The first seven verses of this chapter make up the First Servant Song. The chapter presents to us the failure of the national servant, Israel (18–20); and this is contrasted with the success of the individual servant, the Son of God, Jesus Christ (v1–7). It was a moral impossibility that the purpose of the Creator should fail. The mission given to Israel at Sinai was exalted and eagerly entered into at the time (Exod 19:5–6; 24:7). But failure and sin brought about the need for Yahweh to intervene, and so from within the ranks of His chosen people He raised up another, an individual servant, devoted to His will and strengthened by His Spirit, who would not fail until justice and judgment were established in the whole earth.


42:1–7 The First Servant Song—The Paradox of Yahweh’s Servant: Victory Through Submission, and Salvation Through Suffering

Verse 1 “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 [Heb mishpat ‘justice’] to the Gentiles.”

In the first four verses Yahweh speaks about His servant’s mission, but in verses 5–7 He actually addresses the servant himself.

“Behold my servant”

Notice how the word “Behold” (Heb hen, look, see) is used in the context of the idol-gods (41:24), and of idolaters (41:29). So now Yahweh presents His servant in contrast. So real and powerful is He that He foretells words which in measure have already been fulfilled, about one whom He would uphold, who would be so dedicated to Him and His will that the end result would be the whole earth being filled with His justice! So much for the lifeless, inert idols and their hapless devotees!

The word for “servant” in Hebrew is ebed, servant, doer, tiller, slave; and in the Septuagint pais, child, attendant. The relationship between Yahweh and His servant is clear throughout the prophecy. It makes a mockery of the doctrine of the Trinity, which makes both Father and Son coequal and coeternal!

whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him…”

The prevalence of sin among Zion’s sons has meant that there has been none to heal the breach, making it necessary for Yahweh to intervene (50:2; 51:18; 59:16–17). So He sent forth His own Son and anointed him with His Spirit. When at the commencement of his public ministry Jesus was baptised and anointed with His Father’s Spirit, these words were fulfilled, the heavenly voice declaring, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17)

In Matthew 12:18 where this verse is cited, the word for “elect” is in the Greek agapetos, and is translated “beloved”. “Behold my servant whom I have chosen; my beloved [agapetos] in whom my soul is well pleased” (see also Matt 3:17)

“he shall bring forth judgment [rsv ‘justice’] to the Gentiles”

Here the ultimate result of the servant’s work is set forth at the very first intimation of his divine role. Christ will be king over all the earth, which will be filled with God’s justice and glory. Thus we read that he will “judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31; Psa 96:13). Note that this is the first of three statements relating to “judgment”, the others being, “he shall bring forth judgment unto truth” (v3) and, “…till he have set judgment in the earth” (v4). So we can see what an integral part “judgment” or “justice” plays in God’s plan and values. And not only Israel will be involved, but here we have the first statement showing the universality of Messiah’s reign and how all nations will be embraced. Yahweh is indeed a “God of the Gentiles” as well (Rom 3:25–29).

Verse 2 “He shall not cry, not lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street”

Here is an amazing revelation alongside the statement that he will bring justice to all nations! It is a paradox. How could it be that one who would not self-advertise could exercise dominion worldwide? Clearly he is of a different order to the potentates of this world, who promote themselves and make extravagant premises in order to gain power! This servant of the Lord subjugates himself to his Father’s will and by this means he is exalted (52:13)!! Thus we find that Jesus did not strive to draw the attention of men to him on the ground of the miracles performed, the recipients of his healing often being charged “not to make him known”. In fact Isaiah 42:1–3 is cited in Matthew 12:16–21 to explain why he gave this instruction. So we find that Jesus gave a quiet, convincing testimony in his first advent. He did not incite men to rebel to gain power. The following citation well expresses the point.

“He was no popular agitator or revolutionary of the type of Theudas, Judas of Galilee, or Bar Chochbar. These had their places, in their day and generation, in the work of God on earth; but the difference between them and Jesus was that they sought to subvert the ascendancy of the Gentiles, and to set up a Jewish dominion on the ‘this world’ basis, the substitution of a further manifestation of Jewish mortal rebellion for the galling Gentile oppression. Whereas Jesus, by the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom of God and the laying down of his life for the confirmation in his blood of the everlasting covenant, sought to take out a people for the Father’s name on principles of faith and obedience, that these, with him, might reign deathlessly over the restored nation “in the regeneration”, when he should come in his glory and sit upon the throne of David in Mount Zion” (Brother CC Walker Ministry of the Prophets, p544).

In the citation in Matthew 12:19, the phrase “He shall not cry out” reads “He shall not strive”. Jesus’ quiet, unthreatening, unaggressive ministry presents a pattern, too, for his followers. Paul taking up these ideas says, “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men…” (2 Tim 2:24).

