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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Isaiah 42

Verse 1

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.

God's description of His character (Isaiah 42:1-4) God addresses Him directly (Isaiah 42:5-7). Address to the people to attend to the subject (Isaiah 42:8-9). Call to all, and especially the exile Jews, to rejoice in the coming deliverance (Isaiah 42:10-25).

Behold 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 Matthew 12:18-20, and the description, can apply to Messiah alone (Psalms 40:6, note: with which cf. Exodus 21:6; John 6:38; Philippians 2:7). Israel, also, in its highest ideal, is called the "servant" of God (Isaiah 49:3). But this ideal is realized only in the antitypical Israel, its representative-man and Head, Messiah (cf. Matthew 2:15 with Hosea 11:1). "Servant" was the position mused by the Son of God throughout His humiliation.

Whom I uphold - lest he should sink under the pressure of my wrath against man's sin laid upon Him. So the Syriac. But Grotius and Calvin take the Hebrew, ethmak bo, I will lean upon Him; as a master leans upon a faithful servant (2 Kings 5:18; 2 Kings 7:2; 2 Kings 7:17). I depend upon Him for executing all my will.

Mine elect - chosen by God before the foundation of the world for an atonement (1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). Redemption was no afterthought to remedy an unforeseen evil (Romans 16:25-26; Ephesians 3:9; Ephesians 3:11; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 1:2-3). In Matthew 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.

(In whom) my 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 (cf. Isaiah 42:21; Isaiah 63:5; Matthew 3:17).

I have put my Spirit upon him - (Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18; John 3:34.)

He shall bring forth judgment - the Gospel dispensation, founded on justice, the canon of the divine rule and principle of judgment, called "the law" (Isaiah 2:3: cf. Isaiah 42:4, "His law;" Isaiah 51:4; Isaiah 49:6). The Gospel has a discriminating judicial effect: saving to penitents: condemnatory to Satan, the enemy (John 12:31; John 16:11), and the willfully impenitent (John 9:39). Matthew 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 moot on His producing it; Matthew on His announcement of it: the two are joined in Him.

Verse 2

He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.

He shall not cry, nor lift up. Matthew marks the kind of "cry" as that of altercation, by quoting it, "He shall not strive" (Isaiah 53:7).

In the street - the Septuagint translate '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 (Matthew 12:15; Matthew 5:34, there, shows another and sterner aspect of His character toward the Satanic "generation of vipers" which is also implied in the term "judgment").

Verse 3

A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.

A bruised reed shall he not break. "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him" (Isaiah 53:5; Isaiah 53:10; Genesis 3:15); so He can feel for the bruised. As Isaiah 42:2 described His unturbulent spirit toward His violent enemies (Matthew 12:14-16), and His utter freedom from love of notoriety, so Isaiah 42:3 His tenderness in cherishing the first spark of grace in the penitent (Isaiah 40:11).

Reed - fragile; easily "shaken with the wind" (Matthew 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" (Isaiah 50:4; Isaiah 61:1; Matthew 11:28).

The smoking flax shall he not quench - "flax" put for the lamp-wick, formed of flax. The believer is the lamp (so the Greek, Matthew 5:15, "Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel;" John 5:35): his conscience enlightened by the Holy Spirit 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 lighted 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 added the, light of revelation. See Jerome, ad 'Algasiam,' Quaestio 2.

He shall bring forth judgment unto truth. Matthew 12:20 quotes it, "He shall 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" (John 14:6). The Gospel judicial sifting ("judgment") of believers and unbelievers, begun already in part (John 3:18-19; John 9:39), will be consummated victoriously in truth only at His second coming. Isaiah 42:13-14, here, and Matthew 12:32; Matthew 12:36; Matthew 12:41-42, 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 (Isaiah 42:2), there shall be finally the judgment on His enemies, when the "truth" shall be perfectly developed. Compare Isaiah 61:1-3, where the two comings are similarly joined (Psalms 2:4-6; Psalms 2:8; Revelation 15:2-4; Revelation 19:11-16). On "judgment," see note, Isaiah 42:1.

