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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 42

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



The office of Christ, graced with meekness and constancy. The Father's promise to him. An exhortation to praise God for his Gospel. He reproveth the people of incredulity.

Before Christ 712.

THE second sermon of the fourth part of Isaiah's prophesy is contained in this and the following chapter, which may be divided into three parts; the first is consolatory, pointing out the Messiah as the light of the world, and the preacher of the Gentiles; Isa 42:1-9 whose illustrious attributes are described, Isaiah 42:1. The manner of his teaching, Isaiah 42:2-3. The success and effect of it, Isaiah 42:4. The foundation of that success and effect, which is shown to be the grace and love of God, whereby Jesus Christ was called to this great work; Isaiah 42:5-9. The second part contains an exhortation directed to the Gentiles to celebrate the name of God, Isa 42:10-12 for a great benefit conferred upon them, and which is set forth, Isaiah 42:13-17. The third part contains an address to the Jews, admonishing them to attend to the subsequent reproof, Isaiah 42:18. The reproof is contained in Isaiah 42:19; Isa 42:21 and the severe punishment preparing for them, in Isaiah 42:22-25.

Verse 1

Isaiah 42:1. Behold my servant, whom I upheld Whom I will uphold. Lowth. Or, Whom I receive. The discourse of God is continued, of the Father pointing out the Son, as the teacher of the Gentiles expected for so many ages, about to recal them from idolatry and superstition, and to enlighten them with the most pure and holy doctrine. St. Matthew has plainly and directly applied this passage, which is truly august, and worthy all attention, to Jesus Christ, Matthew 12:17; Matthew 12:50. And in the voice from heaven, Mat 3:17 there is a manifest allusion to it. Simeon also, in his song, Luk 2:31-32 has a plain reference to it, as well as St. Paul, in his discourse before king Agrippa; Acts 26:18. The ancient Jews also saw its reference to the Messiah, as appears from their paraphrase: "Behold, my servant, the Messiah, my beloved, in whom my word is well pleased:" and, indeed, the passage cannot with any show of probability be applied to any other than Jesus Christ, to whom these attributes peculiarly belong. He was the servant of God, obedient to his Father's will, peculiarly received, and in whose fidelity he absolutely reposed; faithful as a son; obedient unto death. See Hebrews 3:5-6. Philippians 2:7-8. He was God's elect in the most emphatical sense of the word; chosen from the beginning to glorify his Father's name upon earth, the precious lamb ordained before the foundation of the world, to be the prince of his faithful people, the head of his church, the source of righteousness and salvation to all that should believe in him; that elect, in whom the Father's soul delighted; in whom he was well pleased; in whom he saw all the properties and qualities necessary for his great and important office; particularly those which fitted him to be the great sacrifice of the world. (See Ephesians 5:2.Hebrews 10:5; Hebrews 10:5; Hebrews 10:39.); who was endued with all the gifts of the holy Spirit, which was not given to him by measure. See John 3:34.Isaiah 11:1-2; Isaiah 11:1-2; Isaiah 61:1-3.; and it was he who was to bring forth judgment to the Gentiles: that is, to deliver the canonical doctrine of religion to the Gentiles; rational, founded in principles of conscience, according to which every other doctrine of religion, all the opinions of men concerning religion, all the sayings, judgments, and actions of the Gentiles, are to be judged; which is, the doctrine of the Gospel, the canon of the divine judgment, the rule of the judgment of Christ to whom the Father hath delivered judgment, and of all those ministers who should establish his kingdom among the nations. See chap. Isaiah 2:4. &c. and Vitringa.

