Isaiah 42:1. Behold my servant, &c. — “The prophet, having opened his subject with the preparation for the return from the captivity at Babylon, and intimated that a much greater deliverance was covered under the veil of that event, proceeded to vindicate the power of God, as Creator and Disposer of all things, and his infinite knowledge from his prediction of future events, and in particular of that deliverance; he then went still further, and pointed out the instrument by which he should effect the redemption of his people from slavery, namely, a great conqueror, whom he would call forth from the north and the east, to execute his orders. He now proceeds to the great deliverance, and at once brings forth into full view the Messiah, without throwing any veil of allegory over the subject.” For, though the person here spoken of has by some been supposed to be Cyrus, and by others Isaiah himself, and by others again the people of the Jews; yet we are directed by an infallible interpreter to understand the prophet as speaking of Christ. For to him St. Matthew has directly applied his words; nor, as Bishop Lowth has observed, can they, “with any justice or propriety, be applied to any other person or character whatever.” This is so evident, that not only the generality of Christians, but the Chaldee paraphrast, and divers of the most learned Jews, understand the passage of the Messiah, and of him alone; and pass a very severe sentence upon their brethren that expound it of any other person, and affirm that they are smitten with blindness in this matter. Indeed, to him, and to him only, all the particulars here following do truly and evidently belong, as we shall see. My servant — Though he was the only Son of the Father, in a sense in which no creature, man or angel, was, is, or can be his son; see Hebrews 1:2-5; yet, as Mediator, and with respect to his human nature, he sustained the character, and appeared in the form of a servant, learned obedience to his Father’s will, practised it, and was continually employed in advancing the interests of his kingdom. Whom I uphold — Whom I assist, and enable to do and suffer all those things which belong to his office; mine elect — Chosen by me to this great work of mediation and redemption; in whom my soul delighteth — Or, as רצתהis often rendered, is well pleased, both for himself and for all his people, being fully satisfied with that sacrifice which he shall offer up to me: see Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; 2 Peter 1:17; John 3:35. I have put my Spirit upon him —
Not by, but without, measure, John 3:34; by which he is furnished with that abundance and eminence of graces and gifts which are necessary for the discharge of his high and mighty undertaking. He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles — He shall publish or show (as the word יציאoften signifies, and is translated Matthew 12:18) the law, counsel, or will of God concerning man’s salvation; and that not only to the Jews, to whom the knowledge of God’s law had been hitherto in a great measure confined, but to the heathen nations also.
Isaiah 42:2-3. He shall not cry — In a way of contention or ostentation. He shall neither erect nor govern his kingdom with violence or outward pomp and state, like worldly princes, but with meekness and humility. He shall not lift up — Namely, his voice; nor cause it to be heard in the street — As contentious and vain-glorious persons frequently do. “He shall instruct those that oppose themselves, with all meekness and gentleness; he shall patiently endure the contradictions of sinners against himself, and not vindicate himself against their calumnies in an angry or clamorous manner.” — Lowth. A bruised reed shall he not break — He will not deal roughly or rigorously with those that come to him, but he will use all gentleness and kindness to them, bearing with their infirmities, cherishing and encouraging the smallest beginnings of grace, supporting and comforting such as are bowed down under the burden of their sins, and healing wounded consciences. And the smoking flax shall he not quench — That wick of a candle, which is almost extinct, he will not quench, but revive and kindle it again. He shall bring forth judgment, &c. — The law of God, or the doctrine of the gospel, which he will bring forth unto, with, or according to truth — That is, truly and faithfully. St. Matthew reads the clause, Till he send forth judgment unto victory, expressing not so much the words, as the sense, of the original, which seems to be, “till he make the cause of righteousness and truth completely victorious, and gloriously triumphant over all opposition.”
