Father Maas’ Commentary on Isaiah 42:1-43:13


Section I. I Have Given Thee for a Covenant of the People
Isaiah 42:1-43:13


1. Connection of the Peophecy with its Context — Ch. 40 forms the introduction to the second great division of Isaias. In the following chapter (41) the prophet dramatically describes a judgment scene. God treats with the nations first about his divine power, proposing to them the perplexing question, ” Who hath raised up the just one [Cyrus] from the east, hath called him to follow him?” Surely not the heathen gods, but YHWH alone (Isa 41:1-7). After this follows an exhortation to the Israelites, since their people has been chosen as YHWH’s special servant (Isa 41:8-20). After this the interrupted judgment scene begins again, YHWH offering his second proof for his divinity: ” Let them come and tell us all things that are to come. . . .” YHWH knows the future, which is a sign of the only true God (Isa 41:21-29). In the following chapter, 42, the prophet treats of the people’s liberation different from that by Cyrus. The latter is described as the ruler of nations, as the conqueror of kings, who will destroy reigns and empires with fire and the sword, and trample upon governors and generals as on the dust of the earth. The other liberator of the people will be meek and kind, and he will be a stranger to all warlike tumult; the oppressed and those that were destined to die he will console and restore to their liberty. Moved by these considerations the prophet breaks forth into a canticle of thanksgiving, after which YHWH’s approach for the near delivery is again described, the people’s want of correspondence is mentioned, and Cyrus is represented as the ruler of Israel’s enemies. Another judgment scene between Israel and the Gentiles follows; the question is the same as before: which of the two can point to true predictions in proof of the divinity of their God? Israel is YHWH’s witness.

2. Reasons some advance against the Messianic Interpretation OF THE PROPHECY.—a. The LXX. version renders “behold my servant Jacob, . . my elect Israel.” Hence that version applies the prediction to the people of Israel, b.The servant here described will be Israel’s liberator from the Babylonian captivity. But the Messias has not effected this liberation, c. The servant is spoken of as present at the time of the prophet. This again evidently excludes the Messias as signified in the prophecies, d. The Messias is commonly represented as the avenger and the defender of the people against their enemies. But the servant here spoken of is described as the teacher of Israel, e. The servant mentioned in Isa 42:1 is identical with the servant in Isa 42:19; but the latter is not the Messias. Hence the former cannot be the Messias. f. The servant mentioned in Isa 43:10 is not generally regarded as the Messias; hence it cannot be maintained that the servant in Isa 42:1 is the Messias, since the two appear to be identical.

3. Messianic Character of the Prediction.—Notwithstanding these reasons to the contrary, we maintain that in Isa 42:1 ff. the servant is the Messias, and that therefore the passage is Messianic. The same we shall show of Isa 43:10. a. The person described in Isa 42:1 is identical with the subject of Isa 11:2, 9; Isa 9:2, 4; now the latter is evidently the Messias. Hence the servant too must be the Messias. The same conclusion may be reached by comparing Isa 42:1 with Isa 49, where the prophet repeats almost verbatim many characteristics he had attributed to the servant in the former passage. But the subject of Isa 49 is the Messias. Hence the servant of Isa 42:1 is the Messias.

b. The New Testament, too, testifies that the servant mentioned in Isa 42:1 is the Messias. We may refer to Matt 12:16 ff. to prove what we have said: “And he charged them that they should not make him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaias the prophet saying: Behold my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom my soul hath been well pleased. . . .” The Evangelist is therefore explicit in his interpretation of the prophecy Isa 42:1 ff. The words we read in Luke 2:32 and in Acts 13:46-47 may allude to Isa 49; but they also closely resemble Isa 42:1 ff.

c. The patristic testimonies in favor of the Messianic explanation of Isa 42:1 ff may be seen in Reinke’s ” Messianische Weissagungen,” ii. p. 8, and references to the patristic passages may be found in Kilber’s Analysis Biblica, i. p. 375. We need not add that this explanation of the passage is common among Catholic commentators, and has been adopted by several Protestant writers (cf. Delitzsch, Nagelsbach, Knobel, Diestel, etc.).

