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Go to Bible: Isaiah 42
“my servant.” Isaiah 42:1-3 is quoted in Matthew 12:18-21.
Isaiah 42:1-7 is the first of four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah, which are poetic sections about the Messiah. They are called “Servant Songs” because they are Hebrew poetry about the Messiah, the servant of God. The scholars differ about the exact ending of each song because there is not a definitive “last verse” in the songs that lets people know when the song ends. Nevertheless, the four songs seem to be: Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-11 and 52:13-53:12. The last “Servant Song,” Isaiah 52:13-53:12, is famous because it is the section that shows the Messiah suffering for the sins of mankind, and has verses such as these: “Surely he has borne our sickness and carried our suffering, yet we considered him plagued, struck by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:4-5).
In the “Servant Songs,” the Messiah is called God’s “servant,” which is the Hebrew word ebed (#05650 עֶבֶד), which can mean “servant” or “slave” in the same way that the Greek word doulos can mean “servant” or “slave.” However, the idea of a “servant” can be very broad. For example, a servant in a household is usually a very low position, while a “servant of the king” can be a high official or an office in the army (cp. Esther 1:3). In the Servant Songs, the servant of Yahweh is understood to be a very high official, indeed, he is the Messiah himself, who will rule over nations (Isa. 42:1).
[For more information on the Servant Songs, see commentary on Isaiah 52:13.]
“I have put my spirit upon him.” The Servant Songs, like a lot of biblical prophecy, uses the Hebrew idiom of the “prophetic perfect,” which is stating a future event as if it has already happened to emphasize the fact that it will happen. The Bible has many verses in which a future event is spoken of as if it were a past event. The prophetic perfect idiom is why Isaiah 53 speaks of the suffering of Christ in the past tense and says, “he has borne our sickness and carried our suffering, yet we considered him plagued, struck by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way, and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth” (Isa. 53:4-7). The past-present-future language of the Servant Song confuses some people, just as some 2,000 years ago it confused the Ethiopian eunuch, who asked Philip, “of whom does the prophet say this? About himself, or about some other person (Acts 8:34).
The prophetic perfect idiom is a challenge to translators. Some translators want to keep the idiom, expecting the reader to become educated as to what it means, so versions like the ESV have, “I have put My spirit upon him,” while other versions, trying to make the English make sense to the less educated reader, use the future tense and say, “I will put my spirit on him” (NIV). In the REV we have generally, but not always, retained the literal reading of the text and expect the reader to know from the context and scope of Scripture that the verse is speaking of a future event. The Messiah was not even born when Isaiah 42:1 was written, and so we know that God’s putting His gift of holy spirit upon him referred to a future event. Then, from the New Testament, we learn that God put holy spirit upon Jesus right after he was baptized by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22).
Jesus received the gift of holy spirit at His baptism and had it upon him when he started his ministry (Luke 4:18). Jesus needed God’s gift of holy spirit, just like the leaders and prophets of the Old Testament did so he could walk with spiritual power (cp. Num. 11:17-29; Judg. 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 1 Sam. 10:6, 10; 16:13; 1 Chron. 12:18; 2 Chron. 15:1; Mic. 3:8). Other verses that say God was going to put holy spirit upon the Messiah are Isaiah 11:2 and 61:1.
[For more on Jesus being God’s servant, and not God, see Appendix 6: “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.”]
|Isa 42:2||- (top)|
“bruised reed...dimly burning wick.” These represent the weak, disadvantaged, and oppressed people on earth. Isaiah 42:3 is quoted in Matthew 12:20.
[For an explanation of the figure and its meaning, see commentary on Matthew 12:20.](top)
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|Isa 42:5||- (top)|
“set you as a covenant.” A major part of Jesus’ ministry on earth was to be the covenant sacrifice for Israel—a sacrifice that would also suffice for the sins of the world—and here we see that Jesus was a “covenant” (a covenant sacrifice and covenant maker) with “the people,” i.e., Israel, but also a “light” or blessing, for the Gentiles, the “nations,” i.e., the other nations besides Israel.
[For more information on Jesus being a covenant for Israel and a light to the nations, see commentary on Isaiah 49:8.]
“a light for the nations.” The salvation and everlasting life given by the Messiah was not just for the Jews, even though many of them thought that it was. The first prophecy of the Messiah is the one God made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:15, and that was thousands of years before the Jews existed. About 2,000 years after that first prophecy of the Messiah, God promised Abraham that all the people of the earth, not just the Jews, would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:3). Then God repeated that promise to Isaac (Gen. 26:4); and to Jacob (Gen. 28:14). Besides those promises, the Old Testament had a number of verses that spoke of Gentiles being included in the Messianic Kingdom, which meant they were granted everlasting life (Ps. 102:15; Isa. 2:2-4; 19:23-25; 42:6; 49:6; 51:4-5; 56:3-7; 60:3; 66:18-21; Ezek. 39:21, 27; Mic. 4:2; Hag. 2:7; Zech. 8:22).(top)
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