Isaiah 42:4. He shall not fail, nor be discouraged — Though he be thus meek and gentle, yet he is also courageous and resolute, notwithstanding all the many and great difficulties and conflicts to which he will be exposed, and he will persevere till he have finished his work. Till he have set judgment in the earth — Till, by his holy life, his extreme sufferings, his many miracles, his resurrection from the dead, his visible ascension into heaven, and the wonderful effusion of his Holy Spirit, in extraordinary gifts and graces on his apostles and other servants, he shall fully evince the certain truth and infinite importance of his doctrine, and the divine original and authority of that holy religion which he came to establish: or, till he shall erect his kingdom in the world, or a church for himself among men, and, by the power of his gospel and grace, shall reform mankind, and fix such principles in their minds as will make them wise and holy, just and good. Lowth thinks this prophecy relates chiefly to the propagation of the gospel in the world by his apostles and other messengers; observing that Christ himself was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and consequently could be a light to the Gentiles only as he commissioned others to preach the gospel to them: see Ephesians 2:17. And, taking the words in this comprehensive sense, they import, that our Saviour and his apostles would not be discouraged at the difficulties they were to meet with in the discharge of their office, but would still continue unwearied in their work, till, at last, they should surmount all opposition, plant judgment and truth in the earth, and make the remotest parts of the world own their dependance upon him as their Lord, and submit to his government. And the isles — Of the Gentiles, the countries remote from Judea, as the word often signifies; shall wait for his law — Shall gladly receive his doctrine and commands from time to time.
Isaiah 42:5-7. Thus saith God the Lord, &c. — This large description of God’s infinite power is here seasonably added, to give assurance of the certain accomplishment of these great and wonderful promises, which otherwise would seem incredible. I the Lord have called thee in righteousness — To declare my righteousness, as is said Romans 3:26 : or, my faithfulness, manifested in fulfilling my promises, long since made, and often renewed; and will hold thy hand — Will give thee counsel and strength for thy great and mighty work. And will keep thee — That thou shalt not fail in, nor, by thine enemies, be hindered from, the accomplishment of thy work; and give thee for a covenant of the people — To be the Angel of the covenant, Malachi 3:1; or, the Mediator, in and by whom my covenant of grace is made and confirmed with mankind, even with all people who will accept of it. For a light of the Gentiles — To enlighten them with true and saving knowledge, and to direct them in the right way to true happiness, out of which they had miserably wandered. To open the blind eyes — The eyes of men’s minds, blinded with long ignorance, deep prejudice, and inveterate error, and by the god of this world, 2 Corinthians 4:4. And to bring out the prisoners, &c. — Namely, sinners who are taken captive by the devil at his will, (2 Timothy 2:26,) and enslaved by their own lusts, and who can only be made free by Christ, John 8:32; John 8:36 : compare Isaiah 61:1, and Luke 4:17-21.
Isaiah 42:8-9. I am the Lord — Hebrew, Jehovah; who have all being in and of myself, and give being to all my creatures. The everlasting, and unchangeable, and omnipotent God, who therefore both can and will fulfil all my promises. That is my name — Which I must own and justify to the world. He seems to allude to Exodus 3:14; Exodus 6:3. My glory will I not give to another — I will not any longer suffer that honour and worship which are peculiar to me to be given to idols, as it hath been, but I will, by the Messiah and his gospel, abolish idolatry out of the world. Behold, the former things are come to pass — As all things which I have formerly promised or foretold, have exactly come to pass in their proper seasons, and not one of them has failed; so you have great reason to believe that what I now promise, though it be new and strange to you, shall infallibly be accomplished. Before they spring forth I tell you of them — That when they come to pass you may know that I am God, and that this is my work.
Isaiah 42:10; Isaiah 42:12. Sing unto the Lord a new song — Upon this new and great occasion, the salvation of the world by Christ. It is with peculiar propriety and elegance that the nations are here called upon and exhorted to praise and extol Jehovah, for the singular blessing conferred upon them by the gospel. And his praise from the end of the earth — All nations, from one end of the earth to another. Ye that go down to the sea — You that go by sea, carry these glad tidings from Judea, where Christ was born, and lived, and died, and published the gospel, unto the remotest parts of the earth. Let the wilderness, &c. — Those parts of the world which are now desolate and forsaken of God, and barren of all good fruits. The villages that Kedar doth inhabit — The Arabians, who were a heathen and barbarous people, and are put for all nations. Let them shout from the top of the mountains — Whose inhabitants are commonly more savage and ignorant than others. Let them declare his praise in the islands — In the remotest parts of the world, as well as in Arabia, which was near to them.
