Characteristics of the Servant: 42:1-4
The Masoretic text (Hebrew) of Isaiah 42 does not name the servant. The Septuagint text (Greek) names him, “Jacob” and “Israel” (vs 1). What are the characteristics of the servant?
- verse 1 (Septuagint)
- helped by God
- chosen by God
- accepted by God
- the Spirit of God placed by God upon him (the three persons of the Trinity in one verse)
- he will bring “judgment” to the Gentiles; i.e., he will fulfill the purpose of God’s Law among the Gentiles
- verse 2
- he will not cry out, nor raise his voice, nor cause his voice to be heard outside; i.e., he will not be a “rabble rouser”, nor an instigator, nor a politician, nor a mighty speech maker
- verse 3
- a bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax he will not quench; i.e., he will be gentle towards the weak and lowly (cf., Isaiah 40:11)
- but (the Septuagint includes a strong contrastive conjunction (ἀλλὰ) in Isaiah 42:3, LXX; the Masoretic contains no connector (Isaiah 42:3, ESV). The contrastive connector “but” joins the foregoing (bruised reeds, smoking flax) as the context for that which follows, “he will bring forth judgment to (or in) truth.” In other words, he will treat justly (or fairly) and truthfully those people who have been bruised and beaten down, unlike the established norm (“but” = contrary to the norm). An example of this verse in Christ’s ministry is the woman caught in adultery. The ruling righteous (the falsely righteous scribes and Pharisees) wanted him to declare that she should be stoned to death. But (ἀλλὰ) Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn (“judge against”) you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (See John 8:3-12.) Jesus brought “justice to truth.” That is, he brought a full understanding of the intent of God’s law to truthfully bear upon this situation. Strongly implied in this passage is Jesus’s awareness that the woman’s sin was not of her doing alone. He applied the Law equally to everyone, regardless of their station. And, he acted with great compassion toward the woman, who was a “bruised reed” and a “smoking flax,” or in other words, a “dimly burning wick.”
- verse 4
- he will “shine forth” (SAAS), or “shine out” (Brenton), or “blaze up” (NETS, Silva). This is the exact opposite of the prior “smoking wick” (NETS) of the previous verse.
- “and not be overwhelmed until” (NETS) See John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.“
- “until he has established judgment (righteousness) on the earth”; in other words, the scope of his activities and influence will be worldwide. Even for Cyrus, this would be a grandiose prophecy.
- “and in his name shall the Gentiles trust” (Brenton), or, “will hope” (SAAS); Isaiah 42:4, LXX. Here is a direct, explicit statement in the Old Testament that the Christ’s ministry (the Servant whom God will anoint with his Spirit, see verse 1) will extend to and intentionally include Gentiles. (Clearly, the Church is not a “parenthesis,” as some Christians claim.)
Homework: The Servant came to be called “Jesus”. Can you match details of Isaiah’s portrait with details of Jesus’s life, as recorded in the Gospels?