Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 42 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance and the worldwide impact of the coming of Messiah.
Isa. 42:6-8 – “I, the Lord, have called you for a righteous [purpose], and I will hold you by your hand. I will keep you, and I make you a covenant for the people [and] a light to the nations, in order to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, [and] those sitting in darkness from the prison house. I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, or My praise to idols.”
Isaiah introduces the first of his “Servant Songs” referring to the Messiah (vv. 1-17). Israel is called the Lord’s servant a number of times (for example Isa. 41:8; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20) and so is the Messiah (49:3, 5-7; 50:10; 52:13; 53:11). The context and the characteristics of the servant in these passages determine which one Isaiah intends. “Israel as God’s servant was supposed to help bring the world to a knowledge of God, but she failed. So the Messiah, the Lord’s Servant, who epitomizes the nation of Israel, will fulfill God’s will” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1095). Israel, blind and deaf to God’s law, is unable to fulfill the servant’s role (vv. 18-25), and thus it will be left to the promised Messiah.
The “Servant Songs” of Isaiah (42:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13ff; and 53:1-12) refer to different aspects of the Messiah’s ministry. The first depicts Him as the key that unlocks the captives’ chains. The second tells us His mission calls for suffering. The third points to His ultimate exaltation. And the fourth graphically portrays the Servant’s crucifixion.
“These servant songs not only display Christ in His essential beauty, but also serve to model the nature of all servanthood. Anyone who serves God must (a) have a desire to do so, (b) remain humble before others and dependent on the Lord, (c) be committed to winning others’ release from sin’s grip, (d) accept personal suffering, and (e) rely completely on God for guidance and strength (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., 1996, S. 432).
The Servant’s Mission (Isa. 42:1-9)
The opening verses of this chapter clearly identify “My Servant” as a person and not the nation of Israel. The Lord calls Him “My Chosen One” and declares, “I have put My Spirit on Him” (v. 1). Matt. 12:18-21 quotes Isa. 42:1-4 and relates this passage to Jesus and His ministry to Israel. As the Lord’s Servant, He does what Israel could never do: perfectly carry out the will of Yahweh so that people everywhere believe in the Holy One of Israel. “Servant” is the position assumed by Jesus during His earthly ministry. He is chosen from the foundation of the world for the redemption of mankind (1 Peter 1:20; Rev. 13:8). Salvation is in the mind of God from eternity past and stretches into eternity future; it should never be seen as Alpha and Omega’s “Plan B” or an afterthought by a Creator who finds Himself backed into a corner by one of His creatures.
Because the Lord created the heavens and the earth and gives breath to all people, He is sovereign over the universe and is able to assist His Servant. Yahweh assures Him of several promises: His calling for a righteous purpose; His help from the Lord; His fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Israel; His role as light to the Gentiles; and His deliverance of people from spiritual darkness and bondage. Although Cyrus will release the Jewish people from captivity in Babylon, the Lord’s Servant will free mankind from captivity in Satan’s kingdom. As Jesus declares, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Later, the apostle Paul writes, “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (Col. 1:13). The lost are spiritually blind and in darkness, but Jesus is sent to open their eyes and give them light (see John 8:12; 9:39-41).
Yahweh, Israel’s covenant-keeping God, makes these promises and refuses to let idols take the credit for their fulfillment. His people are called to remember all that the Lord has done for them and be assured that what He has promised will most certainly come to pass. Yahweh’s statement in verse 8 is especially important in the context of His relationship with His Servant, for if God will not give His glory to another, then Jesus’ claim to deity must either be true or blasphemy. Clearly it is true. Jesus not only claims to be God and demonstrates the authority of God by casting out demons, healing illnesses, controlling the world’s natural elements, raising the dead and forgiving sins; He also longs for the day when His work of redemption is complete and He returns to His glorified position at the Father’s right hand (John. 17:5).
A Song of Praise (Isa. 42:10-17)
Outburts of singing are frequent in Isaiah, and the songs of praise recorded here, as well as in Isa. 44:23; 49:13; 52:9 and other places are similar to Psalms 93 and 95-100 in theme and language. People everywhere are urged to sing and shout the praises of the Lord, who is victorious over His enemies at Messiah’s second coming. A “new song” (v. 10) is mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament (Ps. 33:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9) and twice in Revelation (5:9 and 14:3) – always in the context of worship and specifically in Revelation in worship of the exalted Messiah, who has redeemed people by His blood from every tribe, language, people and nation. This new song is “called for by a new manifestation of God’s grace, to express which no hymn for former mercies would be appropriate” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 42:10).
