Bring Justice to the Nations (Isaiah 42)

"I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth" (Isa 42:1,3,4).

This is the first of Isaiah's four Servant Songs, fulfilled in Christ. He is the servant of the Lord. He is God's alternative to our idols (Isa 41:22). He is not an abomination but a delight (Isa 42:1). He also stands in contrast with Cyprus the conqueror who "steps on people" (Isa 41:25b). But Jesus did not break a bruised reed nor snuff out a smoldering wick (Isa 42:3; Mt 12:15-21).

What does Isaiah mean by the word translated "justice"? "Justice" is the key word in 42:1-4. The Hebrew word translated "justice" in Isa 42:1,3,4 is mishpat. In many ways it is the antonym of "confusion" or "chaos" (Isa 41:29) [tohu]. It is much more than merely legality or legal correctness, as "justice" has come to connote in English. Mishpat is used in Ex 26:30 of the plan for the tabernacle, the blueprint God revealed from Heaven. In an analogous way, God has a blueprint for human existence. God knows how human beings and human society can be at their best. He knows how to make us happy and fulfilled. And through his servant Jesus he's bringing his plan down from Heaven, to reorder human civilization in a beautiful way. God's kingdom will come, and his will will be done on earth as it is in Heaven, and we were made for it.

Mishpat includes within its scope all our longings for a better life and a better world. A just world, to Isaiah, is human society as God means it to be, with no corrupting idolatries. Slums, poverty, oppression, illiteracy, pollution, human misery in all its forms prove that we are arranging human life according to idolatrous ideals. That's why people always end up shoving each other into the ground, just as Cyprus (Isa 41:25) and many with power and authority do.

Injustice is more than a political dysfunction. It is a spiritual evil, a denial of God. The world is in such a mess that it's beyond our powers of correction. Yet God desires that we work for a better society (Amos 5:24).

Thus, mishpat has the idea of "right order." This explains why it is often paralleled to tsedeq, which is usually translated "righteousness" but simply has the idea of "doing the right thing." Thus mishpat has a much larger pool of connotations than does our word "justice." To be sure, a world where the innocent are punished and the oppressors go free is a world where mishpat is lacking. The word contains everything we think of as "justice," but it contains more than that as well. Isaiah is saying that the coming Messiah will do all that is necessary to restore God's right order on the earth.

Light for the Nations (42:1-17, 18-25) [Kidner]
  1. The first "Servant Song" (1-9).
  2. The world acclaims its Master (10-12).
  3. The Lord declares his zeal (13-17).
  4. Blind leaders of the blind (18-25).
The great solution: The Servant's mission to the Gentile world [Motyer]
  1. Justice on earth (1-4).
  2. Confirmation by Yahweh of his plan for his Servant (5-9).
  3. The world sings in response (10-12).
  4. The cause for praise (13).
  5. Yahweh speaks: How he sees his coming actions (14-17).
  6. A servant who cannot be the Servant (18-25).
God's servant brings justice and is a light to the nations (42:1-13; 14-25) [Smith]
  1. God's chosen servant will establish justice on earth (1-4).
  2. God's servant will be a covenant and light (5-9).
  3. Sing a hymn of praise to glorify God (10-13).
  4. The blind are not forsaken (14-17).
  5. The blind servant's sins result in punishment (18-25).
A Delusion, a Servant, a New Song (41:21-42:17) [Ortland]
  1. A Delusion (41:21-29): "Behold, they are all a delusion" (41:29).
    • God sues the idols for false advertising (21-24).
    • God proves his own ability to activate history (25-27).
    • God dismisses the idols as a delusion (28-29).
  2. A Servant (42:1-9).
    • The servant will bring perfection to the nations (1-4).
    • God will discredit the idols through his servant (5-9).
  3. A New Song (42:10-17).
    • The whole world is invited to worship God (10-12).
    • God will rid the world of all idol-worship (13-17).