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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 43

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 43 God’s Redemption and Deliverance For His People.

Having described the condition of His people God now goes on to declare what He will do for them. He will redeem and deliver them. He will gather their exiles from every part of the world. For they are His witnesses. None can deliver out of His hand. He will do what He will. Thus even the upstart Babylon will be taught a firm lesson, and its leaders, who even now oppress His people under the authority of the Assyrians, will have to flee for their lives. For Yahweh is going to establish His people in a land of abundance and blessing, free from all outside interference.


Verses 1-7

God Has Created and Redeemed a People for Himself Whom He Will Love And Protect (Isaiah 43:1-7).

Isaiah 43:1

‘But now thus says Yahweh who created you, O Jacob,

And he who formed you, O Israel,

Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you,

I have called you by your name, you are mine.’

Suddenly again prospects change, for God’s purposes are sure. Yahweh is the creator of Jacob, and the One Who formed and lovingly shaped Israel. It was He Who called Abraham and brought them forth from him, as a new creation, shaping them to His purposes. As ever the true, spiritual, responsive Israel is in mind. (God constantly makes clear that those who reject Him are not of His people). He will not therefore leave them in the situation which their people have brought on themselves. That is not why He made them.

That is also not why He redeemed them from Egypt by the expending of His power, or called them by their name, seeing them as His firstborn and demonstrating that they were His. Rather will He bring them out of that situation. Indeed it is because of this that He will now act on their behalf in delivering power, for they are precious in His sight (Isaiah 43:4).

Also included in the idea of redeemed may be that Israel were His firstborn son (Exodus 4:23), and therefore had to be doubly redeemed with the redemption of the firstborn through the offering of a substitute (Isaiah 43:3).

Isaiah 43:2

‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,

And through the rivers, they will not overflow you,

When you walk through the fire you will not be burned,

Nor will the flame kindle on you.’

When Israel had passed through the Reed Sea during Yahweh’s deliverance of them from Egypt, they had passed through its waters and they did not overflow them. So it will be in the future. He will act again for them. Whatever they face, whether fire or water, they will be safe. The overflowing of water had been used to depict the overflowing of their enemies against them (Isaiah 8:7-8; Isaiah 17:12-13; Isaiah 28:2 compare Isaiah 59:19), as had the picture of fire (Isaiah 9:18-21; Isaiah 4:4). But this would no more be. Neither waters nor flame would touch them in their future, for He would be with them.

Water and fire are traditional symbols for suffering which when used together express totality of suffering (see Psalms 66:12; compare also Psalms 32:6; Psalms 42:7; Psalms 66:12; James 1:2; James 3:6).

Isaiah 43:3-4

‘For I am Yahweh, your God,

The Holy One of Israel, your saviour,

I have given Egypt as your ransom,

Ethiopia and Seba for you.

Since you have been precious in my sight,

Honourable, and I have loved you,

Therefore will I give men for you,

And peoples for your life.’

And this is because of Who He is, and because He is acting on their behalf as their Redeemer. For He is Yahweh the One Who is, The One Who will be what He will be (Exodus 3:14). And He, the unique and totally separate One, the pure One, the Holy One of Israel, is their Saviour, their Deliverer.

Moreover such is His love that He has sacrificed nations for them, giving Egypt, Cush and Seba for their ransom. What a price. Great Egypt plus mighty Cush plus wealthy Seba. And handed over in return for little Israel. This suits best the time when Cush was a dominant force in Africa, and thus the time of Isaiah, not the time of Babylonian supremacy. Seba is possibly the same as Sheba, or connected with it, who seemingly had close connections with Cush across the Red Sea. Alternately some see it as referring to a people in Upper Egypt between Egypt and the Sudan. Compare how in Genesis 10:6-7, Cush was the brother of Mizraim and the father of Seba.

