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Chapter 42 The Coming Of The Servant of Yahweh
Having stressed God’s gift to the world in Abraham and of His coming to the land of God’s inheritance with the purpose that through his seed all the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:3 and often) there is now revealed one who will fulfil that function to the world, one who had been, as it were, in the loins of Abraham (Isaiah 41:8).
In a very real sense Abraham is the original from which the Servant of Yahweh comes (see Isaiah 41:8). The Servant is a representation of him and those who were in his loins. The Servant will fulfil the promises given to Abraham. But the ministry of the Servant would not be fulfilled through Abraham directly. The Servant is the later expression of Abraham through his descendants (Isaiah 41:8), and especially through the One who will be the greatest of them all. Thus the Servant is Abraham’s descendants as they fulfil his ministry. He is God at work through history in those called God’s servant, and especially, as the culmination is seen to be approaching, by Isaiah. And He is finally God’s Servant supreme, His coming King.
On the one hand therefore the Servant is potentially depicting Israel. But Israel had failed in its calling and in its potential (Isaiah 41:27-28) and was failing (Isaiah 42:18-25). They were only the potential Servant of Yahweh. Then he is depicting the faithful in Israel (Isaiah 49:3 compare Isaiah 49:6), the actual Servant of Yahweh, who quietly and faithfully will partly fulfil that potential. Without the faithful in Israel, Israel would not have continued. But finally he is depicting the coming One, Immanuel, in whom all that was good and faithful in Israel would be summed up), the representative of Israel par excellence, the greater David, the focus of the future (Isaiah 9:5-6; Isaiah 11:1-4). He and He alone could finally fulfil God’s purposes promised through Abraham (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12).
The title ‘servant of Yahweh’ (only ever used of Moses and Joshua and in Isaiah 42:19) or ‘My servant’ (used more often) is a title of great honour. It was reserved for those who distinguished themselves in God’s service. But even the greatest of God’s servants had had their weak points, and they were His servants in spite of it. Thus Israel can be God’s servant even though they are partially blind (Isaiah 42:19). They have a destiny to fulfil. (And Jeremiah could even temporarily call Nebuchadnezzar His servant because he also had a specific destiny to fulfil under God (Jeremiah 27:6). This last remarkable use, although not Isaianic, emphasises the connection of the term with the fulfilling of God’s purposes. But it must be stressed that Isaiah never uses the term Servant of anyone who did not claim descent from Abraham. Nebuchadnezzar was not the Isaianic Servant).
And yet that Immanuel and the Servant described here are in the end identical comes out in the ministry of the Servant. Yahweh will put His Spirit on Him (compare Isaiah 11:2) He is to set justice/judgment in the earth (compare Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 11:4) and the isles are to wait for His law. He is to be a covenant to the people (compare Isaiah 55:3) and a light to the Gentiles (compare Isaiah 9:1-7). This does not exclude the reference to the faithful in Israel, it confirms it. Just as in Daniel 7:0 the son of man is the covenant people of God, the holy ones of the Most High (Daniel 7:27), but is also their representative, their Prince, Who comes before the throne of God to receive everlasting dominion (Isaiah 7:13), so is the Servant the faithful in Israel (Isaiah 49:3 compare Isaiah 49:6), the holy nation of Yahweh (Exodus 19:5-6), but is also the great One Who will represent them and fulfil their function (Isaiah 52:13). No Israelite would have denied this combination. They saw their prince as Yahweh’s anointed, as their very breath, and they would have accepted that he was seen as summing up all that they were. He was them!
This is confirmed in the New Testament. The Servant there is Jesus (Luke 22:37; Mark 10:45; Mark 1:11 compare Isaiah 42:1) and the idea is applied to Him in Matthew 12:17-21; Luke 2:32; Luke 9:35 RV/RSV; Isa 23:35. But the idea is also applied to the early church ministry in Acts 13:47. They too are the Servant of the Lord.
But it may be asked. Why, if the Davidic king is meant here, is there no specific mention of the fact? The answer firstly lies in the fact that the Servant is more than just the house of David. He is the seed of Abraham. Thus he is the fulfiller of all God’s purposes in the seed of Abraham. But secondly it is because of what has been revealed in Isaiah 1-39. One of the prominent messages of those chapters is the failure of the Davidic line (see also Jeremiah 33:26). Isaiah has ceased to have faith in the house of David as currently constituted. Thus in the Servant he presents the spirit of what the house of David should have been, while isolating him from it. They are not to look for a Davidic king on the throne of Judah, but for One Who will come fulfilling the Davidic potential, the Immanuel of Whom he has spoken, the seed of David, but also his root (Isaiah 11:10). And this he makes manifestly clear.
The Servant of Yahweh (Isaiah 42:1-4 ).
“Behold my servant whom I uphold,
My chosen one in whom my soul delights,
I have put my Spirit upon him,
He will bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
He will not cry, nor lift up,
Nor cause his voice to be heard in the street,
A bruised reed he will not break,
And the smoking flax he will not quench,
He will bring forth judgment in truth,
He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Until he has set judgment in the earth,
And the isles will wait for his law.”
‘Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights.’ It is not a coincidence that this is the seventh ‘Behold’ in the passage from Isaiah 41:8. Divine perfection has been reached.
As we have seen, as the last in the series this ‘behold’ connects back with what has gone before. The gods are as nothings, and all are called on to ‘behold’ this fact (Isaiah 41:24; Isaiah 41:29). But God has raised up one who will act in His Name, one who has come from the north and trodden down rulers (Abraham - Isaiah 41:25). And from him has sprung Zion. Thus eyes are turned on them, ‘behold them’ (Isaiah 41:27). But no one has arisen from them in order to give counsel or answer a word (Isaiah 41:28). So now God turns their eyes on one who will arise in the future, and says, ‘Behold My Servant’ (Isaiah 42:1).
But who is ‘My Servant’? Israel/Jacob are declared by Isaiah to be His servant and chosen one in Isaiah 41:8-9; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 43:20; Isaiah 44:1-2; Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 48:10 (compare Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Psalms 33:12; Psalms 135:4) because they were in Abraham His servant and are his seed (Isaiah 41:8; Psalms 105:6) These words can hardly therefore be denied to Israel. But it is clear in these passages that Israel as a whole have come short, and that the reference is therefore to the faithful in Israel (at this present time Isaiah and his disciples). It is they who are the true Israel (Isaiah 49:3; see Isaiah 65:9). In this particular song therefore this is where the emphasis lies. God visualises the faithful in Israel as fulfilling their ministry to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6). For they stand in for, and spring from, Abraham, God’s chosen servant and friend, as fulfillers of the promises.
But the description also demands that the Servant be their righteous king. No Israelite at this time would have imagined this destiny of setting judgment in the earth and establishing the law of God among the nations unless it were to be under the rule of the mighty Davidic king who was to rule over them for ever as promised by God (2 Samuel 7:13-17; Psalms 2:7-9; Psalms 89:3-4; Psalms 89:27-29; Psalms 89:36-37). And in the light of the earlier teaching of Isaiah this meant Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). The destiny of God’s true king and God’s true people went together (see Jeremiah 33:26). David was God’s Spirit-endued chosen one and servant from the beginning (1 Samuel 16:13 with Isaiah 42:8-10; Psalms 89:3; Psalms 89:20; 2 Chronicles 6:6) and this privilege was seen as passed on to his descendants when they were true to God, although it is possibly not without significance that Scripturally no Davidic king after David is described as endued with the Spirit of Yahweh until the promise of the coming One (Isaiah 11:1-2). None fulfilled the potential. The idea leaps straight from David to the coming David.
‘Whom I uphold.’ See Isaiah 41:10. The word can indicate the exercise of firm but gentle strength. When Joseph wanted to transpose his father’s hands so that the right hand of blessing might rest on the firstborn he sought to ‘uphold’ his hand (Genesis 48:17). When Moses hands were lifted up to enable victory over the Amalekites they were ‘upheld’ by his lieutenants (Exodus 17:12), providing the extra strength needed. In Psalms 17:5 the Psalmist ‘held fast’ God’s path, the idea being of a firm hold. In Psalms 41:12 The Psalmist saw God as ‘upholding’ him in his integrity against his enemies. God is thus here seen as the one standing alongside to help and giving added strength to the Servant in his earthly weakness.