d. The Jewish writers, too, testify that the Synagogue understood the prophecy in a Messianic sense. The Targum renders Isa 42:1: ” Behold my servant the Messias, I will bring him near. . . .” The Midrash on Ps 2:7 and Yalkut (ii. p. 104 d.) interpret Isa 42:1 Messianically.

e. A word must be added about the identity of the servant in Isa 43:10. Maldonatus, Loch, Eohling, Trochon, Hahn, Sein, Delitzsch, Nagelsbach, Orelli, explain the servant in that passage as referring to the people of Israel. But it must be noted that according to the words of the prophet the servant is distinct from the people. For the passage reads: “You are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen.” In these words the people and the servant are declared to be witnesses; if then “my servant” were identical with the people, the phrase “my servant ” should stand in apposition to “you,” and should not be joined to it by “and.” But even those commentators who admit this distinction between the people and the servant do not agree as to the identity of the latter. Some believe that the term is applied to the best part of the people (Knobel), others refer it to the prophets or to Isaias (Pinto, Osorio, Foreiro, Mariana, cf. Mald.). It may be urged against this acceptation of the term that there is nothing to point to this meaning in the context or in the preceding chapters. And what is more, in the preceding chapters the term “servant” is applied only to three subjects: to the people, to the Messias, and to Cyrus. The reference to the people we have already excluded; hence only the reference to the Messias or to Cyrus remains. The latter opinion appears to be sustained by Sanchez and a Lapide; the former by St. Jerome, Cyril, Theodoret, Eusebius, Sasbout, Sa, a Lapide, Menochius. At first sight the context of Isa 43:10 reminds us of Isa 41:1, 21, where there is question of Cyrus; but since Cyrus is never explicitly called YHWH’s servant, and since in Is 42:9 we have a manner of arguing somewhat
similar to Isa 43:10, it appears preferable to refer the Lord’s servant occurring in this last passage to the Messias. It is still better to consider the double liberation of Israel as one divine work, and consequently the servant as one subject. But what is one in prophecy, proves to be double in fulfilment; hence the passage refers both to Cyrus and to the Messias —literally to the former, typically to the latter. That the Targum renders, “and my servant,
the Messias, in whom I am well pleased” (the Syriac version has the plural, ” my servants “) merits attention.

That the servant is not necessarily distinct from the Jewish people, since the prophet may speak of the Gentiles and the Jews as being his witnesses, is of little weight. For in the preceding verse (Isa 43:9) the Gentiles are called upon to bring forth witnesses in favor of their idols; and in verse 12 the Lord expressly declares: ” I have made it heard, and there was no strange one among you, you are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and I am God.” Among the witnesses therefore no stranger and no Gentile is to be found.

4. Answer to Objections against the Messianic Interpretation.— The last of the foregoing objections to the Messianic interpretation of the prophecies has been answered in our proof that Isa 43:10 refers to the Messias. We must add a word about the other objections, a. The circumstance that the LXX. version interprets the servant as applying to Jacob, and the elect as referring to Israel, adds additional weight to the testimony of the Greek Fathers in favor of the Messianic interpretation. For if they refer the prophecy to the Messias in spite of the rendering of their authentic version, they must have been influenced by an unmistakable tradition. The Targum shows that the Hebrew tradition differed from the interpretation of the LXX. Theodotion omits this explanation of the prediction; the Syriac hexapla-codex adds in a note that the words “Jacob” and “Israel ” are not in the Hebrew text (Field, Hexapl. in h. 1. ii. p. 515); Barhebraeus (on verse 3) remarks that the passage refers historically to Zorobabel (Zerubabel), spiritually to Christ; St. Jerome testifies that the words “Jacob” and “Israel” have been erroneously added in the LXX. version; they are not found in Matt 12:18; Eusebius relates (Demonstr. Evang. p. 452) that these words are marked with a dagger in the LXX. version, a sign that they are to be omitted.