Isaiah 42:13-15. The Lord shall go forth — Namely, to battle against his enemies. He shall stir up jealousy — His fierce indignation against the obstinate enemies of his Son and gospel. He shall cry, yea, roar — As a lion doth upon his prey, and as soldiers do when they begin the battle. I have long time held my peace — I have been long silent, and not interposed in behalf of my cause, but have suffered Satan and his servants to prevail in the world, to afflict my people, and hinder the entertainment of my doctrine and worship among mankind; and this my forbearance has increased the presumption of my enemies. Now will I cry like a travailing woman — Now I will no more contain myself than a woman in the pangs of travail can forbear crying out: but I will give vent to my just resentments for the injuries offered to myself and my oppressed people, by bringing some exemplary punishment upon their oppressors. I will destroy and devour at once — I will suddenly and utterly destroy the incorrigible enemies of my truth. When men’s provocations come to a great height, God is represented in Scripture as if his patience were quite tired out, and he could no longer forbear punishing them: see Jeremiah 15:6; Jeremiah 44:22. I will make waste mountains and hills — He does not mean dry and barren ones, for these were waste already, but such as were clothed with grass and herbs. Which clause is to be understood metaphorically of God’s destroying his most lofty and flourishing enemies, often compared in Scripture to mountains and hills. I will dry up the pools — Remove all the sources of their prosperity and comfort. “As God’s mercy is represented by pouring water upon the dry ground, chap. 35:6, and 44:3, so his wrath is described as if it were a consuming fire, parching up every thing, and reducing it to barrenness.
Isaiah 42:16-17. And I will bring the blind — The ignorant Gentiles, represented as blind, Isaiah 42:7, and in many other parts of Scripture, and accounted blind by the Jews; by a way that they knew not — By the way of truth, which hitherto hath been hidden from them. I will make darkness light before them, &c. — I will enlighten their dark minds, rectify their perverse wills and affections, and direct them in the right way, until I have brought them, with safety and comfort, to the end of their journey. They shall be turned back, &c. — This may be understood, either, 1st, Of the converted Gentiles, turned back from their former sinful courses, and sincerely grieving, and being ashamed, that they should ever have been guilty of such folly and wickedness as to worship and trust in idols; or, 2d, Of those Gentiles who, when their brethren embraced the true religion, persisted obstinately in their idolatrous practices.
Isaiah 42:18-20. Hear, ye deaf, &c. — O you, whosoever you are, whether Jews or Gentiles, who shall resist this clear light, and obstinately continue in your former errors, attend diligently to my words, and consider these mighty works of God. Who is blind but my servant? — But no people under heaven are so blind as the Jews, who call themselves my servants and people, who will not receive their Messiah, though he be recommended to them with such evident and illustrious signs and miraculous works as force belief from the formerly unbelieving and idolatrous Gentiles. Or deaf as my messenger that I sent — Or rather, as Bishop Lowth renders it, as he to whom I have sent my messengers. Thus the Vulgate and Chaldee, “ut ad quem nuncios meos misi.” Who is blind as he that is perfect — Or, perfectly instructed, as משׁלםmay be rendered, who has all the means of knowledge and spiritual improvement. Perhaps the prophet may chiefly intend the priests and other teachers of the Jews, who, as they were appointed to instruct the people in the right way of worshipping and serving God, so they had peculiar advantages for knowing that way themselves, having the oracles of God in their hands, and much leisure for reading and considering them. Or he may be understood as speaking sarcastically, and terming them perfect, or, perfectly instructed, because they pretended to greater knowledge and piety than others, to a more perfect acquaintance with, and conformity to, the divine will, proudly calling themselves rabbis and masters, and despising the people as cursed and not knowing the law, John 7:49; and deriding Christ for calling them blind, John 9:40. And blind as the Lord’s servant? — Which title, as it was given to the Jewish people in the first clause of the verse, may be here given to the priests, because they were called and obliged to be the Lord’s servants, in a special manner. Seeing many things, but thou observest not — Thou dost not seriously consider the plain word and wonderful works of God.
