A Brief Exposition of the Text Continued
“He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law. Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it: ‘I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house’” (Isaiah 42:4-7, NKJV).
“He will not fail nor be discouraged.” M. R. Vincent observes that this phrase is “beautifully suggestive as describing the servant of Jehovah by the same figures in which he pictures his suffering ones … He himself, partaking of the nature of our frail humanity, is both a lamp and a reed, humble, but not broken, and the ‘light of the world’.”1 Even though occasions for discouragement would arise, God’s Servant would show no sign of weakness until he had fulfilled his purpose,2 viz. the establishment of “justice” (mishpat) in the earth (cf. vv. 1, 4), i.e., until He had “proclaimed God’s universal rule.”3
The “coastlands” (or “isles,” KJV), corresponding to “the earth,” represent distant nations (cf. 51:5). That they “shall wait for His law” signifies “to wail with longing for a person’s instruction,” and suggests that “the messenger to the Gentile world will be welcomed by a consciousness of need already existing in the heathen world itself.”4
Jehovah shifts His language from having spoken about His Servant in the third person (vv. 1-4), to now speaking to Him personally (vv. 5-7). It is emphasized and made abundantly clear that this special Ambassador is from the Creator of all things (cf. 44:24; Acts 17:24-25). He has been called “in righteousness,” which expresses the idea of that which is rigid or straight, and denotes the observance of a fixed rule.5 Jehovah, as a righteous and just God, purposed to send His Servant to accomplish His righteous scheme.
As God upholds His Servant, He will give Him “as a covenant to the people” (cf. 49:8; 54:10; 61:8). This undoubtedly has reference to the “new covenant” of which Christ is the Mediator (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13). While scholars debate whether Jews or Gentiles are meant by “the people,” God’s Spirit makes it clear that this covenant is intended for all people (Isa. 2:2-3; Gal. 3:26-29; Col. 2:14-18; et al.).
The Servant of God is also described as “a light to the Gentiles” (cf. 9:2; 49:6; 51:4; Luke 2:32). “Light” is the emblem of purity, holiness, knowledge, and instruction, and so the Messiah is depicted as “the light of the world” (Matt. 4:16; John 1:4-9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35, 46; Rev. 21:23). The exclusiveness of Judaism was to end under the Messiah’s reign. This found its fulfillment in the impartial proclamation of the gospel by those heeding the command of the Lord (cf. Acts 13:46-47).
It was to be the task of God’s Servant to “open blind eyes,” both physically (Matt. 12:22) and spiritually (Matt. 13:16-17), and to “bring out prisoners from the prison” (cf. 61:1-2). To those in captivity of sin and darkness (John 8:34; 2 Pet. 2:19), the Servant of God offers spiritual deliverance (John 8:32; Rom. 6:17-18).
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the NT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969): 1:71.
2 James E. Smith, The Major Prophets (By the author, 1992): 129.
3 R. N. Whybray, Isaiah 40-46 NCBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975): 73.
4 Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, Vol. 2, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969): 177.
5 Ibid. 178.