Verses 2-3

Isaiah 42:2-3. He shall not cry, &c.— This beautiful passage sets forth not only the method of this great teacher's instruction, but also the kind and quality of that instruction. Indeed, there is so close an affinity between these, that the one involves the other; for the manner of teaching ought to be conformable to the doctrine itself, and its quality; which is here set forth as peaceable and consolatory. In the first place it is said, that he shall not cry; —he shall not strive, according to St. Matthew: "He shall not be the teacher of a contentious disputative doctrine, calculated to obtain the praise of human wit and learning." He shall not lift up his voice: "He shall not cry; [κραυγαζει, St. Matth.] He shall not imitate those Foresian declaimers, who with great art and oratory set forth themselves and their parts to the public." Upon the whole, the meaning is, that the Messiah, endued with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, should appear among the Jews without pomp, without orientation: that he should deliver a pacific doctrine, tending to reconcile men with God and with themselves, and to bind them in perfect friendship together. That he should by no means disturb the political state of empires and kingdoms; that he should propose his doctrine fully, with divine authority, but yet modestly, and without any boasting or vain display of himself; all of which was remarkably fulfilled in Jesus Christ. With respect to the other quality of his doctrine, that it should be consolatory, and perfectly adapted to raise and to heal the dejected and afflicted soul, the prophet expresses it by two metaphors, than which nothing can more strongly set forth the gentleness and meekness of Christ. He will not break a bruised reed. "He will not reject the most grievous sinners, whose souls are most depressed with a sense of their vileness and unworthiness. He will not reject the weakest beginnings of faith." He will not quench the smoking flax—which should rather be translated, He will not extinguish the dimly-burning lamp. The allusion is here to a dimly-burning flame, which sends forth more smoke than light, through the want of oil in the lamp; and it gives us the idea of a man, in whom the habits of the spiritual life are so weak, that, unless they obtain some supply, they seem about to perish entirely. Such as these the Messiah would succour and assist; (compare chap. Isaiah 61:1-3.) and such as these Jesus in his ministry did succour and assist. The Chaldee paraphrase on this place is remarkable: "The meek, who are like a bruised reed, shall not be broken; and the poor, who are like dimly-burning flax, shall not be extinguished." The last phrase, He shall bring forth judgment unto truth, or victory, according to St. Matthew, signifies, "that Jesus Christ should propose the doctrine of evangelical truth, equity, and meekness, with that force and meekness, that it should never more be obscured or put out in the world, but that it shall conquer and triumph over all other doctrines whatsoever." The passage may be understood, that he shall make his righteous cause gloriously triumphant over all opposition. See Vitringa.

Verse 4

Isaiah 42:4. He shall not fail, nor be discouraged These words are to be referred to the success of this great teacher's doctrine; who, with admirable diligence and patience, without any remission of zeal or labour, should go on calmly and deliberately in its establishment, nor depart from the undertaking, till he had settled his doctrine and left a perfect canon of it to his disciples: a doctrine, not confined to the Jews, but to pass to the Gentiles—the isles of the earth, and to be by them received with faith and hope. Compare chap. Isa 51:5 and see Vitringa.

Verses 5-9

Isaiah 42:5-9. Thus saith God The prophet here continues the address of God to the Messiah, and that in a very lofty and magnificent manner. First, the Messiah is animated to continue his course with alacrity and spirit, amid the many difficulties which his enemies would throw in his way, since God, by his sovereign decree, had ordained him for the Saviour of both Jews and Gentiles, and would support him by his most powerful aid, and by the singular care of his providence, Isaiah 42:5-8. The discourse being then turned to men, on account of this new prediction concerning the coming of his Son into the world, the Lord again urges the truth of his divinity, Isa 42:9 though possibly this last verse may more properly be assigned to the prophet himself. To be given for a covenant of the people, means, "To perform for the people the promises given by the covenant with Abraham." This refers to the Jews, as the next clause does to the Gentiles. The former things in the ninth verse, may refer to the Egyptian and Babylonish deliverances; and the new things, to that true deliverance whereof they were types; the illumination of Jews and Gentiles through the redemption of Jesus Christ. In Isa 42:7 we may read, Them that sit in darkness from out of the dungeon.

Verses 10-12

Isaiah 42:10-12. Sing unto the Lord, &c.— The nations are here, in the most elegant manner, exhorted to praise and extol Jehovah, for the singular blessing conferred upon them, by calling them to his truth, and enlightening them with his grace. There is nothing difficult in the passage, though it will be greatly illustrated by Psalms 96:11; Psalms 97:1; Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 49:13.

Verse 13

Isaiah 42:13. The Lord shall go forth, &c.— JEHOVAH shall march forth like a hero; like a mighty warrior shall he rouse his vengeance; He shall cry aloud; he shall shout amain; he shall exert his strength against his enemies. Lowth. These words are so connected with those preceding, as to contain the argument of the praise to which the prophet had incited the Gentiles: which argument appears to be, that sovereign blessing of divine grace set forth in the former part of this discourse, and for which he had called upon the Gentiles to give glory unto the Lord: but he does not end here. He continues the same argument, though under a different figure; for he introduces Jehovah, as a hero and warrior, who, having a long time borne the insults of his adversaries, at length comes forth, like a mighty warrior, endued with heroic strength, to oppose his enemies, to take from them the power they had long usurped, and to deliver his people from the oppression of that power. The reference is, evidently, to the destruction of the kingdom of Satan, of sin and idolatry, by the Son of God. Compare Matthew 12:29. John 12:31.Luke 10:18; Luke 10:18.