Verse 3 A bruised reed [‘broken’ 36:6] shall he not break, and the smoking flax [rsv ‘dimly burning wick’] will he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth [rsv ‘he will faithfully bring forth justice’].”

“A bruised reed shall he not break”

A reed or cane grows in a marshy place and is fragile. Jesus made reference to feeble persons when he questioned his hearers about John, “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?” (Matt 11:7). So here reference is made to men conscious of their weakness and sin, perhaps broken by life’s adversities and without strength in themselves to bear up. The expression parallels that in 61:1, “He hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted”, and also the declaration in 50:4, where Messiah has been instructed to “know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary”.

“and the smoking flax shall he not quench”

Flax is used to make wicks; so a smoking flax is a wick that is on the verge of being extinguished. So again there are described persons who are disheartened and discouraged. The promise here is that the servant will not quench the feeble light of such, but fan them into flame giving them love and hope. Those who flocked to Jesus were not the mighty and affluent, but those of a poor and contrite spirit: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” was his invitation (Matt 11:28–29)

“he shall bring forth judgment [rsv mishpat justice’] unto truth”

In the Matthew 12:20 citation this phrase reads, “till he send forth judgment unto victory (Gk nikos). The rsv reads, “he will faithfully bring forth justice”. The mlb captures the sense with , “But he shall bring forth justice in agreement with truth”. The idea is that through the work of Yahweh’s servant truth and justice will at last prevail and be victorious. No longer will the oppressed perish for want of knowing the Truth of God or be persecuted by ruthless tyrants. Christ’s reign will see the abolition of superstition and oppression and the world will rejoice. (See Psa 72:4, 12–14; Isa 32:1–2, 16–18.)

Verse 4 “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgments in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.”

Matthew 12:21 reads: “And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.”

The verbs “fail” and “discouraged” pick up the verbs “break” and “quench” in verse 3; and the idea is that the servant is subject to the same pressures which have caused others to falter, but he will not be discouraged, but be strengthened to prevail. During his ministry he was not immune to opposition and distress; indeed, as we read in the second Servant Song, “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain”. But this thought is immediately mitigated by his conviction, “yet surely my judgment is with Yahweh, and my work with my God” (49:4). His relationship to his Lord, his commitment to His will, would surmount any obstacle in his path. From the ultimate objective of “setting judgment [justice] in the earth”, he would not be deterred or deviate.

“have set judgment in the earth”

The idea of “setting” is to be seen in Moses setting or establishing God’s Law before Israel. It is the same word as in Deuteronomy 4:44, and means “to set or place”.

“and the isles shall wait for his law” This is virtually interpreted in Matthew 12:21, where the citation is from the lxx, “And in his name shall the Gentiles trust”. Christ’s message would find reception by a wider audience than one nation. Indeed not only Israel, but all nations would be beneficiaries (Gen 12:3; Gal 3:8). There is a sense in which this applies at both advents: all nations here heard the Gospel of salvation in Christ as a result of the apostles’ preaching (Mk 16:15–16), and in the kingdom all nations will be incorporated in his beneficent reign (Psa 72:17).

“shall wait for”

This is an early use in the servant prophecy of this term that describes the mental disposition recipients of Christ’s grace must have. Implicit in this term is the absence of ‘working’, of the putting God in debt, of human self-sufficiency. Instead there is a sense of urgent need of humility and utter dependence upon what God has to offer. (See notes on 40:31.)

41:5–7 Yahweh Addresses His Servant and Affirms His Help

Verse 5 “Thus saith God [El, power], Yahweh, 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.”

This verse is preparatory to the two that follow and which complete the First Servant Song. In it Yahweh describes Himself as the One Who originates, maintains, controls and directs all things. He called everything into being, is constantly attending to its needs, and ceaselessly ministers life and breath to all. The stability of the world depends on His faithfulness. And the greatest gifts He has in store for men are bound up in the work of His Servant. So these amazing statements of His interest in and absolute power over all undergird His will to bring forth justice in all the earth. This objective He will bring to pass as a result of the involvement and work of His dedicated Servant.

Verses 6, 7 “I Yahweh 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; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.”

“I Yahweh have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee”

This is a personal address by Yahweh to His Son. Because of the nature and the perils of the assignment given to him, that is, “obedience to death, even the death of the cross”, he would need the strongest assurance of His Father’s help and the guarantee he would be “saved from [ek ‘out of’] death” (Phil 2:8; Heb 5:7). Jesus had this assurance. This is seen in his words, “I have power to lay it [my life] down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:18; see also John 2:19). Yahweh indeed has “called him in righteousness”. He would not fail to honour His promise, and so it came to pass, for on the third day “God raised him up” (Acts 2:24).

This assurance is given added strength, for we have the intimation, too, that his Father would “hold his hand”, as a parent to a child, and “keep” him.

“and give thee for a covenant of the people”

We know that Jesus’ blood was the “blood of the new covenant… shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt 26:28; Jer 31:31–34). So the revelation here that he would be given for a covenant of the people indicates that he would become a sacrifice for his people. As the Servant Songs proceed, added details tell us of the abuse to which he would be subject (50:5–6), culminating in his death at the hands of his own nation (53:7–12).

“for a light of the Gentiles”

Again in the prophecy, the universality of Yahweh’s work in Christ is set before us. The “door of faith” would open up to the nations with the annulling of the Law of Moses in Christ’s death. The darkness that had for so long enshrouded Gentiles would be dispelled by “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” in Jesus’ face (2 Cor 4:6). These words were taken up by the aged Simeon when he saw and embraced the “Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:32).

Verse 7 “To open the blind eyes”

Tragically these words were just as applicable to the Jew as to the Gentiles (Matt 23:16, 26; Rom 2:19; 11:25). But ultimately both shall be embraced in Messiah, and the eyes which have not seen, shall see (Luke 4:18–19; Isa 66:12–14)!

“To bring out the prisoners from the prison”

The prophecy completes the beautiful picture of what Messiah’s salvation will mean. Not only will light be shed and eyes “see”, but prisoners of sin and death, man’s greatest enemy, shall be set free by him! Oh, what a glorious portrait this is! Mankind released from the thraldom of ignorance and superstition that envelopes the world today! May that day soon come! The same figures are found in 61:1–3 and Zechariah 12:9–11.

42:8–9 Absolute Glory to Yahweh for His Work in the Servant. What Greater Reverence Could There be than Obedience to Death? What Idol Could Command such Adoration or Prophesy It?

Verse 8 “I am Yahweh: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.”

In this context these words must mean that Yahweh asserts that His glory (or honour) is inimitable and cannot be ascribed to another. The Servant Prophecy proves this. There is so much detail foretold about his character, mission and its results that every other claimant of glory must pale into insignificance! The force of this point can only be appreciated by quiet contemplation. The irrelevance, impotence and pretence of every religion or idol that does not have Yahweh of Israel as the centre and focus of its worship is apparent.

Verse 9 “Behold, the former things are come to pass and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.”

Here is the ground for belief in Yahweh: the fact that He can predict in precise detail things before they happen. Who can do such things? None. And now with the birth, ministry and work of Christ at his first advent, fulfilled before our eyes, the faithfulness and veracity of God is an unassailable fact.

“before they spring forth I tell you of them”

This is a beautiful image, the metaphor being taken from plants and flowers. The Hebrew word tsamach refers to the springing out of shoots, buds and flowers. The idea is that, before germination takes place, there is the prospect of life. Unlike the feeble, vague prognostications of sagacious men, Yahweh forecasts detailed events thousands of years before they take place, showing that He alone is in complete command of world events.

42:10–12 Rejoicing by All Nations Now Embraced in the Salvation of Yahweh’s Servant

Verse 10 “Sing unto Yahweh a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein [mg ‘the fullness thereof’]; the isles [rsv ‘coastlands’], and the inhabitants thereof.”

Verse 11 “Let the wilderness [rsv ‘deserts’] and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedor [Arabia cp 20:16,17; 60:7] doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock [rsv ‘Sela’ ie Edom] sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains.”

Verse 12 “Let them give glory unto Yahweh, and declare his praise in the islands [rsv ‘coastlands’].”

In these verses the whole world is summoned to raise its voice in loud song and praise. Nations near and far and those once ignorant of the Truth and Lordship of the God of Israel, are required to lift up their voices in unrestrained applause to the praise and glory of the name of Yahweh. And why should such a universal call go out? Clearly in the context it is because of the blessings that have come as a result of the Servant’s work. The “judgment” or justice promised has now been realised: He would not fail nor be discouraged until he has set justice in the earth (v4); he has brought forth justice unto truth (v3), and he has brought justice to the Gentiles (v1). His mission under Yahweh’s governance has now been accomplished. All nations are luxuriating in conditions that have never before existed. There is peace and prosperity. The reign of tyrants has come to an end. Christ and the saints are reigning in righteousness in Jerusalem. The earth is at rest. Utopia has at last embraced all Creation. The only, the logical response to such a dramatic transformation is spontaneous, universal praise, joy and exhilaration to its great Author.