‘In whom my soul delights.’ This requires a righteous servant, potentially at least. God could not delight in one who was unrighteous as He regularly makes clear. It is only as righteous that the Servant can delight Him. These words were specifically applied to the Jesus by the voice at His baptism. The Servant will bring joy to God’s heart, and He will delight in Him and His people. The word regularly contains within it the idea of acceptability. God delights in uprightness (1 Chronicles 29:17). He delights in His people (Psalms 44:3) and in David (1 Chronicles 28:4). See for a similar idea Deuteronomy 10:15; 2Sa 22:20 ; 1 Kings 10:9. But that delight is in those who are responsive to His ways and obedient to His commandments. So it must be here.
‘I have put my Spirit upon Him, He will bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.’ This is so reminiscent of Isaiah 11:2-5; Isaiah 11:10 that it could only be describing the One spoken of there. But not necessarily only Him. Jacob/Israel will also be endued with the Spirit in the glorious days to come (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5). So again Davidic king and people are united, in being Spirit endued. The Servant is both king and people, His true people headed up by His true King. The Servant of Yahweh is to be endued with His mighty Spirit. In the Old Testament the enduing of the Spirit always results in visible success. So God’s people will sweep forward under their glorious king. A finer description in so small a space, of the movement of the Gospel, first through Jesus as God’s Servant (Matthew 12:17-21) and then through His Spirit-inspired people (Acts 13:47) would be difficult to find. But it also incorporates God’s final triumph when the nations are gathered to Him as a result of the Servant’s activity.
‘Judgment.’ The word mishpat has varied meanings relating to making decisions on moral and governmental issues. We must not limit it to the exercise of the authority of the judge, although that is very much included. When used in this kind of context it signifies righteous rule as king and judge, right decisions (judgments) and depth of understanding and discernment in God’s Law (Isaiah 42:4). And note what the Servant was to do, set judgment in the earth so that the isles waited for His Law. It is true that this indicates a Lawgiver supreme Whose Law or Instruction would prevail, but all would have accepted that such Instruction to be acceptable must be backed up by supreme authority, and Israel would undoubtedly have seen that as being the authority of the Davidic king.
‘To the Gentiles (the nations, the peoples).’ No prophet was more universal in his views than Isaiah and as we have constantly seen he fervently believed that God’s purpose in the end was that all nations should come under His rule and receive His enlightenment (e.g. Isaiah 2:3-4; Isaiah 19:18-25; Isaiah 49:6). The Servant has a universal purpose. That purpose continued its fulfilment through the faithful of Israel in the dispersion, and through the faithful in Israel itself as they awaited their Messiah (Luke 2:25; Luke 2:32; Luke 2:37), it continued in the ministry of Jesus to the Samaritans (John 4:0) and to various Gentiles, the Roman centurion (Luke 7:2-10), the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), the Greeks who came to Philip seeking Jesus (John 12:20-21), the demon-possessed man in Decapolis (Mark 5:1-20), the feeding of the crowds in Gentile territory (Mark 8:1-10) and was rapidly expanded through the early church, reaching out continually through the centuries to our own day. The Servant, the seed of Abraham, is still at work as we move forward in Him.
‘He will not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and the dimly-burning flax he will not quench. He will bring forth judgment in truth.’ He will not be a complainer, or a rabble-rouser, or a self-propagating orator, or one who is dictatorially demanding, but rather will deal gently and tenderly with the weak and the helpless, restoring the bent and bruised reed, bringing back to flame the smoking, dimly-burning flax, quietly but firmly dispensing justice. The picture is one of someone of great authority, but perfectly controlled and tender. The true servant of God is distinguished by his quiet competence. And central to the fulfilment of his position as ruler and judge will be truth. There will be no deviation, no darkness, no manipulation, all will be true and will reveal truth. The Servant can thus only signify those who hold firmly to God’s truth, and reveal His tender heart.
‘He will not fail nor be discouraged, until he has set judgment in the earth, and the isles/coastlands wait for his law.’ The Servant will continue steadfastly, finally unfailing in the task given him, refusing to be discouraged, until at last righteous judgment and true justice are total, and even the furthest outreaches of mankind are under His Instruction. They will ‘wait’, either in certain hope for His word, or in obedience under the dispensing of His word.
‘Fail’ and ‘discouraged’ are from the same roots as ‘burn dimly’ and ‘bruised’ (Isaiah 42:3). He will not allow bruising and dimly burning to affect him. He will be steadfast against all difficulties and hardships. It is not that He will not be bruised (Isaiah 53:10), but that it will not be in such a way as to cause Him to wilt. The necessity for these words is demonstrative of the trials through which the Servant will go. His path is not to be easy but He will conquer in the end.