b. The second exception against the Messianic nature of the prediction is based on the supposition that the servant of the Lord will free the people from the Babylonian captivity— a liberation which has not been effected by the Messias. But it is false that in Isa 42:7 there is question of liberation from the Babylonian captivity. For the context demands that the blind and the prisoners of verse 7 be understood so as to correspond with the “light” of verse 6; but the latter is taken metaphorically, as the phrase “a light of the Gentiles” clearly shows. Hence the expressions “blind” and “prisoners” must be taken metaphorically also. Besides, our opponents understand “light” and ” blind ” metaphorically, but “prisoners” properly; their interpretation blends the proper and the metaphorical sense without sufficient reason.

c. To the observation of Gesenius that the prophet speaks of the servant as of a person present, while the Messias is future, we may give two answers: First, the context evidently shows that the servant is not represented by the prophet as present to him; for in v. 9 we have the express declaration: “And new things do I declare; before they spring forth, I will make you hear them.” The servant is, therefore, not yet come, but will appear in the future. Again, supposing that Gesenius’ contention be correct, the prophetic manner of depicting a future event as actually present is well enough known not to excite our wonder in the passage under consideration.

d. The fourth exception supposes that the Messias is the judge of the Gentiles, while the servant is their teacher. Hence it distinguishes between the servant and the Messias. Though in Isa 11:10 it is said of the Messias, “him the Gentiles shall beseech,” in the very context of this passage we have the Messias described as a teacher: “They shall not hurt, nor shall they kill in all my holy mountain, for the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the covering waters of the sea” (Isa 11:9). In the beginning of the same chapter (Isa 11:2) it is said of the Messias: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of godliness, and he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord.” These gifts qualify the Messias not less as a teacher than as a judge. In Isa 9:7 the Messias strengthens his empire “with judgment and with justice.” This again implies the teaching character of the Messianic king.
Finally, in Isa 2:3 this duty is expressly assigned to the Messias: “And many people shall go, and say: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for the law shall come forth from Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

e. The next exception implies that the servant of Isa 42:19 is identical with the servant of Isa 42:1; and since the former is not the Messias the exception infers that the latter cannot be the Messias (cf. Eosenmiiller, Knobel, Nagelsbach). We grant that the servant of Isa 42:19 is not the Messias, but the people of Israel; this is clear from verses 18, 22. But we deny that the servant of Isa 42:19 is the same as the servant in Isa 42:1. Though the name is the same in both passages, its application is wholly different: the servant in Isa 42:1 is the elect of God; God’s soul delighteth in him, God has given his spirit upon him, and the servant shall bring forth the judgment of the Gentiles. The servant of Isa 42:19, on the contrary, is deaf and blind, is robbed and wasted in spite of God’s will to sanctify him; he is a snare to young men, and hid in the prisonhouse. And as if this difference of character were not enough to distinguish one servant from the other, the servant in Isa 42:1 is an individual, while the servant in verse 19 is a collection of persons. For the opposition of the former to Cyrus as well as the description given in the text marks his individuality, while verses 18 and 22 expressly indicate the collective meaning of the servant in Isa 42:19. The former servant will open the eyes of the blind (v. 7), the latter servant is himself blind (v. 19). Cf. p. 83, n. 5, and Knabenbauer, in loc.


Isa 42:1  Behold my servant, I will uphold him: my elect, my soul delighteth in him: I have given my spirit upon him, he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
Isa 42:2  He shall not cry, nor have respect to person, neither shall his voice be heard abroad.
Isa 42:3  The bruised reed he shall not break, and smoking flax he shall not quench, he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
Isa 42:4  He shall not be sad, nor troublesome, till he set judgment in the earth, and the islands shall wait for his law.

