Isaiah Chapter 42


The Servant of Jehovah, threefold application
of the term. Who is the blind servant?

As in the Epistle to the Hebrews dignity after dignity is brought into prominence, only to wane and disappear like the stars at sunrise when our Lord Jesus is seen, so here. We have looked at Cyrus as the servant of Jehovah, but now he disappears, for brighter rays than any that could shine from that honored man have eclipsed him. Even Israel, the people that Jehovah constantly owns among the nations of the earth as His servant, is lost sight of here in beams too bright to emanate from any mere nation of earth. No; we must remember a closing injunction in that same Epistle to the Hebrews, and "look away" from all others to One and only One, who alone can, any true way, answer to these words:

1: Consider My Servant, whom I uphold,
Mine Elect, whom My soul doth delight in;
On Him My Spirit have I outpoured;
Judgment He'll bring to the Gentiles.
2: He'll not cry aloud, nor will He lift up
His voice to be heard in the highways.
3: The reed that is splintered He never will crush,
Nor blow out a wick dimly burning.
Judgment He'll bring, and that truthful.
4: Not dimly He'll burn, nor will He be crushed
Till judgment on earth is firm-rooted;
And th' isles for His law are all waiting.
Let us obey the first word, and "behold" the perfect Servant, for that sight will not only refresh us, but enable us to discern, in a day of much pretension, those who are the true followers of that Servant. We are given three marks that are true of both. First, God-ward: the Spirit of God is on Him. Not until His service lay before Him, and He came up from the waters of Jordan at John's baptism, did the Spirit of God come upon Him as a dove.

Next, the mark self-ward is that He seeks no notoriety or prominence. He neither cries nor lifts up His voice in the streets. So His truest servants may be distinguished by their endeavors to put their feet in these self-effacing footprints. The "spirit" that governs the first man, leads in quite the opposite direction, a thirst for prominence. How frequently trouble is introduced into a company of Christians by those who, like Diotrephes, love to have the preeminence (3 John 9). Where all seek the lowest place there is great peace.

Finally the man-ward mark. How gently does He deal with penitents who are like splintered reeds in the confession of their sin. Does He finish them altogether? Their faith is as feeble as a glimmering wick about to expire; does He utterly extinguish it? Far from it. He heals the bruise of the reed, and fans the wick to flame. Aye, does not the tender way He deals with such "reeds" and "glimmering wicks," make us long to be nearer to Him, to love and serve Him better? His truest followers have imbibed that same spirit, and know how to "lift up hands hanging down, and to strengthen feeble knees" (Heb. 12:12).

Our Lord is by no means indiscriminate. If gentle to penitence, He is stern to pride; and thus He puts everything "to rights," as we say, on the earth, and this He does in a right way, or "according to truth." Nor in that work shall anything discourage Him. As He will not quench nor break, so His own zeal will not be quenched nor broken, till He has enthroned Justice on a firm basis, and the "Isles," or Gentiles, place their submissive confidence in Him.

5: Thus saith the Mighty One, even the Lord,
Creator, Out-stretcher of heavens,
Who spreads out the earth and what comes therefrom,
Gives breath to the people upon it,
And spirit to them that walk on it:
6: In righteousness I, Jehovah, have called,
Holding Thy hand I will keep Thee,
A cov'nant unto the people Thou'lt be,
A light to lighten the Gentiles;
7: To open blind eyes, the pris'ners to loose,
And from their dark dungeon to bring out
Those in its gloom who're confined.
8: I am Jehovah—that is My Name;
My glory I'll not share with any,
Nor suffer My praise to be given
To images out of stone graven.
9: The former things that I have foretold,
See, they are come to fulfilment!
So of the new things that now I proclaim,
I tell you before they are springing.
Most solemnly here Jehovah calls us to consider His creative dignities. 'Tis He who stretched the heavens out, and spangled them with the starry host. 'Tis He who clothed the earth with verdure, and gave, not only the breath shared by the beasts, but the spirit that distinguishes man from them. 'Tis He who has called One who alone is able to carry out successfully that mighty commission of establishing all things in heaven and in earth on a righteous basis, leading out from captivity, not from shackles of literal iron, but from dominating passions of lust and cruelty; and, as He leads the poor prisoners into holy liberty, He gives them eyes to see, and joy in the seeing truth in Himself, and beauty in that truth.

