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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 42

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-4


In Isaiah 40-41 it is about the greatness and majesty of the LORD God, but also about His mercy to redeem Israel. The question that remains is: How will God fulfill His promise of salvation? God’s answer is not primarily how it happens, but through Whom He will fulfill His promises. The answer is found in this chapter, in the first great prophecy and revelation in this part of the book regarding Jesus Christ. All promises of restoration and the blessing that follows find their center in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20). Later on the question will be answered how He is going to do it: through His sacrificial death (Isaiah 53:1-2 Kings :).

Now we see the joy of God the Father in Him and what great things will be accomplished by Him. The light of the glory of His Person shadows Cyrus here, although more will be said about him later. Here comes Christ before us as the One Who blesses Israel and as the Savior of the nations.

The Chosen Servant

First the LORD speaks about the Servant to His people (Isaiah 42:1-Numbers :); then He speaks to the Servant about His task (Isaiah 42:5-Judges :); finally He speaks again to the people as a final conclusion (Isaiah 42:8-1 Samuel :).

After the word “behold” as a call to look at the idols in their vanity in the last verse of the previous chapter (Isaiah 41:29), here follows “behold” look at Him Whom the LORD has chosen (Isaiah 42:1). From Israel, the failing servant of the LORD, our gaze is now turned toward the faithful and true Servant of the LORD, the Lord Jesus.

Christ is called “My Servant” by the LORD. Even the people know, when the Lord Jesus has come, that the Chosen One of God is Christ Himself (Luke 23:35) and not Israel – as many Jews today claim. By the way, the call “behold” is meant to introduce Him, to draw attention to Him, while Israel has been mentioned before (Isaiah 41:8) and therefore does not need to be introduced. The LORD calls upon His people to look at Him.

This first prophecy about ‘the Servant of the LORD’ begins by expressing the delight that God the Father has in Him. We get a glimpse into His life and what characterizes Him during His days in the flesh. We come into contact with His tenderness and also with His power and the great liberation He will cause. “Whom I uphold” indicates the trust God has in Him that He will accomplish His service. We uphold someone in whom we have confidence. Upholding means connecting yourself with someone’s destiny and giving him help and strength.

In the quotation of this verse in Matthew 12, instead of “My Chosen One,” He is called “My Beloved” (Matthew 12:18), which reflects the other meaning of the Hebrew word. That meaning fits with the Father’s earlier statement in the Gospel according to Matthew (Matthew 3:17). He is the Chosen One in the councils of the Father.

The work to be done by the Servant cannot be done by anyone else. The delight is expressed in the Spirit Whom the Father places on Him. Delight already is there before the Father pronounces it at His baptism and on that occasion gives His Spirit (cf. Isaiah 61:1; Proverbs 8:30). The word “delight” is also a word that is often connected with the “soothing aroma” of the sacrifices in the book of Leviticus (Leviticus 1:9; Leviticus 1:13Leviticus 1:17) and is therefore also a reference to the character of the work that the Servant will do.

Here in Isaiah we see the triune God. Christ takes on the character of Servant in order to fulfill the will of the Father, which He does in the power of the Holy Spirit that is laid upon Him by the Father at His baptism. The declaration “I have put My Spirit upon Him”, is the center of three great declarations concerning the Holy Spirit in Isaiah in connection with Christ. The first speaks of His incarnation (Isaiah 11:2). The second, here, points to His baptism. The latter refers to the beginning of His public performance (Isaiah 61:1).

The last part of Isaiah 42:1, “He will bring forth justice to the nations”, suddenly leaps forward to the future, to His second coming and the millennial realm of peace, for that is not fulfilled during His life on earth. Through the gospel, His “justice” in the present time is revealed as a blessing. In the future it will happen in judgment as well as in the kingdom of peace afterwards. How this will be fulfilled has been described in detail by the prophet earlier (Isaiah 2:1-Numbers :).

Yet even during His life on earth He revealed to the nations justice, the right of God. He has done so both in judgment and in grace for all who have bowed under this judgment. An example of the latter is the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15:24-Hosea :).

