by Glen Penton

Telling why we need the Messiah and how we can recognize Him, Isaiah prophesied,
"A damaged reed He won't break
And a smoldering flax wick He won't extinguish."

(Isaiah 42:3)

Since damaged reeds and smoking flax wicks are not an important part of our Western culture, it may help us to explore their use as symbols here.

Near Eastern shepherds, in Isaiah's time and now, learn to be good musicians. The shepherd's music calms the sheep, relieves the shepherd's boredom, and warns any would-be predators that a shepherd is present with the sheep. So a shepherd often picks a likely-looking piece of reed-grass and makes it into a simple flute. But reed-grass is fragile. Around shepherd-children and flocks of sheep, it does not take long for that kind of flute to be crushed, nibbled-on, stepped-on, sat-on, used for a toy sword, used for playing keep-away, pierced, bruised, or bent.

So what does a shepherd-kid do with a ruined flute? Normally, he or she will say a bad word, break the thing, throw it away, pick a new reed, and make a new flute. Why bother with fixing the old one? It's easier to start over with a fresh one.

Likewise, the ancient lamp was not much more than a bowl of olive oil with a little flax floating in it for a wick. As long as the lamp had enough oil, the wick would soak up the oil and serve as the catalyst for turning it into light. But when the oil was gone, the flax would begin to burn. Now burning flax doesn't give much light. It mostly stinks up the room and fills it with smoke. The simple solution is to throw out the smoking flax and start over with fresh oil and a fresh wick. It takes too much patience to make a smoldering wick burn brightly again.

In the same way, we as individuals, as well as all Israel and all humanity, are fragile and weak. Because of the faults of those around us, our lives get bent out of shape, played-with, bruised, crushed, stepped-on, and sat-on. No minor messiah can meliorate such a mangled mess. Because of our own faults, our best efforts to give light produce only dark smoke. Each attempt to do right becomes a stench both to God and to people. It takes an Almighty Messiah to do everything necessary to restore us and make us a blessing to God, to other people, and to ourselves.

Almost any messiah can make use of the happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise. But God told Isaiah that you can recognize the true Messiah by His healing and using those who have been damaged, and who appear to be useless. If you meet that qualification, don't waste, your sorrows on stinky self-help schemes or on people who will break and discard you. Trust and obey Israel's Messiah. Let Him demonstrate what He can do in you and for you, so that others around you will follow Him too. Although He is holy and we are sinful, He has never rejected the Jewish People or thrown us away. And He will never reject you or throw you away either, if you trust and follow Him. Why not take time to have a talk with Him about it now?

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