MATTHEW 12:15-21
Pp Mark 3:7-12

Tactical withdrawal
Reasons for Secrecy

Commentators and marginal references of Bibles often equate the first couple of verses of this passage with those of Mark 3:7-12 and Luke 6:17-19 but they don’t, initially at least, appear to be describing the same situation seeing as there are marked differences in what takes place both before and after the record.

Mark’s passage follows close on the heels of the previous passage we’ve just looked at but, in that Gospel, the writer talks of the regions that the people who followed Him came from and of the pressing crowd which threatened His safety, so much that He ordered the disciples to have a boat ready for Him in case the danger of Him being crushed should proved to be too great. The command not to make Him known (Mtw 12:16) follows on from the deliverance of the demon possessed in Mark’s parallel, being their cries as they were expelled from the men and women, proclaiming Him to be the Son of God (Mark 3:11-12).

From here, Mark goes on to describe the night of prayer on the mountain and the choice of the twelve disciples, previously decided upon in Matthew’s scheme of things by the time we reach the opening of chapter 10. Mark continues after this, however, by a shortened version (though I’m not inferring that he shortened Matthew’s account - or that Matthew expanded Mark’s!) of the opposition concerning casting out demons by the power of satan (Mark 3:19b-30) and, finally, with the approach of His natural family (Mark 3:31-35) who came to Him presumably because of what they heard was being said of Him - but only recorded in Mark 3:21.

Mark’s chronology follows closely that of Matthew and it seems best to take the two to be writing about a similar period in Jesus’ ministry, each writer précising, expanding or adding pieces as they see the need to do so.

Luke, on the other hand, jumps immediately to the selection of the inner twelve disciples (Luke 6:12-16) and omits an immediate summary of the subsequent ministry of healing towards the people, but then adds a summation of what was transpiring after He’d descended from the mountain (Luke 6:17-19).

Significantly, I feel, he makes no mention, as Matthew and Mark do, of Jesus’ command not to make Him known and then continues on a totally different track, recording what’s taken by many commentators to be the Lukan version of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Luke 5:20ff), something which I have already noted my disagreement with.

It seems best, therefore, to accept Mark’s passage as parallel and a different account of what immediately transpired after the synagogue dispute concerning the sabbath but that Luke has stepped away from a chronology after his record of the appointment of the twelve. Of course, it may be the other way round - or even that all three have stepped out of chronological order - but the very least that can be said is that Matthew and Mark should definitely be thought of as describing the same event.

That being said, Matthew and Mark are set on recording something very different! Mark gives us more detail of this actual time of healing, of the people who followed Him and of the response given by the demons who proclaimed Him as God (the term ‘Son of God’ can mean little else. Jesus normally proclaimed Himself as ‘Son of man’ which emphasised, rather, His humanity - see here) while Matthew uses the briefest of descriptions of that time.

For him, what needs to be conveyed to the reader is Jesus’ tactical withdrawal (Mtw 12:15a) and the reason why Jesus was adamant that His identity not be made known (Mtw 12:16), going on to pull out an OT Scripture to present to the reader as being fulfilled in His action and by His character (Mtw 12:17-21).

Mark also records Jesus’ desire for secrecy but he makes no attempt to give a reason why Jesus did this (Mark 3:12) in the same way as He gives no explanation as to why Jesus withdrew from the previous incident (Mark 3:7).

Tactical withdrawal
Mtw 12:15a

It’s only the writer of Matthew who notes that, after the opposition which came about through Jesus’ sabbath actions, He withdrew from that area. However, although He was moving away from where the opposition had raised its head, the people still followed because they saw in Him, presumably, a source of their healing needs and very little more.

Certainly, this appears to be what can be inferred from the verse here and the fact that He would have taught the multitudes as well is not in doubt - but that they came specifically to receive a solution to their physical problems is all that’s mentioned here.

This withdrawal from danger is by no means unusual and is repeated in the NT in numerous places. We first read of a withdrawal from danger in the life of both the Magi and Joseph to protect the family’s life. Being warned in a dream not to honour the agreement Herod had made with them (Mtw 2:8), the Magi returned to their own nation via a different route than the one they’d previously taken (Mtw 2:12).