When He is on earth, “in the days of His flesh” (Hebrews 5:7), He does not draw attention to Himself (Isaiah 42:2; Matthew 24:5; Matthew 24:23). People often do so in the three stages of voice called “cry out,” “raise the voice” and “make the voice heard”. Conversely, His performance is quiet, friendly, and humble. The healed crippled at the bathwater of Bethesda does not know where He is (John 5:13), nor does the blind-born (John 9:12). Several times He says to those who have experienced His goodness that they should not make Him known.

He acts in perfection according to the word that charity should not be done “before men to be noticed by them” (Matthew 6:1-Numbers :). He does it for His Father. Is this also the mind of our hearts and the quality of our work? What He brings is sufficient and does not need to be confirmed by a flashy performance or a trumpeting ahead of him. The Lord did learn in the streets (Luke 13:26).

“He will not cry out,” seems to contradict Isaiah 42:13, “He will utter a shout”, but in both verses a different word for shouting is used. The first word has to do with His people, the second with His enemies. The first indicates His kindness and tenderness, the absence of a self-centered noisy demonstration. He does not impose himself. Nor has he come to unleash a revolution against the Romans. The second is His voice as Conqueror, causing the enemies of God to perish at the end of the age.

Then in Isaiah 42:3-Numbers : a series of promises, again in chiastic or reverse order (a,b,b,a; see at Isaiah 40:21): First there is
a. “a bruised reed” in Isaiah 42:3 that He will not break and then
---b. “a dimly burning wick” that He will not extinguish. Isaiah 42:4 begins with
---b. “not disheartened”, followed by
a. “not … crushed”, in the sense of not being discouraged.

He will not break “the bruised reed”, and He Himself “will not be crushed” (a + a), for He is in Himself the strong One Who cares of the bruised and crushed. He will not “extinguish” the dimly burning wick, which is the almost extinguished, and He Himself will not “extinguish” or “disheartened” (b + b), for He is in Himself the full light that brings light where it is almost extinguished. Thus He will ensure that His tested ones will share in His glory.

We see here His loving care for us now and that should encourage us. If we sometimes feel like bruised reed, only fit to be broken off completely, or we feel that our light is burning so poorly, let us think of His desires for us. We may go to Him to be renewed in grace and receive restoration of His powers.

There is nothing of value in bruised reed. It is reminiscent of the broken heart, trampled by rough treatment. Without any resistance it is thrown away. The bruised reed is a picture of humility (Isaiah 58:5). A reed can be used as a staff, but a once bruised reed cane can no longer be used, yes, it can injure you (Isaiah 36:6). Normally you would throw away such a stem, but the Servant does it otherwise.

The bruised reed is the epitome of weakness in a world where there is only room for the strongest. Also in the church it is considered as nothing. But the Lord is able to turn this bruised reed into a musical pipe or a yardstick for the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:15). He has come for those who are brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1). He does not impose an iron rod on them, but extends to them the golden scepter of His grace (Esther 5:2). He Himself is broken or crushed (Isaiah 53:5; Isaiah 53:10; Genesis 3:15).

The dimly burning or extinguishing wick hardly gives any light and warmth and is also no longer able to light someone else. It speaks of a small spark of faith found in the heart of a human who exclaims: “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Often love burns so weakly in our hearts that only He Who knows all things also knows that there is still a glimmer of love present (John 21:15-Esther :). Thus, in seven weeks, He can change Peter from an almost extinguished flame to a flame that sets three thousand souls on fire on Pentecost (Acts 2:14; Acts 2:37-Mark :).

Because He will not be bruised and extinguished, He will bring justice to earth. He will not nullify the law by compromise, but will execute it in faithfulness and according to the truth. He will see to it that by teaching the law the law is made known and upheld. In doing so, He is fulfilling the desire that there is for this teaching. Then the question: “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17) will be answered definitively.

