Muhammad the Messenger? - Isaiah 42

Question
Islam claims that Muhammad is the Messenger of Isaiah 42. Is this true?
Answer
Isaiah 42:1 (KJV) Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.

Isaiah 42:11 (KJV) Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains.

Islam claims Isaiah 42 refers to Muhammad. They argue that verse 1 and 11 connects the awaited one with the descendants of Kedar. Who is Kedar? According to Genesis 25:13, Kedar was the second son of Ishmael, the ancestor of Muhammad.

Scripture Compared to Hadith Sahih Al-Bukhari

This claim is further based on the titles that are given to Muhammad - Isaiah 42 compared to Bukhari 3:335:

Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.

Bukhari 3:335 You are My servant and My messenger. I have named you "al Mutawakkil' (meaning "the one who depends on Allah').

Isaiah 42:2 He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.

Bukhari 3:335 You are neither discourteous, harsh nor a noise-maker in the markets..

Isaiah 42:3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.

Bukhari 3:335 And you do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness.

Isaiah 42:4 . . . he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.

Bukhari 3:335 I have named you "Al-Mutawakkil" (meaning "Allah's dependent")....Allah will not let him die till he makes upright the crooked people by making them say: "None has the right to be worshipped but Allah."

Isaiah 42:5-6 This is what God the LORD says-- he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: "I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles..."

Bukhari 3:335 I have named you 'Al-Mutawakkil' (meaning 'Allah's dependent')....Allah will not let him die till he makes upright the crooked people by making them say: 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.'

Isaiah 42:7 . . . to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

Bukhari 3:335 With which will be opened blind eyes and deaf ears and enveloped hearts.

Isaiah 42:10-11 Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them. Let the desert and its towns raise their voices; let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops.

Islam Concludes

Islam concludes from the verses above that they focus on Kedar, speaking of the supremacy of Islam.

From these likenesses or titles they conclude:
(1) The slave servant of God (Isa. 42:1) is Muhammad.
(2) God's elected messenger (Isa. 42:1) is Muhammad;
(3) Muhammad shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth (Isa. 42:4). It is claimed that as Jesus did not set up a worldwide government;
(4) The LORD will keep Muhammad (Isa. 42:6);
(5) that God will give Muhammad for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles (Isa. 42:6);
(6) Islam claims "a new song" (Isa. 42:10) because it is in a different language (Arabic);
(7) Islam asserts the islands of Isaiah 42:12 are in the South China Sea and in the Caribbean where Islam has spread;
(8) Muhammad shall prevail against his enemies (Isa. 42:13) as Jesus failed too.

Islam thus argues these passages refer to Muhammad and not to Jesus.

Importance of Scriptural Context

First, these titles were given to Muhammad only AFTER Isaiah 42 was written. Therefore, Muhammad fulfilled nothing! In addition, it appears above that Islam is attempting to fit their ideas INTO the Bible (isogesis with an "i" for Islam) instead of allowing the Bible to speak for itself (exegesis).

Second, the Bible must be looked at in context. Basically, Isaiah 42 divides up into three parts: (1) the announcement of salvation (Isa 42:1-9), (2) an intervening song of praise (Isa 42:10-11), and (3) the completion of the announcement of salvation (Isa 42:14-17).

Christianity Concludes

Servant (Isa 42:1):
The servant imagery is fulfilled in Jesus (Matt. 12:15-21) and is also applicable to Israel (Isa 41:8) before his coming, and to the church later (1 Pet. 2:21-25). Israel as "Servant" includes only the faithful, not unfaithful Israel (Isa. 42:18-22). This chapter is part of the Servant Songs of Isaiah:
(1) Salvation for Elect Israel through God's Servant (Isa. 42:1-4);
(2) Royal Oracle about the Servant of the Lord (Isa. 49:1-7);
(3) Israel's Sin and the Servant's Obedience (Isa. 50:1-9);
(4) the Suffering and the Glory of the Servant (Isa. 52:13-53:12) that explicitly connect the great Servant with the royal house of Judah.
Any interpretation must fit the whole Servant Song motif. Isaiah 53 (as do the other songs), describes many points that fit no one but Christ: rejected (Isa 42:3); sins of the elect laid upon him (Isa 42:5-6); murdered (Isa 42:8); died with the wicked and was buried with the rich (Isa 42:9); did no violence (Isa 42:9); raised from the dead (Isa 42:11). Clearly, this is not Muhammad.

