Matthew Poole's Commentary
Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.The person and office of Christ appointed by the Father. Isaiah 42:1-9. A new song to God for his gospel among the Gentiles, Isaiah 42:10-16. The idolatry of the heathen, and obstinacy of the Jews, Isaiah 42:17-25.
The prophet, having in the former chapter detected the vanity of idols, by their gross ignorance of future things, and having given one eminent instance of God’s certain foreknowledge of things to come, in the prediction of the destruction of Babylon, and the deliverance of the Jews out of it by Cyrus, he now addeth another more eminent and remote example of it, and foretelleth the coming of the Messiah, and several great effects or consequences thereof; which he rather doth, because this was the person by whom the idols were to be utterly abolished, as was foretold, Isaiah 2:18, compared with Isaiah 42:2-4, and as it fell out in the event; this having been observed not only by Christians, but even by the learned heathens, not without astonishment, that at that time when Christ came into the world idols were generally struck dumb, and the oracles ceased. My servant; the person of whom he here speaketh is by some supposed to be Cyrus, and by others Isaiah himself, and by others the people of the Jews. But the most and best interpreters understand this place of Christ. And although I am sensible that some learned men have done wrong to the sacred text, and to the Christian cause, by expounding some places of Christ without sufficient evidence, yet this is one of the many places in this prophecy which cannot without manifest violence be applied to any other; which is so evident, that not only the generality of Christians, but divers of the most learned Jews, understand it of the Messiah, and of him alone; and pass a severe censure upon their brethren that expound it of any other person, and affirm that they are smitten with blindness in this matter. Moreover this place is expressly interpreted of Christ, Matthew 12:18, &c.; and to him, and to him only, all the particulars here following do truly and evidently belong, as we shall see.
Whom I uphold; whom I will assist and enable to do and suffer all those things which belong to his office to do.
Mine elect; chosen by me to this great work of mediation and redemption, to which he is said to be sealed and sent, John 6:27,29, and predestinated, 1 Peter 1:20, and chosen of God, 1 Peter 2:4.
Delighteth; or, as this same word is oft 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.
I have put my Spirit upon him; I have furnished him with that abundance and eminency of gifts and graces which are necessary for the discharge of his high and hard employment.
Shall bring forth; shall publish or show, as this word is translated, Matthew 12:18; shall bring to light what before was hid in his breast, or in his Father’s bosom.
Judgment: this word is very ambiguous, and elsewhere is put for punishment, which cannot be meant here, because the whole context speaks of his mercy and sweetness, and not of his severity; but here it is clearly put for God’s law, as this very word is expounded here below, Isaiah 42:4, and as it is frequently used in the Holy Scriptures, as Psalm 119, and elsewhere: which also best agrees with the bringing forth or publishing of it here mentioned, publication being necessarily required and constantly used about laws. And this interpretation is confirmed by the following words,
to the Gentiles. For the great things which Christ published unto all the world, both Jews and Gentiles, was nothing else but the law, and will, and counsel of God concerning man’s salvation, and the way and means of obtaining it.
To the Gentiles; not only to the Jews, to whom the knowledge of God’s laws had been hitherto appropriated, but to the heathen’ nations of the world.
He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.He shall not cry; either,
1. In a way of contention, as anger is oft accompanied with clamour, Ephesians 4:31. Or,
2. In a way of ostentation. It seems to be meant both ways, by comparing this place with Matthew 12:16,17,20. He shall neither erect nor manage his kingdom with violence and outward pomp and state, as Worldly princes do, but with meekness and humility.
Nor lift up his voice, which is easily understood out of the following clause, and from many other scriptures, where that word is added to this verb to complete the phrase.
Nor cause his voice to be heard in the street; as contentious and vain-glorious persons frequently do.
A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.A bruised reed shall he not break; he will not break it to pieces, but rather will strengthen and bind it up. It is a common figure, whereby more is understood than was expressed, and one contrary is left to be gathered from another, of which many instances have been given in former texts. The sense is plainly this, Christ will not deal roughly and rigorously with those that come to him, but he will use all gentleness and kindness to them, passing by their greatest sins, bearing with their present infirmities, cherishing and encouraging the smallest beginnings of grace, comforting and healing wounded consciences, and the like.
