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Isaiah 42


God's Promise Concerning His Servant The Servant of the Lord The First Servant Song The Lord's Servant First Song of the Servant
42:1-4  (1-4) 42:1-4  (1-4) 42:1-4  (1-4) 42:1-4  (1-4) 42:1-9  (1-9)
    God's Glorious Victory    
42:5-9  (5-9) 42:5-9  (5-9) 42:5-9  (5-9) 42:5-7  (5-7)  
  Praise the Lord   42:8-9  (8-9)  
      A Song of Praise Song of Victory
42:10-13  (10-13) 42:10-13  (10-13) 42:10-13  (10-13) 42:10-13  (10-13) 42:10-17  (10-17)
The Blindness of the People Promise of the Lord's Help   God Promises to Help His People  
42:14-17  (14-17) 42:14-17  (14-17) 42:14-17  (14-17) 42:14-15  (14-15)  
    Israel, the Blind and Deaf Servant (42:18-43:7) 42:16-17  (16-17)  
      Israel's Failure to Learn Israel's Blindness
42:18-22  (18-22) 42:18-20  (18-20) 42:18-25  (18-25) 42:18-20  (18-20) 42:18-25  (18-25)
  Israel's Obstinate Disobedience      
  42:21-22  (21-22)   42:21-22  (21-22)  
42:23-25  (23-25) 42:23-25  (23-25)   42:23-25  (23-25)  



This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. This is the first of the special poems addressed to or about YHWH's Servant.

1. 42:1-4 or 42:1-7 or 42:1-9

2. 49:1-6 or 49:1-7 or 49:1-13

3. 50:4-9 or 50:4-11

4. 52:13-53:12

Exactly where the first three stop is debatable.


B. The Servant has both a corporate (i.e., Israel) and individual (i.e., the Messiah) orientation. Only context and/or description of the Servant's actions can differentiate the two. In a theological sense the Messiah is the "ideal Israelite" or "the Priest" of the kingdom of priests (see the NT book of Hebrews).


C. The Aramaic translations and commentaries called the Targums assert that the Servant is the Messiah. He will be an individual Israelite accomplishing YHWH's will for the nation and the world. As Cyrus II was an instrument in the hand of YHWH for a new exodus/deliverance (i.e., return from exile), so too, will the Messiah bring a spiritual exodus or return from the alienation of the Fall (Genesis 3). He will restore the damaged image of God in mankind and allow for the intimate fellowship of Eden to be restored!

The Messiah (cf. Lk. 2:32) will be a light to the world that Israel was meant to be (cf. 42:6; 51:4; 60:1,3). Light is a metaphor for spiritual deliverance (cf. 49:6).



1"Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold;
My chosen one in whom My soul delights.
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
2He will not cry out or raise His voice,
Nor make His voice heard in the street.
3A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
4He will not be disheartened or crushed
Until He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law."

42:1 "Behold" These two "beholds" (BDB 243, cf. 41:29 and 42:1) contrast the lifeless idols of the nations with YHWH's activity, God's choice versus the nation's choice (cf. 41:29).

As in chapter 40, the question is asked "to whom is YHWH speaking?" It could be

1. the prophet

2. the heavenly council

3. just a literary technique for YHWH to express His thoughts to His covenant people


▣ "My Servant" This was a title of respect and calling (BDB 713).

1. It was used in a collective sense

a. the Patriarchs as a group - Deut. 9:27

b. the prophets - II Kgs. 9:7; 17:13; Ezra 9:11; Jer. 7:25; 26:5; 29:19; 35:15; 44:4

c. Israel - Ps. 105:6; 136:22; Isa. 41:8-9; 42:18-19; 44:1,2,21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3; Jer. 30:10; 46:27,28

d. the Septuagint adds a phrase to v. 1, which makes it refer to national Israel ("Jacob is my servant, I will help him; Israel is my chosen")

2. It was used in an individual sense

a. Abraham - Gen. 26:24; Ps. 105:6

b. Job - Job 1:8; 2:3; 42:7,8

c. Isaac - Gen. 24:14

d. Jacob - I Chr. 16:13; Ps. 105:6; Ezek. 28:25

e. Moses - Exod. 14:31; Num. 12:7-8; Deut. 34:5; Josh. 1:1-2,7,13,15

f. Joshua - Josh. 24:29; Jdgs. 2:8

g. Caleb - Num 14:24

h. David - Ezek. 37:25

i. Zerubbabel - Hag. 2:23

j. Solomon - I Kgs. 3:8

k. Isaiah - Isa. 20:3; 44:26

l. Jesus - Matt. 12:15-21 quotes Isa. 42:1-4


▣ "whom. . .I" Notice the things YHWH has done and will do for His special servant.

