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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 42

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Isaiah 42:0


God's Promise Concerning His ServantThe Servant of the LordThe First Servant SongThe Lord's ServantFirst Song of the Servant
Isaiah 42:1-4(1-4)Isaiah 42:1-4(1-4)Isaiah 42:1-4(1-4)Isaiah 42:1-4(1-4)Isaiah 42:1-9(1-9)
God's Glorious Victory
Isaiah 42:5-9(5-9)Isaiah 42:5-9(5-9)Isaiah 42:5-9(5-9)Isaiah 42:5-7(5-7)
Praise the Lord Isaiah 42:8-9(8-9)
A Song of PraiseSong of Victory
Isaiah 42:10-13(10-13)Isaiah 42:10-13(10-13)Isaiah 42:10-13(10-13)Isaiah 42:10-13(10-13)Isaiah 42:10-17(10-17)
The Blindness of the PeoplePromise of the Lord's Help God Promises to Help His People
Isaiah 42:14-17(14-17)Isaiah 42:14-17(14-17)Isaiah 42:14-17(14-17)Isaiah 42:14-15(14-15)
Israel, the Blind and Deaf Servant (Isaiah 42:18-7)Isaiah 42:16-17(16-17)
Israel's Failure to LearnIsrael's Blindness
Isaiah 42:18-22(18-22)Isaiah 42:18-20(18-20)Isaiah 42:18-25(18-25)Isaiah 42:18-20(18-20)Isaiah 42:18-25(18-25)
Israel's Obstinate Disobedience
Isaiah 42:21-22(21-22) Isaiah 42:21-22(21-22)
Isaiah 42:23-25(23-25)Isaiah 42:23-25(23-25) Isaiah 42:23-25(23-25)

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This is the first of the special poems addressed to or about YHWH's Servant.

1. Isaiah 42:4 or 42:1-7 or Isaiah 42:1-9

2. Isaiah 49:1-6 or Isaiah 49:1-7 or Isaiah 49:1-13

3. Isaiah 50:4-9 or Isaiah 50:4-11

4. Isaiah 52:13-12

Exactly where the first three stop is debatable.

B. The Servant has both a corporate (i.e., Israel) and individual (i.e., the Messiah) orientation. Only context and/or description of the Servant's actions can differentiate the two. In a theological sense the Messiah is the “ideal Israelite” or “the Priest” of the kingdom of priests (see the NT book of Hebrews).

C. The Aramaic translations and commentaries called the Targums assert that the Servant is the Messiah. He will be an individual Israelite accomplishing YHWH's will for the nation and the world. As Cyrus II was an instrument in the hand of YHWH for a new exodus/deliverance (i.e., return from exile), so too, will the Messiah bring a spiritual exodus or return from the alienation of the Fall (Genesis 3:0). He will restore the damaged image of God in mankind and allow for the intimate fellowship of Eden to be restored!

The Messiah (cf. Luke 2:32) will be a light to the world that Israel was meant to be (cf. Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 51:4; Isaiah 60:1, Isaiah 60:3). Light is a metaphor for spiritual deliverance (cf. Isaiah 49:6).

Verses 1-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 42:1-4 1”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 justice to the nations. 2He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street. 3A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. 4He will not be disheartened or crushed Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”

Isaiah 42:1 “Behold” These two “beholds” (BDB 243, cf. Isaiah 41:29 and Isaiah 42:1) contrast the lifeless idols of the nations with YHWH's activity, God's choice versus the nation's choice (cf. Isaiah 41:29).

As in chapter 40, the question is asked “to whom is YHWH speaking?” It could be

1. the prophet

2. the heavenly council

3. just a literary technique for YHWH to express His thoughts to His covenant people

“My Servant” This was a title of respect and calling (BDB 713).