Joseph then fled to Egypt with his family (Mtw 2:14) and also, when he returned to Israel, set up home in the backwater of the region of Galilee (Mtw 2:22) rather than opt for Judea.

Many believers see God as all-powerful and able to safeguard them in each and every situation that they find themselves in. While this is most certainly true, the declaration of Jesus in Mtw 10:23 towards His disciples that when the inhabitants

‘...persecute you in one town, flee to the next...’

should alert us to the fact that God expects us to take the danger seriously and to do something about it when we perceive that opposition has risen up against us. Notice in the second of the tactical withdrawals mentioned above in the life of Joseph, he had already perceived the danger before being given instructions as to where to set up residence.

God will and has protected His people from danger in difficult situations - but His people have also been martyred in the same types of situations - while still others have fled for their lives that they might be saved to preach the Gospel elsewhere. The believer needs to know what’s right to do in each and every situation and it’s only as they live in the revelation which comes directly from the Father that they’re able to do this.

Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us when we see a withdrawal from danger in the life of Jesus, not only here but in other places in the Gospels (Mtw 14:13, Mtw 15:21, John 4:1-3, John 6:15, John 2:23-25) and yet, when the time had come when He knew that His death awaited Him in Jerusalem, He didn’t flinch from walking into it with the full knowledge of what was about to transpire when He could have turned tail and fled to save Himself for another day (Mtw 20:18, Mark 10:33).

This ‘withdrawal’ was also a trait of the NT Church. The great persecution which fell upon them scattered the believers far and wide - not that they were transported to faraway towns and villages by their persecutors but because they fled for their lives there (Acts 8:1).

Paul also felt no compulsion to stay around to be martyred when he could avail himself of an escape route by which he could go on to proclaim the Gospel elsewhere (Acts 9:23-25, Acts 14:5-7 and Acts 17:10 following the incident of 17:5-9).

Paul was certainly no stranger to persecution and, at one notable point, had to be constrained because he desired to go amongst the crowd to speak to them - probably to use it as a means of proclaiming the Gospel to so many people at one time (Acts 19:30).

What needs to be realised is that there’s no problem with a tactical withdrawal from danger so long as it isn’t a removal from doing God’s will. There is a sense in which every believer should feel compelled to get out from where he is if persecution to death is about to fall on them - not because of a natural desire for self-preservation but because a dead believer can’t preach the Gospel.

Jesus’ withdrawal here (Mtw 12:15) is specifically because He became ‘aware’ of the plotting that was taking place amongst the Pharisees and Herodians (Mark 3:6) as to how they might destroy Him (Mtw 12:14). Mathag, however, goes too far by noting that

‘Jesus knew the thoughts of the Pharisees without anyone telling Him...’

for, as I’ve said on numerous occasions on different web pages in this commentary, if Jesus now operated from His divinity, He was no longer operating as dependent upon the Father and had moved from being the perfect man - as mankind was created to be - to someone who didn’t mind ‘slipping into His omniscience’ whenever the need arose. Therefore, we should see Jesus’ awareness, if supernatural (and it appears as if this is what the author intends His readers to draw from his words) that the Father had revealed their intention to Him and that He was responding to it.

While it’s quite possible that someone close to Him had overheard them speak, the other occasions where Jesus is recorded as being aware of something at the very moment it happened (Mtw 16:8, 22:18, 26:10) should point us towards the more likely explanation that revelation was given Him.

Mattask makes the observation (my italics) that

‘Jesus left the place where He was because He had no desire deliberately to provoke the Pharisees to a conflict

but, by choosing to heal the man with the withered arm, Jesus had already shown that He wasn’t going to water down what the Father required from Him. Besides, we can hardly think of Mtw 23:1-36 as Jesus hiding His feelings for the scribes and Pharisees in order simply to make sure no confrontation was perceivable - after all, Mtw 23:1 says specifically that the discourse was addressed not to some private audience of His followers but to ‘the crowds’ (Mtw 23:1) and probably to those who may have been gathered in the Temple to hear Him seeing as many religious teachers came here to speak.

