A bruised reed, in context

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This is a re-post to an entry that I published earlier today (and since have deleted) as I dug deeper into these passages.

Reading through Matthew 12 today there is a reference to Jesus fulfilling the prophecy from Isaiah chapter 42.

“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.

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.” (Isaiah 42:1-3)

I am thankful for the fulfillment of this prophecy, I think we all are. Behold God’s servant who came to deliver us, heal us, and redeem us. He didn’t come to crush us, though that’s what we deserved. He didn’t come to snuff us out, though he could have.

Oh the mercies we find in Jesus, sent by the Father!

But the more I read the context of this prophecy, the more I understand its true meaning (and application).

Yes, I agree that Jesus is tender in how he cares for me, but there is something more to this prophecy, and it relates to something important as well for pilgrims who suffer.

This chapter speaks of Yahweh’s servant, who will “bring forth justice to the nations”.

Justice is a common theme, a thread that runs through the book of Isaiah.

The servant will bring justice on earth. However, the servant will not bring justice the way that we would.

Isaiah explains how it will come about.

“He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street” (Is 42:2).

Not by force. Not through a coup. Not through political action. Not through demanding his way, posting complaints on social media.

“He will not cry aloud…a bruised reed he will not break…he will faithfully bring forth justice” (Is 42:2-3). The metaphor illustrates the point made in verse 2, that he will not bring about justice like we typical would. He will be an unlikely hero. A hero without the fanfare that we often portray in books and movies.

The servant instead will be (is) working behind the scenes, quietly and carefully, with purpose from the Father’s orders. The days to “lay waste” and “dry up” and “turn darkness into light” (Is 42:15-17) will come, but that day is not yet.

So as Isaiah speaks of the “bruised reed”, it is not what we think it is. It does not mean what I have always thought. The metaphor is not to help us understand Jesus’ ministry and care for hurting people, for broken people. Instead, it conjures up an image of the quiet, patient (oh, the long-suffering of God) ways of Yahweh’s servant as he establishes justice. His way is so contrary to my way!

There is a quote that I read, but I just cannot remember where I read it, which nails this metaphor and Isaiah’s usage of it…

“This servant keeps such a low profile that, as he passes through the marshes, not even bruised reeds will break off. Not a twig will snap. His draft won’t have enough force to blow out even a smoldering wick. And this unpretentious strategy will not last forever. The time will come for him to eventually beat his chest, get everyone’s attention, and just get the job done.”

As I said, the application still relates to suffering pilgrims. God is god, he will accomplish his purpose his way, in his time, and it will be done to fulfill everything that he has promised. He will bring about justice, even if I can’t see him advancing towards that goal. Even if I would rather him rush through the waters (breaking off all the bruised reeds) and usher in justice to all the injustices in this broken world, and like the ones that each one of us are a part of.

Yes, this relates to me, just as the truth of God caring for us with tender mercies. But here, God shows that Jesus will carry out perfect justice, but the timing is up to him. The reference to this prophecy in Matthew 12 says the same thing. Jesus is healing, but telling those healed not to spread this around, it wasn’t yet time. He is quietly doing his work, until that Day of the Lord when it all will be revealed and perfect justice will be fulfilled.

Rest in his timing.

God knows.

He is not asleep.

He is God.

He always does what is right and just.

All brokenness will eventually be redeemed.


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