‘And the isles/coastlands wait for his law.’ We can compare here Isaiah 51:4-5 where ‘a law shall proceed from Me (Yahweh)’ and ‘the isles will wait on Me and on My arm they will trust’. Thus the isles wait for the instruction of the Servant and they wait for the Instruction of Yahweh.
In one sense this is all the result of Abraham whom God raised up and called in the beginning (Isaiah 41:2; Isaiah 41:25). This was the purpose to which He called him. And it has all sprung from the call of Abraham. But it is the work of Abraham as fulfilled through those of his seed who have proved faithful to God (Isaiah 41:8-9), and especially through the Greatest of the seed of Abraham, the final Davidic king, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 1:1-2; Matthew 1:17). This was one reason why Paul so greatly stressed that the true church of Christ are the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:29; Romans 9:7-8 in context). The Servant is Abraham marching through history to his finest fulfilment in Jesus Christ and His people. The setting of true ‘judgment’ in the earth, which the peoples would undoubtedly see as a blessing, was one of the promises to Abraham and his seed (Genesis 12:3). And it continues to be revealed through His church, the Israel of God.
The Coming One (Isaiah 41:25 to Isaiah 42:9 ).
The theme of the failure of the idols to tell the past and the future continues. They do not know of ‘the one from the north’. Identity of the ‘one from the north’ has produced widely differing ideas. In context there are good grounds for arguing that he must be the servant of Isaiah 42:1, for the theme of the servant immediately follows.
Some see it as referring to Cyrus in the light of Isaiah 44:28 to Isaiah 45:1. But there Cyrus is God’s shepherd, not His servant, and it would be meaningless to the reader until he came to that chapter. For the idea here is that He is describing someone who is known, someone who is therefore evidence of what He has done. Far better is it to see it as Abraham in the light of Isaiah 41:2. Certainly Abraham came from both the north (Haran) and from the east (Ur of the Chaldees). And he is specifically described as one who called on the name of Yahweh (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4 compare Genesis 26:25). And he was certainly disastrous for rulers (Genesis 12:10-20; Genesis 14:0 all; 20 all), including the king of Elam and the king of Shinar (Babylon) (Genesis 14:1; Genesis 14:9). He seems well represented in this description.
(Actually anyone who came from the east in Mesopotamia would come from the north through Syria. It was only Arabs like the Midianites coming across the Jordan who came only from the east).
Opting therefore for Abraham as being clearly described, we must, however, recognise that it is not just as simple as that. Strictly it is talking about Yahweh’s Servant, thus about Abraham and his seed who came into the land in him. It is summing up salvation history in Abraham. Abraham came, and all who came from Abraham were in Abraham when he came. Thus as he entered the land in him came Isaac and Jacob, His servants (Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 9:27), and Moses and Joshua (both officially called ‘the servant of Yahweh’), and David his servant (Isaiah 37:35; Psalms 89:3; Psalms 89:20), and in him came the greater David yet to come. As he entered the land they all entered it in his loins. (This was Israel’s way of thinking).
We should note especially that the term ‘my servant’ is used regularly in Isaiah as depicting various descendants of Abraham, and is used of no others. Thus Isaiah is ‘my servant’ (Isaiah 20:3), Eliakim the viceroy is ‘my servant’ (Isaiah 22:20), David is ‘my servant’ (Isaiah 37:35), Israel is ‘my servant’ (Isaiah 41:8-9), all are His servants in Abraham. And included under the name of David is David’s greater son, Immanuel. For He is the fulfilment of the Davidic hope. (Nebuchadnezzar is called it by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 27:6), but not by Isaiah, and then only as a temporary function, not as a permanent status. Thus application of the title to an outsider would be contrary to Isaiah’s whole usage).
God’s Charge to His Servant (Isaiah 42:5-9 ).
We continue to see here the joint ministries of Israel and their coming King, reaching out and drawing men within the covenant and bringing them light out of darkness and release from the captivity of sin.
‘Thus says God (El) Yahweh,
He who created the heavens, and stretches them forth,
He who spread abroad the earth and that which comes out of it,
He who gives breath to the people on it,
And spirit to those who walk in it.’
