He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. (Isaiah 42.2-4)
Premature Battle Fatigue
Much of the northern hemisphere is experiencing an unusually hot and savage summer. Regions that need no more rain—like Iowa, Northern China, and Pakistan—have been deluged, while Russia crackles and burns. Here in the States, we’re in the early throes of what’s already an unusually hot and savage Congressional electoral campaign. (We hold biannual elections because we’re masochists.) The hot weather combined with the overheated rhetoric makes both doubly exhausting. The hopes that ushered in the current Administration vaporized long ago, almost immediately, in fact, when the opposition made it very clear every debate would be hobbled by political ideology, not guided by civic principles. Life here has become a “Road Runner” cartoon. While one side wants progress, the other hatches schemes to foil it. Objective viewers chuckle at how often the strategy blows up. But the opposition’s genius surfaces in how cleverly it’s bleached reason from the landscape. Somehow it’s convinced a large sector of the population the Road Runner is the villain and Wile E. Coyote is the hero.
At four months short of the Administration’s midpoint, many of us are dealing with premature battle fatigue. Nerves are frayed, hopes battered, and friendships bruised. Why must everything that’s said or decided be a polarizing issue? When did middle ground turn into a sinkhole? For American believers who watched as their nation steamrollered clear-cut Biblical standards of justice, compassion, and peace, the strain feels all the greater. The call for a return to godly principles might be answered if it could be heard. But the din of greed, prejudice, and conscious disregard for the least among us has become our national anthem—often sung around the flagpole of religion. This isn’t the American way. It surely isn’t Christ’s way. And we who disagree with it must take care not to abandon our ideals in hopes of protecting them. This fight that feels bigger than we is actually beneath us. Those who contradict God’s Word while claiming to honor it cannot stand. They will fall—sooner than many expect, because they’re not as safe and secure as most seem to think. The current model for sociopolitical engagement is founded on bad faith, suspicion, and bravado. (That’s why it’s beneath us.) The model we’re to follow is Isaiah 42’s portrait of the faithful servant.
An “Inside Voice”
We’re conditioned to read Isaiah as The Treasure Chest of Messianic Promises. And that it is. No prophecy approaches its eloquence and accuracy. Yet we minimize its worth by not recalling its impetus. Isaiah spoke to a people consumed with religious pride and mischief. Their haughty presumption that God’s favor was a right instead of a gift gave birth to a reckless sense of entitlement. They flocked to the Temple, where they put on an impressive show of piety that fooled everyone but God and His prophet. The prophecy begins with scalding condemnation of Israel’s self-deception. In making a spectacle of itself, it neglected the disadvantaged and disenfranchised within its borders. This puts a vastly different spin on the lyrical passages we trot out during Advent and Holy Week. The Promised One is coming not to rout Israel’s tormenters and establish a Hebrew empire. He’ll be sent to correct its faults and remediate its deficiencies. Since Israel has a real knack for confusing politics with priorities, Isaiah 42 says the Messiah will subvert every human method and impulse.
He’ll assume a lesser—some might even say passive—role that underscores His reliance on God. Verse 1 reads: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” The Spirit will endow Him with an “inside voice” in every sense. He will be internally driven to rise above external influences and threats. But He’ll also master the carnal impulse to drown out His opponents and prove His superiority in the public square. “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets,” verse 2 declares. Yes, He will speak against Israel’s folly; that’s His charge. But it’s unnecessary for Him to engage in their folly in order to defeat it.
He will be a gentle Savior, a caring King, and a just Ruler Who cherishes the wounded and perishing among His people. I love how Isaiah captures this: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (v3) No one will be unworthy of His love and protection. Surely this will fan outrage in Israel’s classist society by putting an end to privilege and transference of power. They’ll dig in their heels, question His authority, and mock His methods. But they’ll make a fatal mistake by misjudging His quiet nature as weakness of character. Not sacrificing His integrity to their game will give Him stamina to defeat their ploys by outlasting them. “In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on the earth,” Isaiah writes. (v3-4) This Faithful Servant won’t be concerned with winning the day. He’s coming to establish justice. He’s in it for the long haul. He is our model.
At the Proper Time
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” Galatians 6.9 instructs. Our work is not in the streets, trying to shout down belligerent bellowing of self-deceived, self-serving fools. We work among bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. The voice inside us reminds us how much power we accrue by using our “inside voices.” Our gentleness, care, and commitment to justice resound in our words and actions. What others perceive as weakness of character is really integrity that energizes and enables us to outlast our adversaries. Faithfulness is the key that brings forth justice. Let the coyotes win the day if they must. Faithful servants are roadrunners. We have stamina to burn and tenacity to last. Most of all we have faith. At the proper time—and no sooner—our faithfulness will bear fruit if we don’t give up.
Like Wile E. Coyote, those seeking to undermine compassion and justice may think their schemes sound. But our integrity as faithful servants gives us stamina and tenacity to defeat them.