Justice will be brought to earth at the return of the Lord Jesus to earth (Psalms 72:1-Exodus :). The Lord Jesus is waiting for the hour of His Father. When Satan offers Him the kingdoms of this world, He does not want to receive them (Matthew 4:8-2 Samuel :). The day will come when the promise of the Father will be fulfilled and He says to Him: “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the [very] ends of the earth as Your possession” (Psalms 2:8).

Verses 5-7

The Servant Called and His Work

After the LORD has called the hearers to behold His Servant, He Himself addresses Himself to Him in Isaiah 42:6. As an introduction He describes His omnipotent power (Isaiah 42:5). He speaks of Himself as “God the LORD”, Names expressing that He is the Almighty and the Eternal. He declares that He is the Creator (or Composer) of heaven and earth and all that the earth produces. He is also the Giver of life and spirit to mankind. With this the LORD points out to His Servant the power He has to support Him. It sounds like the “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” with which the Lord Jesus encourages His disciples in His commission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-Psalms :).

This great presentation is the basis of what follows. That great Person has called His Servant (Isaiah 42:6). It is a calling “in righteousness”, that is to say, a calling that meets all the righteous demands of God and which a person must meet in order to fulfill that calling (cf. Matthew 3:15).

At the same time the LORD promises that He will help and watch in the fulfillment of the task to which He has called. The holding of His hand points to His proximity, His favor and affection for Him, His counsel and guidance, and the strength that the Servant receives from Him as a Man to do His work. Watching over Him means that He will protect His servant against attacks until it is the time when He is handed over to His enemies.

The Servant has been made “as a covenant to the people”, that is Israel. This shows that a Person other than Israel is the Servant (cf. Isaiah 41:8-1 Samuel :). In Him all that the LORD has promised His people and to which He has committed Himself by a covenant will be fulfilled. He has also been made “a light to the nations”. The nations will also be blessed by Him. Here we see that this means much more than the restoration of Israel from exile. The Servant comes to bring light and salvation to the nations.

The blessed effect of the position which the LORD has given Him will be realized in the realm of peace by the Lord Jesus, the Servant of the LORD. He will open blind eyes and give freedom and light (Isaiah 42:7), for Israel, as we see further on (Isaiah 42:18), is a deaf and blind servant of the LORD. The opening of the eyes of the blind is the testimony that the Lord Jesus has given to John the baptist when he asks if He is the Messiah (Matthew 11:4-Deuteronomy :).

Never in the Old Testament have the eyes of the physically blind been opened. One of the characteristic signs of the Messiah is the opening of the eyes of the blind. The spiritual meaning of opening the eyes of the blind is to teach the ignorant and make them acquainted with God and the way of salvation (Acts 26:18).

We may secondarily apply these things to ourselves as servants of God, as the Lord Jesus shows to Paul by quoting this verse in relation to his service (Acts 26:16-Job :). He Who has called us will hold our hand and protect us and make us servants of His gospel. He will enable us to bring light and freedom to those who are in spiritual darkness and captivity of sin.

Verses 8-9

Only the LORD Can Predict

“LORD” (Isaiah 42:8) is the Name by which He revealed Himself to Moses as a guarantee that He will fulfill His word with respect to His mission (Exodus 3:14-Ezra :). That Name is also the guarantee for the redemption of His people (Exodus 6:2-Joshua :). His Name is the guarantee of the fulfillment of His Word. He does not give His honor to the idols of the nations and cannot share it with anyone. The Lord Jesus gets this honor (Philippians 2:9), because He is the LORD.

The declaration of His Name is followed by the authoritative assurance that He gives His glory and praise to no one and nothing else. It is an affirmation of the meaning of His Name. His ‘glory’ is the revelation of His nature, features and power. The revelation of His glory provokes the praise of those to whom that revelation is given. Glory and praise belong together and they belong to no one but God. All idolaters should know this.

Against the background of the contrast with the idols the double explanation of Isaiah 42:9 should also be seen. The first explanation is about “the former things”. What God has prophesied would happen at the time indicated has happened exactly as was prophesied. Also “new things” have been announced (Isaiah 42:1-Judges :) that have not yet been fulfilled, but will be fulfilled in their time as well. The LORD makes everything known in advance. No other god can do that.