God now gives His charge to His Servant. But before He does so we have a description of the One Who is giving the charge. It is El Yahweh, the Creator and ruler of heaven and earth, Who is active within them. It is He Who constantly stretches out the heavens, maintaining the day, bringing out the stars nightly under His control. He is the One Who made the earth so expansive, and is the cause of the fruitfulness of the earth. He is the One Who is the source of all life and breath and inward spirit, without whose work they would have no life sustaining source. He is the One Who has provided for and sustains all, without Whom no man would have food or life. And thus He is over all and His concern is for all. And His Servant is here to perform His service on behalf of the whole world.
One important implication behind this was that the host of heaven was of His doing and the fruitfulness of the ground was His work. There was no necessity of, or room for any interference from any ‘gods’, whether in heaven or earth.
“I am Yahweh, who has called you in righteousness,
And will hold your hand, and will keep you,
And will give you for a covenant of the people,
For a light to the Gentiles,
To open the blind eyes,
To bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
And those who sit in darkness out of the prison house.”
Note again the stress on righteousness. The Servant is ‘called in righteousness’, as was Abraham (Isaiah 41:2). He is accepted as righteous by Yahweh and righteousness is required of him. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness (Isaiah 15:6). His initial call was all of God’s grace (Isaiah 12:1) but demanded a response in righteousness and it resulted in him becoming righteous before God through faith. The same was true for His people at Sinai. The covenant, which is here seen as directly connected with the person of the Sevant, was an offer of grace, but it had to be accepted, acknowledging a requirement that they be righteous, both by atonement through the shedding of blood and through subsequent obedience. David too was a man of righteousness (1 Kings 9:4). Thus the continual requirement for the Servant is righteousness and acceptability to God and obedience to the covenant, and until Israel are righteous they cannot be His effective Servant. Indeed in the end their being accounted righteous, when they are, will be the result of the work of Another (Isaiah 53:11), the Servant supreme, because they cannot make themselves righteous.
‘And will hold your hand, and will keep you.’ Every one who walks as one with The Servant will be able to know that God walks with him and ‘holds his hand’, that is, walks alongside him. But it will especially be true of the One Who could say, ‘I a My Father are one’. The holding of the hand is in order to demonstrate that God is with His Servant and working through him, so that he need not fear. It is an expression previously used of ‘Israel - My servant’ (Isaiah 41:13 with 8). It is in order to demonstrate that he can know that he is being guided by Him (Psalms 73:23), and will be delivered from danger and from the darkness. The angels held Lot’s hand when they delivered him from danger (Genesis 19:16). God will also hold Cyrus’ hand when He is using him as His shepherd (Isaiah 45:1). It denotes God’s control. It is a strong hand. ‘And will keep you.’ The word means to preserve. See Deuteronomy 33:10. Thus the Servant can be sure of the closeness of, and the protecting and confirming presence of, God.
‘And give you for a covenant of the people.’ The basic idea is that God’s covenant of grace and mercy will be extended to the nations through the Servant who will be its guarantee and mediator. There was a very real sense in which Israel as God’s covenant people could offer that covenant to the world, but in the end it was most full offered in Jesus Christ, Who as the Servant came to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He contains within Himself all that is the covenant. He is the fulfilment of the offer in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:3), and this also has in mind the extension of that covenant in the covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16), and the Davidic covenant promised in Isaiah 55:3. David was the guarantee to his people of God’s care and protection through his house by an everlasting covenant, the sure mercies of David, which nothing could rescind. And that covenant was revealed as something that would become worldwide because of the promise to the Davidic King of the future, of worldwide dominion (Isaiah 9:7; Psalms 2:0). It may be suggesting that the Servant as the greater David will renew and extend that covenant and offer it to the nations (Isaiah 55:3), a guarantee that those who respond to Him will enter into a covenant relationship with God (which would eventually be revealed as through His blood of the new covenant shed for the remission of sins - Matthew 26:28).
Or the thought may be that the nations will be able to enter the covenant of Abraham through uniting with his seed, the Servant, who represents the covenant, and becoming one with them by adoption, thus being guaranteed membership of the covenant. This indeed is what happened to new Christians who were adopted through baptism into the Apostolic (and thus by source Jewish-Christian) community of the people of God and became members of the Israel of God on their conversion (Galatians 6:16), in a community where there was neither Jew nor Greek, but all are one in Christ Jesus, all are the true Israel (Ephesians 2:11-22). For the covenant with Abraham contained within it from the beginning the fact that through him and his seed the whole world would be blessed (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 26:4-5), and it too was an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:19).