Verses 14-17

Isaiah 42:14-17. I have long time holden my peace These words contain a declaration of the divine counsel; wherein God teacheth, that, by calling the Gentiles to his communion, he should effect a great change in the world; so that its whole oeconomy should, receive a new and different form. The whole discourse is metaphorical. We have in it, first, the divine counsel concerning the future time, declared by way of opposition; wherein the prophet, continuing the metaphor of the 13th verse, introduces God as a hero, who, after having contained himself a long time like a woman with child, at length, overcome by the love of his honour, aroused with great zeal, breaks silence, pants like a woman in labour, and at the same time exhales and resorbs his breath, as people do who are in great eagerness and agitation: whereby the prophet means to express nothing more than the great zeal of God, to vindicate his glory, and deliver his people. The prophet, secondly, explains the work itself, determined by the divine counsel, Isa 42:15-16 which express the destruction and desolation to be brought upon idols, and idolatrous states, and the blessings of the divine illumination by the Gospel: and, thirdly, we have in the 17th verse the consequence of the execution of the divine counsel, which should be the entire conversion of the Gentile world, after having beheld the triumphs of grace. See Vitringa.

Verse 18

Isaiah 42:18. Hear, ye deaf, &c.— The prophet, having foretold the future illumination and conversion of the Gentiles, and the abolition of idolatry, takes an occasion thence to reprove the Jews for their blindness and stupidity in the great concerns of religion. See ch. Isaiah 2:5. &c. The meaning of the apostrophe is this: "Since matters are thus, and the Gentiles are to be illuminated by that Messiah who is to arise from amongst you, and who is to destroy all idolatry, and as these events are daily hastening more and more to their completion; what blindness, O children of Israel, what folly and madness do you betray? what deafness also, or rebellion, against the word of God, that, while you follow the idolatries of the Gentiles, and fall into the most severe judgments of God, you are so stupid as not to discern that God severely punishes you for this apostacy! Attend, therefore, diligently to those things which I now foretel, as most certainly to come to pass; and while you behold, look carefully and diligently into the matter itself. Do not consider it negligently or perfunctorily, but with that study and attention which its importance and your duty absolutely demand."

Verses 19-20

Isaiah 42:19-20. Who is blind, but my servant; &c.— As it might be doubted who were the blind and deaf mentioned in the preceding verse, the prophet here points them out. "I have exhibited (says God) the Gentiles in the foregoing discourse as blind and deaf, to be enlightened by the doctrine of the Messiah, and brought to the obedience of his laws. But how much more blind are you, how much more deaf, ye degenerate sons of Jacob! who, though the only people favoured with my word, the only people peculiarly chosen by me to the profession of the true religion, and from whom it might and ought to have been expected, that as the messengers of God you should have taught true religion to others; yet, have not only no care or regard for it, but contemn this most excellent religion of yours, dishonour and corrupt it, and, on this account, subject yourselves to the divine punishment; at which, nevertheless, not reflecting on the greatness of your crimes and rebellion as its true cause, you stand astonished, and, though advised and instructed, still nothing the better, nor returning to duty; having ears, but hearing not." He that is perfect, in the 19th verse, means, "He who is perfectly instructed in the truth and knowledge of God, from the law of Moses, and the revelation vouchsafed to the Jews."

Verse 21

Isaiah 42:21. The Lord is well pleased Jehovah took delight in him for his righteousness sake; he hath magnified him by his law, and made him honourable. Vitringa. The meaning of the passage is very clear from this translation. God, in every reproof of his people, is careful to shew that the fault of their aberrations was not his, but theirs. He liberally provided whatever could be thought of for 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.

Verses 22-24

Isaiah 42:22-24. But this is a people robbed, &c.— It was reasonably to be expected, that the Jews, blessed with so great privileges, would have been greatly honoured and respected: but, abusing those privileges, their case and situation has been in various periods what the prophet describes in this verse, and the subsequent part of the chapter; broken, plundered, spoiled, despised by other nations, subject to the insolence of conquerors, shut up in prisons, 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.

