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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 42

Verse 1


By far the most interesting part of this chapter is found at the very beginning.

Isaiah 42:1-4

"Behold, my servant whom I will uphold; my chosen in whom my soul delighteth: I will put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry, nor lift up his voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street. A bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench: he will bring forth justice in truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set justice in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his law."

The certainty that it is Jesus Christ the Messiah who is actually prophesied here has been known for ages; and only the rebellious perversity of deluded and hardened minds could be responsible for the regrettable fact that today one finds the true meaning denied by a few.

"The ancient Chaldee version translates the first line here: `Behold, my servant, Messiah.' The apostle Matthew applied it directly to Jesus Christ; nor can the passage with any justice or propriety be applied to any other person or character whatsoever."[1]

In the New Testament, Matthew quoted this whole passage verbatim in Matthew 12:18-21, stating that the prophet Isaiah had written this, and applying every word of it to Jesus Christ. It is the unwavering conviction of this writer that the Gospel of Matthew is a true portion of God's Word, every word of which we hold to be absolute and unalterable truth!

I have already written an exegesis of this paragraph in Vol. 1 of my New Testament Series of Commentaries (Matthew), pp. 170,171.

"Reference is here made to other writers regarding their comments on this passage: Only Christ fulfills the assignment here; all others fall short.[2] The Messiah-Servant is presented here as the tender Prophet; and clearly the Servant is here presented as an individual, not as the nation of Israel.[3] This speaks of Christ the antitype of Israel, and also the antitype of Cyrus.[4] Christ, the Servant, here is closely related to Israel. The mention of God's Spirit given to Christ upon the occasion of his baptism (Matthew 3:17) emphasizes that the Servant is an individual, standing out from the mass of Israel, a fact strongly emphasized again in Isaiah 42:18, below.[5] There are few indeed who deny that "the Servant of the Lord" here is the Messiah. The portraiture has so strong an individuality and such marked personal features, that he cannot possibly be merely a personified collective."[6]

No matter how undeniable an interpretation may be, the diehard critics will not have it so. "Isaiah 42:1-4 mean that Yahweh has called Israel, taken him by the hand, made him a covenant and a light to the nations, to bring them forth from the prison-house of glimmering darkness."[7] It is charitable to suppose that Wardle ever read the rest of this chapter, where it is unequivocally stated that the nation of Israel was both blind and deaf! How could such a nation be thought of as light and a covenant to all the nations? Furthermore, this remains the status of secular Israel until this day.

In our Introduction to Isaiah, we pointed out that splitting Isaiah once by no means solves any problem. Kelley tells us that, "Bernard Duhm (we do not know if this last name is pronounced Dumb or Doom!) published a commentary in 1892 and revealed that he had isolated four `Servant Songs' (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12), alleging that they were so different from the material in which they were embedded that they must have been written, not by their imaginative Deutero-Isaiah, but by someone else!"[8] Such a ridiculous error as this is due to the failure to recognize the close relationship between Christ and the First Israel and also between Christ and Cyrus, our Lord being undoubtedly the antitype of each of these, as noted by Jamieson, above in footnote 4.

The most deplorable error of interpretation with regard to the Old Testament and to Israel particularly is that of the failure to distinguish `which Israel' is meant. All of the glorious promises to Abraham never pertained in any degree to the mere physical descendants of that patriarch, but to his "spiritual seed," the "true Israel," the honorable people of "like character and faith of Abraham." The stupendous error of the critics in supposing that the nation of physical Israel is "the Ideal Servant" of Jehovah is due to their confusing the sinful kingdom of Israel with the "Servant" in whom the Lord was delighted, and who is here promised that Jehovah will uphold him, etc. That Israel is the "True Israel"; and just who is he? The apostle John quoted Jesus himself on this, and he said, "I am the true vine" (John 15:1). The physical, secular Israel was never, for a moment, the "true vine." Christ only is the True Vine, the True Israel; and just who is the Old Israel? Jeremiah tells us what kind of vine Israel became:

"To Israel: Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate branches of a vine foreign unto me?" (Jeremiah 2:21).

Note also that Isaiah had stressed this very same fact in Isaiah 5:3-8, where it is revealed that: although Israel (the physical Israel) had been intended to produce grapes, instead it produced only wild grapes and was fit only to be destroyed. There are literally countless passages of the Old Testament that dwell upon this tragic truth; and yet, throughout the Old Testament, God continually reiterated the truth that all of the sacred promises to the patriarchs were yet to be fulfilled. How? In the spiritual Israel, of course!

In this very chapter, the two Israels are dramatically presented; and without the information conveyed here, no understanding whatever is possible with reference to whole sections of the Old Testament. The two Israels in view here are the blind and deaf and rebellious Israel, and the Holy Christ who is the "True Israel," "the True Israel" of the New Testament. The first Israel is a type of the True Israel which is Christ.