1. whom I uphold, v. 1

2. in whom My soul delights, v. 1

3. I have put My Spirit upon Him, v. 1


▣ "He will. . ." Notice the things the servant will do (series of imperfect verbs).

1. bring forth justice to the nations (i.e., universal implication, cf. vv. 1; 4b,c)

2. will not cry out, v. 2

3. will not raise His voice, v. 2

4. will not make His voice heard in the street, v. 2

5. will not break a bruised reed, v. 3

6. will not extinguish a dimly burning wick, v. 3

7. will faithfully bring forth, v. 3

8. will not be disheartened, v. 4

9. will not be crushed, v. 4

10. will establish justice in the earth, v. 4


▣ "My chosen one" This term (BDB 103, KB 119) denotes YHWH's choice of people, places, groups to serve Him.

1. corporate choices

a. the seed of the Patriarchs - Deut. 4:37; 10:15

b. Israel - Deut. 7:7; Ps. 135:4; Isa. 44:1; Ezek. 20:5

c. the people - I Kgs. 3:8

d. the tribe of Judah - I Chr. 28:4; Ps. 78:68

e. Levites - I Chr. 15:2; II Chr. 29:11

2. individuals

a. Abraham - Neh. 9:7

b. Jacob - Ps. 135:4

c. Aaron - Num. 16:5; 17:5; Ps. 105:26

d. David - I Sam. 10:24; 16:8,9,10; Ps. 78:70

e. Solomon - I Chr. 29:1

f. Zerubabbel - Hag. 2:23

3. places (i.e., temple) - Deut. 12:5,11,14,18,21,26; 14:23,24,25


▣ "My soul delights" This is similar to the title used by the Father for Jesus, "My Beloved" (cf. Matt. 3:17; 17:5).

▣ "I have put My Spirit upon Him" This refers to the Servant being anointed and equipped for a task (cf. 11:2; 59:21; 61:1). See Special Topic: "Spirit" (pneuma) in the Bible at 40:7.


▣ "He will bring forth justice" See Special Topic at 40:14.

▣ "to the nations" Notice the universal implications of this phrase and vv. 4b and c, 6c and d, 10-12! Of all the prophets of Israel, it is Isaiah who saw the inclusion of the Gentiles in YHWH's future kingdom most clearly!

42:2 "He will not cry out or raise His voice" This is either

1. linked with 53:7, which refers to Jesus' trial

2. a description of His quiet style of ministry

3. a reference to a prayer for help which the Servant does not need (cf. 65:14)

The etymology of this term strongly favors #3.

42:3 "A bruised reed. . .a dimly burning wick" This describes a ministry of compassion, understanding, and patience to those who have somehow been wounded and stressed (cf. 57:15).

NKJV, LXX"truth"
JPSOA"the true way"

The Hebrew root is תמאל (BDB 52) and occurs only here. The UBS Text Project gives an "A" rating to "truth" and not "for nations" (cf. NEB). Both "truth" and "faithful" are in the semantic range of the root's meaning.


42:4 ". . .until. . ." This seems to imply that a "crushing" (i.e., 52:13-53:12) will take place but at an appointed time.

▣ "in the earth. . .the coastlands" These are in a parallel relationship and, therefore, are synonymous. This again is a reference to Gentile nations. See note at 41:1,5.

5Thus says God the Lord,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread out the earth and its offspring,
Who gives breath to the people on it
And spirit to those who walk in it,
6"I am theLord, I have called You in righteousness,
I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You,
And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the nations,
7To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the dungeon
And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.
8I am the Lord, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another,
Nor My praise to graven images.
9Behold, the former things have come to pass,
Now I declare new things;
Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you."

42:5-9 This section is very similar to 40:12-17, which emphasizes YHWH as Creator and Sovereign of physical creation.

42:5 "God the Lord" These are two names for Deity (see Special Topic at 40:3).

1. El - the general name for Deity in the Ancient Near East (BDB 42). Here it has the definite article

 2. YHWH - the covenant name for Deity from the verb "to be" (BDB 217)


▣ "created" This verb (BDB 135, KB 153, Qal active participle) is used uniquely of God's creating (cf. Gen. 1:1).

▣ "the heavens" See Special Topic below.


NKJV, NRSV"that which comes from it"
TEV"all that lives there"
NJB"what comes from it"
JPSOA"what it brings forth"

The term (KB 993) has two orientations.

1. plants - Job 31:8; Isa. 34:1; 42:5

2. humans (metaphor of descendants) - Job 5:25; 21:8; 27:14; Isa. 22:24; 44:3; 48:19; 61:9; 65:23

Notice the series of "Who"

1. created the heavens

2. stretched them out

3. spread out the earth

4. spread out its offspring

5. gives "breath" (nephesh, BDB 675) to the people on it

6. gives "spirit" (ruah, BDB 924) to those who walk in it

If they are meant to form a chain like Genesis 1, then plants are the probable meanings. If they are a type of synonymous parallelism then people are the focus. Life, not just matter, is from YHWH. He is the ever-living, only-living God!