In one sense, confrontation was to be the order of the day no matter what He chose to do from then on but, by moving His ministry to a place where the Pharisees and Herodians would see little more of what He was doing unless they went out of their way to follow Him, there is a sense in which He was trying to keep away from their sight.

Therefore, with some qualification, Mattask’s statement is correct and the fulfilled prophetic word of Mtw 12:18-21 will demonstrate to the reader that Jesus wasn’t one who sought after the big meetings, the city wide media coverage and personal recognition. Rather, He was content to get on with the Father’s work even in the remote places of the land and left the advertising campaigns to the other, more established religious teachers who had organisational structures and good works to fund (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

Mtw 12:16

Jesus has already insisted on secrecy on a few prior occasions in Matthew’s Gospel and also in the incidents which are paralleled in the other Gospels. For instance, in Mtw 8:4, Jesus specifically commands the healed leper

‘See that you say nothing to any one...’

even though he immediately goes out and begins to tell everyone he meets about what Jesus has done for him (Mark 1:45).

I’ve dealt with this passage on a previous web page under the heading ‘No Publicity Please!’ and I there dealt with some of the reasons why Jesus instructed men and women not to make Him known (see also Jesus’ instructions to the healed in Mtw 9:30, Mark 5:43 and Mark 7:36).

Matthew’s record in 12:16 initially makes us think that the command should be categorised into the same pigeon hole but there’s a marked difference here that only the parallel passage of Mark 3:11-12 shows. There, Mark notes that

‘...whenever the unclean spirits beheld Him, they fell down before Him and cried out “You are the Son of God” And He strictly ordered them not to make Him known’

Therefore, Matthew’s statement means that, rather than commanding those healed not to make the healing known, He ordered the demonic that He was removing from people’s lives to be silent and not to proclaim Him as the Son of God (see also Luke 4:41 where the same command is recorded which may have taken place on a separate occasion).

This phenomenon had happened before in Mtw 8:29 when the demons in the man of the Gadarenes

‘...cried out “What have You to do with us, O Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

but Jesus didn’t order the demons to be silent on that occasion. The only other place prior to this incident where the title was applied to Jesus was during the temptation in the wilderness when satan twice announces to Jesus that the title is relevant (Mtw 4:3, 4:6).

‘Son of man’ has been a favourite title of Jesus upto this point (Mtw 8:20, 9:6, 10:23, 11:19, 12:8), a title which emphasised His humanity (see my notes on this title on a previous web page) and the Messianic title ‘Son of David’ has found itself onto the lips of two blind men who ultimately received their healing (Mtw 9:27) but no one, until Mtw 14:33 when the disciples see Jesus coming to them walking on the Sea of Galilee and allowing Peter to do the same, put the title and Jesus together and acknowledged that He’s divine.

It’s this secrecy that Jesus is trying to maintain here (though Mattask, Matfran, Matmor and Mathag fail to see that Mark’s parallel passage is needed to define the kind of secrecy that’s being commanded) for a reason which wasn’t as apparent as it was back in Mtw 8:29 when it had previously occurred. The opposition which has now fallen on both Himself and the disciples (see my previous web page) doesn’t need encouraging and the public announcement that He’s the Son of God would have had serious effects on the now smouldering flames of persecution.

Indeed, only in Mtw 14:33 and 16:16, on two relatively private occasions, is the title attributed again in Matthew’s Gospel by men (a group of believers in the former and Peter with other disciples present in the latter) until Jesus stands before the high priest and is obligated to answer the charge (Mtw 26:63-64). A similar situation is found in both Mark and Luke.

