Do you feel broken and bruised and battered today? See Jesus as gentle and take comfort from Matthew 12:20: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”
A reed was a hollow-stemmed plant that grew along riverbanks in Egypt and Palestine. They grew anywhere from three to 20 feet high. Reeds were used as a symbol of weakness and fickleness in the Bible. In Matthew 11:7 Jesus describes a reed as “swayed by the wind.” When the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus in Matthew 27:29 they placed a reed in his right hand to let everyone know that they thought He was powerless.
We can say at least two things about a reed:
1. It was weak. If a large bird landed on it, it would break. And because of the wind, or people trampling along the shores, almost all reeds were bruised and blemished. There is hardly anything more frail or brittle.
2. It was worthless. If someone came across a bruised reed they would not pick it up but would instead step on it or kick it out of the way. Although reeds were used to make baskets and flutes, they had very little value, especially when they were bruised.
Many times, people are like bruised reeds. God has created humanity to be innately vulnerable as described in Psalms 103:15-16: “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”
A reed came to represent the poor and the oppressed. The word “bruised” means to be “broken by calamity.” It’s a picture of an individual who has been wiped out by life. It also refers to the person who has a tender and repentant heart like David did in Psalms 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Do you feel weak and worthless? Have you been battered and thrown around by the storms of life? Has sin scarred you? If so, listen to these gentle words: “A bruised reed He will not break.” This word “break” means, “to rend in pieces or crack apart.” It was used of the breaking of the legs of those who were crucified in John 19:31. Friend, Jesus is not out to break you into little pieces. He longs to take your bruises and heal them. Psalms 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
Jesus is gentle and will not break a bruised reed “and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.” Wicks were made out of linen and when the oil ran out the flame would flicker and emit a cloud of smelly smoke. All the dirt and filth that was around the flame would start smoking as well. The smoke would become an irritant so people would just reach out and snuff it out.
Jesus refuses to snuff out the weak, the smoldering and the irritating. Instead, He leans over, carefully adds oil to the bowl, being cautious not to drown the wick and then gently blows to get the fire going again.
Over the Fourth of July several years ago when we were on vacation, we went to a beach to watch the fireworks. I decided to build a fire but didn’t have very good wood. Some of it was wet and green. When I finally got the fire going, it was really smoky. The girls and I would add little twigs but it didn’t help much. Finally, when we were ready to leave, I kicked some sand over the feeble fire and it went out in a hurry.
Friends, Jesus will not throw sand on the flickering flames in your life. Instead of quenching the fire, He will fan it into flame so you can burn bright again. Have you been run over by life, or burned out by its pleasures? He says to you this morning, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest … for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Jesus handles bruised reeds with a care and precision that no one else can match. In any other hands these reeds would snap in an instant – all life, all hope, all power gone. But in His hands that have been “bruised” for us, the stalk is made to grow again, and the smoldering wick is brought back into a full flame.