Isaiah 42
Pulpit 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.
Verses 1-8. - ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE SERVANT OF THE LORD, AND THE WORK WHICH HE WILL PERFORM. There are comparatively few who deny that, in this place at any rate, the "Servant of the Lord" is the Messiah. (So the Targum on the passage; so Abar-barnel; so, among moderns, Oehler, Delitzsch, and Mr. Cheyne.) The portraiture has "so strong an individuality and such marked personal features, that it cannot possibly be a mere personified collective;" and it goes so "infinitely beyond anything of which a man was ever capable that it can only be the future Christ" (Delitzsch). It may be added that St. Matthew (Matthew 12:17-21) distinctly applies the passage to our Lord. Verse 1. - Behold. "Behold," as Mr. Cheyne says, "invites the attention of the world - both of the Jews and of the nations - to a new revelation." It looks back to the similar expression of vers. 24 and 29 of the preceding chapter, which draw down the curtain upon the idol-gods, while this "behold" reveals One who is to occupy their place, and to be a worthy object of the worship of mankind, My Servant; i.e. my true and perfect servant, utterly obedient (John 4:34; Hebrews 3:2); not, like Israel, my rebellious and faithless servant; not, even, like my prophets, yielding an imperfect obedience, Whom I uphold. "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself" (John 5:26). As the fount or origin of Divinity (πηγὴ Θεότητος), the Father supports and sustains even the Son and the Spirit. Mine Elect (comp. 1 Peter 2:6). Christ was "chosen" from all eternity in God's counsels to the great work of man's redemption, and to be the Mediator between God and man. I have put my Spirit upon him (see Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 61:1; and for the fulfilment, comp. Luke 2:40; Luke 3:22; Luke 4:18-21; Luke 3:34). He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles; i.e. "he shall publish," or "cause to be published, to the Gentiles, the true Law of God - religion on its practical side." The publication of Christianity throughout all the world has abundantly fulfilled this promise or prophecy. The call of the Gentiles had been already declared by Isaiah in his earlier preaching (ch. 2:2; 11:10; 19:22-25; 25:6; 27:13, etc.).
He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.
Verse 2. - He shall not cry, nor lift up. Supply, after "lift up," "his voice" from the next clause. His methods shall be quiet and gentle. He shall not seek to recommend his teaching by clamour or noisy demonstrations. There shall be a marked unobtrusiveness in all his doings (comp. Matthew 8:4; Matthew 9:30; Matthew 12:15; Matthew 14:13; John 5:13; John 6:15; John 7:3, 4; John 8:59; John 10:40, etc.).
A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
Verse 3. - A bruised reed shall he not break. Egypt was compared to a "bruised reed" by Sennacherib (Isaiah 36:6), as being untrustworthy and destitute of physical strength; but here the image represents the weak and depressed in spirit, the lowly and dejected. Christ would deal tenderly with such, not violently. Smoking flax shall he not quench; rather, the wick which burns dimly (margin) he shall not quench. Where the flame of devotion burns at all, however feebly and dimly, Messiah will take care not to quench it. Rather he will tend it, and trim it, and give it fresh oil, and cause it to burn more brightly. He shall bring forth judgment unto truth. But with all this tenderness, this "economy," this allowance for the shortcomings and weaknesses of individuals, he will be uncompromising in his assertion of absolute justice and absolute truth. He will sanction nothing short of the very highest standard of moral purity and excellence. (For an instance of the combination of extreme tenderness with unswerving maintenance of an absolute standard, see John 8:8-11.)
He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.