Behold my servant. The servant is God’s elect (cf. Ps 105:23; 1 Sam 21:6), as were Moses and Saul, so that he shall prove an effective Mediator, an abiding king, through whom a new Israel shall be formed, bearing the title “elect”; in the servant God’s soul delighteth, as it happens usually in the case of acceptable sacrifices (Ps 51:19), so that we have here a contrast with 42:1 (cf. Luke 3:22). God’s spirit is upon his servant according to Isa 11:2; Isa 61:1; the same servant shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles, for the one true religious doctrine which is the right standard of life and which has hitherto been confined to the Jewish race, shall now go forth to the long-oppressed nations. Still, this mighty work will be carried on unobtrusively: the servant shall not cry as in helpless grief, nor give forth a shout of triumph (Isa 42:2), nor make himself known in altercation (Isa 42:3), nor publish his doings ostentatiously in the streets (cf. Matt 6:5; 12:16). Then follows the proverbial figure of the broken reed, and the smoking flax. Explanations: 1. The broken reed represents the poor and the lowly, while the smoking flax symbolizes the proud and the arrogant (Eusebius); 2. both refer to Christ’s mercy towards the sinner (Jerome); 3. the broken reed is the Jewish people, which formerly sounded God’s praises, until it was broken on the stone which it rejected, and the smoking flax represents the Gentiles with their smouldering faith and their obscure natural law (Jerome; cf. Pinto, Sanchez); 4. the broken reed represents anything perfectly useless, and the smoking flax symbolizes what is not only useless, but positively detrimental by its smoke and its odor (cf. Sanchez, Gordon, a Lapide, Menochius, Tirinus); 5. the broken reed and the smoking flax represent in general the remnant of anything good almost wholly beset with evil, so that the Messias will know how to bring good out of even this (Osorio); 6. the broken reed is the Jewish people with its theocracy, but the smoking flax is the Mosaic law (Ephrem); 7. the reed is the Jewish theocracy, the flax is its priesthood (St. Thomas, St. Gregory; cf. Trochon); 8. since the word reed is used of the branches of the candelabrum belonging to the tabernacle (cf. Ex 25:31-35), the reed and flax may be parts of the same figure, representing together the tottering and flickering lamp of David (1 Kings 11:36; 2 Kings 8:19) which will grow strong and bright through the Messianic work (Speaker’s Comment, in 1.). We need not point out how this prediction has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus; cf. the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of the words “he shall not be sad or troublesome,” the Hebrew text reads: “he shall not burn dimly nor be bruised,” as if he himself were the lamp composed of the reed and the flax. Feeble as his light appears in the days of his servitude, he will illumine the world, so that even the islands of the Mediterranean will long for his appearance.

Isa 42:5  Thus saith the Lord God that created the heavens, and stretched them out: that established the earth, and the things that spring out of it: that giveth breath to the people upon it, and spirit to them that tread thereon.
Isa 42:6  I the Lord have called thee in justice, and taken thee by the hand, and preserved thee. And I have given thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles:
Isa 42:7  That thou mightest open the eyes of the blind, and bring forth the prisoner out of prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
Isa 42:8  I the Lord, this is my name: I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven things.
Isa 42:9  The things that were first, behold they are come: and new things do I declare: before they spring forth, I will make you hear them.

Thus saith the Lord God. Here is described the servant’s divine call, and the end of his mission: he is to be a covenant for the people and a light of the Gentiles. It is quite plain that neither Cyrus nor any mere man could be represented as being the “covenant,” i.e., the ground of the people’s abiding in communion with their God (cf. Luke 22:20; Heb. 13:17). This divine decree is sealed as it were by the solemn formula, “I the Lord, this is my name.” And the Lord’s pre-eminence over all idols is again proved by his foreknowing and foretelling future things: “before they [the new things] spring forth [out of their merely ideal state in the divine mind], I will make you hear them.”