Verse 4

He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.

He shall not fail - faint: man in religion may become as the almost expiring flax-wick (Isaiah 42:3), but not so HE in His purposes of grace.

Nor be discouraged - literally, be broken; i:e., checked in zeal by discouragements (cf. Isaiah 49:4-5). Nor be discouraged - literally, be broken; i:e., checked in zeal by discouragements (cf. Isaiah 49:4-5). Rosenmuller not so well translates (as the Hebrew, yaaruwts (H7533), may be derived from ruwts (H7323), to run hastily; as well as from raatsats (H7533), to break), 'He shall not be too slow on the one hand, nor run too hastily on the other.' The Septuagint and Arabic, and seemingly the Chaldaic, support the English version. The Vulgate, 'He shall not be sad nor turbulent.'

Till he have set judgment in the earth - "judgment," His true religion, the canon of His judgments and righteous reign (Isaiah 42:1, end).

Isles shall wait for his law - the distant lands beyond sea shall put their trust in His Gospel way of salvation. Matthew 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, Isaiah 30:18). "His law" is not something distinct from Himself, but is indeed Himself, the manifestation of God's character ("His name") in Christ, who is the embodiment of the law (Isaiah 42:21; Jeremiah 23:6; Romans 10:4). "The isles" here, and Isaiah 42:12, may refer to the fact, that the populations of which the Church was primarily formal were Gentiles of the countries bordering on the Mediterranean.

Verse 5

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:

Previously God had spoken of Messiah; now (Isaiah 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 forth the earth - (Psalms 136:6.)

Verse 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;

In righteousness - rather, 'for a righteous purpose' (Lowth). (See Isaiah 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" (Romans 3:25-26: cf. note, Isaiah 41:2; Isaiah 45:13; Isaiah 50:8-9).

And will hold thine hand - cf. as to Israel, the type of Messiah, Hosea 11:3,

And give thee for a covenant of the people the medium of the covenant originally made between God and And give thee for a covenant of the people - the medium of the covenant, originally made between God and Abraham. "Messiah is given by the Father to be the mediator of a better covenant" (Hebrews 8:6) than the Law (see Isaiah 49:8; Jeremiah 31:33; Jeremiah 50:5). So the abstract, "peace," for peace-maker (Micah 5:5; Ephesians 2:14).

The people - Israel: as Isaiah 49:8, compared with Isaiah 42:6, proves (Luke 2:32).

Verse 7

To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.

To open the blind eyes - spiritually (Isaiah 42:16; Isaiah 42:18-19; Isaiah 35:5; John 9:39).

To bring out the prisoners from the prison - (Isaiah 61:1-2.)

And them that sit in darkness - opposed to "light" (Isaiah 42:6; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Peter 2:9).

Verse 8

I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.

God turns from addressing Messiah to the people.

I (am) the Lord - Yahweh (H3068); God's distinguishing and incommunicable name, indicating essential being and immutable faithfulness (cf. Exodus 6:3; Psalms 83:18; Psalms 96:5; Hosea 12:5).

My glory - that is, the glory due to me, and to me alone.

Verse 9

Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.

Behold, the former things are come to pass - the former predictions of God, which were now fulfilled, are here adduced in proof that they ought to trust in Him alone as God; namely, the predictions as to Israel's restoration from Babylon.

And new things do I declare - namely, predictions as to Messiah, who is to bring all nations to the worship of Yahweh (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 42:6).

Before they spring forth I tell you of them - the same image from plants springing forth, i:e., just beginning to germinate, occurs, Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 58:8. Before there is the slightest indications to enable a sagacious observer to infer the coming event, God foretells it.

Verse 10

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.

Sing unto the Lord a 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" (Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 26:1; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3).

Ye that go down to the sea - whose conversion will be the means of diffusing the Gospel to distant lands.

All that is therein - all the living creatures that fill the sea (Psalms 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 Isaiah 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.

Verse 11

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.

The wilderness and the cities - in a region not wholly waste, but mainly so, with an oasis here and there.