The first Israel came up out of Egypt, being called forth from Egypt by God; Christ the True Israel also was called out of Egypt (See Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15). The birth of the first Israel as a nation was accompanied by a wholesale slaughter of innocent babies by Pharaoh who sought to destroy Israel; and the birth of the True Israel (Christ) was likewise accompanied by the wholesale slaughter of the innocents by Herod the Great. All of the first Israel were descended from Abraham; so was Jesus Christ the True Israel (Matthew 1:1). The first Israel, namely, Jacob, died; and Joseph begged the body of the first Israel from Pharaoh for the purpose of burying it; and when the True Israel (Jesus Christ) died, another Joseph begged the body of Pilate in order to bury it. The old Israel received "bread from heaven" in the form of manna in the wilderness; the New Israel receives Christ as the "bread from heaven," eating of his flesh and of his blood in the symbolical ritual of the Lord's Supper in the "wilderness of the Church's current probation." This is an extensive subject; but these few lines will demonstrate the validity of the type-antitype relationship between the two Israels.

Note what is said here of the character of "The Servant." God's soul delighteth in him (the prophetic present for the future verb). Could this refer to the "nation" of the Old Israel? Certainly not. Ezekiel stated that the secular nation had become worse than Sodom and Gomorrah (Ezekiel 16). He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. The Old Israel absolutely refused to do this; and they are still refusing to do it in the case of the shamefully displaced Palestinians. Only in the Ideal Israel, Jesus Christ our Lord, has justice and salvation ever come to the Gentiles. It was primarily because the physical Israel understood Jesus' intention of saving Gentiles that they rejected him and engineered his crucifixion.

"And the isles wait for his law ..." (Isaiah 42:4). Delitzsch as quoted by Rawlinson stated that, "It is an actual fact that the cry for redemption runs through the whole human race. They are possessed by an earnest longing, the ultimate object of which is, however unconsciously, the Servant of Jehovah and his instruction from Zion."[9]

Verse 5

"Thus saith God Jehovah, he that created the heavens, and stretched them forth; he that spread abroad the earth and that which cometh out of it; he hath given breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein. I, Jehovah, have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thy hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house. I am Jehovah, that is my name; and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise unto graven images. Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them."

This paragraph, like all the rest of these final chapters of Isaiah is loaded with the earmarks of Isaianic authorship, Note the repetition in Isaiah 42:5,6, and 8, calling attention to the fact that it is Jehovah God who is promising these wonderful things; and, "This is one of Isaiah's favorite means of emphasizing the certainty of the fulfillment of the things prophesied."[10]

Concerning the specific things prophesied in these five verses, Archer listed them thus: "God's twofold mission for his Servant would be: (a) to fulfill his covenant promises to Israel, and (b) to bring the light of revelation to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:5,6)."[11] The first of these concerned especially the bringing of the Messiah into the world, which event God had specifically tied to the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and therein lies the fact of God's refraining from the destruction of the "chosen people" until A.D. 70. Ages before the Messiah finally came, the apostate nation of the fleshly descendants of Abraham fully deserved to be destroyed, yet God, in a sense, was `stuck with them' until Messiah was born. Paul commented on this thus: "God endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction; and that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he afore prepared unto glory" (Romans 9:22). The profound English Scholar John Locke commented on this as follows:

"By `the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction' (mentioned in Isaiah 42:22), he manifestly means the nation of the Jews, who were now (in Paul's day) grown ripe, and fit for the destruction God was bringing upon them. And by `vessels of mercy,' he means the Christian Church gathered out of a small collection of convert Jews, and the rest made up of Gentiles, who were together from thenceforward to be `the people of God' in the room of the Jewish nation, now cast off, as apparent in Romans 9:24."[12]

The Gospel which would be proclaimed by the Servant would specifically invite the Gentiles of all mankind to share and share alike with the Jews the New Covenant and the blessings of salvation and eternal life. Isaiah 42:7 prophesied that the Servant would open the eyes of the blind and release the captives from prison. Christ did indeed open the eyes of the physically blind; but both that miracle and the releasing from prison found their real fulfillment in the spiritual sector. Christ referred to this in Luke 4:18,19, where he quoted from another passage in Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1f) which is very similar to this. In Isaiah 42:8,9, God again announced his refusal to share his glory with idols and graven images, and once more proclaimed God's ability to foretell events before they came to pass.

Verse 10

"Sing unto Jehovah 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. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit; let the inhabitants of Sela sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto Jehovah, and declare his praise in the islands. Jehovah will go forth as a mighty man; he will stir up his zeal like a man of war: he will cry, yea, he will shout aloud; he will do mightily against his enemies."