Who can do this? One who can permit no rivalry, and who again demands an unrivaled place since He foretells what is to come centuries later. It is the dawning of that bright day in the prophet's pages, the meridian of which we shall enjoy (if it please God) in the 53rd chapter. But as in nature the day dawns gradually, not as in one thunderclap, but softly, so Cyrus may indeed be accounted as a streak of light in the east, foretelling in his deliverance of captives, the coming Sun; but a far brighter Herald than Cyrus shall foretell for us the coming Day, even "The bright Morning-Star"; for that day cannot come till He introduces it, and for that we must come with Him.

Note in verse 6 the distinction between the Jew and the Gentile; the "covenant" is for the Jew, "the people," and that, in these prophetic books, when thus in the singular is always Israel; whilst for the poor Gentiles on whom divine light has not shone—He supplies that need to them, but they have no "covenant."

Every generation has had to echo the words of Joshua: "Not one good thing hath failed" (Josh. 23:14): so this very day, as we stand and look back upon foretellings fulfilled, may we rest with quiet assurance on the certainty of the fulfilment of what has yet to come to pass.

10: Sing to Jehovah a song never heard;
Sing out His praise from earth's borders,
Ye that sail sea, all creatures therein,
Ye islands afar and their dwellers.
11: Let desert and all of its cities strike up,
The villages Kedar doth dwell in;
Let the rock-dwellers sing out their joy,
From tops of the hills shout their gladness.
12: Let them give to Jehovah the glory, His due,
Declaring His praise to the islands!
13: Jehovah goes forth as a strong man of war,
Stirs up His zeal as a hero,
A war-cry He shouts—a terrible cry,
And over His foes is the Victor.
What a joyous burst of praise! And it comes from that people who heard Paul speaking from the steps of the tower, till he reached the word that told him to go far away to the Gentiles; then the blow to their national pride was too heavy, and dust, stones, and shouts of hatred filled the air (Acts 22). Here is that Jew so feeling his own incompetence to give adequate expression to his praise that he begs the Gentile to help him swell the anthem!

Will anyone be bold enough to suggest that this whole joyous scene is not strictly an earthly one? Will our friends who insist that "God has no more use for Israel" point to any moment in the past in which they were thus in such intense happiness? Or since all these promises must be spiritualized and taken into heaven, is Kedar there? Are sailors to be invoked in heaven? And will they maintain that there are sea-washed shores where "there is no more sea"?

This is not what we today term the "gospel," for Jehovah comes forth as a warrior uttering His war-shout, and with that terrifying cry He plunges into the battle. That is not quite the same as, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." No; here Jehovah is intervening in the politics of earth. This is the "new thing" that is here foretold, never has such song been heard, and well may we note the faith-compelling harmony between the two Testaments, the Old supplying much light on the emotions that accompany the Lord's return to reign, but in this fully in accord with the New, for where will you find a louder doxology than comes from the heavenly "elders" when "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ" (Rev. 11:15)?

Again Jehovah speaks by the mouth of the prophet:

14: Long have I held My peace, been silent long;
Long have I held Me restrained;
Now will I cry, as a woman travails,
At one time both gasping and panting.
15: Mountains and hills will I make bare,
Will dry up all of their herbage;
Rivers to islands will I transform,
Water-pools thoroughly dry up.
16: The blind will I lead in a way all unknown,
In paths that they know not conduct them;
For them I will turn the darkness to light,
And roads that are crooked will straighten.
These things will I do, nor forsake them.
17: But ye who to idols say, Ye are our gods,
Shall all be turned backward, confounded.
Jehovah has during that long weary time of His people's oppression kept silence, but it has been with great difficulty; now He can restrain no longer, but using the common figure of intensity, child-birth, He pants and gasps in violent breathings, which at length burst forth in such scorching wrath that mountains lose their verdure, rivers dry up and lakes evaporate under its heat.