John’s Gospel has both Nathanael and Martha announcing their belief that Jesus is the Son of God (John 1:49, 11:27) along with the writer of the Gospel (John 1:34, 3:18) but it’s quite significant that Jesus is recorded here three times as proclaiming Himself more openly before the people that this was a relevant title to assign Him (John 5:25, 10:36, 11:4) which is necessary to substantiate the reason why the high priest should try and attach the label under an oath. If Jesus hadn’t stated on some occasion that He believed Himself to be the Son of God (which goes unrecorded in the Synoptic Gospels), the high priest’s question becomes largely unfounded.

Even so, although Jesus affirms the title, He goes on to announce Himself not as the Son of God but as the Son of man in His reply before the high priest (Mtw 26:63-64).

But that Jesus announced Himself as such is extremely rare because, it appears, He knew that to do so would cause unnecessary persecution which could have prompted a confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders in Galilee before the time was right to do such a thing in Jerusalem (notice that, of the three occasions in John’s Gospel when Jesus acknowledges the title, one is privately to the disciples while the other two are to the crowds in Jerusalem).

Concluding, the secrecy here which Jesus is concerned to maintain is not, as previously noted, concerned with the acts of healing which have been taking place, but with the pronouncement of the demonic as they were being cast out of those possessed that He was the Son of God.

Reasons for Secrecy

I’ve noted in the previous section that Matthew’s statement (Mtw 12:16) that Jesus

‘...ordered them not to make Him known’

referred specifically to the demons and evil spirits which were confessing Him as the Son of God as they were being cast out from the lives of the men and women who were coming to Jesus for deliverance. However, one reason for Matthew’s selection to be vague is that the following Scripture drawn from the OT (Mtw 12:18-21) naturally refers not just to the refusal to let the demonic speak but is also particularly relevant to situations where healing took place and Jesus commanded the healed not to declare what had been done for them (for example, Mtw 8:1-4).

Therefore, although we rightly see the parallel passage in Mark 3:11-12 as defining the order to remain silent, we are forced to interpret the quotation in the light of the totality of Jesus’ ministry both upto this point and beyond.

The reasons for this ‘silence’ and lack of self-proclamation can be interpreted in many varying ways and, though it would be wrong to suggest any one reason over and above the other, it may benefit us to note here that, although some commentators see it as a literary device by the writers of the Gospels to answer their critics as to why Jesus never became as popular in His lifetime as He did afterwards, there are good explanations which fit the context of the Gospel narrative much better.

For instance, that Jesus didn’t want the people to spread His fame which appears to have already been a problem (Mtw 4:24) and which had caused Him not to be able to move about freely (Mark 1:45) seems to be a relevant reason. Jesus had had to rely on the people coming to Him rather than on going out to meet them where they were and He was therefore unable to reach the people who wouldn’t have ever been able to leave behind them their profession to travel however many miles it took to catch up with Him.

Eventually, Jesus appointed twelve others (Mtw 10:5) and sent them out partly, probably, to make up for His own lack of being able to reach those people who couldn’t have travelled to where He was.

As to forbidding the demonic to speak (Mark 3:11-12), we’ve already seen that, whereas the title ‘Son of man’ proclaimed Jesus’ humanity and ‘Son of David’ proclaimed Him as Messiah, the title ‘Son of God’ elevated Him to the position of equality with God and, ultimately, made Him out to be God Himself. Such a confrontation was to be avoided at this time, even though Jesus did openly proclaim Himself as such twice in Jerusalem and once privately to His disciples, noted above. When the disciples acknowledged His divinity, however, it was always when there were few other people round.

Following on from both these two points is that Jesus didn’t want to provoke persecution when He could minister quietly and with more effect. If He’d had vast crowds of Pharisees coming to Him, they would probably have continued their attempts at sowing cynicism and unbelief into the lives of those present and into His disciples (see my notes on the previous web page under the heading ‘Pharisaic Traits’).

It was much easier to simply input as much as He could into the lives of those who gathered around Him rather than to allow them to find themselves in a situation where there were many differing voices where what they had could be robbed away from them through a multiplicity of opinions and teachings.

Finally, silence was the order of the day because the crowds who followed Him seemed to be committed to misunderstanding His mission to them and converting it into terms of Kingship where the overthrow of the Roman Empire was uppermost in their minds (John 6:15). They were going to do this openly that last week when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem (Mtw 21:1-11) but, while Jesus stayed away from openly confronting the authorities and concentrated on healing and teaching the people who came to Him, the misunderstanding would be lessened.

It was better that His fame was limited than that the entire nation begin to herald Him as a physical deliver.

There are many other reasons either stated in the NT, inferred from it or assumed because of our understanding of what was transpiring in Galilee. However, these four are presented to the reader that a reason for Jesus’ desire for secrecy can at least be understood as reasonable and not as some literary device of the Gospel writers.

Mtw 12:17-21 Pp Is 42:1-4

The secrecy outlined above, Matthew’s Gospel alone tells us, was in fulfilment of an OT passage from the prophet Isaiah (Is 42:1-4). The writer leaves the reader to interpret the passage themselves and simply repeats the text here (where he misses out two clauses towards the end).

The first thing we should do is to try and understand the passage in the context in which it was originally given and, for that, we need to ask ourselves simply who ‘the Servant’ is to whom the prophet refers. Most of the subsequent passage can be interpreted in a number of ways, but the identity of the Servant is of utmost importance here that we might understand who, if anybody, Jesus is being likened to.

The passage sits sandwiched between two other occurrences of the word ‘servant’ and each of these has to do with the nation of Israel. Firstly, Is 41:8-9 reads

‘But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, My friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you “You are My servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”

and, even though Israel is depicted here as wandering away from the ways of God to ultimately become His enemy, His word is still that they remain special to Him and that He’s preparing a glorious future when they’ll be His special instrument, His servant, for getting His will done when He restores their fortunes as at the first.

Secondly, Israel is equated as being the Servant in the other passage but in a negative sense in Is 42:18-20 which reads

‘Hear, you deaf; and look, you blind, that you may see! Who is blind but My servant, or deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is blind as My dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear’

an echo of Mtw 13:14-15 where Jesus cites another OT Scripture as a reason for why the truth of the Kingdom is being presented to the multitudes in parabolic form with no explanations being given. In Isaiah, although the glorious future of the nation is assured, there remains the realism of the present time where the people have hardened their hearts against the moving of God in their midst and have turned away from following after the things which please Him.

As both usages of the term ‘servant’ must refer to the nations of Israel, and Is 42:1-4 is sandwiched between them, it would be natural to interpret the mention of the servant here as being the same - that is, as referring to the nation of Israel.

This may come as a surprise to the reader but it seems the most likely explanation - that God is outlining a time when the nation will be God’s servant in the world, when they’ll be anointed by His Spirit and move throughout the earth, fulfilling all that He requires from them.

When we discussed Mtw 2:15 previously (under the heading ‘Out of Egypt’), we noted that the prophetic utterance there also was initially given to the nation of Israel and fulfilled in the nation even before the time when it was spoken, many hundreds of years previously through the Exodus.

But this showed us not that the writer of Matthew had deliberately meant to choose verses at random and out of context to apply to Jesus’ ministry (and we further noted that there were plenty of relevant Scriptures which he never once quotes in his Gospel as applicable to Jesus) but that he was trying to show the reader that Jesus is the fulfilment of everything that Israel should have become, the conclusion in Himself of what God the Father had required from them. Jesus is Israel fulfilled, therefore, and OT passages which gave promises to the nation concerning their restoration and glorious future can naturally be reconsidered from the viewpoint of Jesus.

There are still Scriptures which remain unfulfilled and which seem to only be able to be applied to the Jewish nation (however that last phrase is understood) but there are many, such as these four verses at the start of Isaiah chapter 42, which cry out for an interpretation and fulfilment in the life of Jesus.

Therefore, Jesus should be seen as the Servant, the perfect Servant of God, who fulfils the prophetic word spoken through Isaiah so many hundreds of years prior to the event. What the nation had failed to achieve, Jesus fulfils. In the early Church, it wasn’t long before the believers perceived Jesus as the Servant of God and began proclaiming Him as such (Acts 3:13, 3:26, 4:27, 4:30), an indication that, when they began to read the OT Scriptures, passages which dealt with the Servant immediately took on a whole new meaning and relevance.

We’ll now go on, very briefly, to look at the passage’s fulfilment in Christ - though our interpretation will be very much applied to what we already see in Jesus and we shall be interpreting poetic language in a way which seems to fit the context best. There is, of course, danger in this and no doubt others will interpret both Matthew and Isaiah’s words differently, but at least an attempt needs to be made here.

Matthew seems to quote Isaiah very loosely and most commentators opt for the writer making his own translation of the passage rather than of using any of the versions of the extant Greek manuscripts that we now have. Indeed, as we shall see, the author also chooses to omit two of the phrases towards the end of the quotation.

Finishing off Mtw 12:18 and Is 42:1 which we began above by considering who the original ‘Servant’ was, Mtw 3:16-17 shows us the fulfilment that the Spirit of God would be upon the Servant that He might fulfil everything which God required from Him. Luke 4:18-19 (quoted from the OT passage Is 61:1-2) specifically speaks about the anointing of the Spirit upon Jesus because the ministry to Israel is starting and it’s this anointing which will bring about the function of the Servant in the nation.

Therefore, this first verse proclaims the characteristics of the Servant, but the following three verses will outline His service, taken to be poetic representations of the ministry that He’s currently fulfilling, a change from the minister to the ministry, though the character of the Servant is not far from the thought when His actions are being defined. After all, His actions are a natural reflection of the type of Person He is.

The next two verses (Mtw 12:19-20 and Is 42:2-3) are similar in both OT and NT, the most obvious difference, however, being Matthew’s addition of the words ‘to victory’ at the very end where Isaiah simply has the statement that the Servant will bring justice to bear into situations. This phrase is paralleled in both of the first verses where Matthew writes that

‘...He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles’

As Motyer notes of Isaiah 4:1

‘...the truth is not something they search for and progressively find but something brought to them by a revealing agent’

and it’s worth noting here that the Servant, even if it was initially meant to be identified with the nation of Israel, is one who brings justice and truth to the ‘Gentiles’ (that is, the non-Jews) as a result of being anointed with the Spirit of God. It doesn’t come about as a rational observation or as an exposition and application of OT Law but because the Spirit of God has come upon the Servant and that what He says becomes the revelation of God to the world, a natural denunciation of insular Judaism.

Matthew’s expansion of Is 41:3 to ‘justice to victory’ hints at an interpretation in the cross and resurrection and, ultimately, in the return of the Servant to set up a righteous Kingdom over the people of the earth and is an assurance that nothing will hinder God’s servant from finally and successfully achieving God’s will (that is, His ‘justice’ or ‘righteousness’), where Matfran notes that the word ‘justice’ means in the OT

‘...the setting right of whatever is not as it should be...’

The other phrases contained in these two verses show what Matthew means when he states that Jesus fulfilled them by His commands to both human and demonic alike that they not announce both the things He was doing and the Person He was. Matfran notes that, although Mtw 8:17 has previously shown the reader what the Servant was to do in fulfilment of His ministry, here the emphasis is on His character and the type of person that He’d prove to be amongst them.

‘Wrangle’ and ‘cry aloud’ are interpreted in the OT passage by Motyer as implying, respectively, that which startles by being loud and that which seeks to dominate a situation and to shout others down. Matthew seems to have interpreted Isaiah’s first word the passage in the OT being translated by the RSV

‘He will not cry of lift up His voice...’

However, it gets over the point that the Servant was to carry the attitude that wouldn’t be argumentative against opposition and would, rather, retreat from confrontation where possible. There would come a time when Jesus would stand up to denounce the Pharisees (Mtw 23:1-36) but, for now, although He gives them opportunity to change by His appeal to their own practices (Mtw 12:11-12), He doesn’t go after their interpretations to undermine their position but retreats from their presence (Mtw 12:15). Matmor sees the meaning here as indicating that

‘...He will not try to impose His will on everybody regardless of their desires’

While this is true of the life of Christ, it doesn’t point us back to the reason for Matthew’s quotation of the OT Scripture but it must also be part of the reason why Jesus withdrew from situations when opposition began to get legs.