Verses 10-12

Call to Praise the LORD

Isaiah 42:10-Esther : apply to the realm of peace. This section contains some of the ‘new things’ of Isaiah 42:9. For example, after the redemption is mentioned (Isaiah 42:9) there is “a new song” (Isaiah 42:10). It is the song of praise that the nations will sing that used to be in spiritual darkness. The first song of the Bible, the song of Moses (Exodus 15:1), is sung by a redeemed people. The same goes for the song of Moses and the Lamb (Revelation 15:3). This also applies here in Isaiah 42:10-2 Kings :. The verb ‘singing’ is never used for angels. Singing is reserved for redeemed people.

It is a general call that sounds all over the earth. The call begins with those who are furthest away, the sailors; it continues to those who live in the neighborhood, the Arabs in the wilderness; and it ends with the Jewish people who live in the high mountains.

Isaiah 42:11 talks about Kedar. That is the name of the second son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13). In this name the Arabs are introduced. It is the collective name for the Arabian tribes (Isaiah 21:13-Esther :; Ezekiel 27:21). “The inhabitants of Sela” is also translated as “those who live in the rocks”. Sela is a place where the Edomites lived. The wilderness in question here is that of Arabia. In the future, the Arabs will no longer follow the false prophet Muhammad, but give glory to the LORD and proclaim His praise to the extreme of the earth (Isaiah 42:12).

Verses 13-17

The LORD Goes Forth

The LORD will destroy the king of the North (Daniel 11:45) – and thus the dominion of Islam – as well as the false prophet of His people, the antichrist, together with the ten kings and the beast that reigns over them. To this end he will go forth like a warrior (Isaiah 42:13). When His fighting spirit ignites and He utters the battle cry (cf. Joel 3:16; Jeremiah 25:30), the enemies no longer have any chance.

He held back for a long time (Isaiah 42:14) and did not openly intervene to liberate His oppressed people, be they Israel or the church. This indicates His longsuffering which is so characteristic of the present day in which He has the gospel of His grace proclaimed despite all opposition and slander and apostacy (2 Peter 3:9).

This present time is coming to an end. God’s silence is not endless. He will utter a shout. It is as if all the restrained anger about the ungodliness of the world and everything that has been done to His people comes out. With the heat of His wrath, He will lay waste “the mountains and hills” as a picture of the hostile powers, and “all their vegetation” as a picture of their prosperity and their works (Isaiah 42:15). All sources of blessing will dry up, every refreshment will come to an end.

On the other hand, He will show mercy to His people. He will open the eyes of those blinded by sin to their need and make them see His salvation (Isaiah 42:16). He will lead them out of misery and bring them on a path of light and blessing, on His own path of righteousness and peace. He will make darkness into light before them. He will free the road from obstacles and make it plain and passable.

In the first place this refers to the redemption from the Babylonian exile and the road by which they are led back to Jerusalem from Babylon (cf. Isaiah 43:19). The people need to understand that it is not Cyrus, but the LORD Who redeems them. Cyrus is but an instrument in His hand. Even more so, in the end time the LORD will act like this for the benefit of His people. Also the description of His actions here is so general, that we can apply it to the whole redeeming work of the Lord Jesus – He is the LORD – that He has done for His heavenly people, the church.

The LORD underlines His words with a solemn double declaration, one in a positive and one in a negative sense, in which both declarations reinforce each other: He will do and will not leave them undone. In this way every doubt is excluded.

This action of the LORD also has a consequence for the idolaters (Isaiah 42:17). When they see what He has done for those who put their trust in Him, they will recoil in terror and the red of shame will come upon their jaws. The foolishness of their idolatry and the uselessness of their idols will be highlighted.

