Isa. 42:3-4

Dan Wagner Dan.Wagner at
Tue Dec 19 17:05:36 EST 2000

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

I am under the impression that history of interpretation is acceptable, and
there is a lot of history involved in a Messianic interpretation of the
Servant Songs (Matthew happens to be one of the earliest to apply it to
Jesus). But my focus is in the Hebrew text of Isaiah, and the parallel vocab
between verse 3 and verse 4 (which is surely significant). The other
comments are my conclusions based on Isaiah's subsequent logic.

Dan Wagner

-----Original Message-----
From: Liz Fried [mailto:lizfried at]
Sent: Tuesday, December 19, 2000 15:05
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: RE: Isa. 42:3-4

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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