Isaiah 42:3 - Bruised Reeds in Bruised Hands
Isaiah's prophecies concerning Christ employ two striking metaphors to describe the saving activity of the Lord.
On the one hand, Jehovah goes forth as a mighty man, a man of war on behalf of His own oppressed people (Isaiah 42:13). We watch the mighty warrior preparing for battle, putting on righteousness for a breastplate, a helmet of salvation, vengeance for clothing and zeal for a cloak (59:17). We observe as he lifts up the standard against the enemy (59:19), and then witness His return from battle with his garments stained - a testimony to his lone encounter with the enemy of his church, and his triumphal return from the land of the enemy (63:1-6).
But there is another picture of Christ in the prophecy - the Christ who comes to his people in gentleness and meekness, carrying the lambs in his bosom, and gently leading those with young (40:11). It is of this Christ that Isaiah says in chapter 42 that he will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax (42:3). He is the epitome of care, the supreme pastor of His people.
Reeds at Breaking Point
The image of the bruised reed is a reminder to us of the vulnerability of the Christian in this world. Here is a papyrus stalk that has received a blow - thread after thread is undone, until the reed is hanging on - and no more. A gust of wind - a heavy hand - and the whole reed might collapse. Its own weight makes it vulnerable when the cracks begin to appear. The damage cannot be mended internally, and external forces might prove to be too much. The reed is in danger of snapping altogether.
It is, I think, difficult for us to remember, at points of our own strength, that others, as we speak, and as we interact with them, maybe at breaking point. Christians have resources greater than the nations of the world can muster, the ability to overcome, the promise of victory, and the keeping grace of God. But the doctrine of perseverance can seem cold comfort to a life on the rack, when emotional, physical and spiritual strains combine to bruise the reed and leave it hanging on by a thread.
It is the easiest thing in the world to make a barbed comment, to speak an acidic word to our fellow believers, without stopping to realise that this Christian man or woman, who appears to be so much in control, and to be so unshakeable in confidence and assurance could actually be at the point of collapse - a bruised reed. For all we know, the Christian who appears to us the most secure, may in fact be the least protected, and the most defenceless against the forces that operate in this sin-sick world and sin-sick Church of ours.
For too long we have failed to do justice to the fact that mind and soul are one, and we have separated too far the problems of depression and depressive illness from the centre of spiritual life. The result has been that we fail to appreciate the debilitating effects on the spiritual man of depression, guilt and fear. In our most bruised times, we can only say, "When I am weak ... then am I weak".
Hands at Bruising Point
The glory of the Messiah is that he handles bruised reeds with a care and precision that none other can match. In any other hands these reeds would snap in an instant - all life, all hope, all power gone. But in his hands the stalk is made to grow again, the smoking flax is fanned into a full flame, and the wilderness rejoices and blossoms like the rose. He is the master craftsman. We are his workmanship; and the skill of the carpenter is employed to the full in the manufacture of living stones for his temple, that Jehovah will be glorified.
It is the Father's will that sent Him, that of all whom He has been given none will be lost. Not even those who reach a point of loneliness and despair unmatched by others. The promise of Scripture is that in the hands of the Saviour, bruised reeds do not get broken.
But there is a price to pay. He himself was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. Our wholeness depends upon his being taken apart, physically, emotionally, mentally. In the school of suffering, he learns to obey. And though the enemy attacks, and though the waves roll over his soul, he does not fail, nor is he discouraged; he settles justice in the earth, and the coastlands wait for his law (Isaiah 42:4).
Christ made himself vulnerable to what sin brought into human experiences - to death itself and even the pains of hell. He tasted death, and, in fulfilment of the ancient promise, was bruised as he crushed the serpent's head. The high priest who has gone for us into the glory is not ignorant of our condition - he was tempted in all points like us. And at last, the only comfort for bruised reeds is that in the bruised hands of Christ the bruising will not be unto death, but unto an increase of life.
And this, in turn, ought to make us into menders of bruised reeds, careful in speaking when we do not know to what heights our brother may have sunk, and slow to stab when the reed may be hanging on by a thread. For at last, it is the man who knows his own weakness that can impart strength to his brother, and the man who is aware of his own vulnerability that will think twice before he throws the first stone.