Matthew 12:20 "A battered reed He will not break off, And a smoldering wick He will not put out, Until He leads justice to victory.
Some commentaries on the verse.
A bruised reed ... - The reed is an emblem of feebleness, as well as of fickleness or want of stability, Mat_11:7. A bruised, broken reed is an emblem of the poor and oppressed. It means that he would not oppress the feeble and poor, as victorious warriors and conquerors did. It is also an expressive emblem of the soul broken and contrite on account of sin; weeping and mourning for transgression. He will not break it; that is, he will not be severe, unforgiving, and cruel. He will heal it, pardon it, and give it strength.
Smoking flax - This refers to the wick of a lamp when the oil is exhausted - the dying, flickering flame and smoke that hang over it. It is an emblem, also, of feebleness and infirmity. He would not further oppress those who had a little strength; he would not put out hope and life when it seemed to be almost extinct. He would not be like the Pharisees, proud and overbearing, and trampling down the poor. It is expressive, also, of the languishing graces of the people of God. He will not treat them harshly or unkindly, but will cherish the feeble flame, minister the "oil" of grace, and kindle it into a blaze.
Till he send forth judgment unto victory - "Judgment" here means truth - the truth of God, the gospel. It shall be victorious - it shall not be vanquished. Though the Messiah is not "such" a conqueror as the Jews expected, yet he "shall" conquer. Though mild and retiring, yet he will be victorious.
A bruised reed shall he not break - A reed is, in Scripture, the emblem of weakness, Eze_29:6; and a bruised reed must signify that state of weakness that borders on dissolution and death.
And smoking flax shall he not quench - Λινον τυφομενον. Λινος means the wick of a lamp, and τυφομενον is intended to point out its expiring state, when the oil has been all burnt away from it, and nothing is left but a mere snuff, emitting smoke. Some suppose the Jewish state, as to ecclesiastical matters, is here intended, the prophecy declaring that Christ would not destroy it, but leave it to expire of itself, as it already contained the principles of its own destruction. Others have considered it as implying that great tenderness with which the blessed Jesus should treat the weak and the ignorant, whose good desires must not be stifled, but encouraged. The bruised reed may recover itself, if permitted to vegetate under the genial influences of heaven; and the life and light of the expiring lamp may be supported by the addition of fresh oil. Jesus therefore quenches not faint desires after salvation, even in the worst and most undeserving of men; for even such desires may lead to the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of peace.
Judgment unto victory - See Mat_12:18. By judgment, understand the Gospel, and by victory its complete triumph over Jewish opposition, and Gentile impiety. He will continue by these mild and gentle means to work till the whole world is Christianized, and the universe filled with his glory.
[A bruised reed shall he not break.]
These words are to be applied, as appears by those that went before, to our Saviour's silent transaction of his own affairs, without hunting after applause, the noise of boasting, or the loud reports of fame. He shall not make so great a noise as is made from the breaking of a reed now already bruised and half broken, or from the hissing of smoking flax only when water is thrown upon it. How far different is the Messias thus described, from the Messias of the expectation of the Jews! And yet it appears sufficiently that Isaiah, from whom these words are taken, spake of the Messias, and the Jews confess it.
[Till he send forth judgment unto victory.]
The Hebrew and LXX in Isaiah read it thus, "He shall bring forth judgment unto truth." The words in both places mean thus much, That Christ should make no sound in the world, or noise of pomp, or applause, or state, but should manage his affairs in humility, silence, poverty, and patience, both while he himself was on earth, and by his apostles, after his ascension, labouring under contempt, poverty, and persecution; but at last "he should bring forth judgment to victory"; that is, that he should break forth and show himself a judge, avenger, and conqueror, against that most wicked nation of the Jews, from whom both he and his suffered such things: and then, also, "he sent forth judgment unto truth," and asserted himself the true Messias, and the Son of God, before the eyes of all; and confirmed the truth of the gospel, by avenging his cause upon his enemies, in a manner so conspicuous and so dreadful. And hence it is, that that sending forth and execution of judgment against that nation is almost always called in the New Testament "his coming in glory." When Christ and his kingdom had so long laid hid under the veil of humility, and the cloud of persecution, at last he brake forth a revenger, and cut off that persecuting nation, and shewed himself a conqueror before the eyes of all, both Jews and Gentiles. Let it be observed in the text before us, how, after the mention of that judgment and victory (against the Jews), presently follows, "and in his name shall the Gentiles trust."