Yet we do not have to choose between them, for in the end there is only one covenant, even though it has many facets. It is God’s covenant with His own, continued and expanded through the ages, for God is unchanging.
‘For a light to the Gentiles, to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and those who sit in darkness out of the prison house.’ The Servant would through the covenant bring light to the Gentiles. This was a primary work of Immanuel (Isaiah 9:1-6). But this was also to be the work of the spiritual in Israel (Isaiah 49:6). The blind eyes of the nations would be opened, they would be released from their dungeon chains, they would come out of the darkness of the prison house into the freedom and light. They will no longer be darkened in their understanding and alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that was in them because of the hardness of their hearts (Ephesians 4:18). For they will have received light.
“I am Yahweh. That is my name.
And my glory I will not give to another,
Nor my praise to graven images.
Behold the former things are come about,
And new things do I declare.
Before they spring forth I will tell you of them.”
‘I am Yahweh. That is my name.’ This is not just the announcing of His name, it is drawing attention to Who and What He is. The name was seen as indicating character and being. And He is Yahweh, the One Who has caused to be from the beginning, the One Who will be, the One Who is there.
And being Yahweh, the living, active God He will not allow the credit for what He has done, ‘the former things’, in the raising up of Abraham and David, and what He is going to doing to do, ‘the new things’ that He is now declaring, in the effective choosing of the greater David and spiritual Israel, to go to anyone else. Certainly not to graven images. The glory belongs to Him and to Him alone.
So far from this Servant song being an independent unit we find that it is an essential part of the context (although there is nothing to stop it being both, a sacred song incorporated into a context, and yet a part of that context).
A Further Song of Deliverance And Judgment (Isaiah 42:10-17 ).
Following on the revelation of the Servant comes the joy of the nations in seeing God at work though Him. In this brief section movement is rapid. The righteous will sing for joy at their deliverance, but God will shout His battlecries against the ungodly. He will introduce judgment with the earnestness of a woman in labour, and will bring drought upon the world. He will make easy the way of His chosen ones, but those who trust in idols will be turned away and be greatly ashamed.
In one sense this is the process of history, the advancement of God’s good news, and God’s continuing acts of judgment against unrighteousness. But in the final analysis it looks to the final triumph, and the final judgment of the wicked.
The Song Of Triumph and Praise (Isaiah 42:10-12 ).
‘Sing to Yahweh a new song,
And his praise from the end of the earth.
You who go down to the sea,
And all that is in it,
The isles and its inhabitants.
Let the wilderness and its cities lift up (their voices),
The villages that Kedar inhabits,
Let the inhabitants of Sela sing,
Let them shout from the top of the mountains.
Let them give glory to Yahweh,
And declare his praise in the islands.’
The certain success of the Servant is now made clear. The whole world is called on to give praise. Those who are at the end of the earth (north), those who go down to the sea, and those who are in the distant coastlands across the Great Sea and beyond (west), those who dwell in the cities in the wilderness, and those who live in Kedar’s tent villages (east), and those who dwell in the rocky clefts (south - probably Sela in Edom. Obadiah 1:3 in his burden against Edom speaks of those who dwell in the clefts of Sela). The point is that all will be rejoicing, north, west, east and south, in every furthest and most obscure place, even the dry places in the wilderness, because of the work of the Servant.
They will sing to Yahweh a new song. It is a new song because of the new things that are happening. They will give Him praise, they will lift up their voices, they will sing, and those in the clefts of the rocks will shout from the top of the mountains and give glory to Yahweh, while those in the islands and coastlands will declare His praise. For the Servant is triumphant and his words and work will hold sway over the whole world, and they rejoice in it together. We may rightly see this as the result of the spreading of the Gospel by the early church, as the peoples rejoiced over the Good News that they had received (Acts 13:52), and as occurring through His church today, but in the end it depicts the introduction of the heavenly reality in the new heaven and the new earth, the everlasting kingdom. The one leads into the other.
The Judgment That Is Inevitably Coming (Isaiah 42:13-15 ).
‘Yahweh will go forth as a mighty man,
He will stir up zeal like a man of war,
He will cry, yes, he will shout aloud,
He will prove how mighty he is against his enemies.’