Verse 4. - He shall not fail nor be discouraged; literally, he will not burn dimly nor be bruised. He will himself show no signs of that weakness which he will compassionate in others. As a "Light" (Luke 2:32; John 1:4-9), he will burn brightly and strongly; as a Reed, or Rod, he will be firm and unbroken. Till he have set judgment in the earth; i.e. till he has succeeded in establishing true religion upon the earth (compare the last clause of ver. 1). The isles; or, the countries (comp. Isaiah 41:1, 5). Shall wait for his Law; or, shall long for his Law. Yakhal is "to wait longingly." It is, as Delitzsch observes, "an actual fact that the cry for redemption runs through the whole human race." They are possessed by "an earnest longing, the ultimate object of which is, however unconsciously, the Servant of Jehovah, and his instruction from Zion" ('Comment. on Isaiah,' vol. 2. p. 177).
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:
Verse 5. - Thus saith God the Lord; literally, thus saith the (One) God, Jehovah. The entire utterance, vers. 1-4, is the utterance of God; but, as that fact is gathered by inference, not asserted, the prophet suddenly stops, and makes a new beginning. It must be made perfectly clear that the announcement of the "Servant of the Lord" and his mission are from the Almighty; and so we have the solemn announcement of the present verse. He that created the heavens, etc. (comp. Isaiah 40:12, 22). The earth, and that which cometh out of it; i.e. all that the earth produces - gold, and silver, and precious stones, and corn, and wine, and luscious fruits, and lovely flowers - all that sustains life, and all that makes life delightful - nay more, life itself - the breath and the spirit that make men living beings.
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;
Verse 6. - I the Lord have called thee in righteousness. The "Servant of Jehovah" is addressed. God has "called" him; i.e. appointed him to his mediatorial office "in righteousness," in accordance with the righteous purpose which he has entertained towards his fallen creatures from the beginning of the world. And will give thee for a Covenant of the people (comp. Isaiah 49:8). The covenant between God and his people being in Christ, it is quite consistent with Hebrew usage to transfer the term to Christ himself, in whom the covenant was, as it were, embodied. So Christ is called "our Salvation" and "our Peace," and again, "our Redemption" and "our Life." This is the ordinary tone of Hebrew poetry, which rejoices in personification and embodiment. A prose writer would have said that the Servant of the Lord would be given as the Mediator of a covenant between Jehovah and his people. For a light of the Gentiles (comp. Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 51:4).
To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
Verse 7. - To open the blind eyes. The Messiah was to cure both physical and. spiritual blindness (see Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 32:3; Isaiah 35:5, etc.). Here it is spiritual blindness that is specially intended, as appears both by the symbolic language of the two conjoined clauses, and by the comment of vers. 16-19. To bring out the prisoners from the prison; rather, to bring out prisoners. To deliver from the bondage of sin such as are its slaves, and shut up in its prison-houses. The promise is general, but, like all spiritual promises, conditioned by the willingness of those who are its objects to avail themselves of it. Them that sit in darkness (comp. Isaiah 9:2).
I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.
Verse 8. - I am the Lord; rather, I the Lord. The sense runs on from the preceding verses: "I, the Lord, will do all this, I who am all that the Name" Jehovah' signifies - self-existent, eternal, self-sufficing, independent, omnipotent, and therefore unique, one whose glory cannot be shared with any other being that exists - least of all with images, which are mere vanity and nothingness."
Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.
Verses 9-17. - ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE COMING DELIVERANCE OF ISRAEL FROM BABYLON, AND CALL ON THE NATIONS FOR A SONG OF PRAISE AND JUBILATION. Jehovah is still the speaker. He begins by promising a new revelation (ver. 9). Then, before the revelation is made, he calls upon the nations - especially those in the vicinity of Palestine - to rejoice at what is about to happen (vers. 10-12). After this he proceeds to make the announcement promised in ver. 9 - an announcement that he is about to deliver his people (ver. 16) and to execute vengeance on their enemies (vers. 13-15 and 17). Verse 9. - Behold, the former things are come to pass; i.e. former prophecies have been fulfilled. Israel has been led lute captivity, and in her captivity has suffered grievous things. The reference is, perhaps, especially to such prophecies as Isaiah 39:5-7. And new things do I declare (comp. Isaiah 43:19). The voluntary restoration of a captive people to their own land by the power to which they were subject, and which could compel their services, was emphatically a "new thing" in the world's history. How unwilling the sovereign power was ordinarily to lose such services may be seen by the narrative in Exodus (Exodus 5-14.), and again by the account which Herodotus gives (1:73, 74) of the ground of quarrel between Alyattes and Cyaxares. Before they spring forth; or, shoot forth. The metaphor is one taken from the vegetable world (comp. Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 45:8).