Matthew then speaks of the Servant as declining the opportunity to make His voice known in the streets where there’s an obvious parallel with Jesus’ command to those healed not to declare the works which had been performed. Motyer, however, sees the Isaiah passage as indicating ‘self-advertisement’ though he’s also at pains to note that all the words used here are not as easy to define as some would like to make out.

However, this certainly fits in with John 2:25 and with the burden of Jesus’ instructions to the twelve sent out in Mtw 10:5ff where He’s concerned to emphasise that they meet the people’s needs and proclaim the Gospel to all who will listen, rather than to announce that Jesus was coming, to elevate His importance within the nation and to go from door to door asking the people whether they were coming to the rally when Jesus arrived (sorry, again - I tend to get carried away).

Mtw 12:20 which speaks of the bruised reed and the smouldering wick points us back to Mtw 11:28 where all those who were weak and heavy laden were bidden to come to Jesus for rest (where it’s religious service that’s primarily in mind) but a similar ‘fulfilment’ is possible from Mtw 12:15 which precedes Matthew’s quote of the Isaiah passage and which speaks of Jesus as healing all who came to Him. It must be noted, however, that the passage doesn’t actually speak of Jesus relighting what’s on the point of going out, simply that it won’t be He who puts it out. However, the positive does appear to be implied here, in my opinion.

Both the reed and the wick were incidental and cheap items in Israelite society. The reed could be used, for example, as a flute but, if it became cracked, it was easier to throw it away and go get another from the riverside. The same was true of the wick which was, presumably, so lacking in wax to burn in the Isaiah passage that it needed to be replaced by a new candle. But, rather than remove the seemingly useless, the Servant is spoken of as staying with them and, by implication, of restoring what others consider is of no use and worthy only to be thrown away.

Perhaps it would be best to leave the definition as vague as possible though note the specific examples above which are possible. After all, the Servant isn’t one to destroy anything which is on the point of extinction, whether that be through a physical, emotional or spiritual weakness.

Finally, Matthew omits the first couple of phrases of Is 42:4 to conclude His quotation. While it can be appreciated why the phrase

‘He will not fail or be discouraged...’

may not be immediately relevant to the fulfilment at hand, the concluding statement that the Servant would continue

‘... till He has established justice in the earth...’

would have been particularly poignant to the fulfilment of all that the Father had given Him to achieve through the cross and resurrection. Perhaps Matthew’s expansion of Isaiah’s prophecy noted above where he writes that the Servant

‘...brings justice to victory’

is meant there to be an inclusion of this verse and, for brevity’s sake, he just includes Isaiah’s last phrase that

‘ His name will the Gentiles hope’

Isaiah actually wrote

‘...and the coastlands wait for His law’

and the word for ‘coastlands’, as Motyer comments, indicates the remotest parts of the earth rather than simply lands which are at the edge of the Mediterranean or of some other sea. He further notes that the world’s response to this Servant is that they will

‘...stake their future on what He reveals to them having been won to His allegiance’

and, in Matthew’s words, we see a recognition that, although Jesus’ ministry has been predominantly Jewish until this point, there must come a time when that would change and the nations of the world would be confronted by God’s Servant and the ministry which was to be duplicated in their midst.

Concluding, Jesus, the perfect embodiment of all that Israel was to become, is the One who is anointed by God to rekindle everything that’s on the point of extinction. Although the religious leaders and the false Messianic figures would claim for themselves pre-eminence and places of privilege over and above the people round about them, Jesus withdraws when His popularity increases, retreats from open confrontation and shuns acceptance based on popularity. Matmor comments that

‘ popular expectation, messiahs exercised their authority by crushing opposition, but Jesus showed His authority in His concern for the helpless and downtrodden’

Rather, He is the Servant who will persevere until the end, when He finally establishes justice throughout the earth as a fulfilment of the commission given to Him by God the Father.