As often in Isaiah we move to the contrast. On the one hand glory, on the other judgment. While the Servant is bringing about the Kingly Rule of God, and the redeemed are singing their song, and shouting in rejoicing from the mountains, God will also be visiting the world in judgment, and shouting out His battlecries. It is described in terms of a Champion going out to war. He will go out like a warrior, He will stir up zeal in Himself, like soldiers stir up each other’s zeal before the battle, He will call out against the enemy, yes, He will shout His battlecries, and then He will battle mightily against His enemies, bringing them to destruction and defeat. Again it will occur through history but find its final fulfilment at the end of time, for Isaiah is not depicting particular events, he is describing what God will do when He chooses to act.
“I have held my peace from the distant past (everlasting),
I have been still and refrained myself,
Now will I cry out like a woman in labour,
I will gasp and pant together.’
From the moment when man first fell, and even from before, from His awareness of that in eternity, God has waited for this moment. He has been still and restrained Himself from acting, but now the time has come to bring judgment to birth, and like a woman in labour He cries out, He pants, He gasps, all at once. The end of all things is at hand, and God is constrained until it is fulfilled. Never was moment so important.
‘I will make waste mountains and hills,
And dry up all their vegetation,
And I will make the rivers, islands,
And will dry up the pools.’
Compare the description of the judgment of the earth in Isaiah 24:1; Isaiah 24:3-5, and of Eden in Isaiah 34:9-10 and contrast Isaiah 35:1; Isaiah 35:7. Here the cause of it all is drought. The vegetation in the mountains and hills will be dried up and the mountains made like a waste place, the river levels will drop resulting in large islands where once there was water, and the pools will dry up and become empty. The rain has not come and the land is bare and desolate. So, while for the people of God there is blessing, (often described in terms of the exact opposite of this), for the unbelieving world there is only final judgment.
But The Chosen Will Be Led Into The Light By God Through The Servant (Isaiah 42:16 ).
‘And I will bring the blind by a way that they do not know,
And in paths that they do not know will I lead them,
I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight,
These things I will do and I will not forsake them.’
While God is going forward in judgment He will not forget His own. This is God’s preparation for that day, and describes God at work through the Servant (see Isaiah 49:9-11). The blind will be led by him safely through their darkness in ways and paths that they do not know because they cannot see. The visual image of blind men being led along was a common one, and is used here of the guiding of men towards light by the Servant. For walking in the way compare Isaiah 35:8. Life before God is often spoken of in such terms. It is a daily walk. And then at last the darkness will be made light before them, and they will see.
In Isaiah 42:19 the question is, ‘Who is blind but My servant?’. So here the Servant also is ministering to that part of Israel who were blind, just as in Isaiah 49:6 he will ‘raise up the tribes of Jacob’.
‘And the crooked ways will be made straight.’ This latter is the same as happened to the route that Yahweh took in Isaiah 40:4. It is a way prepared for conquerors. It is a way made easier by the Servant. And over all is the promise that He will do this and will not forsake them. God’s deep concern for them is revealed.
There may be behind this a reference to the Exodus. Then Israel stumbled along like deaf and blind people, led by His servant Moses, and God made darkness light before them, leading them in a pillar of fire, and He straightened the crooked way, and brought them safely through, never forsaking them in spite of their deserts. And He will ever do the same for those whom He draws to Him.
Idolaters Will Be Turned Back And Will Be Greatly Ashamed (Isaiah 42:17 ).
‘They will be turned back,
They will be greatly ashamed,
Who trust in graven images,
Who say to molten images,
“You are our gods”.’
In contrast to those who see are those who are idolaters. To the cry ‘behold your God’ (Isaiah 40:9) they reply ‘you idols are our gods’. God does not so much have deep concern for them (they have forfeited that), but deep concern about them. Their end can only be disastrous for they are trusting in nothings. This can only result in their discomfort and shame. Instead of going forward confidently like the blind led by the Servant they will be turned back and discomfited.
The Sad Present State of God’s Servant, The Seed of Abraham (Isaiah 42:18-25 ).
The glory of the future is now brought down to earth by a recognition of the present condition of God’s servant. In contrast to the glorious future depicted for the Servant, ‘his’ present condition is seen as disastrous. The advancement of God’s purposes through Abraham have almost come to a halt. Abraham is not advancing forward triumphantly in his seed, instead they are stumbling along blindly (what a contrast to Isaiah 42:16) unable to help themselves, never mind others. God’s Instruction is not being magnified, it is being ignored.