Kedar - in Arabia Deserta (Isaiah 21:16; Genesis 25:13). The Kedarenians led a nomadic, wandering life. So Kedar is here put in general for that class of men.

The inhabitants of the rock - Sela, i:e., Petra, the metropolis of Idumea and the Nabathoean Ishmaelites. Or, it may refer in general to those in Arabia Petrea, who had their dwellings cut out of the rock.

Let them shout from the top of the mountains namely of Paran south of Sinai in Arabia Petrea Let them shout from the top of the mountains - namely, of Paran, south of Sinai, in Arabia Petrea (Vitringa).

Verse 12

Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare his praise in the islands.

Let them give glory unto the Lord ... in the islands - (Isaiah 24:15.)

Verse 13

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.

The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man. Yahweh will no longer restrain His wrath He will go forth as a mighty warrior (Exodus 15:3) to destroy His people's and His enemies, and to deliver Israel (cf. Psalms 45:3).

He shall stir up jealousy - rouse His indignation

He shall cry, yea, roar - image from the battle-cry of a warrior.

Verse 14

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.

I have long time - namely, during the desolation of Israel (Isaiah 32:14).

Holden my peace - (cf. Psalms 50:21; Habakkuk 1:2.)

(Now) will I cry like a travailing woman ... - like a woman in parturition, who, after having restrained her breathing for a time, at last, overcome with labour-pain, lets out her voice with a panting sigh; so Yahweh will give full vent to His long pent-up wrath.

I will destroy and devour at once (Hebrew, 'eshom (H5395) wª'esh'ap (H7602), from naasham (H5395) ... shaa'ap (H7602)) - carrying on the metaphor of a woman in parturition sighing in pain. I will at once breathe hard and pant-namely, giving loose to my wrath, (Forerius, Maurer, etc.) But the Vulgate and Chaldaic support the English version.

Verse 15

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.

I will make waste mountains - I will destroy all my proud and elated foes.

Mountains - namely, the enemies' mountains, clad with vines and olives on the terraced sides: an image of the prosperous enemy.

I will make the rivers islands - dry lands. God will destroy His foes, the pagan, 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).

Verse 16

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.

And I will bring the 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 (that) they knew not - refers to the various means employed 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.

I will make darkness light before them - the glorious issue would only be known by the event itself (Ephesians 5:8) (Vitringa). The same holds good of the individual believer (Isaiah 30:21; Psalms 107:7: cf. Hosea 2:6; Hosea 2:14).

These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them - (Hebrews 13:5.)

Verse 17

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.

They shall be turned back ... ashamed, that trust in graven images - They shall be disappointed in their trust. The same phrase occurs, Psalms 35:4.

Verse 18

Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see.

Hear, ye deaf - namely, to the voice of God.

Look, ye blind - to your duty and interest; willfully so (Isaiah 42:20.) In this they differ from "the blind" (Isaiah 42:16). The Jews are referred to. He had said, God would destroy the pagan idolatry. Here He remembers that even Israel, His "servant" (Isaiah 42:19), from whom better things might have been expected, is tainted with this sin.

Verse 19

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?

Who is blind, but my servant? - namely, Israel. Who of the pagan is so blind? Considering Israel's high privileges, the pagan's blindness was as nothing compared with that of Israelite idolaters.

Or deaf, as my messenger (that) I sent? Israel was designed by God to be the herald of His truth to other nations.

Who (is) blind as (he that is) perfect? - furnished with institutions, civil and religious, suited to their perfect well-being. Compare the title, 'Jeshurun,' the perfect one, applied to Israel (cf. Isaiah 44:2), as the type of Messiah (Vitringa). Or translate [ mªshulaam (H4918)], the friend of God, which Israel was by virtue of descent from Abraham, who was so called (Isaiah 41:8) (Gesenius). So Grotius, 'he that is in covenant with God

... the people with whom God has made a covenant of eternal peace and all blessing.' So the Mohammedans call themselves, from the kindred term Mussulmen. The language, "my servant" (cf. Isaiah 42:1), "messenger" (Malachi 3:1), "perfect" (Romans 10:4; Hebrews 2:10; 1 Peter 2:22), can, in the full antitypical sense, only apply to Christ. So Isaiah 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 (Psalms 38:13-14). Thus, there is a transition by contrast from the moral blindness of Israel (Isaiah 42:18) to the patient blindness and deafness of Messiah (Horsley).

