Matthew 12:20
A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.
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(20) A bruised reed shall he not break.—The prophet’s words described a character of extremest gentleness. The “bruised reed” is the type of one broken by the weight of sorrow, or care, or sin. Such a one men in general disregard or trample on. The Christ did not so act, but sought rather to bind up and strengthen. The “smoking flax” is the wick of the lamp which has ceased to burn clearly, and the clouded flame of which seems to call for prompt extinction. Here (as afterwards, in Matthew 25:1-8) we read a parable of the souls in which the light that should shine before men has grown dim. Base desires have clogged it; it is no longer fed with the true oil. For such the self-righteous Pharisee had no pity; he simply gave thanks that his own lamp was burning. But the Christ in His tenderness sought, if it were possible, to trim the lamp and to pour in the oil till the flame was bright again. We cannot help feeling, as we read the words, that the publican-apostle had found their fulfilment in his own personal experience of the profound tenderness of his Master.

Till he send forth judgment unto victory.—In the Hebrew, unto truth. The citation was apparently from memory. What is implied in both readings is, that this tender compassion was to characterise the whole work of the Christ until the time of final judgment should arrive, and truth should at last prevail.

12:14-21 The Pharisees took counsel to find some accusation, that Jesus might be condemned to death. Aware of their design, as his time was not come, he retired from that place. Face does not more exactly answer to face in water, than the character of Christ drawn by the prophet, to his temper and conduct as described by the evangelists. Let us with cheerful confidence commit our souls to so kind and faithful a Friend. Far from breaking, he will strengthen the bruised reed; far from quenching the smoking flax, or wick nearly out, he will rather blow it up into a flame. Let us lay aside contentious and angry debates; let us receive one another as Christ receives us. And while encouraged by the gracious kindness of our Lord, we should pray that his Spirit may rest upon us, and make us able to copy his example.A bruised reed ... - The reed is an emblem of feebleness, as well as of fickleness or want of stability, Matthew 11:7. A bruised, broken reed is an emblem of the poor and oppressed. It means that he would not oppress the feeble and poor, as victorious warriors and conquerors did. It is also an expressive emblem of the soul broken and contrite on account of sin; weeping and mourning for transgression. He will not break it; that is, he will not be severe, unforgiving, and cruel. He will heal it, pardon it, and give it strength.

Smoking flax - This refers to the wick of a lamp when the oil is exhausted - the dying, flickering flame and smoke that hang over it. It is an emblem, also, of feebleness and infirmity. He would not further oppress those who had a little strength; he would not put out hope and life when it seemed to be almost extinct. He would not be like the Pharisees, proud and overbearing, and trampling down the poor. It is expressive, also, of the languishing graces of the people of God. He will not treat them harshly or unkindly, but will cherish the feeble flame, minister the "oil" of grace, and kindle it into a blaze.

Till he send forth judgment unto victory - "Judgment" here means truth - the truth of God, the gospel. It shall be victorious - it shall not be vanquished. Though the Messiah is not "such" a conqueror as the Jews expected, yet he "shall" conquer. Though mild and retiring, yet he will be victorious.

20. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory—"unto truth," says the Hebrew original, and the Septuagint also. But our Evangelist merely seizes the spirit, instead of the letter of the prediction in this point. The grandeur and completeness of Messiah's victories would prove, it seems, not more wonderful than the unobtrusive noiselessness with which they were to be achieved. And whereas one rough touch will break a bruised reed, and quench the flickering, smoking flax, His it should be, with matchless tenderness, love, and skill, to lift up the meek, to strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, to comfort all that mourn, to say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not. He shall carry on his work with so little noise, that if he trod upon a bruised reed he should not break it. Or, he shall not despise the afflicted, that are as bruised reeds and smoking flax. But the best expositors interpret it of Christ’s kindness to people’s souls; he will not discourage those that are weak in faith, or weak in hope.

Smoking flax signifieth flax in the kindling of which the fire had not prevailed, and so is a very apt metaphor to express such as believe, but are full of doubts and fears, or such as have a truth of grace, but yet much corruption; Christ is prophesied of as one that will encourage, not discourage, such souls.

Until he hath brought forth judgment unto victory; Isaiah saith, unto truth. Some think that until here only signifies the event of the thing, not a term of time, for there shall never be a time when Christ shall break a bruised reed, or quench a smoking flax, in the sense before mentioned. By judgment here may be meant, as before, what his Father hath judged right, until he hath caused the doctrine of the gospel, and the Messiah, to be believed and embraced of all the world. Or, until he shall have brought forth the judgment of those broken reeds and that smoking flax unto victory, until such souls be made perfect in faith and holiness, and shall have got a victory over all its unbelief and other corruptions. Or, until he hath brought forth condemnation unto victory, (for so the word signifieth), till he hath conquered death and hell, so as there shall be no condemnation to any soul that is in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:1. Or, until the last judgment comes, which shall determine in a perfect absolution and acquittal of all his people, and in a perfect victory over all his enemies.