Verses 18-19

Deaf and Blind

In Isaiah 42:7 we see that the servant of the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. Here in Isaiah 42:18 we see that the deaf hear and the blind see through the work of the Servant of the LORD. But then Isaiah 42:19 says that the servant of the LORD is blind and deaf. It is clear that in the book of Isaiah there are two servants. There is a servant who is blind and deaf (Isaiah 6:10) and who must first be healed before he can be used by the LORD. That servant is Israel (Isaiah 43:10). There is also another Servant. That is none other than Christ, in Whom God has found all His delight.

These verses contain a powerful and instructive message for us who have been called into His service by grace. Much comes towards us that can darken our view of the Lord and make us deaf to His voice. They are all things to which our flesh is all too inclined to respond. We are tempted in countless ways to forget that we are on earth to simply do the will of Him Who has called and sent us. Doing our own will only results in sorrow for our hearts.

Verses 20-22

Seeing Blind and Hearing Deaf

In Isaiah 42:20 the reproach of the blindness and deafness of the people is further explained. They do see a lot, but the real content passes them by because they do not observe it. Literally it says that they do not ‘keep’ it or ‘guard’ it. The expressions ‘keep’ – Hebrew samar – and ‘listen’ – Hebrew sama – are characteristic of the book of Deuteronomy in connection with God’s law (Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 29:2-Numbers :; cf. Isaiah 6:9-2 Samuel :).

They do open their ears, but what they hear doesn’t penetrate them. That is because their heart has become fat; it is not directed toward the LORD, and they only pursue their own interests. They do not want to walk in His ways and do not obey His law. Yet it has been His intention to show them His glory from His Word, the law (Isaiah 42:21).

It is His joy to make the law “great and glorious”. This can also be translated as “giving a great, glorious teaching”. This is the law, but not in the limited sense of the Ten Commandments, but in all the glorious statements revealed by a God who, with His law, His teachings, has the blessing of His people in mind. His righteousness desires it, but their iniquity has made it impossible.

God’s proposal has found its full fulfillment in the perfect life of the Lord Jesus on earth. We see that it is His delight to do God’s will. God’s law is within His heart and defines His whole life (Psalms 40:8), which is characterized by perfect obedience from beginning to end (Philippians 2:8). The LORD has made the law great and glorious in the Person of His Son, both in His life and in His death. With Him we see in everything the glory of the law in contrast with the ways of the people to whom the law has been given.

The people are in a state of hardening. Instead of glorifying God by teaching the law to the nations around them, they have ignored God’s law, His ‘glorious teaching’. As a result, they are at the mercy of the nations. They are a people who have been “plundered and despoiled” (Isaiah 42:22). It is also a people trapped in caves and hidden away in prisons. There is no more freedom of movement. They need redemption themselves.

This is also the case spiritually when a believer starts to live outside the will and the way of God. Then spiritual powers will rob such a person of all Christian values and make him a slave to sin and dishonor of God.

Verses 23-25

Probing Questions

With Isaiah 42:23 begins the last part of this chapter, in which a last series of probing questions is asked. These questions are related to what preceded and are directly related to the miserable state in which the people find themselves. The question here is why a people destined to be a servant of the LORD, to whom the law, the teaching of God, has been entrusted, is not able to fulfill this task, yea, needs salvation itself. Who of them will take this lesson, this question, to heart?

The suffering at the hand of the nations will become even greater. Only a remnant will listen in the future. “Hereafter” refers to the future. It is a call to be concerned with the future. The consequences for practical life will not fail. Only the remnant will recognize that the suffering that has come upon the people has been processed by the LORD (Isaiah 42:24).

They will recognize that exile is the result of their own sins. The first exile is the one to Babylon. There they have been for seventy years because they did not keep the law and committed idolatry. The other exile is the one to every corner of the earth for a period that has lasted for about two thousand years now. Why is that? It is because of the rejection of the Lord Jesus (cf. Genesis 42:21).

Because the wicked mass of the people will not listen, even more intense plagues will strike them (Isaiah 42:25). Even worse than the chastisement itself is the failure to recognize that the LORD brings this upon them. These things are written to teach us to recognize that the Lord’s chastening hand in our lives is governed by His gracious intent, wisdom, and love.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 42". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/isaiah-42.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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