“Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my Spirit upon him…A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” Isaiah 42:1–3
This is a prophecy about our Savior. He will not break a bruised reed, nor quench a smoking flax (“a dimly burning wick,” as the Revised Version translates it). A “bruised reed” is one that has been hit and bent over, but not broken clear off. The angle where the reed is bent means that the veins of the reed are constricted at that point; only with difficulty and to a limited extent can the life-giving sap of the reed reach the part beyond where it is “bruised.” The part beyond the bruise is alive, but it is not flourishing.
Consider the dimly burning wick—the chimney less oil lamp or flare of ancient Palestine. Sometimes it would burn only dimly, with more smoke than flame. There is fire there; combustion is taking place; but the rate of combustion is slow, so that there is not a vigorous and bright flame. It is alive, but it is not what a lamp ought to be.
Is our Christian life a bruised reed, a dimly burning wick? Think of our failures, our inconsistencies, our weaknesses, our discouragements. How feebly we live for our Lord! How much of self, how little of Jesus, there is in our lives! How often we have turned aside from his way to our own way! How often we have followed him afar off! How often our love to him has waxed cold, our vision of him grown dim! All of us will readily confess that sometimes—perhaps most of the time–our life has been a bruised reed and a dimly burning wick. We cannot honestly claim more.
Be comforted. Christ will not break a bruised reed, nor quench a dimly burning wick. He will not say, “I do not want this bruised reed; break it off; pull it up by the roots; throw it into the fire to be destroyed.” He will not say, “This dimly burning wick is useless. It cannot serve the purpose of a lamp. Extinguish the smoldering, flickering flame; throw the worthless wick out on the rubbish heap.” No, Christ will not do that. For the life in the reed is his life, and the flame of the wick is his flame. Bruised as the reed may be, it is not dead; it is alive. That life in the Christian is Christ’s life, imparted in the new birth by the Holy Spirit. That flame of the dimly burning wick is Christ’s flame, the flame given by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Christ suffered and died to give life to the reed, to kindle the flame on the wick. He will not abandon it; he will not reject it.
Perhaps we should lament that we are only a bruised reed, a dimly burning wick. But we should also rejoice and give thanks that by divine grace we are a reed with life in its cells, a wick with a living flame burning, however feebly, at its tip. What our Lord has undertaken, he will complete. Christ uses and transforms bruised reeds, dimly burning wicks. He can make the bruised reed grow straight and strong. He can fan the dimly burning wick to a brightly glowing, white-hot flame. It can become a beacon of light to the lost in this world’s darkness.
Moreover, we should understand, such is the real destiny of every Christian. Every bruised reed is to be a straight and strong reed someday, and every dimly burning wick is to burn with a white-hot flame someday. Our eternal destiny as Christians is to be strong and straight reeds, and brightly burning lamps, for our Lord’s honor and praise and glory. If you are truly in Christ, even though today you may be but a bruised reed and a dimly burning wick, yet your sure destiny is to be strong and straight and bright for him, to all eternity. Let that be your encouragement in your struggle with sin, temptation and weakness.
– Johannes G. Vos