There are two parts to these verses. The first (v13– 17) forecasts events following Divine intervention at Christ’s return. The jealousy of Yahweh has been stirred up following a long period of silence, the “times of the Gentiles”. The gospel of salvation has gone forth into the world but it has been corrupted and apostasy has become entrenched. Moreover anti-Semitism has flourished, and although “His people” remain in unbelief of the Messiahship of Jesus, the time has come for Him to vindicate Jacob and redeem His saints.

In the second part (v18–25) the failure of Yahweh’s national servant Israel to comprehend His work in Christ and the “fulfilling of the law” (Matt 5:18) is wonderfully foretold. The calamities of Jacob from AD70 onwards are then graphically presented, but there has been a complete inability to relate the effect to the cause, to realise that the disasters of two millennia have resulted from rejection of the Son of God.

42:13–17 The Time to Cry and Roar has Come: The Nations are Judged for their Idolatry, but Blind Israel is Preserved

Verse 13 “Yahweh shall go forth as a mighty man [Heb gibbor ‘hero, warrior’], he shall stir up jealousy like a man of war [cp Exod 15:3]: he shall cry, yea, roar; he shall prevail against his  enemies.”

Whilst it is Yahweh the great Creator that goes forth to battle against the nations at Armageddon, He does so by sending His Son from His right hand to make his enemies his footstool (Psa 110:1; 2 Thess 1:7–10; 2:8). Understanding the principle of God manifestation makes the interpretation straightforward.

It follows logically the initial revelations in this chapter, that Jesus was Yahweh’s servant upon whom He put His Spirit so that His will might be accomplished and justice be “set in the earth” (v1–4). Yahweh then, manifest in His Son, is likened to a mighty man and a man of war who will be vindicated when He prevails against his enemies. But who are “His enemies”? We are informed significantly that His “jealousy” has been stirred up and this is the direct result of the way the nations have dealt with “His people”. It is the motive for His involvement and fury (Zech 1:14; 2:8–9; Ezek 38:19).

“he shall cry, yea roar”

This (and reference to “crying” in v14) is a direct contrast to His servant’s disposition at his first advent, for in verse 2 we read that “he shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street”. The Lamb has become “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5), who will roar from Zion and humble and defeat all nations. Verse 15 speaks of him “destroying and devouring at once” and follows the figure of the lion through (cp Gen 49:9; Joel 3:16 “Yahweh shall roar out of Zion…”). Warriors entered battle with a loud shout to stimulate their own courage and to intimidate foes; so this language shows God’s “determination” to conquer His enemies (Zeph 3:8).

Verse 14 “I have long time holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman; I will destroy and devour at once.”

For almost two millennia the visible hand of God has been hidden. Though He rules in the kingdoms of men through His angels, He has refrained Himself and allowed things to happen so that other objectives of His purpose might proceed. For example, His longsuffering till this moment of time has permitted His message of salvation to go forth to “all nations” and many have embraced it. Had He intervened earlier, they may not have had opportunity. The “long time” referred to is defined by the Lord as the “fulness of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).

Verse 15 “I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the  rivers islands [roth shores], and I will dry up the pools.

This verse speaks of the utter desolation God will  bring upon His foes in His anger. The picture is  of well-watered hills and mountains, terraced and  planted with orchards, vineyards, as was common, being destroyed and wasted (cp 2 Kgs 3:19, 25).  So the grain and fruits upon which His enemies  depended for support would be rendered useless.  The water resources, the rivers and pools essential  for the livestock and cultivation, would be dried  up.

Verse 16 “And I will bring the blind by a way that  they know not; I will lead them in paths they have  not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight [rsv ‘rough places into  level ground’]. These things will I do for them and  not forsake them.”

Having told us what He will do to His enemies, God now speaks of His deliverance of His people. He will lead them back into their own land, removing any obstacles in the way.

“I will bring the blind”

Who are the blind? The blind are the natural seed of Abraham, blind because they failed to recognise Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Jewish blindness has given opportunity to the Gentiles. But we have the assurance that this blindness will terminate with the Second coming: “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. and so all Israel [spiritual and natural] shall be saved…” (Rom 11:25,26). In verse 7 Gentile eyes, lit by the light of the Servant, are no longer blind but now see. In verses 18–20 the blindness and deafness of the natural Servant is referred to four times! So when the Deliverer comes to Zion he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob (Rom 11:26). Then shall the scales fall from Jacob’s eyes and he will look upon him whom he pierced and mourn for him… (Zech 12:10; 2 Cor 3:14–16).

