• Dr Deane Woods

The Servant of the LORD-Study Four – Part B

Updated: Jun 12, 2021

from the series Messiah In Isaiah

(Isaiah 42:1-4)

Teaching from Dr Deane Woods

In the previous article, having first cited Graham Kendrik’s iconic song “The Servant King” as an introduction to this present series of articles, attention was drawn to the first of the four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah - Is. 42:1-4.

That study introduced the prophet’s “Servant Songs” as a virtual mini-series by presenting a brief overview of each and showing how all four “connect” in portraying Isaiah’s complete, inter-related, understanding of the promised Messiah. He did this in terms of a single theme - “The Servant of the LORD”.

The text of Isaiah’s first Servant Song (Is. 42:1-4) reads:

“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. 2 He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. 4 He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.” 1. The Servant’s Resources. Part A of this first Servant Song discussed the three characteristics of the promised Messiah. These were seen to be specified in verse one which this present writer chose to call “The Servant’s Resources”. This heading was the first of three major points in this Servant Song.

Thus, Messiah would be given “resources” by God the Father in the sense of being “gifted by the Father”. He would be “upheld” by Him (vs. 1a); He would also be the Father’s “chosen one” who delights in Him (vs. 1b) and “empowered” through Him because He would possesses His Spirit (vs. 1c). With these three divine characteristics so combined, the resultant outcome was stated as purposive: “He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles” (vs. 1d).

In the immediate context, it was pointed out that Isaiah’s argument (set as it were in a court room situation), depicted the world’s nations surrounding sinful Israel. They were filled with their own sense of self-importance. Their prideful philosophies and power were stated by Isaiah to have no answers to effect universal justice, whatsoever. They simply could not do it! Neither could Israel, but Isaiah affirmed that the “Servant of the Lord” could - and will!

This analysis has paved the way for further insights into the promised Messiah’s Person and ministry, viz., in what this author now chooses to designate as His “demeanor”. It is one that is “godly”! This therefore expressed the second major point of Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 42:1-4.

2. The Servant’s Demeanor – Godly in Character. (vss. 2-3) The second and third verses of this first Servant Song reveal something of the Servant's manner, lifestyle, and demeanor. Notice first, that: 2 He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street (vs. 2) How telling are these prophetic insights! How magnanimous they are in terms of His inner being and character! He would never be an “attention getter”. His being and ministry role would never be that of an extroverted showman. Self-centred egoism would never be his way of life. He would never suffer from that saddest of all selfish, metaphorically sinful, ailments – that strangest of diseases, “Perpendicular Personal Pronounitis”, better known as “I” trouble! No! Messiah would never demand position, status or recognition. He would have no truck with mass-media communications, as modern mad sees today. Popular commercials flooding His country (or the world) advertising and asking the populace to flock to His meetings or hear His messages would never cross this Servant’s mind or be put on His agenda. To the contrary, He would be discrete, demure, and dismissive of fame! Messiah’s one purpose in His salvific mission would be to action what the Father had called him to do. That would be His sole goal – the reason for His Incarnation. In fact, He would later testify that He only ever did what was pleasing to His Father (Jn. 8:29). His was the singular role of fulfilling what was “written in the volume of the book” concerning Him”. That is, “to do the will of God” (Heb. 10:7,9). Though it meant willingly sacrificing His life, He would gladly to do so (Luke 22:44). As the Incarnate Son, His would be the way of submission and obedience to His Father even though it involved suffering through which He would “learn obedience” (Phil. 2:5-9ff; Heb. 5:8). Twice in His life’s ministry, the sacred record revealed that Messiah’s Father was well pleased. First was at His baptism by His cousin John as He “fulfilled all righteousness” at the beginning of His ministry (Mt. 3:17). The second was at His transfiguration on the mountain in the presence of Moses and Elijah (Mt. 17:5). No wonder the Father evidenced His divine “imprimatur” on Him by raising Him from the dead by the His Holy Spirit three days after His crucifixion! (Rom. 1:3-4; Eph. 1:19; Heb. 9:14-16). Yes, “godliness” would characterise His demeanour! Then the biblical text told in verse 3a that: A bruised reed He will not break …”

Consider this description of the nature of God’s Servant’s Person and ministry! The verse depicts the sort of people to which Messiah would be drawn and the kind of lives that were most attractive to Him. He would care for the sick (Mt. 4:23; Lk. 4:40). He would seek out the fatherless, the widow, the downtrodden and the oppressed (Lk. 4:18). The underprivileged and needy always had a special place in this God of compassion, mercy, and love (Dt. 4:31; Jer. 22:16; Is. 41:17). The same truth would also be characteristic of His Incarnate Son’s life and ministry (Mark 10:45). James, the (half)-brother of Jesus would also talk about this practical aspect of Messiah’s gospel as well, for he wrote in what is probably the first of the books of the New Testament less than a decade and a half after Jesus’ Crucifixion: Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27). Pastor and author Ray Stedman also commented on and applied Messiah’s significant, selfless demeanor:(1)

We do well to contemplate and meditate on the delicate imagery Isaiah reveals in this verse. First, consider a bruised read – one that is bent over, wind-beaten, shrivelling slightly at the edges, alone and vulnerable. It is just one stalk among many of members of the “polyphyletic species” of reeds and perhaps bent at right angles (as in the accompanying image shows). It might be green and lush at one time, but now it has been crushed (for so the Hebrew word connotes) and hanging limply – devoid of life-giving, nourishing sap. Maybe it could be a bruised and broken reed that has been scorched by the sun, blown by unceasing winds and “just surviving” in its harsh environment. With sanctified imagination, translate these desperate settings into the comparable reality of people’s lives in Jesus’ day, and in ours. The Messiah came to tend, heal, forgive and provide “hope” - never to “break” such a “bruised” reed (Rom. 15:7-15)."

Isaiah’s imagery then changed, for verse 3b reads:

“And a smoking flax He will not quench ...”

This second image is allied to the first as to Isaiah’s point an dis illustrated in the accompanying image. It speaks of a dimly burning wick of flax, seemingly struggling to get enough oil supply to keep its light glowing. It exudes black carbonic smoke. It strives for survival. Whereas the wick’s purpose is to convey light to illumine its surrounds, it produces spluttering smoke plumes, spasmodically. Its life is “on the edge”. What a picture of man and his needs, yet wonder of wonders, Isaiah’s promised Messiah Servant would never “quench” that struggling “flax”. He will never “snuff out” any hurting person. He can be counted on never to extinguish the needy, thereby cutting off all semblance of deliverance and hope. No! His purpose is ever to rescue and to save the “lost” (Luke 19:10). This aspect is further highlighted by Matthew in his Gospel. This former Tax Collector but now follower of Jesus, quoted these immediate verses of Isaiah at a critical juncture in his record of Jesus as Israel’s King of the Jewish people. Indeed, Matthew 12 is striking as to its immediate and wider contexts. It had been identified as the “Turning Point” in his Gospel record. The chapter begins with Jesus proving to the unbelieving Pharisees that He is “Lord of the Sabbath” and therefore equal with God (vss. 1-14). This involved healing the man with a withered hand on the sabbath – the day of rest that was created by God and given by to man by Him. The religious leaders were outraged and plotted to “destroy Him” (vs. 14). But Jesus knew this and “withdrew from there” (vs 15a), only to find that “great multitudes followed … and He healed them” (vs. 15b). He then warned them to “not make Him known” (vs. 16a), to which Matthew adds the quotation from Isaiah 42:1-3 stating that this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus at this time.

The rest of chapter 12 shows that this Messiah is “Lord over Satan” (vss. 22-30) and by Israel’s rejecting Him, her people had committed the unpardonable sin (vss. 31-32). Finally, in that the Pharisees “asked for a sign” that He was the Messiah and Lord, that very act further betrayed their disbelief in Him. To illustrate this sad truth further, Jesus went on to relate a lesson from Israel’s ancient history then illustrate His point by sharing the story of how “unclean spirits” can return to a “house swept clean”. The point was clear: The greater the opportunity God gave His people, the greater the judgement when they refused to listen to those whom He sent to them. The tragedy was that Israel often rejected their deliverers initially, only to accepted them later. Joseph, Moses, David, the prophets (vss. 43-45 and Mt. 23:29), and now, Jesus the Messiah, were specific cases in point. Jesus then concluded that only those who “(do) the will of (His) Father in heaven is (His) brother and sister and mother” (vs. 49). What was the sequel in Matthew 13? The extraordinary “Parables”! In effect, they stand as statements of God’s judgement on His people in rejecting their Messiah, whom in a yet future day Israel’s remnant will acknowledge and receive (Zech. 13:9; Rom. 11:25-26a; Is. 66:8; Rev. 1:7). Every one of us has troubled hearts and desperate lives in need of Messiah’s saving touch and deliverance (Jer. 17:9; Is. 53:5-6ff). When all is said and done, we are all like “broken reeds” - sinners in the Lord’s sight (Rom. 3:23). We are comparable to the “smouldering flax” – needy, desperate, and unable to “shine” as our Creator intended (Mt. 5:16-17). Just as importantly, the Jewish nation was to be God’s “Light to the Nations” and “shine for (her) light had come” (Is. 60:1). They failed God’s purpose for them miserably the first time, yet in grace, He will provide another opportunity for them in the future (Rev. 7:3; 14:1;15:4-5) But the Lord Messiah has come to our aid. He meets us in our sin and need: He “fans (our lives and ministries) into (a) flame” (cf. 2 Tim1:6); He graciously comes alongside to hold us up, sustain us in all the vicissitudes of life and thereby strengthen and encourage us. We are to live by the “saving Life of Christ” (Rom. 5:10; Gal. 2:20). Moreover, that incarnational ministry of Messiah is that to which we (as believers) are also called (Jn. 13:1-17, especially vss. 12-17). We are to seek out the weak and the floundering and the struggling and to minister to them (Rom. 12:9-21). Isaiah’s final thought in this prophetic promise as to Messiah’s demeanour is that He will faithfully bring forth justice. Thus verse 3 concludes: He will bring forth justice for truth. With this further mention of Messiah’s establishing “justice” (whereas the Gentile nations and sinful Israel couldn’t), Isaiah elaborates this truth with a third and final characteristic of the “Servant of the Lord”. 3. The Servant's PERSISTENCE – Glorious in its Manifestation! (vs. 4) He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.” In a marvellous way, this verse in indissolubly linked to the previous verse. The thought patterns and imagery interrelate. First, observe that the term translated "discouraged" (vs. 4) is the same word that Isaiah used in the first line of verse 3, viz., "bruised". As this writer pointed out, the connotation is one of “crushing”. Imagine olives being ground by a heavy millstone, or sugar cane being put through a crusher at the mill. Isaiah’s point is clear: Though the Servant of the Lord ministers to the bruised and crushed, He himself in this process. It must be remembered, however, that the proto evangelium (the first gospel) statement in Genesis 3:15 was the first messianic prophecy after the Fall and God revealed then that in Messiah’s bruising the serpent’s head, he would “bruise” His heal. Nevertheless, the coming Messiah would never succumb to being bruised or crushed in His ministry to others. He would never give up; He would never get weary in the process. Only on the Cross as He willingly laid down His life for His sheep, would he be “bruised” and in that sacrifice, full atonement is found! Well has Bernard of Clervoux written: