“Behold! My servant whom I uphold, My Elect One (chosen ESV) in whom my soul delights!” (Isaiah 42:1a).
The speaker is God. This is true from Isaiah 41:1-42:9 (Notice: 41:4, 10, 13, 17, 21; 42:5, 6, 8).
The words “My servant” have reference to God’s ideal servant, Christ. (Isaiah 42:1-4 cf. Matthew 12:18-21). While it is true that others are called “My servant” [e.g. Job (Job 1:8; 2:3), Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25:9), Israel (Isaiah 41:8-9; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20), Isaiah (Isaiah 44:26), preachers (Philippians 1:1; 2 Timothy 2:25)], this is speaking of God’s ideal servant.
There is a subtle comparison being made between Israel and Christ. (a) On one hand, Israel is called “My servant” and “chosen” (Isaiah 41:8-9). Israel is promised that God would “uphold” them (Isaiah 41:10, 13). However, Israel was far from the ideal servant. He says of them, “Hear, you deaf, and look you blind that you may see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one or blind as the servant of the Lord? He sees many things, but does not observe them. His ears are open, but he does not hear (Isaiah 42:18-20 ESV). This is speaking of Israel (Isaiah 42:22-25). (b) On the other hand, there is this servant “in whom My soul delights” (Isaiah 42:1). Like Israel, this servant is called “my servant” and “chosen” (Isaiah 42:1). Like Israel, this one is upheld by God (Isaiah 42:6).
“I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles (nations ESV)” (Isaiah 42:1b).
The Christ certainly fits this. He was anointed with the Spirit (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32; 3:34-35; Acts 10:38). Compare this also with the words of Isaiah 11:1-2.
Moreover, this servant’s role concerns not just Israel, but the nations, or the gentiles. The word rendered “justice,” or “judgment” (KJV) has a variety of usages including: (1) judgment; (2) justice; (3) ordinances….law of the king (Brown-Driver-Briggs-Genenius Hebrew-English Lexicon).
“He will not cry out nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street” (Isaiah 42:2).
Perhaps this has to do with the submissive way he went to the cross. Later, in this same book, we’re told, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten” (1 Peter 2:23).
“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoking flax (dimly burning wick NASB; faintly burning wick ESV) He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3).
Jesus did not appear to break and extinguish. Jesus said, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). He came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He came so that man “may have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10).
The ESV Study Bible comments, “This is the first of four servant songs, fulfilled in Jesus Christ” (cf. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). The material is rich and worth one’s meditation.