“and the crooked things straight”

The apostle Paul, in his opposition to Christ before conversion, is a type of blind Israel. Significantly he was also literally blinded by the glory of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and had to be “led by the hand” to the house of Judas who lived in a street called Straight! There he was met by the disciple Ananias, whose name means “the Grace of Yahweh” (Zech 12:10). Scales fell from his eyes as he was converted and he received his sight and was baptised. Thus Paul’s experience was a cameo of what shall yet be seen with Jacob.

“These things will I do unto them and not forsake them”

Notice all the “I”s in verses 14–16. Colour them in. In this statement Yahweh affirms that He will most definitely “do these things” for His people (of verse 16), despite the fact that for such a long time they appear to have been “cast off” and forsaken! The fortunes of His people are about to dramatically change for “they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance [rsv ‘irrevocable’]” (Rom 11:28–29). Indeed “God hath not cast off his people which he foreknew” (v1).

Verse 17 “They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, ye are our gods.”

In the light of Yahweh’s intervention in power and great glory, the false religions of the world and those pretenders who have perpetrated them will be exposed. The tragedy of those given to idolatry, be it Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, or Shintoism, will suddenly be understood and they will realise that they have been duped (Jer 16:19–21). Isaiah expressed it earlier: “In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats” (2:20–22).

Verses 18–21 The Unfathomable Blindness of the National Servant Israel

Verses 18–20 “Hear, ye deaf; and look ye blind, that ye may see. Who is blind, but my servant? Or  deaf, as my messenger [Heb malak cp used of the  priest, Mal 2:8] that I sent? Who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as Yahweh’s servant? Seeing  many things, but thou observest not; opening the  ears but he heareth not.”

Spiritual blindness and deafness would always be a problem with Yahweh’s people (Deut 29:4; Isa 6:9–10; 29:10; Jn 12:37–40). But these conditions were accentuated when the clearest and brightest revelation of God’s glory was seen in the words and mighty deeds of His Son. He raised the dead, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, but the response of the nation was muted, especially so far as the elders and priests were concerned. Yes, they did “see many things”, but they “observed them not”. They did not accept Jesus’ claim to be Messiah.

An incident that dramatically illustrates this is the healing of the man born blind (John 9). He correctly concluded that Jesus was “of God” because his eyes were opened, but the Jews, the rulers, excommunicated him because of his convictions! Observing these responses, Jesus concluded: “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not [the blind man] might see [both literally and spiritually]; and that they which see [the Jews] might be made blind [spiritually]. And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said to him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (John 9:39–41). They thought they could “see”, whilst denying the claims of the Healer! Indeed they were blind leaders of the blind and both would fall into the ditch (Matt 15:14; 23:16, 24, 26).

Isaiah also complained that Yahweh’s messenger was deaf. How could he then perform the duty of instruction (Mal 2:8)? There was an inability to “hear” what Jesus was saying. It was as if they were actually deaf. John 8 records a lengthy discourse of Jesus with the Jews in which he complains, “Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.”

“who is blind as he that is perfect…?”

These words are cutting and ironical. When  compared to the nations about them Israel had  every advantage (Rom 9:1–5; Deut 4:6–8), but  they had failed and their privilege had not been appreciated.

Verse 21 “Yahweh is well pleased for his  righteousness sake; he will magnify the law and make it honourable [rsv ‘glorious’, roth  ‘majestic’].Compare lxx, “The Lord God hath taken counsel that he might be justified, and might magnify his praise.”

This verse comes as an answer to the general failure on the part of the national servant. Yahweh sent His Son to “his own” but they received him not (John 1:11). There was no disappointment so far as He was concerned, with the work and performance of His beloved Son. He was well pleased with him (Matt 3:17). In him the righteousness of the law was upheld and none could convince him of sin (John 8:46). Coming to John the Baptist, he submitted to baptism “to fulfil all righteousness” and upon his doing so the heavenly voice approved him in the words, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

“he will magnify the law, and make it honourable”

The law of Moses had been corrupted by the traditions of men, but Jesus in his teaching (on the Mount, for example) distilled its true essence. He taught and exemplified what the Law pointed forward to and in so doing fulfilled it. The following words from Ministry of the Prophets by Brother CC Walker well summarise the matter.