The smoking flax shall he not quench; the same thing is repeated in other words, to give us the greater assurance of the truth of it. That wick of a candle (called flax metonymically, because it is made of flax) which is almost extinct, and doth only smoke and not flame, he will not utterly quench, but will revive and kindle it again.
He shall bring forth judgment unto truth: judgment may be here taken either,
1. For the law or will of God, or the doctrine of the gospel, which he will
bring forth, i.e. publish, which he will do unto, or in, or with, or according to (for this preposition is used all those ways) truth, i.e. truly and faithfully, not concealing nor corrupting it, as false teachers commonly do. So this is a character like that which is given to Christ, Matthew 22:16, Thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth; and thus this phrase of bringing forth judgment is taken here, as it is Isaiah 42:1. Or,
2. For the cause which is debated, or for the sentence which is given in the cause, as this word is most frequently used, which he will bring forth, i.e. bring to light, or discover, or publish; and this he will do according to truth and equity, and not unjustly and partially, as corrupt judges use to give sentence against the poor and meek. In this sense this very phrase of
bringing forth judgment is taken Psalm 37:6. And this sense seems to be favoured, both by the consideration of the quality of the persons, to whom this judgment is here implied to be brought forth, who are called bruised reeds, and smoking flax, whereby they are supposed to be persons discouraged and oppressed, and in a contest with themselves, or with their spiritual adversaries, about the state of their souls; as also by comparing this place with Matthew 12:20, where these very words are quoted, and thus rendered, till he send forth judgment unto victory, i.e. till judgment or sentence be given for him, in which case a man is said to be victorious in judgment. If it be said for the former interpretation, that it seems most reasonable to understand judgment here as it is understood Isaiah 42:1,4, and bringing forth judgment here as it is taken, Isaiah 42:1, it may be truly and fairly answered, that it is a very common thing in Scripture for the same words or phrases to be used in several senses, not only in two neighbouring verses, but sometimes also in the very same verse, whereof I have formerly given divers instances.
He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.He shall not fail, nor be discouraged; though he be thus meek, and gentle, yet he is also courageous and resolute against all the great and many difficulties and conflicts to which he will be exposed, and will not give over till he have finished his work; or, as others render the words, He shall not be darkened (this glorious light shall not be eclipsed or obscured; or, He shall shine forth brightly and gloriously, as the LXX. render this word) nor broken by all the attempts and vigorous endeavours of his enemies who design it.
Till he have set judgment in the earth; till he have published and established his law or doctrine (as this judgment is expounded in the next clause) among the nations of the earth. And this word till respects only the time past, but not the time to come, as if he would then fail, or be discouraged, when once he had
set judgment on the earth; which is contrary to reason, and to other evident scriptures. And so this word is used, Genesis 28:15 Psalm 71:18 Matthew 1:25.
The isles; the countries remote from Judea, to which God’s law was now confined, as this word is oft used.
Shall wait for his law; shall gladly receive his doctrine and commands from time to time.
Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:This large description of God’s infinite power is here seasonably added, to give them assurance of the certain accomplishment of these great and wonderful promises, which otherwise would seem incredible.
I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;Have called thee in righteousness; to declare my righteousness, as is said, Romans 3:26, or my faithfulness, which is frequently called righteousness in Scripture; according to my promise long since made, and oft-renewed. As the former verse asserted God’s power, so this clause declares his will and firm purpose and obligation to effect this work, and both together evince the certainty and necessity of it.
Will hold thine hand; will give thee counsel and strength for thy high and hard work.
Will keep thee, that thou shalt not fail in, nor be hindered by, thine enemies from the accomplishment of thy work.
Give thee for a covenant; to be the Angel of the covenant, as Christ is called, Malachi 3:1; or the Mediator, in and by whom my covenant of grace is made and confirmed with mankind.
Of the people; either of my people, the Jews; or, indefinitely or universally, of all people, not only Jews, but Gentiles also, as it follows.
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, from which they had miserably wandered. He alludes to God’s fiery pillar, which enlightened and directed the Israelites in the wilderness.