1. It was used in a collective sense

a. the Patriarchs as a group - Deuteronomy 9:27

b. the prophets - 2 Kings 9:7; 2 Kings 17:13; Ezra 9:11; Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 29:19; Jeremiah 35:15; Jeremiah 44:4

c. Israel - Psalms 105:6; Psalms 136:22; Isaiah 41:8-9; Isaiah 42:18-19; Isaiah 44:1, Isaiah 44:2, Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 49:3; Jeremiah 30:10; Jeremiah 46:27, Jeremiah 46:28

d. the Septuagint adds a phrase to Isaiah 42:1, which makes it refer to national Israel (“Jacob is my servant, I will help him; Israel is my chosen”)

2. It was used in an individual sense

a. Abraham - Genesis 26:24; Psalms 105:6

b. Job - Job 1:8; Job 2:3; Job 42:7, Job 42:8

c. Isaac - Genesis 24:14

d. Jacob - 1 Chronicles 16:13; Psalms 105:6; Ezekiel 28:25

e. Moses - Exodus 14:31; Numbers 12:7-8; Deuteronomy 34:5; Joshua 1:1-2, Joshua 1:7, Joshua 1:13, Joshua 1:15

f. Joshua - Joshua 24:29; Judges 2:8

g. Caleb - Numbers 14:24

h. David - Ezekiel 37:25

i. Zerubbabel - Haggai 2:23

j. Solomon - 1 Kings 3:8

k. Isaiah - Isaiah 20:3; Isaiah 44:26

l. Jesus - Matthew 12:15-21 quotes Isaiah 42:1-4

“whom I” Notice the things YHWH has done and will do for His special servant.

1. whom I uphold, Isaiah 42:1

2. in whom My soul delights, Isaiah 42:1

3. I have put My Spirit upon Him, Isaiah 42:1

“He will. . .” Notice the things the servant will do (series of IMPERFECT VERBS).

1. bring forth justice to the nations (i.e., universal implication, cf. Isaiah 42:1; 4b,c)

2. will not cry out, Isaiah 42:2

3. will not raise His voice, Isaiah 42:2

4. will not make His voice heard in the street, Isaiah 42:2

5. will not break a bruised reed, Isaiah 42:3

6. will not extinguish a dimly burning wick, Isaiah 42:3

7. will faithfully bring forth, Isaiah 42:3

8. will not be disheartened, Isaiah 42:4

9. will not be crushed, Isaiah 42:4

10. will establish justice in the earth, Isaiah 42:4

“My chosen one” This term (BDB 103, KB 119) denotes YHWH's choice of people, places, groups to serve Him.

1. corporate choices

a. the seed of the Patriarchs - Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 10:15

b. Israel - Deuteronomy 7:7; Psalms 135:4; Isaiah 44:1; Ezekiel 20:5

c. the people - 1 Kings 3:8

d. the tribe of Judah - 1 Chronicles 28:4; Psalms 78:68

e. Levites - 1 Chronicles 15:2; 2 Chronicles 29:11

2. individuals

a. Abraham - Nehemiah 9:7

b. Jacob - Psalms 135:4

c. Aaron - Numbers 16:5; Numbers 17:5; Psalms 105:26

d. David - 1 Samuel 10:24; 1 Samuel 16:8, 1 Samuel 16:9, 1 Samuel 16:10; Psalms 78:70

e. Solomon - 1 Chronicles 29:1

f. Zerubabbel - Haggai 2:23

3. places (i.e., temple) - Deuteronomy 12:5, Deuteronomy 12:11, Deuteronomy 12:14, Deuteronomy 12:18, Deuteronomy 12:21, Deuteronomy 12:26; Deuteronomy 14:23, Deuteronomy 14:24, Deuteronomy 14:25

“My soul delights” This is similar to the title used by the Father for Jesus, “My Beloved” (cf. Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5).

“I have put My Spirit upon Him” This refers to the Servant being anointed and equipped for a task (cf. Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 59:21; Isaiah 61:1). See Special Topic: Spirit in the Bible.


“He will bring forth justice” See Special Topic: Judge, Judgment, Justice.

“to the nations” Notice the universal implications of this phrase and Isaiah 42:4b and c, 6c and d, 10-12! Of all the prophets of Israel, it is Isaiah who saw the inclusion of the Gentiles in YHWH's future kingdom most clearly!

Isaiah 42:2 “He will not cry out or raise His voice This is either

1. linked with Isaiah 53:7, which refers to Jesus' trial

2. a description of His quiet style of ministry

3. a reference to a prayer for help which the Servant does not need (cf. Isaiah 65:14)

The etymology of this term strongly favors #3.