Isa 42:10  Sing ye to the Lord a new song, his praise is from the ends of the earth: you that go down to the sea, and all that are therein: ye islands, and ye inhabitants of them.
Isa 42:11  Let the desert and the cities thereof be exalted: Cedar shall dwell in houses: ye inhabitants of Petra, give praise, they shall cry from the top of the mountains.
Isa 42:12  They shall give glory to the Lord, and shall declare his praise in the islands.

Sing ye to the Lord. New songs are called also those psalms in which the Gentiles are invited to join (Ps 33:3, Ps 96:1, 98:1). The name is, therefore, most appropriate in the present case. First the prophet appeals in general to the ends of the earth, then to the seafaring men, and to all living creatures in the sea, to the islands also and their inhabitants; in the third place, the prophet appeals to the immediate neighbors of Palestine, to those living in the Arabian desert and to the hamlets inhabited by Cedar, and finally to those living in Petra. These latter are to climb the steep hills by which the city is surrounded, and cry from the top of the mountains. In the following verse the Gentiles in general are invited again to join in the praise of YHWH.

Isa 42:13  The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man, as a man of war shall he stir up zeal: he shall shout and cry: he shall prevail against his enemies.
Isa 42:14  I have always held my peace, I have kept silence, I have been patient, I will speak now as a woman in labour: I will destroy, and swallow up at once.
Isa 42:15  I will lay waste the mountains and hills, and will make all their grass to wither: and I will turn rivers into islands, and will dry up the standing pools.
Isa 42:16  And I will lead the blind into the way which they know not: and in the paths which they were ignorant of I will make them walk: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight: these things have I done to them, and have not forsaken them.
Isa 42:17  They are turned back: let them be greatly confounded, that trust in a graven thing, that say to a molten thing: You are our god.

The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man. The Lord rises up like a mighty warrior in order to defend the cause of his people; he has restrained himself a long while and allowed the enemies to afflict his chosen people; but now all impediments being removed, the Lord will save his chosen ones, and idolaters shall perish. In the first part the prophet states in general the Lord’s warlike action against his enemies; then the Lord himself declares what he has done thus far, and what he will do in future, each line of action being described by three different expressions. In the third place, the prophet describes minutely the desolation the Lord will bring upon his enemies, a perfect drought furnishing the figure for the enemies’ destruction; after this, the Lord declares the manner in which he will save his own people, leading back the blind almost in spite of themselves; finally, the fate of the idolaters is once more depicted: they are driven back in confusion from the way they had marked out for themselves.

Isa 42:18  Hear, ye deaf, and, ye blind, behold that you may see.
Isa 42:19  Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, but he to whom I have sent my messengers? Who is blind, but he that is sold? or who is blind, but the servant of the Lord?
Isa 42:20  Thou that seest many things, wilt thou not observe them? thou that hast ears open, wilt thou not hear?
Isa 42:21  And the Lord was willing to sanctify him, and to magnify the law, and exalt it.
Isa 42:22  But this is a people that is robbed and wasted: they are all the snare of young men, and they are hid in the houses of prisons: they are made a prey, and there is none to deliver them: a spoil, and there is none that saith: Restore.
Isa 42:23  Who is there among you that will give ear to this, that will attend and hearken for times to come?
Isa 42:24  Who hath given Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to robbers? hath not the Lord himself, against whom we have sinned? And they would not walk in his ways, and they have not hearkened to his law.
Isa 42:25  And he hath poured out upon him the indignation of his fury, and a strong battle, and hath burnt him round about, and he knew not: and set him on fire, and he understood not.

