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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Isaiah 42

Verses 1-25

The Smoking Flax

Isaiah 42:3

Let us try to gather up the thoughts contained in these two images. They are slightly different, but one thought underlies them both. The one refers chiefly to God, the other to man.

I. The idea of the first is taken from one of the shepherd's pipes one of those little musical pipes crushed and trampled under foot.

The other picture is taken from the lamp in the temple, burning feebly and dimly, giving forth black smoke rather than light.

1. The 'bruised reed'. A soul just beginning the conscious Christian life, sore beset with difficulties, unable as yet to send out the harmony of praise and thanksgiving, unable to send up one real prayer.

2. The 'smoking flax'. Here we see the poor timid soul just beginning to wish to be of use, to let its light shine before men; sorry for a wasted life, longing to be of use, longing to be able to tell of the love of Christ, but timid; not able to speak so that others, seeing its good works and hearing its good words, may glorify the Father in heaven. It is a picture of the timid, unsatisfactory Christian unsatisfactory to God, unsatisfactory to man. But Christ has a personal, individual care for every such soul.

II. The thought which the Holy Ghost wants to fix upon our minds is this: the tender love of our Lord; the way in which He keeps back His power; leading us on so tenderly; allowing the tares to stay among the wheat, lest one ear of wheat should be plucked up with them; His forbearance with those who are in many respects so unsatisfactory.

If I were to give you illustrations of this love the work would be endless. (1) His dealings with the Apostles, and His patience with their slowness to understand, their unbelief and hardness of heart. (2) The woman of Samaria. (3) Again, that woman in Simon's house. (4) But more striking still is the story of Zacchæus! These are instances of 'bruised reeds' which have been tossed aside by man, those of whom man had said, 'you will never make anything good out of them'. Yet the Lord Jesus Christ brought out the harmony of God from those 'bruised reeds,' and kindled the 'smoking flax' to the full light of the eternal kingdom.

Bishop Howard Wilkinson, The Invisible Glory, p. 46.

References. XLII. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1831. A. W. Thorold, The Tenderness of Christ, p. 157. R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 136. R. A. Suckling, Sermons Plain and Parochial, p. 196. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 286. T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, p. 9. XLII. 4. W. Garrett Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 90. H. Macmillan, ibid. vol. lv. 1899, p. 276. C. Joseph, ibid. vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 327. W. L. Watkinson, ibid. vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 232. Bishop Matthew Simpson's Sermons, p. 371. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1945. XLII. 7. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 986. XLII. 9.-- Ibid. vol. xxv. No. 1508.

Isaiah 42:12

The text chosen by Dr. Eugene Stock for the chapter of his History in which he describes the work of the C.M.S. in New Zealand, Ceylon, West Indies, and Malta.

References. XLII. 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 847; vol. xxii. No. 1310. J. Martineau, Hours of Thought on Sacred Things, vol. i. p. 177. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 295.

Seven Looks

Isaiah 42:18

I. Look Back. Remember God's goodness. Your sins.

II. Look Up. In praise. 'Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His Holy Name.' In prayer. 'In the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up.'

III. Look Down. In humility. In caution. 'Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.'

IV. Look Forward. In confidence. In hope.

V. Look Within. Daily. Thoroughly.

VI. Look Around. Be vigilant.

VII. Look unto Jesus. As your Saviour (John 3:14 ). As your example (Hebrews 12:2 ). J. W. Mills, After-Glow, p. 175.

The Lord's Servant Deaf and Blind

Isaiah 42:19

For our present purpose it is unnecessary to consider the modern critical interpretation of the servant of the Lord in Isaiah. We apply the title to Christ, and read the text as a sidelight on His life. That Christ was in the highest sense the servant of God and man is His own teaching. The Son of man, He said Himself, came not to be served, but to be a servant, and to give His life as a ransom for many. It was the fulfilment of the will of God, the perfect rendering of the service claimed, that was the supreme object of His earthly life. He girded Himself through these mortal years, and without ceasing served God and man. Insomuch that the old saying carries a deep truth, that our Lord looked to hear for Himself from His Father's lips the word He spake in parable, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord'. But how should it be said of the servant and messenger of the Lord that He was blind as none other? How should it be said of Him Whose eyes are as a flame of fire, Whose look struck like a sword? Is it not told that when the Apostle saw Him he fell as dead before the intolerable lustre of His eyes? Did not His gaze pierce to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, to the last recesses of the thoughts and intents of the heart? Are not all things naked and open unto the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do? Yes; but, as the older writers and expositors have pointed out, He was in a sense blind. They dwelt on the fact that His was the blindness that has no sense of difficulties. It is told of an officer attacking an almost impregnable fort that he was in great peril, and was recalled by his chief. To disobey the recall was death, if only he saw it. He was blind in one eye, and when told of the recall he turned the blind eye on the signal, and asked that the battle should continue. This is the blindness of Christ and His faithful. 'Who art thou, O great mountain?' Christ indeed lifted His eyes to the hills, but not to these lower hills that block the wav and close us in. He lifted His eyes to the everlasting mountains, towering far above them, on whose summit the final feast of triumph is to be spread. Beyond the obstacles and thwartings that marked His earthly course He had a vision of the patience of God. He was blind, I say, to difficulty, even as His Apostle was. None of these things moved Him. A king about to engage an army five times as large as his own, prayed to God that He would take away from him the sense of numbers. The sense of numbers, in the earthly manner, Christ never possessed. On that side He was blind.

I. But I speak specially of His blindness to much in life that we consider it legitimate to see. He was blind to the allurement of our ordinary ambitions.

