Isaiah 41:21 – 42:17
Isaiah 42 has the first Servant Song, (42:1-9). Isaiah is giving increased attention to Christ’s mission to the Gentiles who worship idols. The Lord Jesus will establish justice in all parts of this earth. This means Gentiles will leave those idols and come to worship the Lord. To determine whether the idols are real gods, He challenges them by a test. Whoever is real can tell the future and control events to make a prediction happen. The Lord calls on idols to meet Him in court and do the same, if they can. They fail; they cannot speak. The Lord is not pleased simply to prove Gentile people wrong; He will be gracious to them. He will send His Servant Who can speak. That Servant, Jesus Christ our Savior, will bring salvation to them. We are the former Gentiles He has delivered.
41:21-23 The God of one nation (
41:24 The verdict The idols fail the test. God as Judge tells what He thinks of them. Their silence shows that the gods and their works are worthless. Not only are false gods detestable, but whoever chooses them becomes like them (Jeremiah 2:5; Psalm 115:8).
41:25-29 In 41:1-4 the people of the world were invited
to answer the question: who did what the Lord predicted? They give no answer
but turned back to their gods (41:5-7). After the challenge to their gods in
vv.21-23 – and again with no reply – the God of Israel made a prediction, given
in writing years earlier through His prophet Isaiah. The prediction is a
repetition of 41:1-4. The man referred to in it is not yet named; the emphasis
is still on Who is able to declare the future. He (Cyrus, who is not named till
44:28) would come from the east and the north.
The Lord’s question is not “Who is this unknown man?” but “Who told you about him?” The verdict would be that whoever revealed this answer would be declared right. No idols had any answer.
The sequence is important. God planned what He would do, told what He would do, and aroused Cyrus to do it. The prediction was long before the event; v.26 says beforehand. No idol said anything about this. Only the true God can foretell, so only the God of Israel is true. There was no revelation from idols; the Gentiles live in darkness (42:7) because they have no word from the Lord. No spokesman from the idols can give true counsel; no one answered the challenge of the God of Israel. They (either idols, or those who worship them) are false.
The idolater, snared in a fraudulent religion, has a god he made, one he can see, but one that cannot speak. We have a God we did not make, one we are not yet allowed to see, but a God Who has spoken through His prophets, His apostles, and especially His Son (Hebrews 1:1).
had given “a messenger of good tidings” (v.27). Possibly that messenger was
Isaiah who would write the words “comfort my people” (40:1). Through God’s
prophet Isaiah, God tells of the man who would one day announce that
The Servant Song 42:1-9
42:1-4 The delight the Lord has in Christ is related to His character and accomplishments. As a servant, He is obedient to the Father Who commissioned Him. He is supported by the Holy Spirit. All true prophets had the Spirit, but Christ had the Spirit without limitation (John 3:31-35). As God’s chosen, He did not appoint Himself to His task (Hebrews 5:1-5). His voice is not that of a loud revolutionary; His tone matches the tenderness of His dealing with the weak. In 40:2, God ordered His spokesmen to speak tenderly, and Christ will do the same. A smoldering wick has already lost its flame; even the smoke is almost gone. A reed is easily bent at the place of a bruise. Christ will minister to weak and helpless people graciously. It is hard to imagine the One from Whom the earth will flee in fear (2:19-21) speaking to the weak without intimidation. He is the One who hates crushing the poor (3:13-15). The servant would become a man and experience human weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4; Hebrews 5:7), yet He would be upheld by the Lord to do a difficult task in which He is not discouraged and goes on to complete it. (He will finish it! John 19:30)
The text repeats this theme:
He will bring justice; in faithfulness He will bring forth justice; and He will
establish justice in all the earth. Justice is the principle of the Lord’s
dealings with all. He blesses good and curses sin without exception. He is
unswerving in His justice. However, it is not just the principle that this text
has in view. Justice is often the righting of wrong, but that meaning does not
exactly fit here. The court challenge of 41:21-29 produces a decision. The
decision of the court is the justice of Isaiah 42, so that decision must be
announced to the world. The “justice” is the court decision that the Lord God
42:4 In the law the islands will put their hope. To put one’s hope is to place faith in a message, and when men believe the message, they are saved. This indicates that Christ brings far more than information. To bring salvation, He brings the needed response to His message. The word “law” here is a broad word that includes guidance. He guides by His word to salvation by faith in His work.
42:5-9 The context is the salvation of the Gentiles. The context has been related to idols, all of which lack speech and truth. The result of false religion is blindness, captivity to error, and darkness (v.7). This is the problem the Servant has been commissioned to change. Nothing can stop him. The same Lord who stretched out the heavens puts that same power to work (v.5). He is the Maker of all men; all receive their breath from Him; now He will act in similar power to save them through the ministry of Christ. Jesus will bring light, sight, and freedom.
As in v.1, the chosen One is called to this service. God had a plan in mind. When it is executed, the word “righteousness” is frequently used to describe God’s activity. His activity, whether in salvation or retribution, is His righteousness on display. He was righteous in calling Cyrus (41:2) simply because it was what God was doing. He is righteous in calling Christ.
The “I” statements – I will take hold; I will keep; I will make – all reveal the involvement of the Father in the work of the Servant. The Father was in Christ bringing reconciliation of Himself to the world (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
42:8 The Lord speaks of Himself with His name “LORD”, a name no other had. He identifies Himself by it and declares that He will not allow competitors to share His glory. Idols cannot speak; they are not gods, and they shall not have the glory due to God alone. God is glorified when His works are recognized. He is glorified, as well, by the confusion false religion brings to those trapped in it. It shows that those claiming His position are unworthy of it. God is the determined defender of His glory.
In the ministry of Isaiah, a
number of things earlier in the book had been declared and fulfilled: the quick
42:10-12 The mission of
the servant was to the world. Jesus was taken as an infant to
In Isaiah 42 we have in advance the encouragement of future praise to the Lord for saving the nations. In Isaiah 2 we had a foretaste; here in 42:1-7 we have the means. What makes it all happen is the successful work of Christ, the Lord’s Servant. The scope of His work is given by stating extremities: those who go down to the sea, and those who do the opposite by climbing mountains. And further, those near at hand like Kedar and Sela, and those far away in the islands. The worship is presented in terms of praise, singing, raising voices, joy and rejoicing, proclaiming His praise (with the intention of having more involved in it), and giving glory to the Lord. (See 24:14-16.) These are the ones who once sat in darkness, (v.7), but were brought the liberating truth of God. God’s delight in His Servant has spread to become the delight that sinners acquire when eyes blinded by idols are opened to see the glory of the true God in the face of Christ, the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). The “new song”, a fresh realization of the new activity of God, is connected to the “new things” of v.9.
Kedar is a son of Ishmael
(Genesis 25:13). God has not forgotten
the Arabs. The Bedouins of the desert who survive ancient judgments will be few
(Isaiah 21:17; Jeremiah 49:28-31) but few is not none. In the end, they too join
the song of the entire world. Sela is a city of
The setting is the passion of a warrior. A second metaphor is the eagerness of a woman to give birth after carrying her baby a long time. One day after so long, the Messiah would come and bring blind idol-worshipping Gentiles out of darkness. What lies ahead is a combination of destruction and salvation. The false religions will be destroyed and a host of people will be saved. The response is mixed; some are saved; some remain true to their false gods. There is a Gentile “them” in v.16, to whom the Lord is committed. He promises not to forsake them, though they are still unaware He has determined to save them! The Lord has in His heart elect Gentile sheep too. Jesus said, “I must bring them also!” (John 10:14-16)