A bruised reed shall he not break,.... Various are the thoughts of interpreters, about what is meant by this, and by
the smoking flax shall he not quench. Some think the Scribes and Pharisees are designed, whose power Christ could easily crush, and their wrath and fury restrain, but would not, till the time of his vengeance was come. Others that the publicans and sinners are intended, of whose conversion and salvation there were more hope than of the Scribes and Pharisees; and which Christ greatly sought after, and therefore cherished and encouraged them in his ministry and conversation. Some are of opinion, that such who have fallen into sin, and are under great decays of grace, are meant, whom Christ has compassion on, succours, and restores: but rather young converts, such as are under first awakenings, are here pointed at; who, like to a "bruised reed", or "broken" one, one that is in some measure broke, near being broken to pieces, are wounded in their spirits, have their hearts broken and contrite, under a sense of their sinfulness, vileness, weakness, and unworthiness; whom Christ is so far from breaking and destroying, that he binds up their broken hearts, heals their wounds, and restores comforts to them: and who are like to "smoking flax", or, as the Syriac reads it, שרגא דמטפטף, "a smoking lamp"; to which the Arabic and Persic versions agree; meaning the wick of the lamp, which being just lighted, seems ready to go out, having scarce any light, only a little fire in it, which makes it smoke: so these have but little light of knowledge, faith, and comfort, and a great deal of darkness and infirmity; only there is some warmth in their affections, which go upwards "like pillars of smoke, perfumed with frankincense"; and such Christ is so far from neglecting, and putting out, that he blows up the sparks of grace into a flame, and never utterly leaves the work,
till he sends forth judgment into victory; that is, till he sends forth the Gospel into their hearts, accompanied with his mighty power, in the light and comfort of it; which informs their judgments, enlightens their understandings, bows their wills, raises their affections, sanctifies their souls, works effectually in them, under the influence of his Spirit and grace, to the carrying on of the work of grace in them to the end; and making them victorious over all their enemies, and more than conquerors, through him that has loved them. The Targum of Jonathan paraphrases the words thus;
"the meek, who are as a bruised reed, he will not break; and the poor, who are as an obscure lamp, he will not quench."
"unto truth," says the Hebrew original, and the Septuagint also. But our Evangelist merely seizes the spirit, instead of the letter of the prediction in this point. The grandeur and completeness of Messiah's victories would prove, it seems, not more wonderful than the unobtrusive noiselessness with which they were to be achieved. And whereas one rough touch will break a bruised reed, and quench the flickering, smoking flax, His it should be, with matchless tenderness, love, and skill, to lift up the meek, to strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, to comfort all that mourn, to say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.
A bruised reed shall he not break. The reed, a hollow cylinder, if bruised has its strength destroyed. It thus becomes the symbol of the bruised spirit. The tender Savior will not break, but heal.
Smoking flax. The wick of the lamp that had ceased to burn clearly. The violent would put it out and fling it away. The Lord does not use such violence with those disciples who give forth some light, even if it is imperfect.
Till he send forth judgment. Till he shall sit in power and triumph on the throne of judgment.
The Hebrew is, literally, a dimly burning wick he shall not quench (Isa_42:3). The quotation stops at the end of the third verse in the prophecy; but the succeeding verse is beautifully suggestive as describing the Servant of Jehovah by the same figures in which he pictures his suffering ones - a wick and a reed. "He shall not burn dimly, neither shall his spirit be crushed." He himself, partaking of the nature of our frail humanity, is both a lamp and a reed, humble, but not to be broken, and the "light of the world." Compare the beautiful passage in Dante, where Cato directs Virgil to wash away the stains of the nether world from Dante's face, and to prepare him for the ascent of the purgatorial mount by girding him with a rush, the emblem of humility:
Matthew 12:20 A bruised reed- A convinced sinner: one that is bruised with the weight of sin: smoking flax- One that has the least good desire, the faintest spark of grace: till he send forth judgment unto victory- That is, till he make righteousness completely victorious over all its enemies.