“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…”
(Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20, N.I.V.)
Today’s text verse comes from the Old Testament book of Isaiah and gets referenced in the New Testament book of Matthew. In each instance, the “he” being spoken of is Jesus. In Isaiah, the verse is part of a passage that describes the Messiah that is to come to Israel. In Matthew, it is part of one that evidences that Jesus was that Messiah.
The stalk of a reed is basically just a hollow shaft. If that shaft is damaged, the reed cannot stand strong and erect. Therefore, the picture of a “bruised reed” is one in which damage has caused the shaft to become bent or bowed to some degree.
Imagine a patch of reeds growing undisturbed by a river bank. The reeds are healthy, vibrant, and standing tall. Now imagine a fisherman wearing heavy boots who invades the scene and tromps through the reeds in making his way to the water. A path of trampled stalks is left to show the fisherman’s swath of destruction. Are those stalks totally annihilated? No. But they are now damaged. Did those reeds do anything to deserve the damage that has been done to them? No. They were just standing there by the water’s edge doing what they were designed to do. But is that damage real? It sure is. Those stalks have definitely taken a hit and are the worse for it.
In terms of people, a bruised reed depicts an individual who has been damaged through no fault of his own. Outside influences, either other individuals or unfortunate events, have tromped into the person’s life and inflicted considerable injury. This injury can be emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, or some combination of any of these. So now the person is lowly, somewhat pitiable, and hindered from operating at a high level.
According to the text verse, Jesus handles such people with delicate care. Instead of breaking off the bruised stalk and thus finishing the job begun by the tromping, Jesus works to repair and restore the stalk to help it stand tall again. This shows His tender compassion toward those who have been wronged, treated unjustly, or have simply gotten caught up in a bad turn of events they didn’t cause.
As for the smoldering wick, in Bible times people would douse a piece of cloth in olive oil or animal fat to act as a lamp’s wick. That wick would keep the lamp lit as long as the oil or fat remained, but when the fuel source ran out the wick would begin to smolder and smoke rather than produce a true flame. Again, the picture is one of an object that is in a weakened state and isn’t functioning properly.
And what type of person does the smoldering wick represent? It represents one whose energy and resources have become depleted through the performance of his duty. Such a person is spent, exhausted, and incapable of self-replenishment. He has given his all in the performance of his duty, to the point where he can no longer do his job effectively. Where there was once a flame there is now only smoke.
So, does Jesus throw such a person away and find somebody new to do the job? Definitely not. Instead of snuffing out what is left of the person’s flame, Jesus provides him with a fresh supply of fuel and gets that flame burning brightly again. This shows Christ’s tender compassion toward those who have run themselves into the ground trying to do good and consequently have nothing left to give. Jesus appreciates such peoples’ effort and won’t leave them in their exhausted, drained condition.
I don’t know where this post finds you today, but my guess is that I’m writing to somebody who is currently feeling like a bruised reed, a smoldering wick, or both. If that’s you then you should find encouragement in the fact that Jesus has no desire to finish you off. To the contrary, He wants to strengthen you, shore you up, revitalize you, and refuel you. No matter how you got to your present condition, the main thing now is your future. That future can begin today if you will allow Jesus to begin the process of restoring you back to a healthy, favorable state. My advice to you is to spend some time with Him in prayer, telling Him all about your current state and how you got here, and then let Him begin His marvelous work of fixing you and moving you out into the rest of your life.