Verse 25

Isaiah 42:25. Therefore he hath poured, &c.— The force and elegance of the metaphor in this verse is 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 is here represented to be so great, that in the midst of fire and flame, which they might and ought to think was 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 repentance and faith, nor humbled themselves before him. See Amo 2:4-5 and Vitringa.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, That these words belong to Christ we are assured, Matthew 12:17-21. We have,

1. His designation to his office, and qualification for it. Behold! with wonder and love, my servant, though equal with the Father as touching his Godhead, yet humbling himself to the form of a servant, for us men and our salvation; whom I upheld; for as men, Christ received power and strength from the Father, to enable him to accomplish the arduous work of redemption; or on whom I lean, expressive of the confidence that God reposed in him, to fulfil the work appointed him, as much to his glory as his faithful people's good; mine elect, chosen and designed for the work; in whom my soul delighteth, his obedience, sufferings, sacrifice, and all that he did, being always highly pleasing to his Father; I have put my Spirit upon him, fully qualifying and enabling him for the execution of all he hath undertaken. Note; (1.) The highest honour is to be a servant of God. (2.) There never was but one under the sun in whom, for his own sake, God could say my soul delighteth. (3.) If God bid us minister, he will supply the ability.

2. His exercise of his office. He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles, the Gospel, which is to be the rule and guide of all his converted people: He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street, as coming with human pomp and grandeur, for his kingdom was not of this world. A bruised reed shall he not break, so tender are his compassions towards the weak and tempted, who are cast down under their trials, but supported and strengthened by him, that they may not utterly faint; and the smoking flax shall he not quench, where the smallest gracious appearances are seen, he will not despise, but cherish them, and fan the smoking flax into a flame: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth, accompanying the word of his truth with divine power. He shall not fail, nor be discouraged amid the arduous works in which he shall be engaged, till he have set judgment in the earth, established his glorious Gospel, which is so productive of judgment and righteousness among men, and the isles shall wait for his law; the distant nations of Gentiles offering themselves willing scholars at the feet of his ministers. The LXX, from whom the passage is quoted, Mat 12:21 render it, And in his names shall the Gentiles trust.

2nd, God, having ushered in the glorious personage appointed by him for the salvation of his faithful people, here encourages and authorizes him to proceed in his undertaking.
1. He gives him his orders, as the Almighty Creator of all, able abundantly to support him in the exercise of his office. He calls him in righteousness, in a way wherein the divine perfections were eminently to be magnified; or with righteousness, being himself a righteous person, and who in his nature and practice knew no sin: he promises to uphold and keep him, that no difficulties may discourage, nor enemies prevail against him; to give him for a covenant of the people, to be their great covenant-head, as through him all the blessings of the covenant are to be freely received: two of the most eminent of which are mentioned, [1.] He is given for a light of the Gentiles, to open the blind eyes, both to be the light of the world which lay in darkness and the shadow of death, and also to bestow power on the fallen mind of man to see this light of life, without which it shineth in darkness. Note; The mind of man, yea, of the wisest, continues in utter darkness respecting spiritual things, without divine illumination. [2.] He is sent to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house; we are by nature the slaves of sin and Satan; and even when we have light enough through grace to see and deplore our misery, we have no power to set ourselves at liberty; it is the Lord Jesus who must interpose to break our bands, and bring us forth into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

2. He confirms his commission by his great name, Jehovah, who, in the investiture of the Redeemer, intends to exalt his own glory, and will not suffer idols to be his rivals; but will condignly punish those who ascribe to them the praise due to him alone. And as he has fulfilled his former promises, so will he also accomplish the new things that he now declares, relative to the deliverance of the Jews under Cyrus, the incarnation of the Messiah, and the success of his Gospel; which, before they spring forth into act, he foretels, and shall be as surely fulfilled in their season, as any past prophesies had been. Note; God hath still new mercies in store; while we have faith to trust him, he will not, cannot fail us.