To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.The blind eyes; the eyes of their minds blinded with long ignorance, and deep prejudice, and inveterate error, and by the power and policy of the god of this world, 2 Corinthians 4:4, which nothing but the almighty power of God could cure.
The prisoners; sinners, unto are taken captive by the devil at his will, as we read, 2 Timothy 2:26, and as daily experience showeth, and who are enslaved and chained by their own lusts, and made free-men only by Christ, John 8:32,36. Compare this portion of Scripture with Isaiah 61:1, and both with Luke 4:17-21, where it is said to be fulfilled in and by Christ.
I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.I am the Lord, Heb. Jehovah; who have all being in and of myself, and give being to all my creatures, and to all my promises, as this name signifies. The everlasting, and unchangeable, and omnipotent God, who therefore both can and will fulfil all my promises, and plead the cause and set up the kingdom of my Son in spite of all opposition, and destroy all those idols which are set up against him and inc.
That is my name, which I must own and justify to the world. He seems to allude to Exodus 3:14,15 6:3.
My glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images; I will not any longer suffer that honour and worship which is peculiar to me to be given to idols, as it hath been, but I will by Christ and the gospel abolish idolatry in the world.
Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.The former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: as all things which I have formerly promised or foretold have exactly come to pass in their proper seasons, and not one of them failed, as was noted, Joshua 23:14; 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. Compare John 13:19.
Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof.Sing unto the Lord a new song, upon this new and great occasion, the calling and salvation of the world by Christ.
From the end of the earth; all nations, from one end of the earth. to another, who shall be sharers in this mercy.
Ye that go down to the sea, & c.; 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, that they may join with you in singing forth God’s praises for his marvellous kindness and grace to them.
Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains.The wilderness; those parts of the world which are now like a wilderness; not literally, for he speaks of their cities in the next clause, but spiritually, desolate and forsaken of God, dry and destitute of the waters of God’s grace, and barren of all good fruits.
Kedar; the Arabians; which were a heathenish and barbarous people, and well known to the Jews, and are synecdochically put for all nations in the same circumstances.
Let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains: having mentioned cities and villages, he now adds those who dwell upon rocks and mountains, which are commonly more savage and ignorant than others, and therefore harder to be taught and reformed.
Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare his praise in the islands.In the remotest parts of the world, as well as in Arabia, which was near to them.
The LORD shall go forth as a mighty man, he shall stir up jealousy like a man of war: he shall cry, yea, roar; he shall prevail against his enemies.Shall go forth, to wit, to war, or battle, as this phrase is used, Numbers 1:3,28 2 Samuel 11:1.
He shall stir up jealousy; he shall stir up himself, and his strength, and anger, against the obstinate and implacable 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 holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman; I will destroy and devour at once.I have long time held my peace; I have for many ages suffered the devil and his servants, tyrants, and idolaters, and persecutors to prevail in the world, to afflict my people, and to hinder the entertainment of my doctrine and worship in the world.
Now will I cry like a travailing woman; now I will bring forth and accomplish that glorious work which I have long conceived in my mind.
I will destroy and devour at once; I will suddenly and utterly destroy the incorrigible enemies of my truth, and of my Son’s kingdom. He alludes to those wild beasts which open their mouths wide, and devour all their prey at one morsel, or at one time.
I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and I will dry up the pools.I will make waste mountains and hills; not dry and barren ones, for these were waste already, but such as are clothed with grass and herbs, as the following words imply; which is to be understood metaphorically, of God’s destroying his most lofty and flourishing enemies, who are oft compared in Scripture unto mountains and hills.
I will dry up the pools; I will remove all impediments out of the way; which is expressed in the prophetical dialect, by drying up Euphrates, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared, Revelation 16:12. He seems to allude to that which God did in drying up first the Red Sea, and then Jordan, to give his people passage into Canaan. And this exposition is confirmed by the following verse.
And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.The blind; the Gentiles, who were blind, and were called so, above, Isaiah 42:7, and in many other places of Scripture, and were so accounted by the Jews.
By a way that they know not; by the way of truth, which hitherto hath been hidden from them, until by my word and Spirit I revealed it to them.