(1) The desire for money never seemed to touch Him.

(2) He was blind also, so far as we can tell, to that region which is the scene of the chief triumphs and apostasies of the heart the rich and volcanic and often wasted region of passion. I think that Dora Greenwell's remark is true, that the passion of love which forms the staple of imaginative literature is absolutely unknown to the New Testament. (3) Once more, the sphere of art and culture He seems to have left alone. He, the Poet of the universe, was not interested in poetry. He glanced at the Divine glory of the lily, and said that it surpassed even the glory of Solomon. But of the treasures and marvels of human art and imagination He had nothing to say, and apparently nothing to think. On these sides who, we ask, was blind as He that is perfect, and blind as the Lord's servant?

In the same way He was deaf not only to counsels of evil, but to much that seemed legitimate. Here, also, it appeal's as it many pleasant voices that spoke to Him might have been heeded without sin, and to His happiness. There are voices we think ourselves right in heeding which He might have heeded too. His life might have been richer, easier, more solaced, but He made sharp choices and stern renunciations and swift decisions, and so the fullness of life was not for Him, and its allurement and appeal were vain.

II. Let us not be afraid of anything, whatever it be, that ministers to the energy of our life in Christ But I suspect that most of us have to restrict ourselves for the kingdom of heaven's sake. Most of us, if we are to enter into life, must enter more or less maimed. Most of us have to be deaf and blind to solicitations which stronger people might obey innocently enough. No one in recent years has preached more powerfully the hallowing of the common life than the late Dr. Dale of Birmingham. He was eager and strenuous for many years as a preacher, as a student, as a social reformer, and as a politician. Yet in the end of his life he came to the conclusion, wrongly perhaps, that he would have done more and been more if he had kept himself more closely to the work of a Christian minister. Yes, we have to be deaf and blind; but we need not grudge it, for the time is coming when, in the other life, all our energies will find free scope. A character in a recent novel was accustomed to say about some blessing that it must come soon. Her mouth was made up for it Her friend replied that this world is just for us to make up our mouths in, and the next is for filling them. We can forgo what has to be forgone, if we look up to the heaven that darkles and shines above us, and remember that all things will there come back and be present again except repented and forgiven sin.

III. In the end we are to be blind to all things in comparison with the beauty of Christ, deaf to all voices but His own. It is for this we seek the House of God to hear the call which the world through the week is trying to drown, in the hush of the Sabbath day.

Remember He was never deaf and never blind when a soul sought Him. Behold, the Lord's ear is not heavy that it cannot hear, neither is His arm shortened that it cannot save. Remember Him on the Cross in a strait where two seas met Deep called to deep, the sea of misery to the sea of mercy. The Lord's ear was very heavy, but not heavy that it could not hear the thief. His arm was shortened, nailed to the wood, but not shortened that it could not save. That day the Lord and the thief were together in the new country. If thou seek Him He will be found of thee. Before we speak He calls that we may turn round to Him and say, 'When Thou saidst, Seek ye My Face, ray heart said unto Thee, Thy Face, Lord, will I seek.'

W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, p. 1.

References. XLII. 21. C. G. Finney, Sermons on Gospel Themes, p. 204. XLIII. 1. Vaughan, Sermons Preached in Christ Church, Brighton (7th Series), p. 8. XLIII. 1-3. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 24. XLIII. 1-4. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1895; vol. xliii. No. 2548. C. Kingsley, Sermons on National Subjects, p. 354. XLIII. 1-7. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2548; vol. xlviii. No. 2799. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 296. XLIII. 1-25. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. 1. No. 2888. XLIII. 2. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 164. R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 74. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 397. XLIII. 2, 3. Ibid. vol. 1. No. 2877. XLIII. 3. Ibid. vol. xxxvi. No. 2167. XLIII. 4. Ibid. vol. xvi. No. 917; vol. xxviii. No. 1671. XLIII. 6. Ibid. vol. xvii. No. 1007; vol. xlviii. No. 2799. XLIII. 10. Ibid. vol. xi. No. 644. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Common Life Religion, p. 82. XLIII. 14-28. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. 1. No. 2908. XLIII. 21. J. Robertson, Religion in Common Life, p. 108. W. E. Griffis, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1898, p. 174. E. H. Bickersteth, Thoughts in Past Years, p. 121. XLIII. 21-28. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2849. XLIII. 22-24. Ibid. vol. xxxii. No. 1895. XLIII. 22-25. Ibid. vol. xliii. No. 2548. XLIII. 22-28. Ibid. vol. xli. No. 2426. J. W. Atkinson, Penny Pulpit, vol. xiv. No. 833, p. 341. XLIII. 25. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 24; vol. xix. No. 1142; vol. xxviii. No. 1685. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 166. W. Page Roberts, Our Prayer Book, Conformity and Conscience, p. 91. XLIII. 26. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1743. XLIV. 1, 2. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 253. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah., p. 298. XLIV. 1-8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2427. XLIV. 2. J. Baines, Twenty Sermons, p. 39. XLIV. 3. T. G. Selby, The Holy Spirit and Christian Privilege, p. 231. A. G. Mortimer, Life and its Problems, p. 197. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 69. XLIV. 3, 5. A. Murray, The Children for Christ, p. 185. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1151. XLIV. 3. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 69. XLIV. 4. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. v. p. 59. XLIV. 5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2429. XLIV. 7. J. Parker, Studies in Texts, vol. i. p. 147.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Isaiah 42". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/isaiah-42.html. 1910.