Hear ye deaf and ye blind. Together with the idolaters shall perish those of Israel that have neglected the call of God and have been on that account delivered over to countless miseries, in spite of which they have not acknowledged God and obeyed him. This explanation of the passage is given on the supposition that the servant here does not refer to the Messias. If we are willing to follow another view which identifies the servant even in the present passage with the Messias, we may analyze the prophecy thus: The deaf and blind people are invited to consider two great facts: 1. The voluntary humiliation of God’s perfect servant through whom God is magnified; 2. their own national suffering and its causes. The prophet develops the first fact thus: “Who is blind but my servant, or deaf but my messenger whom I will send? who is blind as he that is perfect, or blind as the Lord’s servant? Thou hast seen many things, but thou markest them not; opening the ears, he heareth not. The Lord was well pleased for the sake of his righteousness; he hath magnified the law and made it honorable.” Since this is the rendering of the Hebrew text, it follows at once that if we prefer the Masorethic reading to that of the Vulgate, we cannot explain the servant of this passage in any other than in a Messianic sense. The second fact presents fewer difficulties than the first: “But this is a people that is robbed and wasted; all of them are snared in holes, and hid in prison-houses. . . .” The Hebrew text reading “holes” instead of “young men” is more commonly followed by the later commentators (Knobel, Delitzsch, Neteler, Trochon).

Isa 43:1  And now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and formed thee, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, and called thee by thy name: thou art mine.
Isa 43:2  When thou shalt pass through the waters, I will be with thee, and the rivers shall not cover thee: when thou shalt walk in the fire, thou shalt not be burnt, and the flames shall not burn in thee:
Isa 43:3  For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I have given Egypt for thy atonement, Ethiopia and Saba for thee.
Isa 43:4  Since thou becamest honourable in my eyes, thou art glorious: I have loved thee, and I will give men for thee, and people for thy life.
Isa 43:5  Fear not, for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west.
Isa 43:6  I will say to the north: Give up: and to the south: Keep not back: bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth.
Isa 43:7  And every one that calleth upon my name, I have created him for my glory. I have formed him, and made him.
Isa 43:8  Bring forth the people that are blind, and have eyes: that are deaf, and have ears.
Isa 43:9  All the nations are assembled together, and the tribes are gathered: who among you can declare this, and shall make us hear the former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, let them be justified, and hear, and say: It is truth.
Isa 43:10  You are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that you may know, and believe me, and understand that I myself am. Before me there was no God formed, and after me there shall be none.
Isa 43:11  I am, I am the Lord: and there is no saviour besides me.
Isa 43:12  I have declared, and have saved. I have made it heard, and there was no strange one among you. You are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and I am God.
Isa 43:13  And from the beginning I am the same, and there is none that can deliver out of my hind: I will work, and who shall turn it away?

And now thus saith the Lord. For the God-fearing the prophet repeats the magnificent divine promises of safety and salvation. In order to strengthen their confidence he appeals to a number of historical incidents of God’s special care for Israel, and promises the same special and loving providence for the future. As to the words “I have given Egypt for thy atonement, Ethiopia and Saba for thee” they may be explained thus : Egypt, Cush [Ethiop.], and Saba [Moroe] are not parts of the Babylonian empire, but they will be added to the Persian empire as a reward for Israel’s emancipation. Cambyses the son of Cyrus actually annexed these countries (Esther 1:1). Cf. Xenoph., Cyrop, 8, 6, 20, cf. 1, 1, 4.


1. Since the servant is called the “covenant” of the people of Israel, he must be conceived as the mediator between God and man, who reconciles the Almighty with the fallen human race. It is true that God had made a covenant with the patriarchs, but the people had violated the covenant by their numerous sins and infidelities. If then the servant is to restore this covenant, he must expiate the people’s sins and transgressions, procure efficacious remedies against all these infirmities, and lead back the people to true inward sanctity.

2. If we adhere to the Hebrew text of Isa 42:18-25, we see here even the manner indicated in which the servant will bring about the people’s salvation: he is blind to the people’s gross misdeeds, he does not hear the reproaches heaped upon his sacred person by a reviling multitude, but in spite of all the people’s transgressions, he shall bring about the re-establishment of God’s law.

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One Response to Father Maas’ Commentary on Isaiah 42:1-43:13

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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