I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight; I will take away all hinderances, and give them all advantages and conveniences for their journey. I will direct them in the right way. I will enlighten their dark minds, and rectify their perverse wills and affections.
And not forsake them, until I have brought them with safety and comfort to the end of their journey.
They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods.This may be understood either,
1. Of the converted Gentiles; who shall be turned back from their former sinful course, and shall sincerely grieve, and be ashamed that they did trust, &c., as the word may be rendered; that they should ever be guilty of such wickedness and madness to worship and trust in idols. Or rather,
2. Of those Gentiles who, when their brethren embraced the true God and Christ, persisted obstinately in their idolatrous courses, who shall be confounded and destroyed; for this phrase of being turned back is generally used in Scripture in a bad sense; or of them who are overthrown, or put to flight in battle, as Psalm 9:3 35:4 70:2,3, &c. And the like I may say of being ashamed, or confounded, or put to shame, especially where this phrase is joined with the other, as it is in the two places of the Psalms last quoted.
Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see.O you, whosoever you are, whether Jews or Gentiles, which 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? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the LORD'S servant?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 most unbelieving and obstinate Gentiles.
My messenger; my messengers, the singular number being put for the plural, as it is commonly in Scripture.
That I sent; the priests and other teachers whom I appointed to instruct my people in the right way.
As he that is perfect; as the most eminent teachers and rulers of the Jews, whom he calleth perfect, either because it was their duty to know and teach the way and truth of God perfectly; or rather sarcastically, because they pretended to greater perfection, and proudly called themselves rabbies and masters, as our Saviour observed, and despised the people as cursed, and not knowing the law, John 7:49, and derided Christ for calling them blind, John 9:40.
As the Lord’s servant; which rifle, as it was given to the Jewish people in the first clause of the verse, so here it scents to be given to the priests, because they were called and obliged to be the Lord’s servants in a special and eminent manner.
Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not.Thou dost not seriously and impartially consider the plain word and the wonderful works of God, of which thine ears and eyes have been witnesses, which are abundantly sufficient for the conviction of any considering man.
The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable.Is well-pleased, to wit, with you; or, as this word is most commonly used, hath a good-will to you or to this people; which may be understood out of the following verse, as is very usual in sacred Scripture. The meaning seems to be this; Although thou art a wicked people, that rebellest against the clearest light, and therefore God might justly destroy thee suddenly; yet he is very unwilling to do it, and will patiently wait for thy repentance, that he may be gracious unto thee. For his righteousness’ sake; not for thy sake, for thou deservest no such thing from him, but for the glory of his own faithfulness, in fulfilling that promise and covenant which he made with thy pious progenitors for themselves and for their seed.
He will magnify the law, and make it honourable; he will maintain the honour of his law, and therefore is not forward to destroy you, who profess God’s law, and the true religion, lest his law should upon that occasion be exposed to contempt.
But this is a people robbed and spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison houses: they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil, and none saith, Restore.But this is a people robbed and spoiled: but notwithstanding this great respect which God hath to his law, and to his people for the sake of his law, it is apparent that God hath severely scourged you for your sins; and therefore take heed that you do not provoke him by your obstinate infidelity, lest he cast you off for ever.
They are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison-houses; they are, or 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.
None delivereth; none saith, Restore; none afford them either pity or help in their extremities.
Who among you will give ear to this? who will hearken and hear for the time to come?Oh that you would learn from your former and dear bought experiences to be wiser for the future, and not to provoke God to your own total and final ruin!
Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the LORD, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law.Do not flatter yourselves with a conceit of impunity, because you are a people whom God hath favoured and endowed with many and great privileges, which the Jews were very prone to do, as we see, Jeremiah 7:4, &c., and elsewhere; for as God hath punished you formerly, doubt not but if you continue to sin, he will proceed in punishing you more and more for your sins.
Therefore he hath poured upon him the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle: and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart.The fury of his anger, and the strength of battle; most grievous judgments.
Yet he knew not; they were secure and stupid under God’s judgments, neither fearing them when threatened, nor truly sensible of God’s hand in them, and of the causes of God’s displeasure against them, and of the means of cure.