Isaiah 42:3 “A bruised reed. . .a dimly burning wick” This describes a ministry of compassion, understanding, and patience to those who have somehow been wounded and stressed (cf. Isaiah 57:15).

NASB, NRSV, NJB“faithfully” NKJV, LXX“truth” JPSOA“the true way”

The Hebrew root is אמת (BDB 52) and occurs only here. The UBS Text Project gives an “A” rating to “truth” and not “for nations” (cf. NEB). Both “truth” and “faithful” are in the semantic range of the root's meaning.

Isaiah 42:4 “. . .Until. . .” This seems to imply that a “crushing” (i.e., Isaiah 52:13-12) will take place but at an appointed time.

“in the earth. . .the coastlands” These are in a parallel relationship and, therefore, are synonymous. This again is a reference to Gentile nations. See note at Isaiah 41:1, Isaiah 41:5.

Verses 5-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 42:5-9 5Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it And spirit to those who walk in it, 6”I am theLORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, 7To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon And those who dwell in darkness from the prison. 8I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images. 9Behold, the former things have come to pass, Now I declare new things; Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.”

Isaiah 42:5-9 This section is very similar to Isaiah 40:12-17, which emphasizes YHWH as Creator and Sovereign of physical creation.

Isaiah 42:5 “God the LORD” These are two names for Deity (see Special Topic: Names for Deity).

1. El - the general name for Deity in the Ancient Near East (BDB 42). Here it has the DEFINITE ARTICLE

2. YHWH - the covenant name for Deity from the VERB “to be” (BDB 217)

“created” This VERB (BDB 135, KB 153, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) is used uniquely of God's creating (cf. Genesis 1:1).

“the heavens” See Special Topic below.


NASB“offspring” NKJV, NRSV“that which comes from it” TEV“all that lives there” NJB“what comes from it” JPSOA“what it brings forth”

The term (KB 993) has two orientations.

1. plants - Job 31:8; Isaiah 34:1; Isaiah 42:5

2. humans (metaphor of descendants) - Job 5:25; Job 21:8; Job 27:14; Isaiah 22:24; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 48:19; Isaiah 61:9; Isaiah 65:23

Notice the series of “Who”

1. created the heavens

2. stretched them out

3. spread out the earth

4. spread out its offspring

5. gives “breath” (nephesh, BDB 675) to the people on it

6. gives “spirit” (ruah, BDB 924) to those who walk in it

If they are meant to form a chain like Genesis 1:0, then plants are the probable meanings. If they are a type of synonymous parallelism then people are the focus. Life, not just matter, is from YHWH. He is the ever-living, only-living God!

Isaiah 42:6-7 These verses describe what YHWH is doing for His covenant people. He chose them for a purpose (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan).

1. called (BDB 894, KB 1128, Qal PERFECT) them in righteousness

2. held them by the hand (BDB 304, KB 302, Hiphil JUSSIVE)

3. watched over them (BDB 665, KB 718, Qal IMPERFECT)

4. appointed them as a covenant people (BDB 678, KB 733, Qal IMPERFECT)

a. as a light to the nations (see full note at Isaiah 45:22)

b. to open blind eyes

c. to bring out prisoners

Abraham's seed was both

1. a kingdom of priests

2. a King/Priest (Messiah, cf. Psalms 110:0)

who came to deliver the world from the darkness and prison of sin (Genesis 3:0).

There is some doubt about the Hebrew root of #3

1. protect (נצר BDB 665) - NASB, NKJV, NRSV

2. form (יצר BDB 427) - NJB, JPSOA, REB

Notice what the Messiah/Servant will accomplish.

1. government in righteousness (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:3-4)

2. worldwide reign (cf. Isaiah 45:22; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 52:10; Micah 5:4)

3. open blind eyes (cf. Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 32:3; Isaiah 35:5)

4. release prisoners (cf. Isaiah 61:1)

Isaiah 42:8 “I am the LORD, that is My name” This is the covenant name of God. See Special Topic: “The Name” of YHWH.

“My glory” This is a difficult term (BDB 458) to define. In Isaiah 6:3 it fills the whole earth. In Isaiah 40:5 it will be revealed to the whole earth. In a sense it represents YHWH's personal presence.

In the NT YHWH's glory is fully revealed in the person of the Messiah, Jesus (cf. John 1:14; John 11:4, John 11:40; John 17:4).