Elect messenger (Isa 42:1):
Jesus is the messenger in the text (Isa. 11:2; 43:10; Matt. 3:16-17; Luke 9:35; John 3:34; 1 Pet. 2:4-6).

Government (Isa 42:4):
The Servant would be greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15-18; Acts 3:21-36) because he would mediate a New Covenant that would eventually ensure that all believers would keep his law perfectly (Isa. 42:6; Jer. 31:31; 2 Cor. 3:3; Heb. 8:7-13). Jesus set up a "now-but-not-now Kingdom." Though Christ's Kingdom has been inaugurated through his life, death, and resurrection and continues through his invisible Church, the consummation of the Kingdom will occur when Christ returns to complete the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:1-5).

Keep (Isa 42:6):
Calling and keeping are expressions parallel to Isaiah 42:1 and 41:10. God promises, to be with us. The Lord is Immanuel (Isa 8:8, 10; 43:2, 5; cf. Acts 18:9, 10). He says, "I am your God"; the basic promise for the covenant (Isa. 42:13-14; 43:1, 5; 44:2, 8; 51:12; Gen. 17:7; 21:17; 26:24; Lev. 26:12; Deut. 20:1; 31:6, 8; Jer. 32:38; Ezek. 37:27; 2 Cor. 6:16). He promises to strengthen and uphold us. The Lord is present in graciously delivering, exalting, and vindicating his children (Isa. 42:13; 42:1; 44:2; 49:8; 50:7). And he establishes order on earth by his power, as he did at the Exodus (Isa. 63:12; Ex. 15:6).

Covenant (Isa 42:6):
Jesus Christ, as God's Servant, brought the new covenant to his people (Isa. 53:4-6; Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15). The covenant is also called the "covenant of peace" (Isa. 54:10), the "everlasting covenant" (Isa. 55:3; 61:8), and the "new covenant" (Jer. 31:31).

Sing a New Song (Isa 42:10):
The redeemed will sing a new song as Moses and Miriam did when they had witnessed God's acts of salvation (Ex. 15:1, 21; cf. 12:1-6; Ps. 149:1; Rev. 5:9; 14:3).

Praise in the Islands (Isa 42:12):
This refers to the fact that the glory of God will be everywhere - even in remote places such as islands. John Calvin explains:

The nature of that shouting will be, that is, to celebrate the praises of God; for his goodness and mercy shall be everywhere seen; and therefore he enjoins them to celebrate this redemption with a cheerful voice, because the blessed consequences of it shall be shared by all the nations.... He mentions Kedar, because the Scenite Arabians, as is well known, dwelt in tents. But he employs the word towns, while he is speaking of a desert; and therefore it ought to be remarked, that desert denotes not only the vast wilderness which lay between Judea and Arabia, but the more distant countries which were commonly designated from that part which was adjoining to them, as some people give the name of "mountainous" to those plains which lie beyond the mountains; for the common people have their attention so much directed to what they see close at hand, that they suppose them to resemble other places that are more distant. Yet the Prophet here exalts and magnifies the greatness of the grace of God, in reaching even rude and barbarous nations, whose savage cruelty was well known.

Prevail (Isa 42:13):
Assurance comes from knowing that when the Lord's zeal is stirred, he will accomplish his plan (Isa. 9:7). The man of war in Isaiah describes the Lord as a Divine Warrior in whom hope lies (Isa. 1:9; 5:26).

Isaiah 42 speaks of only One - Jesus!

Please see Christianity and Islam Contrasted.

References:

Baagil H. M., Muslim-Christian Dialogue, (Islamic Propagation Centre International (U.K.), Birmingham, U.K., 1984).

Calvin, J. (1998). Calvin's Commentaries: Isaiah (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries (Is 42:12). Albany, OR: Ages Software.

Richard Pratt, General Editor. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2003.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).