Concerning these verses, Archer noted that, "These represent the Gentiles as singing praises to God for their deliverance and conversion, and rejoicing with Israel over God's conquest over all his foes."[13] How marvelous all over the world has been the fulfillment of this prophecy of Christian singing. Creeds and doctrines are disputed and are even found to be contradictory; but the whole Christian world rejoices in the great songs of God's church. No Old Testament prophecy was ever more gloriously fulfilled than this one has been. As Henderson commented, "This paragraph describes the universal joy which the publication of the Gospel should occasion."[14]

Both Kedar and Sela were bitter enemies of Israel. Sela was one name of the Edomite city also called Petra, thus both of these being accounted Gentiles by the Jews. "Their mention here demonstrates the breadth of God's grace; but see the next paragraph."[15]

Verse 14

"I have long time holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself; now will I cry out like a travailing woman; I will gasp and pant together. I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and will dry up the pools. And I will bring the blind by a way that they know not; in paths that they know not will I lead them; I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things will I do, and I will not forsake them. They shall be turned back, they shall be utterly put to shame, that trust in graven images, that say unto molten images, Ye are our gods."

This paragraph is not limited to God's judgment of pagan nations but applies to all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike. "I have long time" refrained myself reminds us of Paul's words in Romans 9:22ff, where is mentioned the "longsuffering" of God in putting up with the repeated rebellions of the Jews. This paragraph shows that God's grace, just mentioned, is not a mere relaxing of God's requirements, or a softening of his attitude toward evil. On the other hand, "This paragraph shows God's fury against evil (Isaiah 42:13,14) and his pent-up zeal to redress it ... salvation will only come through judgment, and will not be for the impenitent (Isaiah 42:17). Compare Isaiah 63:1-6."[16]

There are certainly overtones of the final judgment in this paragraph, another instance where temporal judgment to be executed upon some earthly situation is to be understood typically of the Great Judgment at the second advent of Christ. Other examples are the judgments against Sodom, Gomorrah, Nineveh, Babylon, Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Locust Plague in Joel and many others. Although the particular judgment referred to here may not be clearly identifiable, it appears likely that the judgment of the blind and deaf servant (the fleshly Israel) could very well be the one indicated.

Verse 18


"Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see. Who is blind but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I send? who is blind as he that is at peace with me, and blind as Jehovah's servant? Thou seest many things, but thou observest not; his ears are open, but he heareth not. It pleased Jehovah, for his righteousness' sake, to magnify the law, and make it honorable. But this is a people robbed and plundered; they are all of them snared in holes, and hid in prison-houses; they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil, and none saith, Restore."

Here is the fleshly nation of the Jews, the Old Israel, one of the Three Servants prominent in this section of Isaiah. Note that the Old Israel is here called "my messenger" by God (Isaiah 42:19); but this does not mean, as Rawlinson thought, that it was only the default of the first messenger that required God to send the Ideal Servant, Jesus Christ. Oh no! From the very first, God had determined that only the Messiah could redeem any one. Even when God revealed his purpose to Abram in the promise that, "in thee and thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed," the reference was not to the fleshly nation in any sense whatever; but as Paul declared, "God said not `and to seeds, as of many; but as of one' And `to thy seed,' which is Christ" (Galatians 3:16). Therefore, it was through Christ, the Seed-Singular, that God promised Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. There is nothing in the whole Old Testament that suggests fleshly Israel would be the means of God's blessing all nations, except in a very inferior and secondary role, the principal part of which was their acceptance and preservation of the Law and their existence as the fleshly vehicle through whom the Christ would be born.

It is the hardening of Israel that looms in this paragraph. Note that in spite of their blindness and deafness, they are nevertheless commanded "to hear," indicating that their inability to hear was a willful inability on the part of Israel. The countless rebellions and sins of the Old Israel constitute the principal theme of the Old Testament. Israel had ample capacity and ability to have heard and obeyed God had they possessed any true desire to do so.

Kidner pointed out that even the pitiful status of Israel during the captivity was not designed to destroy Israel, but to discipline and correct them. It was only a pitiful handful of the nation, however, that cooperated with God's will in this.

Verse 23

"Who is there among you that will give ear to this? that will hearken and hear for the time to come? Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not Jehovah? he against whom we have sinned, and in whose ways they would not walk, neither were they obedient unto his law. Therefore he poured upon him the fierceness of his anger, and the strength of battle; and it set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart."

Here God prophesied that not even the captivity of Israel, in the complete sense, would result in the understanding of the people as a whole; and this was fulfilled in the truth that when the time came to return to Jerusalem, only a handful returned. These passages also emphasize that the hardships Israel would undergo in Babylon were solely due to the fault and rebellion of the people. There seems to be also a hope that some sense of shame could be aroused in some of the Israelites who were indeed not themselves hardened.

"So thoroughly hardened are the Jewish people as a whole, that they are represented here as being trapped in a house on fire, and even being scorched by the flames, but still unwilling to see their danger or to admit that they were hurt. What a picture of hardening! And this is their state to the present day!"[17]

"These final verses of the chapter emphasize that Israel's sufferings in exile are due to the very disobedience which they were still displaying; and there is also a plea for them to change their attitude (Isaiah 42:23)."[18]

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 42". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.