Isaiah 42:21. The Lord is well pleased, &c. — Although thou art a wicked people, that rebellest against the clearest light, and therefore God might justly destroy thee suddenly, yet he will patiently wait for thy repentance, that he may be gracious; and that not for thy sake, but for the glory of his own faithfulness, in fulfilling that covenant which he made with thy pious progenitors. He will magnify the law — He will maintain the honour of his law, and therefore is not forward to destroy you, who profess the true religion, lest his law should, upon that occasion, be exposed to contempt. Thus the verse may be interpreted according to the present translation. But it may be rendered differently, as it is by Vitringa and Dr. Waterland, thus: “The Lord took delight in him for his righteousness’ sake; he hath magnified him by his law, and made him honourable.” God liberally provided for his people whatever was needful or useful, in order to their salvation and the stability of their state. “He had given them excellent laws; he had increased and honoured them; had made, and was willing to make them glorious among their neighbours. But they had been wanting to themselves, had despised his laws, and incurred his just vengeance.” — Dodd.
Isaiah 42:22-24. But this is a people robbed and spoiled — Notwithstanding the great respect which God hath had, and still hath, for his people, it is evident he hath severely scourged them for their sins. They are all of them snared in holes, &c. — They have been taken in snares made by their own hands, and, by God’s just judgment, delivered into the hands of their enemies, and by them cast into pits, or dungeons, and prisons. And none saith, Restore — None afforded them either pity or help in their extremities. Who will give ear to this — O that you would learn from your former and dear-bought experience to be wiser for the future, and not to provoke God to your own total and final ruin. Who gave Jacob for a spoil? Did not the Lord? — Do not flatter yourselves with a conceit of impunity, because you are a people whom God hath favoured with many and great privileges; for as God hath punished you formerly, be assured, if you continue to sin, he will punish you more and more. “It was reasonably to be expected that the Jews, blessed with such great privileges, would have been greatly honoured and respected; but, abusing those privileges, their case and situation have been, in various periods, what the prophet describes in these verses; broken, plundered, spoiled, despised by other nations, subject to the insolence of conquerors, shut up in prison, trod upon, abused and punished in such a manner as may justly raise the greatest commiseration. Their history, since the crucifixion of the Redeemer, supplies us with one continued detail of their miseries and afflictions; yet, which is most astonishing, who among them giveth ear? who heareth for the time to come? — Who among them considereth the cause of their sufferings, and becometh obedient to the law of Christ?” — Dodd.
Isaiah 42:25. Therefore he hath poured upon him the fury, &c. — Most grievous judgments. It hath set him on fire round about — This was literally fulfilled when the Chaldean army took their city, and burned both it and their temple. Yet he knew it not — Considered it not: they were secure and stupid under God’s judgments; neither fearing them when threatened, nor truly sensible of God’s hand in them, of the causes of God’s displeasure, or of the means of cure. The reader will easily observe, that “the force and elegance of the metaphor in this verse are very great. Of all natural evils which affect the human mind, which arouse and awaken it, none do so with greater quickness than fire, than a mighty flame encompassing a man on every side. No sleep, no lethargy is so great, which this will not shake off; and yet the stupor and insensibility of the Jews are here represented to be so great, that in the midst of the fire and flame, which they might and ought to think kindled by God, they inquired not into the causes of this judgment. They knew them not, nor considered them; but, persisting in their impenitence and stupidity, applied not to God in faith and repentance, nor humbled themselves before him.” See Vitringa.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 42". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany