The Pulpit Commentary

Isaiah 42:1-8 (Isaiah 42:1-8)

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.

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Isaiah 42:8 (Isaiah 42:8)

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."

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Isaiah 42:5-9 (Isaiah 42:5-9)

Mission of Jehovah's Servant.

"A new revelation defines the mission of the Servant with greater precision. The plan of the mission requires an exhibition of the Divine wisdom and power on as large a scale as in creation and preservation (cf. Zechariah 12:1 )" (Cheyne).

I. THE RELATION OF GOD To THE WORLD . He is the God—the only God (cf. Psalms 85:9 ). He can admit no rival; he stands in a unique relation to the world—is alone to be worshipped. He is the Creator: his work is the heaven and the earth, and the people. The breath of life is by him breathed into his creatures. The universe is entirely subject to him, and he has the right to appoint whom he will to be the minister and channel of his favours to men. To the appointed Messiah, then, due reverence is to be paid.

II. HIS COVENANT WITH ISRAEL AND MANKIND . There is a covenant with the chosen people, and through them all nations are to own him as God. Generally the righteousness of God stands for the goodness of God, manifested to his world in the whole scheme and agency of salvation. "I have done this as a righteous and just God, and in accomplishment of my righteous purposes. I am the just moral Governor of the universe, and have designated thee to this work, in the accomplishment of those purposes."

III. THE MEDIATOR OF THE COVENANT . God holds his hand in his. What strength, then; what grace and Divine communication must there not be with the Mediator, who will be guided and guarded, will be visibly in the enjoyment of the Divine favour! And so the Mediator himself is called a Covenant—the personal realization of God's thought and purpose to the people—the embodiment of that spiritual relation announced in verses 30, 31, etc. Another of his names is Light. Being Intelligence in himself, the Wisdom of God, he will diffuse it among the nations: bringing men out of their spiritual blindness and the prison-house and confinement of spiritual distress ( Psalms 107:10 ; Job 36:8 ). "Such is the freedom the gospel imparts; nor can there be a more striking description of its happy effects on the minds and hearts of darkened and wretched men" ( 1 Peter 2:9 ).

IV. THE SOLEMN ASSURANCE . Jehovah now turns to the people, and assures them that he is the only true God, and jealously claims a sole and undivided homage. He is "the Eternal." The name includes "the unique reality, and power to confer reality, of the Divine Being." His glory he will not give to another; for were such a God's prediction to fail, he would sink to a lower level than the imaginary deities, who have, at any rate, not deluded their worshippers. But the earlier predictions have been fulfilled—those against the Babylonians or Assyrians; and the new things, later and more splendid—the deliverances of the Jews—will in like manner be fulfilled. The plant is contained in the seed; the event in the mind; the fulfilment in the Word of Jehovah ( Isaiah 9:8 ; Isaiah 55:10 , Isaiah 55:11 ; Amos 3:7 ).—J.

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Isaiah 42:5-8 (Isaiah 42:5-8)

God and man: refusal, retribution, restoration.

I. THE DIVINE COMMAND . God demands the glory which is his due ( Isaiah 42:8 ). His claim is based on:

1 . What he is in himself. "I am the Lord (Jehovah); that is my Name." As the Eternal One, who only hath immortality, the Underived and Everlasting One, who in the very fullest, deepest, and highest sense is God over all, he rightly demands our reverence, our homage, our worship.

2 . What he has done for our race. He has "created the heavens," etc. ( Isaiah 42:5 ). He is the Divine Author of our own human spirits, the Divine Originator of all material things, the Divine Giver of all surrounding comforts. As the Father of our souls and as the Source of all our good of every kind, God righteously demands our thought, our gratitude, our love, our service.

II. OUR GUILTY REFUSAL . Of whatever crimes, or vices, or follies we are guiltless, there is one sin which we must all acknowledge—we have not rendered unto our God "the glory due unto his Name." "The God in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways, we have not glorified" as we might have done and should have done. In this matter all, even the best, have "come short" ( Romans 3:23 ). The great multitudes of mankind have been sadly and guiltily negligent, and we have had to pay—

III. THE PENALTY OF OUR GUILT . This penalty is very severe; it is manifold; it comprises:

1 . Forfeiture of the Divine favour.

2 . Fear of final condemnation and banishment from the Father's presence.

3 . The various ills and evils, including sickness, and sorrow, and death, which befall us here.

4 . Spiritual deterioriation. This is, perhaps, the saddest and most serious part of our penalty. He that sins against God "wrongs his own soul;" he dyes that which inflicts on himself most grievous wounds; his own soul suffers harm, the extent and the pitifulness of which no mind can measure, no words express. The text ( Isaiah 42:7 ) points to two of these spiritual evils.

IV. DIVINE RESTORATION . "I have called thee … to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners," etc. ( Isaiah 42:6 , Isaiah 42:7 ). Jesus Christ came "to preach deliverance to the captives" ( Luke 4:18 ). This he does by

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Isaiah 42:8 (Isaiah 42:8)

The adaptations of Divine grace.

This verse describes the general spirit and tone of the Divine dealings with men; but, as it takes distinctly personal form, we are justified in seeing in Christ the type and specimen of such dealings. As God manifest, he illustrates the graciousness of God's ways. And this aspect of Christ is of special concern to us now. The time is coming when we shall think most of the glory of the Lord; in the time that now is we think most of his grace. We are still journeying under the clouds; we are still in the land of the fainting, the struggling, and the weeping. The night is passing, but it is not past; the victory is nearing, but it is not won; and therefore it is so precious to us that we may bear of the tender, compassionate, sympathizing Redeemer. We are little better than bruised reeds and smouldering flax; therefore it is good to hear of him who will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax.

I. CHRIST 'S WAY OF DEALING WITH BRUISED REEDS , OR HUMBLED SINNERS . The reed fittingly represents the sinner. It stands so straight, apparently so strong, and yet it is one of the weakest things that grow. It cannot endure the least rough usage. The passing storm will bend and bruise and spoil it. Of all the helpless things, perhaps a bruised reed is the most helpless. There is much confidence and apparent strength in the sinner, at least so long as life goes smoothly and blue sky is overhead. But let the clouds lower, let the burden of life press heavily, let God touch with the afflicting hand, let God try him with sore bereavements, and then the poor reed is bruised and hanging. And it is God's way to bruise such reeds. The beginning of hope for sinners lies in their humbling under God's mighty hand. See some of the ways in which this humbling work is done.

1 . Sometimes God lets men run themselves tired and work themselves weary in the effort to gain a righteousness for themselves. Men are permitted to hurry after the flickering light, over moor and bog, until, fainting, they lose sight for ever of the vain hope. Men are permitted to build the house of their morality upon the sands of self-confidence, and then, just as they would enter and dwell in peace, they find the foundations sinking and the storm-floods overwhelming. Men are permitted to grasp at world-success and worldly wealth, and then they are led to ask all these things, "What can you buy for my soul's good?" And, sick at heart, they must hear the answer, "Not one word of peace; not one sun-glint of hope; not one cheer for the dark river and the darker beyond." Many a man has come, since the days of Solomon, out of the trim of all human offers of happiness, to cry, bruised and humbled before God, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

2 . Sometimes God directs his providences to the humbling of men by heavy sorrows and cares. He lets their boasted strength bear the brunt of severe and subtle temptations. He finds the joints in the armour, and sends there the arrows that pierce. But he only bruises ; he does not break. He may hold back awhile; he never utterly forsakes. He may hide behind a cloud, but he keeps on looking, even through the veil of the cloud, waiting until the response to his gracious dealings comes," We will return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us."

II. CHRIST 'S WAY OF DEALING WITH SMOKING FLAX , OR FEEBLE BELIEVERS . The best explanation of this figure is that flax was used in the East for the wicks of oil-lamps, and these wicks, unless well cut and constantly trimmed, gave but a flickering, smoky light. A striking illustration of feeble Christians, whose life is a smoke rather than a fire, a spark rather than a light, a glimmer rather than a glow, a name to live rather than a life.

