Matthew 12 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
The Spirit-Anointed Humble Servant
Rather than contending with the Pharisees further, Jesus withdrew (v. 15) and warned those who were beginning to recognize his power not to tell others about it (v. 16). Jesus would not risk extinguishing a wick on the verge of going out, and so far would he go in not breaking a reed (v. 20) that he would offer his cheek to those smiting him with one (27:30; compare Mic 5:1-2). Thus Jesus demonstrated that he preferred not to fight others when it was not necessary (Mt 12:19-20; compare 10:23; Gen 26:14-22). His opponents thought him a youthful upstart, but Jesus knew his identity and his destiny (Mt 12:21). When we recognize our identity and destiny as his followers, we may also be less concerned with what the misinformed think of us.
The quotation from Isaiah 42:1-4 in this passage especially looks forward to the conflict in the following narrative: whereas Jesus' opponents misinterpret his identity, his empowerment by the Spirit demonstrates that he is the chosen one of Isaiah's prophecy (Mt 12:18, 28). Matthew quotes more of the passage than the "Spirit-endowed" or "chosen servant" part, however, to emphasize the meek character of Jesus' first coming (21:5) and especially the final line, which reinforces Matthew's theme of the Gentile mission (2:1-12; 24:14; 28:19): Gentiles will hope in Jesus.
In this passage Matthew reads Jesus as Isaiah's "servant of Yahweh." In context Isaiah 42:1-4 refers to "Israel" (44:1, 21; 49:3), but it is not hard to see how Matthew interprets the text; in contrast to some of his modern critics, Matthew read the whole context (compare Mt 8:17; 20:28). God's servant Israel failed in its mission (Is 42:18-19), so God chose one person within Israel to restore the rest of his people (49:5-7); this one would bear the punishment (compare 40:2) rightly due his people (52:13-53:12). The mission of Isaiah 42 is thus applicable to Jesus.
Translating freely from the Hebrew, Matthew conforms the language of Isaiah 42 to God's praise of his Son in Matthew 3:17 ("my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased"!). As Matthew pointed out repeatedly earlier in his Gospel (1:1; 2:15, 18; 3:15; 4:1-2), Jesus' mission is not a wholly new event but is rooted in the history of his people. This passage may provide one window into Matthew's method of interpretation, which allowed him to draw the integral connection between Jesus and the history of his people. From this text Matthew reminds his readers that Jesus was not a political or warrior Messiah for the present time; he humbled himself as a suffering servant until the time when he would lead justice to victory (12:20).