Isa. 42:3-4

Liz Fried lizfried at
Tue Dec 19 15:05:18 EST 2000

Why are we talking about the NT
and NT interpretations on BH???
Is this relevant or appropriate???

Liz Fried

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Dan Wagner [mailto:Dan.Wagner at]
> Sent: Tuesday, December 19, 2000 2:56 PM
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: RE: Isa. 42:3-4
> Thank you, John Barach, for this helpful post, clarifying and further
> developing the idea mentioned earlier. This, combined with some other
> thoughts i'm seeing, mostly in comparison with v. 4, is influencing my
> thinking on the issue.
> Here is what i'm now seeing:
> Verse 3: A "crushed" reed is disappointing in that when resting
> upon it, it
> collapses. A "flickering" or "dim" wick is unable to provide the needed
> light. Jesus lets them be without dealing with them aggressively.
> Verse 4: The Servant will not, Himself, "flicker out / grow dim" or "be
> crushed" (same vocab as for the wick & reed!). He will succeed in
> establishing justice throughout the world.
> This is not because He assert Himself openly with an overt
> political agenda
> (v. 2). Rather, it is because Yahweh's Spirit is upon Him (v. 1), and
> because this spiritual power of the creator, Yahweh, is sovereign
> over all,
> esp. over all individuals (v. 5). If the individuals have their physical
> life from Yahweh's Spirit (v. 5b still), then it only stands to
> reason that
> He is able to give Gentiles spiritual life as well (v. 6). This is by
> spiritual means, primarily, of opening blind eyes and delivering them from
> the darkness of sin (v. 7). Obviously, Isaiah did not think that all
> Gentiles were physically blind, so that is not the point.
> The NT applies this in both regards in various contexts, healing of the
> physical aspect having its primary purpose to demonstrate Jesus as the
> Messiah and His spiritual power to heal or open eyes as well. His kingdom
> was/is a spiritual kingdom, at least for now.
> Dan Wagner
> -----Original Message-----
> From: John Barach [mailto:jbarach at]
> Sent: Friday, December 15, 2000 12:59
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: Re: Isa. 42:3
> Dan wrote:
> > The imagery that Jesus is showing mercy to meek/weak/broken
> > people (not His enemies) seems much more appropriate to both
> > contexts to me (Isa & Matt).
> In Isaiah, it may be possible to take the cracked reed to be a weak
> person and to read the reference to not breaking a cracked reed as
> litotes: the Servant actually *heals* the cracked reed (Motyer).  But
> surely one ought to have good reasons for taking this negative statement
> to be litotes.  All it actually says is that the Servant will spare the
> cracked reed and the smouldering wick.
> But are these two metaphors simply arbitrary or is there some
> significance to them?  Van Bruggen argues that we have to take the *use*
> of the reed and the wick into account.  The reed is a staff for leaning
> on -- and a cracked reed (as in Isa. 36:6) -- isn't going to bear your
> weight.  A smouldering flax doesn't give much light and it's going to go
> out and leave you in the darkness.  Neither one is good for the purpose
> it's intended for.
> Most of us would simply throw out the useless and undependable reed
> staff and flax wick.  But the Servant won't.  Instead, he spares these
> things (i.e., people) on whom he can't depend for support or light.
> That is to say, he won't act violently toward them (break, snuff out).
> In response to John, yes, there's a comparison/contrast to Cyrus.  Cyrus
> is going to conquer nations and subdue kings and make them like dust and
> like chaff (41:2; cf. 41:25).  But the servant will not destroy ... the
> poor?  That's not an explicit contrast with Cyrus.
> Rather, the contrast is that the servant will not destroy those who
> oppose him.  That seems to be the point of Isa. 42:2: the servant does
> not raise his voice (to make himself heard above others).  It's
> certainly how Matthew takes it ("He will not quarrel").  And then Van
> Bruggen's imagery fits the picture: part of his un-Cyrus-like demeanour
> is that he spares those on whom he can't depend, who let him down, who
> leave him in the lurch.
> When Matthew cites this passage he gives a context: Jesus knows that the
> Pharisees are plotting against him and he withdraws.  He acts as if he's
> weak.  But he's obviously not weak: many follow and he heals them.  But
> then he doesn't want publicity.  In other words, he seems to have enough
> power to deal with the Pharisees, but instead he acts in a weak manner.
> Then Matthew explains this mysterious and surprisingly un-kinglike
> behaviour: he withdraws, he heals and doesn't want publicity *in order
> that* this prophecy from Isaiah might be fulfilled.
> As far as NT studies are concerned, an explanation of Matthew 12:20 ("He
> will not break the cracked reed") ought to show how Jesus' withdrawing
> while the Pharisees plot and Jesus' desire for no publicity is a
> *fulfillment* of that verse.  Many commentaries seem to see Jesus'
> withdrawing as a fulfillment of Isa. 42:2 (not quarrelling), but then
> they go their merry way when it comes to Isa. 42:3 (Matt. 12:20): they
> make no effort to show how Jesus' retiring demeanour fulfils this part
> of Isaiah's prophecy.
> The point, it seems to me, is that if Jesus were indeed the embodiment
> of the servant of Isaiah 42 (which is the claim Matthew is making), then
> the Pharisees and the other spiritual guides in Israel ought to have
> rallied to him and shone the light on him and called Israel to drop
> their other agendas and follow him.
> In other words, Jesus ought to have been able to rely on them, but
> they're like a cracked reed: lean on them for support and you're going
> to be let down.  They're going to go out like a smouldering flax wick
> and leave you in the dark.  But (surprise!) Jesus lets them.  And yet
> through this demeanour, through sparing those who are unworthy of trust,
> Jesus the Servant will establish justice successfully (eis nikos).
> Thus Matthew explains Jesus' apparently weak behaviour (although he has
> so much power to heal) by citing Isaiah's prophecy about the servant who
> doesn't act like other rulers, who doesn't quarrel or try to win by
> sheer volume, who doesn't even avenge himself on those who let him down.
> Instead this servant spares cracked reeds and smouldering wicks; he lets
> them let him down.  He lets them leave him in the dark.  But in that
> way, he wins the victory.
> Regards,
> John
> %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%
> John Barach (403) 317-1950
> Pastor, Trinity Reformed Church (URCNA)
> 113 Stafford Blvd. N.
> Lethbridge, AB
> T1H 6E3
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