It is a marvellously strong figure! So desirous is Jehovah for the time to come that shall be the day of His own deliverance from all self-restraint, that the intervening period seems like an eternity to Him—for that is the word rendered "long time" in A.V. Then as the hour approaches, do His exercises increase, till the deliverance from this strange child-birth is a burst of fiery wrath against the oppressors of His people. Shall we pass from this without throwing its light on this present time? Has our Lord Jesus less longing for His redeemed for heaven than as Jehovah He has here for His beloved Israel? Has He no bursting longing desire for that hour to come when He can gather His heavenly redeemed around Himself and introduce them to the Father's House? Indeed He has; and the whole creation is groaning and travailing awaiting the manifestation of the sons of God.

Jehovah now turns to His beloved Israel, and taking them by the hand leads them, blind as they are, in the right way, and that is always one of complete dependence upon Himself, for it is a way that they know not. Set a blind man in a familiar place and he feels about till he touches some object that is familiar, and goes on confidently; but let him touch nothing that he can recognize, then where to step next he knows not. So these poor Israelites (and we, too, even now) can find in all the past no precedent that shall serve to direct them, but Jehovah (our Lord Jesus) takes their hand (and ours) and as they abandon themselves trustfully to His guidance, not one step goes astray. But all who trust to other confidence are covered with shame! These divine principles of dependence and clinging confidence, run unchanged through all dispensations.

Thus these verses deal with one of the greatest perplexities of life; not confined to Israel, nor to any one age, but wherever man is, there is this enigma of not merely the existence, but the apparent victory of evil and all forms of wrong. In the divinely recorded history of Israel, we feel that we have our hand in that Hand that is alone a safe Guide; for that history is given us to throw its light on the invisible.

The foes of Israel are but types of ours. They had Babylon and Assyria; we have the wicked spirits; behind both these, Satan and his hosts. But it is just here, in the very mention of these powers of darkness, that light begins to shine. The existence of that arch-foe goes far to solve the perplexities of the scene through which we are passing, and they who deny it are logically on the road to the fogs of infidelity, and the blackness and darkness of perdition following.

God has long held His peace! That silence has filled the infidel, whether in the pulpit or in the ghetto, with scoff and argument. "Would you permit your dear child to be at the mercy of injustice, oppression, calamity, accident, death, if you had the power to help and save him from these? Yet these are the conditions that obtain on all sides; and you dare to claim that your God is Almighty; that there is no limit to His power, and that He is all-beneficent, with no limit to His love—it is incredible! Every disaster denies it; every untimely bereavement denies it; every calamity, that draws tears, if not blood, from the poor race, denies it—it is incredible!"

Reader, have you never heard something like that? Have you never felt its cutting force? But how splendid the answer that God has given us! True, we say, it is a riddle that God Himself alone can solve; and here is that solution in a word—the Cross! Come then to Calvary; see that central cross there. Regard not him on the right hand nor the left; we know not the names of either; but concentrate thy gaze on the One in the midst. Behold Him! That is the very Son of God, His only-begotten One in whom He delighteth ever, and there He hangs between earth and sky, cast out by earth; by heaven, too, cast out! But now a dense veil is drawn over the awful scene, till an exceeding bitter cry pierces the unnatural darkness, and I know—know (mark that)—my sins are on that sacred Head, and that He is there being dealt with as those sins of mine merited; nay more, as the Sin that I am. It is God both Almighty and All-beneficent, who has loved us; so tenderly, so strongly loved us, that He has given that dearest Treasure of His Heart, and spared Him not one blow that we merited even in the hour of His heart-broken cry! This mystery solves that, for listen still.

The blackness of darkness passes. The sun again shines, and now in calm peace, as Himself a Conqueror, that Sufferer dismisses His spirit. But the grave cannot hold that incorruptible Body. He is risen! This very hour He sits on high, and has sent us that other Comforter, His Spirit, who brings in some feeble way to my heart as I write, and to yours as you read, the realization of these profound verities, so drawing us out of this evil world, and leading us home through a way that we know not. It is through the darkness of the night, with all its mysteries, that we walk, leaving the earth, for the time, to that usurper the devil, who fills it with evidences of his wrongful reign. Every untimely bereavement, every calamity, every catastrophe, every groan of the oppressed, every injustice, every crime—all witness aloud that the earth's true King is rejected, and he whose throne is here, is on that throne wrongfully; is that not a true witness? Would anything else be true? Only those who know the depth of their own guilt and something of the Love that shines so awfully, and yet so sweetly, in the Cross of Christ, can pass through this tangled scene and not be stumbled by the silence of God! That silence is a test to faith; but that faith when thus tested, and by the very test proved true and genuine, is to God more precious than gold is to man (1 Pet. 1:7). Faith's foot does not stand on air, nor on the morass of vain speculation, but on the solid rock of the Person, the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ!

But we must return from this excursus to consider other strange anomalies.

18: Hear, ye deaf; ye blind, look up,
That thus ye may have a clear vision.
19: My Servant! Who is so blind as is He?
Or deaf as He sent with My message?
Who blind as the one on whom I put trust?1
Yes, blind as Jehovah's own servant?
20: Much hast thou seen, thou hast kept naught;
His ears are unstopped, but he hears not.
21: Jehovah's well-pleased for His righteousness' sake;
His law shall be great and be honored.
22: Yet 'tis a people robbed and despoiled,
They're all snared in caves, and are hidden
In houses that are to them nothing but jails.2
With none to deliver, they're booty,
They're spoiled, and none says, Restore!
23: Who that are 'mong you will hearken to this,
Give ear, and list to what's coming?
24: Who was it gave up Jacob for spoil?
And Israel gave to the robbers?
Did not Jehovah, 'gainst whom we have sinned?
To walk in His ways they're not willing,
Nor to His law would they hearken.
25: Then He poured on them the heat of His wrath,
The strength of the fury of battle.
This set him on fire all round about,
Yet from it has he been taught nothing;
Burning within him, his heart was untouched!
Verse 18 calls upon some who are truly deaf and blind (little as they would admit such a charge) to both hear and see. It is the representatives of the nation who are thus addressed, who, in the Lord's day, cried: "Are we blind also?"

This gives the key for the right understanding of the next verse, 19, in which someone, called Jehovah's servant, is not only deaf and blind, but pre-eminently so; and this pre-eminence in dullness of apprehension must be due to the bright light that has shone on this servant, that others have not enjoyed.

Here I quote Delitzsch, who gives a valuable suggestion on these verses: "It is impossible to read, 'My messenger, whom I send,' without thinking of the first verse of this chapter, where the servant of Jehovah is represented as a messenger to the Gentiles. With this similarity, both in name and calling, there must be a connection between the 'servant' mentioned here and the servant referred to there. Now the 'servant of Jehovah' is always Israel. But as Israel might be regarded according to the overwhelming majority of its members (the mass or the many) who had forgotten their calling; or according to the character of those living members who had remained true to their calling (the Remnant) or as concentrated in that one Person (Messiah), who is the essence of Israel in the fullest truth and highest potency— statements of the most opposite kind could be made with respect to this one same-named subject. In the first verse it is the one Person who is referred to—the centre of the inner circle of Israel. In this 19th verse the idea is carried back again from the highest (Messiah), to its lowest basis (the mass), and the servant of Jehovah is blamed and reproved for the contrast between its divine calling and its actual conduct."

This is well worth pondering; nor should it be necessary to point out how such a view of Israel would conform to the corresponding truth of the Church. Just as here we have quick changes from intense approbation to utter reprobation, so the Church at one time is seen as taken into never-to-be-broken favor in the Beloved, and then again is to be "spewed out" of the Lord's mouth in nauseated repulsion, as either the inner circle of its living members, or the lukewarm professing mass is in view. The correspondence is still more striking, for in one scripture Christ Himself (the "essence," as Delitzsch speaks) is so closely identified with His Church as to be called by the same name: "For as the Body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one Body, being many, are one Body; so also is the Christ" (1 Cor. 12:12). That surely is a remarkable expression. The Christ is that mystic Man, "Head and Body." Now throw the clear ray of light thus obtained on this verse, for on the surface it looks as if the servant of Jehovah must be the Lord Jesus, as Messiah; but who would not shrink from speaking of our Lord as not only deaf and blind, but that in a preeminent degree, so that none could compare with Him? When did the Lord Jesus open blind eyes, whilst He Himself was blind? The blindness must be, one would think, of the same character in both members. But that difficulty does not exist at all with regard to the nation of Israel. All light and truth has come to the Gentiles by the way of Israel. Light that that nation itself rejected, truth that it did not itself believe, has enlightened the Gentile. Look forward a little and you will hear that very people (then seen in the inner circle or remnant, as Delitzsch speaks) bewailing their own blindness, in the words, "Who hath believed our report?" It was ours, and yet we would not have it; we were blind to its beauty, and it was those who had been blind, the Gentiles, who received it. So that here in these verses we are taking the first step that shall eventually lead to Chapter 53.

Verse 22 tells of the condition of Israel—not seen in the inner circle of the remnant, nor in the innermost essence, Christ, but in the outer mass. To it was given the Law, holy and good. They had voluntarily accepted it and placed themselves under the principle of blessing and acceptance dependent on legal obedience (Ex. 19:18)—what does the righteous government of Jehovah demand? We shall soon hear of its pleasing the Lord to bruise One in atonement, for the sins of many individuals: so here, apart from that atonement that cannot be applied to nations as such, He is even pleased to magnify the law and make it to be honored, by giving up the disobedient nation (to which alone the law had been given) to robbery and spoliation, as it is written: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2).

Precisely in the same way the apostle to us Gentiles speaks in Rom. 3:31: "Do we then make void the law through faith? Nay, we establish the law." In the Old Testament the penalty of the broken law falls upon impenitent Israel, and so the majesty of the law is maintained. In the New Testament the penalty of the broken law falls upon the beloved Son, who thus makes a propitiation efficacious for all penitent faith. Thus is the majesty of the law established.

This then is the divine explanation here told as a prophecy of things to come. They have had the law; they have not obeyed that law; Jehovah will make that law to be honored, and for that, this people, to whom it has been given, must be spoiled and robbed. Many centuries must pass before any Hebrew could "take joyfully the spoiling of their goods"; they must know their Messiah to have come; they must have seen Him "cut off"; learned that His death alone atoned for their sins, and knowing that He had ascended to the right Hand of God, also know that there in Him they had "a better and an enduring substance." Is there not a harmony that can be no less than divine, in these Scriptures? But whilst the chapter thus closes, the subject does not, and we must eliminate the artificial division of the chapters in this case, would we be intelligent, and go on to the next.


1 The interpretation given to this difficult verse rests largely on the meaning given to the word m'shullam, which I have rendered "put trust." The first meaning of the root is "to be whole" or "perfect," as our A.V.: "Who is blind as he that is perfect?" And, if this be the only meaning possible, we are apparently compelled to see the only One who could be so called, Messiah. But there is another and also not uncommon derivative based still on the idea of completeness: "to make peace"; so, "to be in close intimacy," and so the R.V. reads, "As he that is at peace with Me"; Darby, "As he whom I have trusted"; Delitzsch, "As the confidant"; and so the rendering I have adopted, "On whom I put trust."

2 "The whole nation is confined in prisons of all kinds"—an allegorizing picture of the homelessness and servitude of exile (Delitzsch).