“Hear you deaf ones, and look you blind, that you may see.”
So God calls on the spiritually deaf and blind to recognise their true situation. Let them hear. Let them see. For only then can His purposes can go forward.
“Who is blind, but my servant?
Or deaf as my messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as my dedicated ones?
And blind as Yahweh’s servant?
You see many things but you do not observe them.”,
His ears are open but he does not hear.’
The sad present state of ‘the servant’ as represented by Israel is being brought out as God addresses the world. It is done in such a way as to emphasise to the world why they have no messenger, while at the same time stressing to the servant his true condition, that he is culpably blind.
He first speaks to the world. His servant is blind, His messenger is deaf. Of what use is a blind servant, a deaf messenger they may well ask? God has a message to send to the nations, but the messenger is deaf, he will not hear it. How then can he pass it on? And he is blind, how can he even come to them or reveal anything to them?
Then he turns His attention to His servant. The sad truth is that though they are His dedicated ones, (they still claimed that, for they were dedicated ‘in Abraham’), they are blind, and though they are His servant, they are blind. Note the deliberate emphasis on blindness. No word of deafness here. They are blind, blind, culpably blind. ‘You see many things, but you do not really ‘see’ them.’ In other words, your minds are blinded because your hearts are hardened.
Then comes a further comment thrown out to the world. ‘His ears are open but he does not hear.’ This very divorcing of the deafness from the previous comment reinforces the message of blindness as spoken to the servant. Yes, the Servant is deaf, wilfully deaf. That is why he cannot speak to the world, because he does not hear God’s words. But his central root problem is his blindness. He does not even comprehend. His eyes are closed.
‘It pleased Yahweh for his righteousness’ sake,
To magnify the Law (Instruction) and make it honourable,
But this is a people robbed and spoiled.
They are all of them snared in holes and hid in prison houses.
They are for a prey and none delivers.
For a spoil, and none says, “Restore”.’
God’s purpose for the nations was that His Law, His Instruction, should be magnified before them and revealed as honourable, as glorious, so that His righteousness might be upheld. But the purpose has been held up. The servant who should have been revealing it to the nations has been robbed by the roadside and despoiled. They are cowering in holes, they are hidden in prison houses, they are treated as a prey. No one delivers them. For they have turned from the One Who could.
So the servant has been handed over to spoilers because of sin and disobedience. He was in no condition to deliver God’s message, and indeed had had no intention of doing so. That is why he has been despoiled. Some were hiding in holes out of fear of the enemy. Others had been taken and put in prison houses. Many were in exile. All were a prey, victims waiting for the lion or bear to do his will. They are themselves the spoil, for everything has previously been taken from them. No one demands their restoration. They are friendless. Abraham’s representatives are in a parlous condition. But why has this happened?
‘Who is there among you who will give ear to this?
Who will hearken and hear for the coming time?
Who gave up Jacob to the spoilers?
And Israel to the robbers?’
The question is now put as to who will listen to the explanation of why, if they are Yahweh’s servant, they are in this predicament. Why are Jacob in the hand of spoilers, why are Israel in the hands of robbers? It is important for the sake of the time to come. The problem needs to be sorted out.
‘Did not Yahweh? He against whom we have sinned,
And in whose ways they would not walk,
Nor were they obedient to His Law (instruction).
That is why he poured on him the fury of his anger,
And the strength of battle.
And it set him on fire round about, yet he did not know it,
And it burned him, yet he did not lay it to heart.’
The answer is given. It was Yahweh Himself Who has done it, for they had sinned against Him and would not obey His Law. That is why all that has happened, has happened to them.
Note how Isaiah does not exclude himself from the sins of the people. ‘ We have sinned.’ Since his inauguration in chapter 6 he was ever aware of his own sinfulness. But then he distinguishes his own walk from theirs. It was they who would not walk in His ways. He at least sought to walk with Him and be obedient to His Law.
So it is because of their sin and rebellion that they are experiencing the fury of His anger being poured on them, (rather than receiving His Spirit (Isaiah 32:15)). This is why they have had to face fierce battle. And yet although they have been set on fire round about, and burned, they still do not face up to what they have done, they still do not lay it to heart. What is to be done?
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 42". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20