“I will not give My glory to another” See Isaiah 40:18-26, which speaks of YHWH's reality and the idols' non-reality.

Isaiah 42:9-10 “new things. . .new song” The term “new” (BDB 294) is a recurrent theme in Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 48:6; Isaiah 62:2; Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22 and also in the NT book of the Revelation. See full note at Isaiah 62:2.

Isaiah 42:9 “Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you” This also goes back to Isaiah 40:18-26, where YHWH asks the idols to make a prediction to show their reality and they could not, but YHWH can!

Verses 10-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 42:10-13 10Sing to the LORD a new song, Sing His praise from the end of the earth! You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it. You islands, and those who dwell on them. 11Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voices, The settlements where Kedar inhabits. Let the inhabitants of Sela sing aloud, Let them shout for joy from the tops of the mountains. 12Let them give glory to the LORD And declare His praise in the coastlands. 13The LORD will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse His zeal like a man of war. He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry. He will prevail against His enemies.

Isaiah 42:10-13 These verses parallel the universal emphasis of the “Coastlands” of Isaiah 41:1. The Gentiles eagerly wait for light (i.e., Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 40:4, Isaiah 40:5, Isaiah 40:6; Isaiah 49:6).

For those who seek light, YHWH is a refuge and help (Isaiah 42:6-7), but for those who cling to idols He is a warrior (Isaiah 42:13)!

There are several commands in these verses.

1. “sing” - BDB 1010, KB 1479, Qal IMPERATIVE, Isaiah 42:10

2. “lift up their voices” - BDB 669, KB 724, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense, Isaiah 42:11

3. “sing aloud” - BDB 943, KB 1247, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense, Isaiah 42:11

4. “shout for joy” - BDB 846, KB 1011, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense, Isaiah 42:11

5. “give glory” - BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense, Isaiah 42:12

6. “declare” - BDB 619, KB 665, Hiphil IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense, Isaiah 42:12

Isaiah 42:10 The last two lines of Isaiah 42:10 refer to the same group as “coastlands” of Isaiah 41:1 (cf. Isaiah 42:12b).

1. you who go down to the sea

2. you islands

Isaiah 42:11 “Kedar” This (BDB 871) possibly refers to the Arab nations. The Hebrew root can refer to

1. nomadic Arabian tribes - Isaiah 21:16; Isaiah 42:11; Isaiah 60:7; Jeremiah 2:10; Jeremiah 49:28; Ezekiel 27:21

2. descendants of Ishmael - Genesis 25:13; 1 Chronicles 1:29

“Sela” This means “Rock” (BDB 709). This possibly refers to Petra, the capital of Edom (BDB 701, cf. Isaiah 16:1).

“sing aloud. . .shout for joy” What are they rejoicing about? The glory of YHWH has come to them (Isaiah 42:12a). The light has come to the nations (Isaiah 42:0:6d). That light is the covenant people and their knowledge of YHWH!

Isaiah 42:13 This describes in military terms the Lord's attack against the idolatrous nations that oppose His will and His people's return.

1. He will go forth like a warrior

2. He will arouse His zeal like a man of war

3. He will utter a shout

4. He will raise a war cry

5. He will prevail against His enemies (i.e., idolaters, cf. Isaiah 42:17)

The term “zeal” (BDB 888) is also used in Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 26:11; Isaiah 37:32; Isaiah 59:17 to show YHWH's purposeful actions that assure victory!

Verses 14-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 42:14-17 14”I have kept silent for a long time, I have kept still and restrained Myself. Now like a woman in labor I will groan, I will both gasp and pant. 15I will lay waste the mountains and hills And wither all their vegetation; I will make the rivers into coastlands And dry up the ponds. 16I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them And rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, And I will not leave them undone.” 17They will be turned back and be utterly put to shame, Who trust in idols, Who say to molten images, “You are our gods.”

Isaiah 42:14 This possibly refers to the exilic period. YHWH endured the exile of His covenant people with deep emotions.

1. I have kept silent for a long time

2. I have kept still and restrained Myself

3. I waited in anguish like a woman in labor

a. a groan (BDB 821, KB 949)

b. a gasp (BDB 983, KB 1375)

c. a pant (BDB 675, KB 730)

Isaiah 42:15-16 YHWH describes His aid for the returning covenant people.