The mention of Kedar and Sela is noteworthy. Kedar is the second son of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13). He fathered a nomadic people in the northern Arabian Peninsula. Sela, or Petra, is in modern Jordan and defines people who carved their dwelling places out of rock. While the people of Kedar and Edom are at times Israel’s enemies, they will join their Jewish neighbors in praising the King of kings. The references to Kedar and Sela also may symbolize the world’s people who wander or remain in fixed locations. They, along with seafarers, desert dwellers and urbanites will join the chorus of nations to sing the Lord’s praise “from the ends of the earth” (v. 10).
The Lord is praised as He “advances like a warrior” and “prevails over His enemies” (v. 13). Silent for so long that people question whether He will come at all (see 2 Peter 3:3-4), He now “shouts” and “roars” (v. 13), laying waste the nations that reject Him and rescuing those who have waited patiently for His justice. It is interesting to note that the Lord groans “like a woman in labor” (v. 14). Earlier in the writings of Isaiah, the prophet says the day is coming when the Babylonians will be “in anguish like a woman in labor” (Isa. 13:8). This is just a foretaste of rebellious sinners’ plight in the coming Day of the Lord. So why, in this passage, does Messiah groan like a woman in labor? “Like a woman in parturition, who, after having restrained her breathing for a time, at last, overcome with labor pain, lets out her voice with a panting sigh; so Jehovah will give full vent to His long pent-up wrath” (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Is 42:14).
Finally, those who trust in idols rather than the living God will be “turned back [and] utterly ashamed” (v. 17). Their confidence in “metal-plated images” will come to naught. They will be ashamed that they ever said to inanimate objects, “You are our gods!” As the psalmist writes, “All who serve carved images, those who boast in idols, will be put to shame” (Ps. 97:7).
Israel’s Blindness and Deafness (Isa. 42:18-25)
Isaiah closes this chapter with a message about Israel’s sin and the suffering that results from it. We need to understand that “My servant” in verse 19 is not the Messiah, as in verse 1, but the nation of Israel. The people will not listen to or see what God has done. In fact they cannot listen or see because in their persistent rebellion they have stopped up their ears and closed their eyes. More than 700 years later the hardness of Israel’s heart is personified in the people’s refusal to receive Messiah’s message of the kingdom of heaven. Quoting from Isaiah 6, Jesus tells His followers that He uses parables, in part, to confound the self-righteous religionists: “For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You will listen and listen, yet never understand; and you will look and look, yet never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown callous; their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn back— and I would cure them” (Matt. 13:13-15).
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is equally direct in his defense before the high priest: “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your forefathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51). What was the people’s response? “Then they screamed at the top of their voices, stopped their ears, and rushed together against him” (Acts 7:57). Later, the apostle Paul, quoting Isa. 29:10, notes that Israel’s rebellion is so complete that God has sealed all but the believing remnant in their hardness: “[A]s it is written: God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear, to this day” (Rom. 11:8).
Isaiah is clear that the fault lies, not with the Lord, but with His people: “The Lord was pleased, because of His righteousness, to magnify [His] instruction and make it glorious” (Isa. 42:21). But the people will not receive the Lord or His instruction. As a consequence, they are “plundered and looted,” “trapped in holes or imprisoned in dungeons” (v. 22). Who gives Jacob to the robber and Israel to the plunderer? “Was it not the Lord? … So He poured out on Jacob His furious anger and the power of war” (vv. 24-25). Even so, Israel is oblivious. “It surrounded him with fire, but he did not know [it]; it burned him, but he paid no attention” (v. 25).
Judah’s coming captivity in Babylon will turn the people’s feet but not necessarily their hearts back to the Lord. They will cease their idolatry and return to their homeland yet fail to be fully transformed, waiting for God to grant them a “heart of flesh” in the last days (Ezek. 11:19). Lest we be too harsh in our judgment of the Jews, it’s helpful to note the all-too-frequent impact of God’s chastening on Christian lives today. His rod of discipline often succeeds in curbing sinful behavior but not reforming the heart. The fault is not the Lord’s, who punishes His own as a loving Father (see Heb. 12:3-13). Rather, the fault lies with us when we choose to stubbornly endure rebuke rather than tenderly embrace our Savior.
Warren Wiersbe comments: “How sad it is when God disciplines us and we do not understand what He is doing or take it to heart (v. 25). Israel’s captivity in Babylon cured the nation of their idolatry, but it did not create within them a desire to please God and glorify Him” (Be Comforted, S. Is 41:1).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips