The Lord’s Servant (42:1-4)

Bible Passage: Isaiah 42:1-4

This is the first of four ‘servant songs’ that are found in the second half of Isaiah, where a character called the servant of the Lord is introduced. Throughout his book, Isaiah has held out dual themes: warnings of judgement and promises of hope. It is in this servant that these two themes come together. Sometimes the character seems to be presented a symbol of Israel, but on other occasions it is clear that a particular individual is in view. These songs form a big part of Jesus’ understanding of his own identity, and it is in him that the songs are fulfilled.

WHO Is the Servant?: The start of this chapter describes who the servant is. The first things that we are told is that the servant is God’s chosen, and this brings to mind others who God has chosen and made covenant with in the Bible. The servant is chosen by God, not elected by people or claimed by an ambitious individual. The servant is upholded by God and it is God’s strength that sustains him. The servant is also one in whom God’s soul delights. He is also one on whom the Lord puts his Spirit would rest. This is the checklist of characteristics that the people were looking for, and at the baptism of Jesus we see that he meets ever criteria. He is chosen by God, be is upheld by him and pleasing to him (as the voice from heaven so clearly declared) and the Lord’s Spirit was upon him. The thing that nobody saw coming was that God’s servant would also be God’s son.

WHAT Will the Servant Do?: The same idea is repeated several times in this passage about what the servant will do. In verse 1 we are told that ‘he will bring forth justice to the nations’. In verse 3 it says that ‘he will faithfully bring forth justice’. And according to verse 4, ‘he will not faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.’ Bringing justice taps into a universal human longing for all things being made right, and speaks of our world being made much more like the world that we see at the beginning of Genesis and the end of Revelation.

HOW Will the Servant Do It?: Verses 2-3 particularly emphasise the gentleness of Jesus.  He was born in a humble stable, and though he would minister with power, he would often withdraw from the crowds to draw out those who were truly spiritually hungry. Two implications of Jesus’ gentleness are picked out. The first is that he would not break a bruised reed. Som people are fragile and need treating with particular care, and Jesus understands this and treats such people with the tenderness that can bring healing and not breaking. He is safe. Secondly, he will not quench a dimly burning wick. Some people’s faith is burning low and they are faint of heart. Jesus is in the business of gentle restoration and will not overwhelm people with more than they are ready for.

Potential Applications:

  • The images of a bruised reed and a dimly burning wick will be ones that many people in the congregation can identify with. This is a moment to speak tenderly and invite people to meet with Jesus and his gentle restoration. You could offer prayer (in a low key setting) for those who feel this way.
  • This gentleness of Jesus is something that all who follow him should emulate. It can be tempting to minister in heavy-handed ways, but Jesus shows something much better.
  • Jesus is the one in whom all the promises of the Bible are fulfilled. Be sure to turn people’s focus to him and worship him as the one who the Lord has chosen to make all things right.