A BRUISED REED AND SMOKING FLAX
Matthew, an apostle of Christ, said of Jesus, “A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory” (Matthew 12:20). This statement is part of a larger quotation from Isaiah 42:1-4, and Matthew’s use of it is the only time this particular prophecy is quoted in the New Testament. (Note: Flax was a plant from which linen and other products were made.)
In context, both Isaiah and Matthew are talking about Christ as God’s Servant, “My Beloved, in whom My soul is well pleased,” the One upon whom God would put His Spirit, the One who would “declare justice to the Gentiles,” and the One “in [whose] name Gentiles will trust” (Matthew 12:18-21). In short, it is a text relating to the redemptive work of Christ, not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles.
Of the expression, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench,” the great Bible scholar J. W. McGarvey has observed: “A bruised reed, barely strong enough to stand erect, or bowed with its head toward the earth; and smoking flax (a lamp-wick), its flame extinguished and its fire almost gone, fitly represents the sick, and lame, and blind who were brought to Jesus to be healed. The statement that he would not break these bruised reeds, nor quench this smoking flax, was an emphatic declaration, by contrast, that he would heal their bruises and fan their dying energies into a flame” (The New Testament Commentary: Vol. I – Matthew and Mark, originally published in 1875, reprinted by Eugene S. Smith, Des Moines, Iowa [n.d.], p. 106).
“A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” speaks of the gentle manner in which Christ dealt with others and sets forth a principle that all followers of Christ should pursue in their dealings with others. Jesus did not come into the world to break those already bruised, nor did He come to extinguish what little life may yet have been left in some. Rather, as He stated, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b). He invited all to come to Him, saying, “I am meek (gentle) and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-30).
With reference to Christians who are caught up in sin, Paul counseled, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2). In a similar vein, Jude, the brother of the Lord, said, “And on some have compassion, making a distinction; and save others with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). It must never be our intent to break the “bruised reed,” or to extinguish whatever smoldering flame of spiritual life that may still be in the person who has been overtaken in sin. Rather, it must be our aim to lift up and restore such a person.
Every Jewish priest who served under the law of Moses was to be a man who “can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also beset by weakness” (Hebrews 5:2). Under Christ there is no separation of priests and laity for all Christians constitute “a holy priesthood” and “a royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:5, 9). But like the Old Testament priests, those who serve as elders/shepherds of the church and those who serve as ministers of God’s people need to be able to “have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray,” understanding that they, too, are “beset by weakness.”
Concerning the approach to take with those who have become ensnared in false and erroneous ways, Paul wrote: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (II Timothy 2:24-26). The Lord’s servant is to deal gently, lovingly, and patiently with those who are caught up in sin and religious error. It must never be our desire to destroy them, but to rescue them.
Children in our homes “are a heritage from the Lord” (Psalms 127:3), and as such they are to be dealt with gently and in kindness, yet with firmness and discipline appropriate for their age. Fathers are not to provoke their children to wrath, nor provoke them so that they become discouraged (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). When Jacob and Esau were reunited after many years of alienation, Esau magnanimously offered to lead the way back to their home, but Jacob who had gained a large family and much livestock said to Esau, “I will lead on gently (softly, KJV; slowly, NKJV), according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children . . .” (Genesis 33:14, ASV). There is a lesson there for parents if we have the wisdom to learn it!
Newborn babes in the family of God (new Christians) need this same kind of gentle care and counsel. Let those of us who are older in the faith remember how it was with us when we too were babes in Christ. We had many questions, we made many mistakes, and there was so much to learn—and still is!
“A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench.” Let that likewise be our approach in dealing with our family members, our fellow Christians, and our fellowmen in society at large—with all who have been bruised by life and for whom the wick of life is burning low.
April 4, 2017
April 5: Green Hill Church of Christ, Mount Juliet, TN.