A Bruised Reed and a Smoking Wick

“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold;

My chosen one in whom My soul delights.

I have put My Spirit upon Him;

He will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry out or raise His voice,

Nor make His voice heard in the street.

A bruised reed He will not break

And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;

He will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not be disheartened or crushed

Until He has established justice in the earth;

And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”

- Isaiah 42:1-4


As one of the many descriptions of the Messiah foretold in Isaiah, this passage focuses on Jesus’ service to humanity - especially individuals who were fragile or broken. And the 2 images that are used to describe these individuals are that of a bruised reed and a smoking wick. 

1) THE REED: This Hebrew word is for a reed that grew up to 15 feet tall and had several uses once cut - maybe as a measuring rod or as a walking staff. But the fact that they were hollow showed the limitations of even a good strong reed. It would splinter instead of bend if too much was asked of it. If it was already bruised - damaged in some way - it was regarded as useless. It would be intentionally broken and might be thrown on your burn or compost pile. 

But the bruised reed is an image for people here. What kinds of people? Those who are fragile…who are bruised…who are burdened or hurt. This may be the lady whose repeated emotional distresses are something you would rather just stay away from completely. It may be the veteran who struggles with PTSD. It may be the young lady who admits that she had an abortion 2 years ago to terminate a teenage pregnancy and is burdened with guilt. It may be the widow…the orphan…the child with a debilitating disease...the homeless man under the bridge…or the immigrant who sometimes feels his efforts to support his family back home will still not be enough to provide. It may be a tax collector…a prostitute…a leper…a Samaritan woman whose relationship history has been a disaster. These are the people with whom interactions require investment on your part. Genuine love and service to these individuals is not a stroll in the park. 

But Jesus is not a Darwinist. He does not seek survival of the fittest. He places value on each reed, no matter how bruised it is…even though He knows it will demand more time…more energy…more sacrifice on His part to engage these interactions…to befriend and serve these individuals. “A bruised reed” He does not break.

2) THE WICK: In times of power outage, some of you may have used a kerosene or gas lamp of some kind…one which contains a wick that is dipped in the fuel and lit with fire. Well, similar lamps were a way of life in the Ancient Near East. But they were even simpler. Often they were just a bowl of oil with a strip of flax in it. The flax was the wick that was lit. Now it burns until the oil is exhausted…and as the oil is down to the very end and the flax starts to dry out…the wick itself starts to burn. And it lets off smoke. It was the sign that to was time to light a new lamp. To let it continue to smoke was a nuisance. It was an irritant! The natural thing to do would be just reach over and snuff it out - extinguish it. One less irritant. Just light a new one! 

What does the image mean? Once again, it’s about people…this time the ones who irritate us…who may rub us the wrong way…maybe they call too often…or who have some annoying quirks to their personality…or may have unreasonable requests...or whom we’ve worked with for awhile but still don’t quite get it…may say or do off-the-wall stuff (not unlike many of Jesus’s disciples as they were learning). I struggle with this one at times, and I know many of you do as well. And it’s so tempting to grab your candlesnuffer…and give up on that smoking wick…just cut it off completely. Jesus did not. He valued and invested in even the nuisances - the demon-possessed lunatics, the disciples who continued to put their feet in their mouths and do really dumb things. He kept working with them, because His love for people was not limited to those whose presence made Him comfortable and happy. He was not a wick-extinguisher. He was a wick-reigniter.  

We are not advocating becoming a victim of an ongoing truly unhealthy dependence-friendship. You have to be honest about your own limitations as a friend. But learn from our Lord how far the love for neighbor, even the difficult neighbor, must really go.


To His Glory,