A bruised reed shall he not break,.... Various are the thoughts of interpreters, about what is meant by this, and by

the smoking flax shall he not quench. Some think the Scribes and Pharisees are designed, whose power Christ could easily crush, and their wrath and fury restrain, but would not, till the time of his vengeance was come. Others that the publicans and sinners are intended, of whose conversion and salvation there were more hope than of the Scribes and Pharisees; and which Christ greatly sought after, and therefore cherished and encouraged them in his ministry and conversation. Some are of opinion, that such who have fallen into sin, and are under great decays of grace, are meant, whom Christ has compassion on, succours, and restores: but rather young converts, such as are under first awakenings, are here pointed at; who, like to a "bruised reed", or "broken" one, one that is in some measure broke, near being broken to pieces, are wounded in their spirits, have their hearts broken and contrite, under a sense of their sinfulness, vileness, weakness, and unworthiness; whom Christ is so far from breaking and destroying, that he binds up their broken hearts, heals their wounds, and restores comforts to them: and who are like to "smoking flax", or, as the Syriac reads it, , "a smoking lamp"; to which the Arabic and Persic versions agree; meaning the wick of the lamp, which being just lighted, seems ready to go out, having scarce any light, only a little fire in it, which makes it smoke: so these have but little light of knowledge, faith, and comfort, and a great deal of darkness and infirmity; only there is some warmth in their affections, which go upwards "like pillars of smoke, perfumed with frankincense"; and such Christ is so far from neglecting, and putting out, that he blows up the sparks of grace into a flame, and never utterly leaves the work,

till he sends forth judgment into victory; that is, till he sends forth the Gospel into their hearts, accompanied with his mighty power, in the light and comfort of it; which informs their judgments, enlightens their understandings, bows their wills, raises their affections, sanctifies their souls, works effectually in them, under the influence of his Spirit and grace, to the carrying on of the work of grace in them to the end; and making them victorious over all their enemies, and more than conquerors, through him that has loved them. The Targum of Jonathan paraphrases the words thus;

"the meek, who are as a bruised reed, he will not break; and the poor, who are as an obscure lamp, he will not quench.''

A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he {d} send forth judgment unto victory.

(d) He will pronounce sentence and judgment, in spite of the world and Satan, and show himself conqueror over all his enemies.

20. till he send forth judgment unto victory] Until He shall make (1) the Gospel or (2) His judgment victorious.

Matthew 12:20. Κάλαμον, a reed) In Hebrew קנה.[563] Jerome ad. Algasiam,[564] quæJames 2, interprets the bruised reed of Israel; and the smoking flax, of the people congregated from the Gentiles, who, the fire of the natural law being extinguished, were enveloped in the errors of a most bitter smoke, which is hurtful to the eyes, and of a thick darkness. Whom He not only forbore to extinguish and reduce to ashes, but also, on the contrary, from the spark, which was small and all but dying, aroused great flames, so that the whole world should burn with that fire of our Lord and Saviour which He came to send upon earth, and desires to kindle in the hearts of all.—οὐ κατεάξει, οὐ σβέσει, shall He not break, shall He not quench) An instance of Litotes for “He shall especially cherish.” Cf. Matthew 12:7, ch. Matthew 11:28; Isaiah 42:3; Isaiah 61:1-3.—ἐκβάλῃ, send forth, extend) In the Hebrew יוציא and ישים. In the S. V. both verbs[565] are commonly rendered by ἘΚΒΆΛΛΕΙΝ, to extend.—εἰς νῖκος, unto victory) The LXX. frequently render קנצח (for ever) by εἰς νῖκος, which is the force of the phrase in this passage; i.e. so that nothing may resist them for ever.

[563] קנה, a reed—evidently the original of the word cane, which has found its way, I believe, into every European language. Gr. κάννα, κάννη or κάνη. Lat. Canna; Fr. Cane; Span. Cana; Port. Cana or Canna. Cf. also the German Kaneie.—(I. B.)

[564] An epistle written by St Jerome to an Eastern lady of the name of Algasia, who had propounded twelve questions to him. He begins by a quaint and courteous proemium, in which he fancifully compares her to the Queen of Sheba, and then proceeds to answer her questions in order.—(I. B.)

[565] Sc. הו̇צִיא the Hiphil of יָצָֽא, and שֽׂוּם. Bengel does not mean to say that the LXX. render them so in this passage (which is not the case with either of them), but that they do so elsewhere; and, consequently, that St Matthew is justified in doing so here.—(I. B.)

Verse 20. - A bruised reed shall he not break, and-smoking flax shall he not quench. Though what more feeble than a cracked reed or a wick just flickering? Yet he reckons neither as useless; he allows for possibilities of improvement. His treatment of the believer who is weakest, and, so to speak, least alive, is marked by long-suffering and gentleness. Observe that

(1) Matthew omits the words, "He shall not burn dimly nor be discouraged," because he is not concerned with anything else than Christ's relation to others;

(2) he combines into one the two clauses of Isaiah, "He shall bring forth judgment in truth" and "Till he have set judgment in the earth." Till he send forth (ἕως α}ν ἐκβάλῃ). This being the supreme object of Messiah's life and energy - bringing out, as from his own plans and resources, judgment unto victory; i.e. the revelation of the Divine Law (ver. 18, note) to a successful issue in human hearts. Unto victory. Apparently only a paraphrase of the thought in Isaiah. Matthew 12:20Flax

The Hebrew is, literally, a dimly burning wick he shall not quench (Isaiah 42:3). The quotation stops at the end of the third verse in the prophecy; but the succeeding verse is beautifully suggestive as describing the Servant of Jehovah by the same figures in which he pictures his suffering ones - a wick and a reed. "He shall not burn dimly, neither shall his spirit be crushed." He himself, partaking of the nature of our frail humanity, is both a lamp and a reed, humble, but not to be broken, and the "light of the world." Compare the beautiful passage in Dante, where Cato directs Virgil to wash away the stains of the nether world from Dante's face, and to prepare him for the ascent of the purgatorial mount by girding him with a rush, the emblem of humility:

"Go, then, and see thou gird this one about

With a smooth rush, and that thou wash his face,

So that thou cleanse away all stain therefrom.

For 'twere not fitting that the eye o'ercast

By any mist should go before the first

Angel, who is of those of Paradise.

This little island, round about its base,

Below there, yonder, where the billow beats it,

Doth rushes bear upon its washy ooze.

No other plant that putteth forth the leaf,

Or that doth indurate, can there have life,

Because it yieldeth not unto the shocks.


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