42:6-7 These verses describe what YHWH is doing for His covenant people. He chose them for a purpose (see Special Topic at 40:15).

1. called (BDB 894, KB 1128, Qal perfect) them in righteousness

2. held them by the hand (BDB 304, KB 302, Hiphil jussive)

3. watched over them (BDB 665, KB 718, Qal imperfect)

4. appointed them as a covenant people (BDB 678, KB 733, Qal imperfect)

a. as a light to the nations (see full note at 45:22)

b. to open blind eyes

c. to bring out prisoners

Abraham's seed was both

1. a kingdom of priests 

2. a King/Priest (Messiah, cf. Psalm 110)

who came to deliver the world from the darkness and prison of sin (Genesis 3).

There is some doubt about the Hebrew root of #3

1. protect (ןצר) - NASB, NKJV, NRSV

2. form (יצר) - NJB, JPSOA, REB

Notice what the Messiah/Servant will accomplish.

1. government in righteousness (cf. 9:6-7; 11:3-4)

2. worldwide reign (cf. 45:22; 49:6; 52:10; Micah 5:4)

3. open blind eyes (cf. 29:18; 32:3; 35:5)

4. release prisoners (cf. 61:1)


42:8 "I am the Lord, that is My name" This is the covenant name of God. See Special Topic at 40:3.

▣ "My glory" This is a difficult term (BDB 458) to define. In 6:3 it fills the whole earth. In 40:5 it will be revealed to the whole earth. In a sense it represents YHWH's personal presence.

In the NT YHWH's glory is fully revealed in the person of the Messiah, Jesus (cf. John 1:14; 11:4,40; 17:4).


▣ "I will not give My glory to another" See Isa. 40:18-26, which speaks of YHWH's reality and the idols' non-reality.

42:9-10 "new things. . .new song" The term "new" (BDB 294) is a recurrent theme in Isa. 43:19; 48:6; 62:2; 65:17; 66:22 and also in the NT book of the Revelation. See full note at 62:2.

▣ "Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you" This also goes back to 40:18-26, where YHWH asks the idols to make a prediction to show their reality and they could not, but YHWH can!

10Sing to the Lord a new song,
Sing His praise from the end of the earth!
You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it.
You islands, and those who dwell on them.
11Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voices,
The settlements where Kedar inhabits.
Let the inhabitants of Sela sing aloud,
Let them shout for joy from the tops of the mountains.
12Let them give glory to the Lord
And declare His praise in the coastlands.
13The Lord will go forth like a warrior,
He will arouse His zeal like a man of war.
He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry.
He will prevail against His enemies.

42:10-13 These verses parallel the universal emphasis of the "Coastlands" of 41:1. The Gentiles eagerly wait for light (i.e., 2:2-4; 40:4,5,6; 49:6).

For those who seek light, YHWH is a refuge and help (vv. 6-7), but for those who cling to idols He is a warrior (v. 13)!

There are several commands in these verses.

1. "sing" - BDB 1010, KB 1479, Qal imperative, v. 10

2. "lift up their voices" - BDB 669, KB 724, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, v. 11

3. "sing aloud" - BDB 943, KB 1247, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, v. 11

4. "shout for joy" - BDB 846, KB 1011, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, v. 11

5. "give glory" - BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, v. 12

6. "declare" - BDB 619, KB 665, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense, v. 12


42:10 The last two lines of v. 10 refer to the same group as "coastlands" of 41:1 (cf. 42:12b).

1. you who go down to the sea

2. you islands


42:11 "Kedar" This (BDB 871) possibly refers to the Arab nations. The Hebrew root can refer to

1. nomadic Arabian tribes - Isa. 21:16; 42:11; 60:7; Jer. 2:10; 49:28; Ezek. 27:21

2. ancestors of Ishmael - Gen. 25:13; I Chr. 1:29


▣ "Sela" This means "Rock" (BDB 709). This possibly refers to Petra, the capital of Edom (BDB 701, cf. 16:1).

▣ "sing aloud. . .shout for joy" What are they rejoicing about? The glory of YHWH has come to them (v. 12a). The light has come to the nations (v. 6d). That light is the covenant people and their knowledge of YHWH!

42:13 This describes in military terms the Lord's attack against the idolatrous nations that oppose His will and His people's return.

1. He will go forth like a warrior

2. He will arouse His zeal like a man of war

3. He will utter a shout

4. He will raise a war cry

5. He will prevail against His enemies (i.e., idolaters, cf. v. 17)

The term "zeal" (BDB 888) is also used in 9:7; 26:11; 37:32; 59:17 to show YHWH's purposeful actions that assure victory!

