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Isaiah 42:1-4 NASB

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged[a] till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

The servant in the above texts is likened to a reed,but reeds are portrayed as pricks,backbiters and untrustworthy in some texts

2 Kings 18:21 ESV

21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him.

Ezekiel 29:6 ESV

Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord. “Because you[a] have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel,

Isaiah 36:6 ESV

6 Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him.

Even Christ further reiterates that reeds are unstable always tossed back and forth by the wind

Matthew 11:7 ESV

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?

All the other following attributes mentioned about the servant seem contrary to the behavior of the reed

  • Will bring justice to the nations
  • Will not lift up his voice
  • Will not cry out loud
  • Will not grow faint
  • Will not be discouraged
  • Will not quench

Out of all these positive attributes why is the servant also likened to a reed which is unreliable?

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In this first of the four servant-songs of Isaiah (all Messianic!), the Servant is NOT likened to a bruised reed, but how the Servant would treat someone else that is likened to a bruised reed. However, the description in Isa 42 offers a series of characteristics about this servant:

  • he will bring forth justice to the nations.
  • He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;
  • a bruised reed he will not break,
  • and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
  • he will faithfully bring forth justice.
  • He will not grow faint or be discouraged[a] till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

This list of characteristics are all ways that the servant will conduct Himself. In the particular cases of the center two, shows the Servant's care and compassion for the weak and underprivileged, viz:

  • a bruised reed he will not break,
  • and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;

That is, the servant will not hurt those who have already been been weakened. As such, this anticipates the beatitudes as recorded in Matt 5:3-12.

The Pulpit commentary observes this:

Verse 3. - A bruised reed shall he not break. Egypt was compared to a "bruised reed" by Sennacherib (Isaiah 36:6), as being untrustworthy and destitute of physical strength; but here the image represents the weak and depressed in spirit, the lowly and dejected. Christ would deal tenderly with such, not violently. Smoking flax shall he not quench; rather, the wick which burns dimly (margin) he shall not quench. Where the flame of devotion burns at all, however feebly and dimly, Messiah will take care not to quench it. Rather he will tend it, and trim it, and give it fresh oil, and cause it to burn more brightly.

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