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.
Verse 10. - Sing unto the Lord a new song. The call for a "new song" is based upon the ground that the mercy vouchsafed was a "new" one (see ver. 9). The expression is frequent in the Psalms (Psalm 33:3; Psalm 96:1; Psalm 98:1; Psalm 144:9; Psalm 149:1). His praise from the end of the earth; i.e. "let his praise be sung by all the inhabitants of the earth to its remotest bounds." The sea. Sea and land are called upon equally to proclaim God's praise; the sea, "and its fulness" (margin) - those who frequent it in ships, and those who dwell on its shores and islands. The last clause, "the isles and the inhabitants thereof," is exegetical of the preceding one - " all that is therein."
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.
Verse 11. - The wilderness and the cities thereof. The desert had its cities, built on some more or less fertile oases, where at any rate water was procurable. Instances of such cities are Tudmor, Petra, Kadesh (Numbers 20:1). Its villages were probably collections of tents, which were moved from time to time, since the Beni-Kedar were nomads (ch. 21:16; Psalm 120:5). The call is upon both the stationary and the wandering inhabitants of the Syro-Arabian desert to join in the song of praise. The inhabitants of the rock; rather, the iahabitants of Sela, or Petra, the rock-city, which was the capital of Idumaea, or Edom (see the comment on ch. 16. l). It is assumed that the return of the Israelites to their land ought to be a subject of rejoicing to all their neighbours.
Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare his praise in the islands.
Verse 12. - Let them give glory unto the Lord... in the islands; i.e. "let those who are in the islands," or the maritime tracts, "give glory to God" - a repetition of the last clause of ver. 10. The persistency with which the islands, or the maritime tracts of the west, are mentioned (Isaiah 41:1, 5; Isaiah 42:10, 12; Isaiah 49:1, etc.) may perhaps be accounted for by the fact that Christianity was to obtain its earliest and its most enduring triumphs in these regions.
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.
Verse 13. - The Lord shall go forth. The exhortation to "sing unto the Lord a new song" ends with ver. 12, and now the reason or groundwork for the exhortation has to be declared. God is about to make one of the great manifestations of his power upon the earth - to "go forth" against his enemies, and destroy and devour, and easily prevail against them - not, however, simply in the way of punishment and vengeance, but with a further merciful object. He will punish Babylon, that he may deliver Israel. He has promised not to forsake his people (Isaiah 41:17). He is now about to give effect to his promise by a "new" and strange deliverance. He "will bring his people by a way that they knew not, and lead them in paths that they have not known" (ver. 16). It has been said that "in effect it is the day of judgment which is here described" (Cheyne); but this seems to be only so far true as every manifestation of God's wrath towards his enemies is a foreshadowing of the great and awful day. The event directly in view is the destruction of the Babylonian power by the irresistible arms of Cyrus. Hence the allusion to idolaters and images in ver. 17. As a mighty man... like a man of war. (For similar anthropomorpbisms, see Exodus 15:3; Psalm 24:8.) He shall stir up jealousy; i.e. his own jealousy. God is "a jealous God" (Exodus 20:5), so much SO that his very "name is Jealous" (Exodus 34:14). He is jealous for his own honour (supra, ver. 8), and jealous also for his people's honour and reputation and happiness. Occasionally he allows his jealousy to slumber (comp. Acts 12:30, "The times of this ignorance God winked at"); and this he had now done for some fifty or sixty years, since his people were carried into captivity. But the time of acquiescence has gone by - he is about to waken up his "smouldering jealousy, and stir it, till it burns up into a bright flame" (Delitzsch). He shall cry, yea, roar; rather, yea, shout; i.e. utter his battle-cry with a clear, loud voice.
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.
Verse 14. - I have long time holden my peace; literally, for an eternity. God's love for his people is forcibly expressed by his saying that he has felt it "an eternity" - though it was but some five or six decades - while he was waiting for his chastisement to have such due effect as would allow of his bringing it to an end, and showing them mercy. He has chafed, as it were, under the necessity of inaction, and has with difficulty refrained himself. Now he will refrain no longer. A travailing woman. A woman in her travail, after long endurance, at last gives free vent to her natural feelings, and utters loud cries (compare the preceding verse). I will destroy and devour at once (so Gesenius, Kay, and the ancient versions). But the bulk of modern commentators render, "I will pant and gasp," as does a travailing woman.
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.
Verse 15. - I will make waste mountains and hills. The result of God's "stirring up his jealousy," and giving a free vent to his feelings, will be the destruction of the great and mighty ones of the earth (comp. Isaiah 2:14). These are probably, in this place, the Babylonian kings and nobles. Dry up all their herbs; i.e. turn Babylonia, temporarily, into a desert. Make the rivers islands, and dry up the pools. Invert the established order of things - turn the rivers into dry land, and empty the reservoirs. There is, perhaps, some allusion to those dealings with the river-beds, which the Greek historians ascribe to Cyrus (Herod., 1:189, 191; Xen., 'Cyrop.,' 7:5, § 10), and which are not disproved by the fact that the one native account of the capture of Babylon by Cyrus, which has come down to us, makes no mention of them.
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.
Verse 16. - I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not. "The blind" here can only be captive Israel, still dim-sighted from the effect of its old sins against light, and therefore greatly needing God's guidance. God promises to "bring them" out of captivity "by a way not hitherto known to them" - the way of voluntary release by the favour of a new king (see the comment on ver. 9). I will make darkness light before them; either, I will illuminate with rays of light and hope the dark and cheerless life that they have been leading (Delitzsch), or, I will throw light upon that dark future which has hitherto stretched before them, and allow them to penetrate its obscurity, and see what is about to happen. Crooked things; rather, rough places; i.e. difficulties of any and every kind. Straight; rather, smooth, level, flat,. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them. Dr. Kay translates, "These things have I done, and have not forsaken them;" Mr. Cheyne, "These are the things that I will do, and will not let them slip;" Delitzsch, "These are the things that I carry out and do not leave." According to the two latter renderings, the clause is a mere solemn confirmation of the previous promises.
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.
Verse 17. - They shall be turned back, etc. While the people of God are led by God's hand through new paths, and are illumined with abundant light, and have their difficulties smoothed away from before them. their idolatrous oppressors will be "turned back" or suffer defeat, and be put to shame, finding no help from their idols, whose powerlessness will be openly shown, to the utter confusion of their votaries.
Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see.
Verses 18-25. - ADDRESS TO CAPTIVE ISRAEL, CALLING UPON THEM TO TURN TO GOD, AND REMINDING THEM THAT THEY HAVE DESERVED THEIR AFFLICTIONS. By some critics the earlier verses of this passage (vers. 19-21) are regarded as having reference to the "Servant of the Lord" depicted in vers. 1-7, and as calling on the captive Jews to consider his voluntary humiliation, and the object of it. But this view seems to be strained. It requires "deaf" and "blind' to be taken in completely different senses in the two consecutive verses, 18 and 19. Probably Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne are right in taking the whole passage of captive Israel, and especially of that "outer circle" which was least deserving of God's favour and most open to rebuke and reproach. These "blind" and "deaf" ones are warned that it is high time for them to unclose their eyes and open their ears, and are reminded that all their recent and present sufferings arise from their former "blindness" and disobedience. Verse 18. - Hear, ye deaf. The "deaf" are not absolutely without hearing, nor the "blind" absolutely without sight. They can "hear" and "see," if they choose to do so. When they do not see, it is because they "wink with their eyes" (Matthew 13:15); when they do not hear, it is because, like the deaf adder, they "stop their ears" (Psalm 58:4). This, at any rate, is the case with the majority. There may be some who have deadened their moral vision altogether, and have no longer any "ears to hear." God, however, addresses the mass of Israel as still possessed of moral discernment, if they will but use it, and calls upon them to wake up out of sleep - to "hear" and "see."
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?
Verse 19. - Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger? God's original "servant" and "messenger" to the nations was his people Israel. It was only through their default that he needed to send another and truer messenger. He now asks, having regard to their opportunities, who are so blind and deaf as they are? The object of the question is to wake a feeling of shame in the hearts of those who are not shameless among the Israelites. That I sent; rather, whom I will send. Israel's mediatorial office was not yet over. They were still, for above five hundred years, to be God's messenger to the nations. As he that is perfect; rather, as he that receives reward from me (see Proverbs 11:31; Proverbs 13:13). The word used is connected etymologically with the Arabic muslim (our "Moslem"); but it does not appear to have had the sense of "surrender" or "submission" in Hebrew.
Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not.
Verse 20. - Seeing many things, but, etc. Israel had "seen many things;" i.e. passed through a long experience, but not profited by it - not been "observant," as they should have been. They had had their ears open in a certain sense, and heard the words that the prophets addressed to them, but had not taken in their true import. (The mixture of persons is like that in Isaiah 1:29 and Isaiah 14:30.)
The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable.
Verse 21. - The Lord is well pleased; rather, the Lord was pleased, or it pleased the Lord. For his righteousness' sake; "because of his own perfect righteousness." He will magnify the Law; rather, to magnify the Law - to set it forth in its greatness and its glory before his people. It is not the original giving of the Law at Sinai only that is meant, but also its constant inculcation by a long series of prophets. Israel's experience (ver. 29) had included all this; but they had not profited by the instruction addressed to them.
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.
Verse 22. - But this is a people, etc.; i.e. yet, notwithstanding all that has been done for it, see the condition into which this people has brought itself. For their sins, here they are in Babylonia, robbed and spoiled - i.e., suffering oppression and wrong - snared in holes, or taken in their enemies' pits (Psalm 119:85), and, some of them, hid in prison-houses (see 2 Kings 25:27), expiating by their punishments the long series of their offences.
Who among you will give ear to this? who will hearken and hear for the time to come?
Verse 23. - Who among you will give ear? Surely there are some among you, less hardened than the rest, who will take advantage of my warning, and repent at this, the eleventh hour. God's arm was straitened; the people could not be delivered out of captivity unless they ceased in large numbers to be "blind" and "deaf" - unless they listened to the prophet's words, and profited by them.
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.
Verse 24. - Jacob... Israel (comp. Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 41:8, 14; Isaiah 43:1, etc.), He against whom we have sinned. The prophet identifies himself with his people in loving sympathy, just as Daniel does in Daniel 9:5-15, and Ezra in Ezra 9:6-15, of their respective books (comp. also Isaiah 59:9-13).
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.
Verse 25. - Therefore he hath poured upon him... the strength of battle; i.e. for this cause, on account of their iniquities, did God bring upon his people the scourge of foreign war, and allow the Babylonians to waste Judaea, to destroy Jerusalem, and to lead into captivity the entire nation (comp. 2 Chronicles 36:14-17). It hath set him on fire; rather, it (i.e. the war)set him on fire. The reference is, perhaps, especially to the burning of Jerusalem by Nebuzar-adan (2 Kings 25:9); but the phrase will cover also the general devastation of the land both before and after this event (Jeremiah 39-42.), He knew not; rather, he took no notice; he did not change his ways on account of the chastisement. The prophet's view is that Israel, as a whole, was not greatly bettered by the Captivity, at any rate up to the time which he takes for his standpoint, and at which he supposes him. self to be addressing them.

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