14"I have kept silent for a long time,
I have kept still and restrained Myself.
Now like a woman in labor I will groan,
I will both gasp and pant.
15I will lay waste the mountains and hills
And wither all their vegetation;
I will make the rivers into coastlands
And dry up the ponds.
16I will lead the blind by a way they do not know,
In paths they do not know I will guide them.
I will make darkness into light before them
And rugged places into plains.
These are the things I will do,
And I will not leave them undone."
17They will be turned back and be utterly put to shame,
Who trust in idols,
Who say to molten images,
"You are our gods."

42:14 This possibly refers to the exilic period. YHWH endured the exile of His covenant people with deep emotions.

1. I have kept silent for a long time

2. I have kept still and restrained Myself 

3. I waited in anguish like a woman in labor

a. a groan (BDB 821, KB 949)

b. a gasp (BDB 983, KB 1375)

c. a pant (BDB 675, KB 730)


42:15-16 YHWH describes His aid for the returning covenant people.

1. v. 15 is metaphorical of preparing a smooth and level highway for the return (also v. 16d)

2. v. 16a-c describes His care for the returnees

3. v. 16e-f describes YHWH's sure commitment to act (two Qal perfects)


42:17 This continues YHWH's rejection and condemnation of idolatry (i.e., 1:28-31; 44:9-11; 45:16).

18Hear, you deaf!
And look, you blind, that you may see.
19Who is blind but My servant,
Or so deaf as My messenger whom I send?
Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me,
Or so blind as the servant of the Lord?
20You have seen many things, but you do not observe them;
Your ears are open, but none hears.
21The Lord was pleased for His righteousness' sake
To make the law great and glorious.
22But this is a people plundered and despoiled;
All of them are trapped in caves,
Or are hidden away in prisons;
They have become a prey with none to deliver them,
And a spoil, with none to say, "Give them back!"

42:18-22 This strophe describes the covenant people. The shock is that they too had become idolaters! Yet they were even more responsible for their spiritual condition because they had

1. the Patriarchs

2. the covenants

3. the promises (cf. Rom. 9:4-5)

The ones who were to bring light to the nations in darkness had themselves become darkness! They epitomized the curse of Isa. 6:9-10, but there was hope in Isa. 35:5!

42:18 Note the two imperatives

1. hear - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperative

2. look - BDB 613, KB 661, Hiphil imperative


▣ "deaf. . .blind" These words occur several times in this context and are an allusion to Isa. 6:9-10.

42:19 Notice the parallel between the titles (1) "My Servant," line 1; (2) "My messenger," line 2; and (3) "the servant of the Lord" in line 4. Also notice the threefold repetition of "blind" (BDB 734). The irony is that the "blind" one is described as

NASB"he that is at peace with Me"
NKJV"he who is perfect"
NRSV"my dedicated one"
JPSOA"the chosen one"
REB"the one who has trust"

The Hebrew word משׁלם (BDB 1023) is uncertain. There have been several theories. It seems to

1. be parallel to the other titles for Israel (see above)

2. a title that showed how far Israel was from her calling and true self


42:20 There is an obvious parallelism between the two parts of line 1 (related to sight) and line 2 (related to hearing).

The first pair is one which the MT compilers identified as a variant.

1. the MT had "to see," Qal infinitive absolute (qere)

2. the Jewish scholars suggested "you have seen," Qal perfect (ketiv, also in Dead Sea Scrolls)


42:21 The problem with Israel was not God's law but Israel's inability to do it! The Fall affected all humans (cf. v. 22; i.e., Ezek. 36:22-38). Israel's sin had consequences! The new covenant of Jer. 31:31-34 was meant to answer this human inability (cf. vv. 23-25)

NASB, NJB"in caves"
JPSOA"in holes"

The MT has "young men" (BDB 104), but the context implies a similar form "in holes" (BDB 359).

1. בחורים - young men

2. בהורים - in holes

Context, context, context is crucial! Hebrew parallelism in poetry is crucial in interpretation!

23Who among you will give ear to this?
Who will give heed and listen hereafter?
24Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers?
Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned,
And in whose ways they were not willing to walk,
And whose law they did not obey?
25So He poured out on him the heat of His anger
And the fierceness of battle;
And it set him aflame all around,
Yet he did not recognize it;
And it burned him, but he paid no attention.

42:24 "walk" This is used in the Bible to show that biblical faith is a lifestyle commitment, not a theology alone. This is possibly a source of the early title of Christianity in Acts, "the Way" (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22; and John 14:6).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did Israel and Judah need this message so badly? (cf. 40:27)

2. Why is God's power stressed?

3. Does the title "My Servant" refer to the Jews or to the Messiah?

4. Why are the numerous references to the Gentiles' inclusion so significant in this passage?

5. Why did God choose the Jews?