Isaiah 42 Commentary

Success and failure of God’s servant (42:1-25)

In the previous chapter the servant of Yahweh was identified with Israel (see 41:8). Israel is probably again the servant who is identified here, but the ideals outlined in this song never became a reality in the nation. They did, to some extent, characterize the faithful remnant, but they found their perfect expression only in the one who embodied the ideals God desired, Jesus Christ. The prophet foresees that this servant of Yahweh, though empowered by God’s Spirit and concerned with establishing God’s justice in the world, will never make a show to attract attention to himself, never hurt those who sorrow, and never turn away from those of even the weakest faith (42:1-4).

The result of the servant’s work will be the salvation of people from many nations. Through his servant, the Creator will send the message of his salvation to the people of his creation, to turn them from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom (5-7). Yahweh, the eternal God and all-powerful redeemer, needs no help from idols in this. He will bring his purposes to fulfilment through his servant. The Jews’ salvation out of bondage in Babylon will be a sign and a guarantee of a much wider salvation that is yet to come (8-9).

This statement of God’s purposes brings forth an outburst of praise. From various parts of creation and from various nations of the world, people join in singing praises to the merciful God (10-12). This same God, however, will destroy those who fight against him (13).

God himself then speaks. He had appeared to be inactive and silent during the time of the Jews’ captivity in Babylon, but now he will act decisively. He will lead his people out of the blindness and darkness of captivity back to the land of their ancestors (14-16). At this demonstration of God’s power, all those who trusted in idols will feel foolish and ashamed (17).

Having set out his ideal purposes for Israel (see v. 1-4), God now displays the condition of Israel that brought about its captivity in Babylon. Spiritually the people were blind and deaf, and stubbornly refused to see God’s truth or listen to his voice (18-20). God had given them his law so that they might bring other nations to know him and praise him. Instead they disobeyed his law and were plundered by those nations (21-22). The calamities that befell Israel were not accidental; they were sent by God. But because the people did not know God, they did not know the meaning of the events that brought about their defeat and captivity (23-25).

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