Forming Faith Blog

Waiting for Mishpat (Isaiah 42)

In Isaiah 42, we glimpse a promised Servant who will bring mishpat to the world. We have seen this Servant in Jesus but still await justice in full. As we wait, we must also do justice!

A statue of justice. The servant in Isaiah 42 will establish justice (mishpat).

We continue in our theme of Faith in God’s Promises, this third Sunday of Advent. Isaiah 42 fits better in the traditional view of Advent than last week’s reading from Esther. Here, the LORD promises to send a servant, whom we identify as the Messiah. God promises to establish justice (mishpat) through this servant, though not for Israel only, but for the whole world.

Waiting for the Servant

As said before, Advent is the season of waiting. Habakkuk was impatiently waiting for God to establish justice and peace as God had promised. Here in Isaiah, that promise comes more into focus. We now know who will fulfill the promise: the Servant. Who is this servant? Scholars aren’t in full agreement on this one. Some say this is Cyrus the “Great,” who will soon allow the Jewish exiles to return home. Others say that the servant is the people of Israel, that priestly nation through whom God will bless the whole world. Still others identify the servant with the Messiah, whom we know as Jesus of Nazareth. Frankly, it could be all three (though Cyrus doesn’t match the following description).

But, what will this servant do? The servant will “bring forth” and “establish” mishpat, the Hebrew term for “justice.” How will this servant act? He will act quietly, not making a scene or gathering a crowd (v. 2). He will act gently, so gently that he won’t break a plant stem that had already been bruised (v. 3a). And, he will act deliberately so that the breeze of his passing wouldn’t blow out a feeble flame (v. 3b).

The Promise of Mishpat

Let’s start out first by getting a better grasp on the justice God is promising here. In Scripture, mishpat (justice) is not just about punishment for wrongdoing, as we so often use the term. It goes much deeper than that. Mishpat is about re-forming society and the whole world to the way they are supposed to be. All relationships between God, humans, and the world would be based on love and care. In a world ruled by God’s justice, there would be no poverty, no illness, no oppression, no violence. Establishing mishpat brings about shalom, God’s peace. You cannot separate mishpat and shalom; they are different facets of the same jewel. [For more about justice, check out our five-lesson unit “Do Justice” in our Learning Together series.]

Mishpat and Shalom

How can someone who is quiet, gentle, and deliberate (v. 2-3) bring about justice in a world that is based on injustice? Doesn’t that require a revolution, upsetting how everything is done? It does. It requires our whole world being turned upside down. However, justice and peace cannot be established through violence. When you try, you lose the essence of both justice and peace. No, this revolution must be accomplished through non-violence. Justice must be founded on love, service, and self-sacrifice. And, love cannot come through force. Love, service, and self-sacrifice? Sounds like a certain Messiah I know.

Being the Servant

As we are waiting for God’s Servant to come and establish the justice our world so desperately needs, God expects us to act. We believe Jesus is the promised Servant, but we are called to be the Body of Christ in the world. It is our mission to bring mishpat where we can through acts of love and by standing up against injustice. Let us be of the same mind as Jesus and act as he would act. However, we must still wait for Jesus to return, establishing justice for the whole world.

Come, thou long expected Jesus!
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Note: this post has been adapted from a blog post published for December 16, 2018.

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