God has promised that the offspring of Abraham, the true people of God, will be made by God to be a threshing sledge to shatter any obstacles and enemies that stand before them (Isaiah 41:8-16). God is going to take people who are broken by sin and bless them and reverse their fortunes. Isaiah 41 ends asking the people to tell him if their idols can do this. Can your idols reverse your fortunes and change your life? No, but God who rules over the earth has the power to change your life. Those who trust in the Lord will have nothing to fear for God is with them, strengthening them, helping them, and upholding them. The natural question is this: how is God going to accomplish this? How is God take these broken people and radically change their lives and bless them? Isaiah 42 is the explanation of how God will do this.
The Work of the Servant (42:1-4)
The message of the Lord begins with God saying that he will have a servant who is his chosen one, whom he upholds and in whom he delights. This is an amazing statement. First, the servant is upheld by the Lord which means that he will not fail. This servant will do what Israel failed to do. Second, the Lord delights in this servant. If the Lord delights in the servant, then we must also. If the Lord finds joy in the servant, how can we not do likewise? The Lord also says that he will put his Spirit on him. When we read this in the Old Testament it is a reference to be anointed by God to be king (1 Samuel 10:6,10; 16:13) or prophet (Ezekiel 2:2; 3:24; Micah 3:8). This servant will speak and act with the authority of God. With this authority, the servant will bring justice to the nations.
But the means by which he will bring justice is surprising. The servant is not going to smash and destroy to bring about justice. His justice will not be through aggressive or violent means. Notice verse 2. “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice.” The servant will not be a self-promoter. He will not act like an oppressive, demanding king. He will not launch a propaganda campaign. He will not act in selfishness or attempt to elevate himself.
Further, notice verse 3. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” The servant will not destroy the weak and rejected people. He will care for the weak and oppressed. Kings often cared more about the accomplishment of a task, like getting a road built, and were minimally concerned about the those who suffered in the process of fulfilling the king’s wishes. This servant will be a king like no other. He will not destroy the weak. He will not crush people. Broken people will not be destroyed by him. Rather, he will bring justice to them. We must stop and consider this for ourselves. Do we care for people in such a spiritual condition? Are we careful and helpful with spiritually bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks or do we break bruised reeds and quench faintly burning wicks? We see Jesus showing his tender love and concern for the people who have been broken by sin and broken by the false teachings of the Law of Moses in his day. Matthew 12:18-20 records this text in Isaiah as fulfilled in Jesus as he showed compassion on the crowd and healed them of their diseases.
Verse 4 shows that the servant will accomplish his mission. He will be faithful to the task given to him by the Lord and will not grow faint in his effort to accomplish it. No obstacle will stop him. He will be able to utter the powerful words, “It is finished.” The work will be done. All will wait in anticipation and hope for his instructions. Notice whole earth is waiting for the servant’s law. Again, the point is that the servant speaks for God and instructs in the way of God. The hope of the world lies in the servant of the Lord, not in themselves or their policies or governments.
The Call of the Servant (42:5-9)
The powerful Lord who gives life to people is about to make a decree (42:5). The Lord will support the work of the servant. Now the call is given. First, the servant is called by the Lord in righteousness. The servant is called at the right time, in the right place, and for the right purpose. He is called according to the righteous purposes of God.
Further, the Lord will give the servant “as a covenant for the people, a light to the nations.” The servant is the means by which the people will enter a covenant relationship with God. The servant will mediate a new covenant with the people. Notice what this covenant will do as the servant performs the work of God. He will be a light to the nations. Consider the implications of the servant as a light to the nations. “To open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (42:7). Think about what this says. The people are declared by God to be blind, imprisoned, and in darkness. This is picturing people in slavery to sin, living in spiritual darkness and ignorance. The servant is given a worldwide task. He will deliver people from our own idolatry to which we have enslaved ourselves. The servant’s work and the servant’s covenant with the people will set the people free from their spiritual enslavement.
The actions of the servant will bring glory to the Lord (42:8). The glory and the credit belongs to the Lord alone for this liberation. The servant will open the eyes of the blind so people will glorify God as they ought. Nothing else is to receive our honor or praise, according to verse 8. God will not share that glory. Our praise and faith does not go to idols because idols have accomplished nothing for us. It is our idols that have enslaved us. God sets us free through the servant so that the glory will go to the Lord. Therefore, a glorious hope lies ahead and God speaks of these things in advance, before they occur (42:9). We have been set free by God the Father through Jesus. Yet we then glorify our idols and put our hope in humans and material things. It is irrational and it is an abomination to the Lord. The servant is the alternative to the idols. Put your trust in the servant, commissioned by God with the task of your salvation.
What God Will Do (42:10-17)
The call goes to all the people to sing to the Lord a new song. They are to sing a new song for a new work that God is about to do. We see in the scriptures that a new song often has reference to a song of victory (cf. Psalm 96, 98, 149; Revelation 5:9; 14:3). A new display of victory will be revealed. A new display of God’s goodness will be shown. The servant will be victorious, setting people free from the dungeon of darkness and opening the people’s eyes to the light. Therefore, let the people give glory to the Lord. All the people are to praise him for what he has accomplished. Praise the Lord because the servant will bring justice (42:1-3), grace (42:6-7), and glory (42:8).
Notice how God pictures himself now in verses 13-17. God goes out like a mighty warrior. The Lord is powerful and will deliver. But for a time there will be silence. There is a time of God’s silence but then the enemies will be destroyed (42:14-15). This may be a picture of divine restraint finally unleashed. This may also be picturing God’s silence to his people in 400 BC before the sending of his servant who destroys the enemies.
But notice what changes in verse 16. The destroyer becomes the rescuer. Then God will lead the spiritually blind. They will be led in a new path. God will shine the light before them so that they know the new way to the Lord. These are pictures of what will happen with the coming of the servant. The enemies of God and of his people will be destroyed, most notably sin and death. The servant will bring a new covenant that brings us to the Father. Not only does the servant bring the covenant, but he shows the new path as the light of the world to the Father. God will remove all obstacles that stand between us and God (42:16).
God’s great work is to turn compulsive idolators into glad worshipers of him alone. The work of the servant will be the decisive act to cause the hearts of the people to turn in worship and praise to the Lord alone. God will not share honor and glory with any other. He alone deserves our praise and glory for all he has done. Notice what will happen to those who do not experience this change. Verse 17 declares that the Lord will turn back and completely put to shame those who trust in idols.
The calculation to worship and trust God is obvious. So why do we continue to trust in idols? The answer is that idols promise a more immediate satisfaction than what we seem to receive from the invisible God. We do not see the satisfaction of serving God. But there is an immediate satisfaction to doing what we want. What a tragic decision we make! What fools we are when we exchange the eternal for the temporary! How foolish we act when we choose happiness now rather than true lasting joy and satisfaction that is found in the servant, Jesus! Remember what we learned from God and from our own experiences: these idols cannot help and do not provide the joy we are seeking. We must train ourselves to recognize that we are forfeiting joy now and joy in eternity. It is not just a now or later proposition. The decision is between empty happiness now or true joy now and true joy in eternity. We are not providing ourselves joy with these idols now. We must tell ourselves that we not getting the joy out of sin that we think we are getting. The joy of obedience to God is so much greater than it is for sin as we train our minds toward righteousness. Jesus is the way God will radically transform our lives. The Lord delights in Jesus. We must delight in Jesus, enjoying life in him. Jesus accomplished everything we need, setting us free and opening our eyes. Let us come to love Jesus and serve him.