Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
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.
He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.
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").
A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
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.
truth—Mt 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.
He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.
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.
Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:
5. Previously God had spoken of Messiah; now (Isa 42:5-7) He speaks to Him. To show to all that He is able to sustain the Messiah in His appointed work, and that all might accept Messiah as commissioned by such a mighty God, He commences by announcing Himself as the Almighty Creator and Preserver of all things.
spread … earth—(Ps 136:6).
I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;
6. in righteousness—rather, "for a righteous purpose" [Lowth]. (See Isa 42:21). God "set forth" His Son "to be a propitiation (so as) to declare His (God's) righteousness, that God might be just, and (yet) the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Ro 3:25, 26; compare see on Isa 41:2; Isa 45:13; 50:8, 9).
hold … hand—compare as to Israel, the type of Messiah, Ho 11:3.
covenant—the medium of the covenant, originally made between God and Abraham (Isa 49:8). "The mediator of a better covenant" (Heb 8:6) than the law (see Isa 49:8; Jer 31:33; 50:5). So the abstract "peace," for peace-maker (Mic 5:5; Eph 2:14).
the people—Israel; as Isa 49:8, compared with Isa 42:6, proves (Lu 2:32).
To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
7. blind—spiritually (Isa 42:16, 18, 19; Isa 35:5; Joh 9:39).
prison—(Isa 61:1, 2).
darkness—opposed to "light" (Isa 42:6; Eph 5:8; 1Pe 2:9).
I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.
8. God turns from addressing Messiah to the people.
Lord—Jehovah: God's distinguishing and incommunicable name, indicating essential being and immutable faithfulness (compare Ex 6:3; Ps 83:18; 96:5; Ho 12:5).
my—that is due to Me, and to Me alone.
Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.
9. former things—Former predictions of God, which were now fulfilled, are here adduced as proof that they ought to trust in Him alone as God; namely, the predictions as to Israel's restoration from Babylon.
new—namely, predictions as to Messiah, who is to bring all nations to the worship of Jehovah (Isa 42:1, 4, 6).
spring forth—The same image from plants just beginning to germinate occurs in Isa 43:19; 58:8. Before there is the slightest indication to enable a sagacious observer to infer the coming event, God foretells it.
Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof.
10. new song—such as has never before been sung, called for by a new manifestation of God's grace, to express which no hymn for former mercies would be appropriate. The new song shall be sung when the Lord shall reign in Jerusalem, and all "nations shall flow unto it" (Isa 2:2; 26:1; Re 5:9; 14:3).
ye that go down to the sea—whose conversion will be the means of diffusing the Gospel to distant lands.
all … therein—all the living creatures that fill the sea (Ps 96:11) [Maurer]. Or, all sailors and voyagers [Gesenius]. But these were already mentioned in the previous clause: there he called on all who go upon the sea; in this clause all animals in the sea; so in Isa 42:11, he calls on the inanimate wilderness to lift up its voice. External nature shall be so renovated as to be in unison with the moral renovation.
Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains.
11. cities—in a region not wholly waste, but mainly so, with an oasis here and there.
Kedar—in Arabia-Deserta (Isa 21:16; Ge 25:13). The Kedarenians led a nomadic, wandering life. So Kedar is here put in general for that class of men.
rock—Sela, that is, Petra, the metropolis of Idumea and the Nabath�an Ishmaelites. Or it may refer in general to those in Arabia-Petræa, who had their dwellings cut out of the rock.
the mountains—namely, of Paran, south of Sinai, in Arabia-Petræa [Vitringa].
Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare his praise in the islands.
12. glory … islands—(Isa 24:15).
The LORD shall go forth as a mighty man, he shall stir up jealousy like a man of war: he shall cry, yea, roar; he shall prevail against his enemies.
13-16. Jehovah will no longer restrain His wrath: He will go forth as a mighty warrior (Ex 15:3) to destroy His people's and His enemies, and to deliver Israel (compare Ps 45:3).
stir up jealousy—rouse His indignation.
roar—image from the battle cry of a warrior.
I have long time holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman; I will destroy and devour at once.
14. long time—namely, during the desolation of Israel (Isa 32:14).
holden my peace—(Compare Ps 50:21; Hab 1:2).
cry like a travailing woman, &c.—Like a woman in parturition, who, after having restrained her breathing for a time, at last, overcome with labor pain, lets out her voice with a panting sigh; so Jehovah will give full vent to His long pent-up wrath. Translate, instead of "destroy … devour"; I will at once breathe hard and pant, namely, giving loose to My wrath.
I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and I will dry up the pools.
15. I will destroy all My foes.
mountains—in Palestine usually planted with vines and olives in terraces, up to their tops.
islands—rather, "dry lands." God will destroy His foes, the heathen, and their idols, and "dry up" the fountains of their oracles, their doctrines and institutions, the symbol of which is water, and their schools which promoted idolatry [Vitringa].
And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.
16. blind—God's people, Israel, in captivity, needing a guide. In the ulterior sense the New Testament Church, which was about to be led and enlightened by the Son of God as its leader and shepherd in the wilderness of the Roman empire, until it should reach a city of habitation. "A way … they knew not," refers to the various means ployed by Providence for the establishment of the Church in the world, such as would never have occurred to the mind of mere man. "Blind," they are called, as not having heretofore seen God's ways in ordering His Church.
make darkness light, &c.—implies that the glorious issue would only be known by the event itself [Vitringa]. The same holds good of the individual believer (Isa 30:21; Ps 107:7; compare Ho 2:6, 14; Eph 5:8; Heb 13:5).
They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods.
17. turned back … ashamed—disappointed in their trust; the same phrase occurs in Ps 35:4.
Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see.
18. deaf—namely, to the voice of God.
blind—to your duty and interest; wilfully so (Isa 42:20). In this they differ from "the blind" (Isa 42:16). The Jews are referred to. He had said, God would destroy the heathen idolatry; here he remembers that even Israel, His "servant" (Isa 42:19), from whom better things might have been expected, is tainted with this sin.
Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the LORD'S servant?
19. my servant—namely, Israel. Who of the heathen is so blind? Considering Israel's high privileges, the heathen's blindness was as nothing compared with that of Israelite idolaters.
my messenger … sent—Israel was designed by God to be the herald of His truth to other nations.
perfect—furnished with institutions, civil and religious, suited to their perfect well-being. Compare the title, "Jeshurun," the perfect one, applied to Israel (compare Isa 44:2), as the type of Messiah [Vitringa]. Or translate, the friend of God, which Israel was by virtue of descent from Abraham, who was so called (Isa 41:8), [Gesenius]. The language, "my servant" (compare Isa 42:1), "messenger" (Mal 3:1), "perfect" (Ro 10:4; Heb 2:10; 1Pe 2:22), can, in the full antitypical sense, only apply to Christ. So Isa 42:21 plainly refers to Him. "Blind" and "deaf" in His case refer to His endurance of suffering and reproach, as though He neither saw nor heard (Ps 38:13, 14). Thus there is a transition by contrast from the moral blindness of Israel (Isa 42:18) to the patient blindness and deafness of Messiah [Horsley].
Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not.
20. observest—Thou dost not keep them. The "many things" are the many proofs which all along from the first God had given Israel of His goodness and His power (De 4:32-38; 29:2-4; Ps 78:1-72; 105:1-45).
he—transition from the second to the third person. "Opening … ears," that is, though he (Israel) hath his ears open (see on Isa 6:10). This language, too (see on Isa 42:19), applies to Messiah as Jehovah's servant (Isa 50:5; Ps 40:6).
The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable.
21. his righteousness—not His people's, but His own; Isa 42:24 shows that they had no righteousness (Isa 45:24; 59:16). God is well pleased with His Son ("in whom My soul delighteth," Isa 42:1), "who fulfils all righteousness" (Mt 3:15) for them, and with them for His sake (compare Isa 42:6; Ps 71:16, 19; Mt 5:17; Ro 10:3, 4; Php 3:9). Perhaps in God's "righteousness" here is included His faithfulness to His promises given to Israel's forefathers [Rosenmuller]; because of this He is well pleased with Israel, even though displeased with their sin, which He here reproves; but that promise could only be based on the righteousness of Messiah, the promised seed, which is God's righteousness.
But this is a people robbed and spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison houses: they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil, and none saith, Restore.
22. holes—caught by their foes in the caverns where they had sought refuge [Barnes]. Or bound in subterranean dungeons [Maurer].
prison-houses—either literal prisons, or their own houses, whence they dare not go forth for fear of the enemy. The connection is: Notwithstanding God's favor to His people for His righteousness' sake (Isa 42:21), they have fallen into misery (the Babylonish and Romish captivities and their present dispersion), owing to their disregard of the divine law: spiritual imprisonment is included (Isa 42:7).
none saith, Restore—There is no deliverer (Isa 63:5).
Who among you will give ear to this? who will hearken and hear for the time to come?
23. A call that they should be warned by the past judgments of God to obey Him for the time to come.
Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the LORD, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law.
24. Who—Their calamity was not the work of chance, but God's immediate act for their sins.
Jacob … Israel … we—change from the third to the first person; Isaiah first speaking to them as a prophet, distinct from them; then identifying himself with them, and acknowledging His share in the nation's sins (compare Jos 5:1).
Therefore he hath poured upon him the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle: and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart.
25. him—Israel (Isa 42:24).
strength of battle—violence of war.
it—the battle or war (compare Isa 10:16).
knew not—knew not the lesson of repentance which the judgment was intended to teach (Isa 5:13; 9:13; Jer 5:3).