“God, in Christ, magnified the law and vindicated it against the blind and deaf who were corrupters of God’s way. While these stumbled and fell, the word was fulfilled which said, ‘Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples’ (Isa 8:16). These were the people in whose heart was the law of God (Isa 51:7), who were not to fear the reproach of men and in whom the righteousness of the law was fulfilled in that they walked not after the flesh but after the spirit (Rom 8:4).

Christ himself said he was not come to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill (Matt 5:17–18), and that not a jot or tittle should pass from the law till all was fulfilled. Probed with hard questions, he resolved the law into two great commandments. ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart…’ and, ‘Thou shalt love they neighbour as thyself’ (Matt 22:34–40). And he personally illustrated this in perfection, and became ‘the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth’ (Rom 10:4). He alone of all the sons of men ‘continued in all things that are written in the law to do them.’ Yet even he came under the curse of the law, for Paul says, ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree’…. Being sinless and obedient unto death, he was raised from the dead and exalted above all ‘for his righteousness’ sake’” (pages 553–554).

Sin was condemned in Christ’s death and God’s righteousness was declared for the remission of sins (Rom 8:3; 3:25–26). What the Mosaic Law could not do, God did in His Son. In his death Jesus showed that “the flesh profits nothing” and that it was rightly related to death. This declaration of God’s righteousness has laid the basis for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of the world. God’s righteousness can be appropriated to all by belief and baptism into Christ (Phil 4:9; Rom 9:30–31; 10:3–9; Isa 51:1–8). The “magnifying of the law” and the “making of it glorious” (rsv) takes into account and foreshadows the grand, expansive work of Yahweh’s Servant.

42:22–25 Despite the Manifest Divine Judgment of  AD70 and Persecution in Dispersion for Crucifying  Yahweh’s Servant, Israel Still Suffers Without  Knowing Why

Verse 22 “But this is a people robbed and spoiled  [rsv ‘plundered’]; they are all of them snared in  holes, and they are hid in prison houses: they are for a prey and none delivereth; for a spoil and  none saith, Restore.”

This tragic verse accurately describes the state and suffering of the Jews following their rejection of their Messiah, Jesus. Since the fall of Jerusalem in AD70 and their scattering among all nations they have been the object of ridicule, discrimination, persecution and pogrom. These sufferings were graphically spoken about by Moses in his final words (Deut 28:45–68). History has vindicated prophecy in an awesome way. But the time to favour Zion is coming, heralded by the return of this people to their ancient homeland. The vengeance, the jealousy of the God of Israel is arousing after “holding His peace” for “a long time” (v14; Deut 32:35–42).

Verse 23 “Who among you will give ear to  this? Who will hearken and hear for the time to  come?

Verse 24 Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel  to robbers? Did not Yahweh, he against whom we  have sinned? For they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law.

Verse 25 Therefore he hath poured upon him the  fury [rsv ‘heat’] of his anger, and the strength  [rsv ‘might’] of battle; and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart.”

In verse 23 the prophet challenges his people to hear his message in view of the calamities about to befall the nation in “the time to come”. It is an urgent appeal, but the response was minimal. Though warned, the nation was unheeding. The implied answer to the question of verse 23 is “none”, or very few; certainly not the nation as a whole.

In verse 24 Isaiah’s appeal continues. He strives to explain and rationalise the plight of Israel. How could it be that the nation could suffer so much and still be preserved? Clearly the hand of Yahweh was behind it all. The reason why disaster would overtake them is given: a refusal to “obey His law” and to “walk in His ways”. Notice how the prophet associates himself with the sins of his people in order to strengthen his appeal, “against whom we have sinned” (cp Neh 1:6–7; Dan 9:5–7).

The final verse reiterates the horrendous calamities that would befall them. One is reminded of Hitler’s Final Solution, the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz, etc. How dreadfully real and true these words have proved to be. Despite all these things coming upon them, Israel has not repented and understood why God has done it. Their conversion will come after their last great humiliation, when all nations will be gathered against Jerusalem to battle and so many will be “cut off” (Zech 12:9–14; 13:8–9). When the Redeemer comes to Zion, ungodliness shall be turned away and they shall look on him they crucified and mourn for him. Then shall they understand why the sad calamities of the last two millennia have come upon them. What a great day this will be. May we take heed to our ways, so we might share in the glories of Messiah’s reign.