Battered Reeds and Smoldering Wicks: Matthew 12:15-21
“15) But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, 16) and warned them not to tell who He was. 17) This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “18) Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, 19) And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel, nor cry out; Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. 20) A battered reed He will not break off, And a smoldering wick He will not put out, 21) Until He leads justice to victory. And in His name the Gentiles will hope.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭12‬:‭15‬-‭21‬ ‭
The more the Pharisees tried to discredit and destroy Him, the more the people flocked to Him. He cared for them. He had answers for them. He healed them. He treated them with honor, respect and dignity.
By contrast, the religious leaders treated the people with scorn and distance. They used and controlled them. Like in the story of the Good Samaritan, the priests and Levites daily walked past people in need. They viewed themselves as part of an upper class that deserved the respect, honor and unquestioned obedience of the people.
Matthew here quotes from Isaiah 42:1-4. The text is often applied to the demeanor of the coming Messiah. Gods Spirit would be upon Him. He would focus on bringing forth justice. But more important, He would not be loud, forceful, controlling or demanding. He would be kind, meek and gentle. He would be full of genuine compassion for the hurts an needs of people.
Isaiah used two illustration about Him that resonated with broken and hurting people. First, a battered reed He would not break off. Reeds were used in making everything from baskets to scrolls. Weather beaten reeds were often broken or bent over. People often discarded them as having no value. They were thrown away.
This is a picture of many people. The storms of life leave them bruised and battered. Many give up on them and view them as worthless. But not Jesus. He sees value in them and makes something special from them.
The second picture is that of a smoldering wick. In the days of oil lamps, some wicks would smolder and not give off good light. Many would discard and replace smoldering wicks. But some people would take the extra time to carefully trim and adjust them. They realized that a smoldering wick had the potential to shine brightly if they were trimmed properly. This eventually led to the idiom of “trimming your lamp.” Many times a smoldering wick did not need to be discarded, it needed to be adjusted or tuned in better. The picture is that Jesus takes the time to help smoldering wicks shine brightly.
You might feel like a bruised reed or smoldering wick. Everyone has given up on you. Well, Jesus is different. According to Matthew 11:28-30, He invites those who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him. He sees value in bruised reeds and smoldering wicks.
Many times bruised reeds and smoldering wicks have been victims of crimes associated with violence, sexual or verbal abuse, poverty or discrimination. They have been unjustly exploited and beaten down. They are innocent victims that have been deeply wounded. Notice the word “justice” appears twice in this context. Jesus came to lead justice to victory. He is on the side of the hurt, wounded and victimized.
He Himself became the recipient of jealousy, rejection, hatred and violence. He was innocent but condemned to be crucified. In His stripes there is healing. He is the hope for the broken. He turns smoldering wicks into brightly shining lights.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global