The scene that is presented to the reader of Isaiah 40 is solemn. The claims of the Lord to absolute authority are asserted. As creator and ruler there is none who can stand beside Him. Even in Israel, however, there was refusal to accept such claims, and idolatry cast its dark, evil shadow across the nation.
At the beginning of the next chapter Israel is invited to bring their idols before the court so that the claims of these idols can be examined. As a result of this, two conclusions are reached. The first declares, "Behold, ye are of nothing" (41.24) and the second, "Behold, they are all vanity" (41.29). This is the two-fold verdict delivered. The first refers to the idols and the second to the idolaters.
From such a dark background there bursts forth a third "Behold" (42.1), an exhortation to look attentively at the Servant. The attention of the reader is taken from the darkness of His failing servants, to the beauty of the Perfect Servant. Let us take heed to this first lesson. When the shadows gather round our souls it is good to "lift up our eyes" and fix them on the Lord. Whether we feel the weight of our own failure or feel that of others it is time to heed the instruction from glory, "Behold my servant". He on whom our gaze is fixed is always an encouragement and spurs us on.
But He whom the Lord upholds and sustains has a second lesson to teach. The telling words, "in whom my soul delighteth", should cause us to pause and consider. His service was a delight to the Lord! How we must grasp this truth, that our service is to be delightful to the Lord and not carried out solely to please others. Let us ensure that we make this the motive in all our service. Paul was careful to remind the Thessalonians of this vital truth as he writes, " ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God" (1 Thess 4.1).
The third lesson comes in v.2: "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street". It was not His way to dominate ostentatiously, to engage loudly in self-advertising, nor to push Himself to the fore. Such behaviour has not the stamp of godliness. As it was not His way it must not be our way. He had quiet authority, never failing to censure when it was necessary, and willing to commend. Others may lose control of their tempers; He never did, even when driving the merchants from the temple courts. Let us, therefore, refrain from carnal behaviour. How we speak and behave is as important as what we teach. Let not the first negate the second.
The fourth lesson is found in v.3: "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench". The "bruised reed" is one that is cracked and crushed. Circumstances that are not revealed have reduced it to this state and made it unfit for use. The smoking flax was once aflame, but the fire has gone out and the smoke alone is left. How many servants are crushed, with the dying embers of a once bright testimony showing what might have been. But for Him no one is so far gone that they have to be dismissed as unworthy and valueless. Let us look out for them and seek to strengthen them so that the fire will flame up again.
In the fifth lesson (v.4) we read that "He shall not fail nor be discouraged". The word "fail" links back to the word "smoking", and "discouraged" to "bruise". He will never be crushed and the flame of His service will never diminish. The failures experienced by others will never be His. This does not mean that He will be exempt from all the pressures and circumstances that bring others low, but rather that they will not cause His faithfulness to be reduced or His service to decline.
Five lessons! When David approached Goliath he had in his possession "five smooth stones out of the brook" (1 Sam 17.40), but he only needed to use one. We need all five of the lessons above - and more. Let us, therefore, never fail to take heed to the call, "Behold my servant".