Verse 20

Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not.

Seeing many things, but thou observest not - 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, (Deuteronomy 4:32-38; Deuteronomy 29:2-4; Psalms 78:1; Psalms 105:1-45.)

Opening the ears, but he heareth not - transition from the second to the third person. "Opening the ears" -

i.e., though he (Israel) hath his ears open (note, Isaiah 6:10). This language, too (note, Isaiah 42:19), applies to Messiah as Yahweh's servant (Isaiah 50:5; Psalms 40:6).

Verse 21

The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable.

The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake - not His people's, but His own; Isaiah 42:24 shows that they had no righteousness (Isaiah 45:24; Isaiah 59:16; Isaiah 64:6.) God is well pleased with His Son ("in whom my soul delighteth," Isaiah 42:1) who "fulfills all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15) for them, and is well pleased with them for His sake (cf. Isaiah 42:6; Psalms 71:16; Psalms 71:19; Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:3-4; Philippians 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.

Verse 22

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.

But this is a people robbed and spoiled - through their own fault, whereas they might have had the Lord as their sure protector, if they had not forsaken Him. But the ordinary sense of the Hebrew and the old versions, the Septuagint, Vulgate, Arabic, and Syriac, support the English version.

(They are) all of them snared in holes - caught by their foes in the caverns where they had sought refuge. Or, bound in subterranean dungeons (Maurer). Compare the capture of Zedekiah and his princes by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:5-7; Lamentations 4:20, "The anointed of the Lord was taken in their pits;" Ezekiel 12:13, "he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon;" Ezekiel 19:4; Ezekiel 19:8, "holes" is probably an image taken from the pitfalls or pits in which wild beasts were snared).

And they are hid in 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 favour to His people for His righteousness' sake (Isaiah 42:21), they have fallen into misery (the Babylonian and Romish captivities, and their present dispersion), owing to their disregard of the divine law: spiritual imprisonment is included (Isaiah 42:7).

None saith, Restore - there is no deliverer (Isaiah 63:5).

Verse 23

Who among you will give ear to this? who will hearken and hear for the time to come?

(Who) will hearken, and hear for the time to come? - a call that they should be warned by the past judgments of God to obey Him for the time to come.

Verse 24

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.

Who gave Jacob for a spoil? 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 and of them as a prophet, distinct from them: then identifying himself with them, and acknowledging His share in the nation's sins (cf. Joshua 5:1).

Verse 25

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. He hath poured upon him the fury of his anger. "Upon him" - Israel (Isaiah 42:24).

And the strength of battle - the violence of war.

And it - the battle, or war (cf. Isaiah 10:16).

Hath set him on fire round about, yet he know not - knew not the lesson of repentance which the judgment was intended to teach (Isaiah 5:13; Isaiah 9:13; Jeremiah 5:3).

Remarks: God the Father calls upon all men to "behold" His beloved Son, who voluntarily became 'His servant' for man's sake. Redemption was no afterthought devised as an antidote to an evil unforeseen. Messiah was the Father's "elect" One, 'in whom His soul delighted,' as the fore-appointed Redeemer, before the world was. And in the fullness of time God 'put His Spirit on' Messiah, the Word made flesh: so that by His Gospel He brings forth "judgment" in its highest sense "to the Gentiles." The manifestation of Messiah at His first coming was characterized by pre-eminent meekness and gentleness. 'No cry' of impatience, no 'voice lifted up' in altercation was ever heard from Him. He courted privacy. And as He was a man of sorrows, and bruised Himself, He never 'breaks the bruised reed.' So far from 'quenching the smoking,' or smouldering, "flax" of the wick in the lamp of the soul, He will feed it with the oil of grace to increase the heaven-lit flame.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 42". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.