3. The whole church is called upon to exalt God's praise for the redemption of Jesus. From the ends of the earth, to which the Gospel should be spread, the grateful song must arise; those who go down to the sea, the Tyrians and Phoenicians, and other maritime nations, the Arabians, and the most savage inhabitants of the desart and the rock, civilized by the preaching of the Gospel, must join in the work of praise, till the sound should be universal, and the knowledge of the glory of God be wafted to the most distant isles of the sea. This was in a measure the case under the ministry of the apostles, and we expect a still more glorious day, when praises for redeeming love shall be sung from pole to pole.
3rdly, We have,
1. The victory which the Lord will obtain over his enemies. As a man of war he will rush upon them with a cry, and prevail, his Gospel being made effectual to the casting down all the strong-holds of darkness. For a long while he seemed to pay no regard to the heathen world, winking at the times of their ignorance; but now he sends his elect minister Jesus, he will destroy and devour at once; they who submit not to the calls of his mercy, must perish under the rod of his judgments. The greatest, high as mountains, are not too mighty to escape; nor the least, though mean as the grass, so small as to be overlooked: and every impediment shall be removed, as at the passage of Israel through the Red Sea, that his word may have free course, and run, and be glorified.
2. He will bring home his faithful people to himself. I will bring the blind, those that were spiritually ignorant of the ways of God, by a way that they knew not, even Christ the living way, hid from ages and generations, but now revealed to the Gentiles; I will lead them in paths that they have not known, the path of holiness and life; I will make darkness light before them, shining on their path, and making it plain before their faces; and crooked things straight, removing all obstructions, and forming their once crooked and perverse ways by his divine grace, conformably to his holy mind and word. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them, but perfect in the faithful the salvation here begun.

3. The idolaters, being converted, shall now be made ashamed of their idols; or those who persisted in their worship be confounded to find how little they can profit them in a day of wrath.
4thly, We have,
1. A general exhortation addressed to the spiritually deaf and blind, whether Jews or Gentiles, to hear and see. For though the mere exercise of their natural faculties was by no means sufficient for the attaining of divine knowledge, yet, as they had ears to hear, and eyes to see the word of truth, they were bound to make use of the appointed means. Note; They who wilfully turn away their eyes from the truth, and will not use them to examine the scriptures, are justly given up to judicial blindness.

2. A sharp reproof is given to the Jewish people. Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger that I sent? or, as some render it, those to whom I send my messenger? They who had every opportunity of spiritual knowledge, were more criminally ignorant than their Gentile neighbours, and their teachers blind leaders of the blind. Who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the Lord's servant? the Scribes and Pharisees, who most boasted of their high attainments, were most obstinate in rejecting Christ and his Gospel. Seeing many things, or pretending to see at least, but thou observest not the evidences of Christ's divine mission in his miracles; opening the ears to the preaching of Christ and his apostles; but he hearetb not to any saving purpose, but cavilled, and rejected the counsel of God against their own souls. Note; (1.) Spiritual blindness is grievously common, even among the professors of religion. (2.) They who have the highest conceit of their own natural excellence, are most grievously ignorant both of God, his law, and their own vile hearts. (3.) It is a deplorable case when they, who should be teachers of others, are blind and erroneous themselves. (4.) None usually are so obstinate in prejudice and ignorance as those who, having assumed the character of God's messengers, count it a dishonour to have it but suggested that they themselves are out of the way. (5.) They who, through ignorance in their ministry, mislead and ruin others' souls as well as their own, may expect to receive greater damnation.

3. God will be glorified, notwithstanding their obstinacy. The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable; either by the execution of just judgment on the rejecters of his truth, or as the words may refer to Christ, for whose righteousness' sake God is well pleased with all who are found in him; since, by his obedience unto death, he hath in the highest measure magnified the divine law in their behalf, and restored the honour it had lost by their violations of it.

4. The destruction of the whole people is foretold, because of their rejection of the Gospel. They are given up to the Romans to be robbed, spoiled, and snared; dragged from their lurking-places, and imprisoned, without prospect of deliverance. They would not be admonished of this judgment coming upon them, till it was impossible to avert it. God's hand in their ruin was evident, and acknowledged even by Titus, their destroyer, because of their obstinate disobedience. Therefore wrath to the uttermost overtook them, and to this day the heavy stroke is still upon them; yet they will not acknowledge the rejection of Jesus as the cause, nor lay it to heart; the vail being yet unremoved, and their measure of chastisement not yet full. Note; (1.) Of the many who hear God's word, too few pay it the attention that it deserves. (2.) Disregard of God's warnings is sure to bring down his wrath. (3.) All suffering comes ultimately from God's hand, whatever instruments are employed. (4.) Sin, which now provokes God's anger against the sinner in temporal afflictions, will, if unrepented of, shortly kindle that fire of eternal wrath which never can be quenched.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 42". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/isaiah-42.html. 1801-1803.
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