1. v. 15 is metaphorical of preparing a smooth and level highway for the return (also Isaiah 42:16d)

2. v. 16a-c describes His care for the returnees

3. v. 16e-f describes YHWH's sure commitment to act (two Qal PERFECTS)

Isaiah 42:17 This continues YHWH's rejection and condemnation of idolatry (i.e., Isaiah 1:28-31; Isaiah 44:9-11; Isaiah 45:16).

Verses 18-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 42:18-22 18Hear, you deaf! And look, you blind, that you may see. 19Who is blind but My servant, Or so deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me, Or so blind as the servant of the LORD? 20You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; Your ears are open, but none hears. 21The LORD was pleased for His righteousness' sake To make the law great and glorious. 22But this is a people plundered and despoiled; All of them are trapped in caves, Or are hidden away in prisons; They have become a prey with none to deliver them, And a spoil, with none to say, “Give them back!”

Isaiah 42:18-22 This strophe describes the covenant people. The shock is that they too had become idolaters! Yet they were even more responsible for their spiritual condition because they had

1. the Patriarchs

2. the covenants

3. the promises (cf. Romans 9:4-5)

The ones who were to bring light to the nations in darkness had themselves become darkness! They epitomized the curse of Isaiah 6:9-10, but there was hope in Isaiah 35:5!

Isaiah 42:18 Note the two IMPERATIVES

1. hear - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. look - BDB 613, KB 661, Hiphil IMPERATIVE

“deaf. . .blind” These words occur several times in this context and are an allusion to Isaiah 6:9-10.

Isaiah 42:19 Notice the parallel between the titles (1) “My Servant,” line 1; (2) “My messenger,” line 2; and (3) “the servant of the Lord” in line 4. Also notice the threefold repetition of “blind” (BDB 734). The irony is that the “blind” one is described as

NASB“he that is at peace with Me” NKJV“he who is perfect” NRSV“my dedicated one” JPSOA“the chosen one” REB“the one who has trust”

The Hebrew word שׁלם (BDB 1023, KB 1532, DUAL PARTICIPLE) is uncertain. There have been several theories. It seems to

1. be parallel to the other titles for Israel (see above)

2. a title that showed how far Israel was from her calling and true self

Isaiah 42:20 There is an obvious parallelism between the two parts of line 1 (related to sight) and line 2 (related to hearing).

The first pair is one which the MT compilers identified as a variant.

1. the MT had “to see,” Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE (qere)

2. the Jewish scholars suggested “you have seen,” Qal PERFECT (ketiv, also in Dead Sea Scrolls)

Isaiah 42:21 The problem with Israel was not God's law but Israel's inability to do it! The Fall affected all humans (cf. Isaiah 42:22; i.e., Ezekiel 36:22-38). Israel's sin had consequences! The new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 was meant to answer this human inability (cf. Isaiah 42:23-25)

Isaiah 42:22

NASB, NJB“in caves” NKJV, NRSV, JPSOA“in holes”

The MT has “young men” (BDB 104), but the context implies a similar form “in holes” (BDB 359).

1. בחורים - young men

2. בהורים - in holes

Context, context, context is crucial! Hebrew parallelism in poetry is crucial in interpretation!

Verses 23-25

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 42:23-25 23Who among you will give ear to this? Who will give heed and listen hereafter? 24Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers? Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned, And in whose ways they were not willing to walk, And whose law they did not obey? 25So He poured out on him the heat of His anger And the fierceness of battle; And it set him aflame all around, Yet he did not recognize it; And it burned him, but he paid no attention.

Isaiah 42:24 “walk” This is used in the Bible to show that biblical faith is a lifestyle commitment, not a theology alone. This is possibly a source of the early title of Christianity in Acts, “the Way” (cf. Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14, Acts 24:22; and John 14:6).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did Israel and Judah need this message so badly? (cf. Isaiah 40:27)

2. Why is God's power stressed?

3. Does the title “My Servant” refer to the Jews or to the Messiah?

4. Why are the numerous references to the Gentiles' inclusion so significant in this passage?

5. Why did God choose the Jews?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 42". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/isaiah-42.html. 2021.
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