Matthew 12:15-21

15 But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all.

16 Yet He warned them not to make Him known,

17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

18 “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles.

19 He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.

20 A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory;

21 And in His name Gentiles will trust.”

I quite frankly don’t understand the quote from Isaiah 42:1-4 in this context. Most of my commentaries glide over it as if it’s self-explanatory, which leads me to believe they don’t understand it either. Williams offers the view that makes most sense to me, but I’m not entirely sure.

He healed everyone; but, as predicted by Isaiah 42:1-4, He hid Himself, and would not even allow the fame of His miracles to hinder His purpose of offering up Himself as a sacrifice for sin. The day would come when He would reign (“show judgment over the Gentiles”). Meanwhile He would not demand His rights (v.19) but endure the discordance of the bruised reed and the offensiveness of the smoking flax, i.e., the unbelief and rebellion of Israel, but only up to the day that He would bring forth judgment unto victory. In that day will the bruised reed be broken and the smoking flax quenched.

It is impossible to produce melody with a bruised reed, and the smell of a smoking wick is unendurable. Such was Israel; and such is man. Grace endures these for a time; but judgment is certain to fall upon them. The popular interpretation of this verse as symbolizing a feeble believer is contradicted by the context. — Williams, page 709.

I talked with a pastor friend about this passage. His response was …

He told people not to proclaim that He was Christ because it would infuriate the leadership into killing Him prematurely, before He had a chance to train His apostles to carry on in His absence. He knew form Isaiah 8:14-16 that when they rejected Him as the cornerstone, He must bind the testimony among the disciples. If they were to carry out the Great Commission to go to the nations [the Gentiles], they were going to have to be trained in the truth.

The “bruised reed” is speaking about the gentleness of Christ. There was always a contrast between the first and second comings of Christ. He came as a lamb in His first coming but will come as a lion in the second. So, to resist the movement to end His life would have been to break character. The verse is being quoted to explain why He told the disciples to simply back off on proclaiming the thing that angered the leaders, the preaching that He was the Christ, in order to buy Him time to train the apostles.

I think a lot of that explanation makes sense, although I’m somewhat reluctant to say that Christ didn’t have total control over the time of His death or that He was concerned about infuriating the Jewish leaders.

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