1 . The beginnings of Christian life are often very feeble; the smoking flax needs raising to a flame. In the case of Nicodemus there was a little desire, a little spiritual anxiety, a little longing alter high and holy things, a little smoking of the flax. And most tenderly did the Lord breathe upon it, and blow upon it, and try to raise the flame. The rich young ruler had a little smoking of the flax, a little yearning after the "eternal life." And Christ sought to tan it into a flame that should consume even his love for his "great possessions."

2 . The figure also represents those conditions of spiritual decline to which we are all exposed, and which make sad places here and there in the story of our Christian lives. Happy indeed is that man who does not know what it is for his spiritual light to become only a smoking wick. And he who has wrought so great a work in us must be sorely grieved when the flame grows dim, the oil of grace is not renewed, and no good atmosphere of trust and prayer nourishes and clears the light. And yet, though grieved, he does "not quench." Bunyan tells us of the fire in the wall, and of one who poured water upon it to quench it. It was not Christ who acted thus. He pours on the oil of grace, until the flame is, made to glow and blaze in power and beauty. But sometimes he holds back his grace, and lets the water almost quench the fire in the dull and careless soul. Many must confess that it is even so with them. Awhile ago the flame was all glowing; amid now there are only a few curlings and wreathings of smoke, and scarcely one feeble flame—the waters of the world, self-indulgence, pride, and neglected Christian duty have nearly quenched it. Leave it but a little longer, and the last flicker will die out. Conclude by showing the way for such feeble believers back to Christ. who "waiteth to be gracious." "O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy;" "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation."—R.T.

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Isaiah 42:8 (Isaiah 42:8)

The uniqueness of Jehovah.

"My glory will I not give to another." Wherein lies the separateness and distinctness of our God which makes it so impossible for us to find any likenesses for him? The uniqueness of Jehovah is embodied in his Name, which is the assertion of absolute and independent existence; and this can be predicated of only one Being. We can conceive of divinities having in their special charge certain forces of nature, or faculties and relationships of men; and of these there may be many. But if we can conceive of an uncaused Being, who is the cause of all being, there can be only one such. Jehovah stands alone. All others must say, "I was made;" he says, "I am." The distinction comes out very forcibly in relation to the idols which men worship. We know their origin in men's mental conceptions, or in men's handiwork. Of Jehovah we know nothing save that he is. But the prophet is far less concerned with the abstract nature of God than with his special and gracious relations with his people. He is here dealing with Jehovah's faithfulness to his predictions and promises. He is unique in this—he keeps his word. The glory of fulfilling his promises belongs to him alone. It was characteristic of idolatry that large promises were made to men by oracle and priest, for which there was no guarantee; and there is no more miserable chapter in the history of idols than the chapter, of excuses for disappointed promise-holders. If the predictions of Jehovah ever failed, he would sink to lower levels than the idols. "The voice that moves the stars along speaks all the promises." The point on which to dwell is that, however tolerant idolatry may be of other conceptions and other ritual developed in other lands, and however attractive to men such latitude in religion and worship may be, not one jot of the absolutely supreme claims of Jehovah can be removed. In this no concession can be made. Here there can be no rivalry, no sharing of honours. God is God alone. He is above all. It is absolutely essential to the worship of Jehovah that it should be wholly exclusive of the idea of another god. No reproach of men can be more severe and searching than this, "They feared the Lord, and served other gods." The uniqueness of God is seen in that:

1 . He is for man only a thought; we cannot, we may not, fix him in any shape. "He is a Spirit."

2 . He is behind all things. Not behind some things, as idols of wisdom, or of music, or of corn and wine. At the back of everything we can conceive is God, in whom the conception first took shape.

3 . He controls all forces. Not like idols, this one controlling the wind, and that the sea.

4 . He claims all homage. Not of a nation, but of the world; not of a time, but of the ages.

5 . He has the supreme record of faithfulness; for he has been the "Refuge and Dwelling place" of men in all generations.—R.T.

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