Possibly he saw the price as being paid to Assyria to take the heat off God’s people. For while Assyria were taken up with their invasion of the African peoples the pressure on Judah would be the less. Or perhaps the thought is of the Cushite/Egyptian army defeated at Eltekeh, possibly along with Arab allies, sacrificed in the course of delivering Jerusalem. And much later Assyria would sack Thebes, and would also slaughter the Arabs. Or perhaps he is going back to the Exodus (see Isaiah 10:7) when the plagues that came on Egypt were produced by awful weather conditions which would also affect the nations further south, all sacrificed in the deliverance of His people.

‘Since you have been precious in my sight, honourable, and I have loved you, therefore will I give men for you, and peoples for your life.’ Note the tenderness of His words. His heart still reaches out to them. Israel were His own people, chosen and loved in Abraham and the fathers (Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 10:15), and destined to be a holy people and a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6). He had entered into covenant with them at Sinai, where He had revealed that love. So they were precious to God, and seen as honourable in the status that He had given them, so beloved of Him that He was willing to sacrifice others, both men and peoples, in order that they might be spared the worst excesses. Always He prevented them suffering as much as they deserved (Isaiah 27:7).

The same is true for all whom God loves and on whom He sets His name. He will protect and bless them and finally gather them to Himself. For all who are His are Abraham’s seed and recipients of the blessings of God’s promises to Abraham.

Isaiah 43:5-7

‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you,

I will bring your seed from the east and gather you from the west.

I will say to the north, ‘Give up’, and to the south, ‘Do not keep back.’

Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth,

Every one who is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory.

I have formed him, yes, I have made him.’

Again Yahweh repeats that He is with them (see Isaiah 43:2). ( Literally ‘Because with you I’, God with us). And then He promises the restoration of all of true Israel from every part of the world. To men, even to Israel, they seemed lost, swallowed up by the nations, but it is not so. Each of them who is the elect of Yahweh, and faithful to Him, is known to Him, and He will restore them (compare Isaiah 11:11-12). Both north, south, east and west would give them up at God’s command.

Such a restoration did literally later take place in part in later times, but the root thought is more on the fact that they are not lost to God’s sight, and will be gathered together to Him, and in Acts 2 it is stressed that there were gathered together His people, ‘devout men’, from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5), to witness, and take part in, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. The writer in Acts probably had these Old Testament ideas in mind. But its final fulfilment awaits the last day when He will gather together His elect from the four winds at the rapture (Matthew 24:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Then indeed will full restoration take place. For Isaiah constantly speaks of trends which will lead up to the final result.

Notice that it is not all Israel, but those who are called by His name, those whom He has created for His glory, those whom He had formed and shaped, who would come. In other words it is the true spiritual Israel, the elect, the redeemed, the remnant prepared for Himself, the holy seed (Isaiah 6:13), those not ‘cut off’ because of covenant disobedience. The ideas are a repetition from Isaiah 43:1.

Once again we must recognise that the prophets had to convey truth through symbols which had meaning both to themselves and their listeners. How else other than in this way could they convey the truth that of those who are God’s true people, created and shaped by Him, not one of them will be lost wherever they are scattered, and all will enjoy His kingdom.


Verses 8-13

God Declares That Only His People Can Be Witnesses to What He Is (Isaiah 43:8-13).

Isaiah 43:8-9

‘Bring forth the blind people who have eyes,

And the deaf people who have ears.

Let all the nations be gathered together,

And let the peoples be assembled.

Who among them can declare this?

And show us former things?

Let them bring their witnesses, that they may be shown to be right,

Or let them hear, and say, “It is the truth”.

The call now goes out to any who can do what Yahweh has done and give an explanation of what of significance has happened in the past. This is especially so with regard to Abraham and his seed, and the giving of God’s covenant and Law, the point being that the world has failed to recognise their importance.

‘‘Bring forth the blind people who have eyes, and the deaf people who have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the peoples be assembled.’ The call to gather to give their witness is sent out to the nations and peoples. But they are described as blind while having eyes and deaf while having ears. That is, they do not ‘see’ or ‘hear’ the truth. They are blind and deaf to truth. God is calling together the deaf and the blind to give judgment! It is intended to sound ridiculous. The description may also be intended to include the unbelieving of Israel.

‘Who among them can declare this, and show us former things? Let them bring their witnesses, that they may be shown to be right.’ The question is, which of them can explain anything that has happened in the past that is of heavenly significance? If they claim to be able to, let them produce their witnesses of such happenings, so that they can be shown to be right.

‘Or let them hear, and say, “It is the truth”.’ Or alternatively let them now listen to God’s witnesses and testify to their truth, acknowledging that He is right.

Isaiah 43:10-11

“You are my witnesses,” says Yahweh,

“And my servant whom I have chosen,

That you may know and believe me,

And understand that I am he.

Before me there was no God formed,

Nor will there be after me.

I even I am Yahweh,

And beside me there is no saviour.”

This takes up from Isaiah 43:7 (with Isaiah 43:8-9 referring therefore to those whose eyes and ears and ears are closed to Yahweh, to the nations and the unbelieving in Israel).

God does have His witnesses. They are the Servant whom He has chosen. The fact of God’s choice of His true people is constantly stressed. They were not chosen because they were mighty, nor because they were worthy, but simply because God set His love on them and elected to choose them, and for the sake of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom He had made His promises (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). And He chose them so that they might know and believe Him, and understand Who and What He really is. This was why He called Abraham, that He might produce from him a seed which would be God’s witnesses to the world. Abraham believed God (Genesis 15:6), and his seed are to follow in his train (Exodus 14:31; Numbers 14:11; Psalms 106:12 contrast Psalms 78:22).

‘That you may know and believe me, and understand that I am He (literally ‘I He’).’ The knowledge of God was specifically revealed to His Servant in Exodus 6:3; Exodus 6:7 (Yahweh means essentially ‘He is’ or He will be’) under the equivalent of the name of ‘I am’ (Exodus 3:13-15). God’s concern is that they might know, believe from the heart, and understand deep within, the reality of the name and of the One Who bears it.

‘Before me there was no God formed, nor will there be after me.’ This is not saying that God was ‘formed’, it is declaring that there have been no gods formed either before or after Him. For He is before all things, and there are no other gods, nor will there ever be.

Indeed He is Yahweh, the One Who is, and there is no other god who can save in any way apart from Him. Thus all idea of other gods is excluded. It is a clear statement of monotheism.

Isaiah 43:12-13

“I have declared, and I have saved (delivered), and I have shown,

And there was nothing strange among you.

Therefore you are my witnesses,” says Yahweh.

“And I am God. Yes, since the day was I am he,

And there is none who can deliver out of my hand.

I will work and who will hinder it?”

His people can know and believe and understand (Isaiah 43:10) because He has declared, and saved, and shown. He ‘declared’ His name to Abraham (Genesis 15:7), to Moses (Exodus 3:13-15; Exodus 6:2; Exodus 6:29) and to His people at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1). He ‘delivered’ His people from Egypt and through the wilderness, and into the land of Canaan, and beyond until under David they ruled the whole area from the River to the Wadi of Egypt. And He had constantly ‘shown’ His power throughout their history, and especially in the deliverance from Sennacherib.

‘And there was nothing strange among you.’ That is, no strange gods or supernatural influence of any kind apart from Him (compare Deuteronomy 32:12). It is the picture of the ‘ideal’ Israel. For He had delivered them from such folly. This was initially so when He first spoke to them, and always so when they walked in obedience to Him, for they had continually had to put away their strange gods (Joshua 24:2-3 with Genesis 12:1; Genesis 12:7-8; Genesis 35:2-3; Exodus 20:3-5; Exodus 20:23; Joshua 24:23; Judges 10:16).

Thus were they witnesses to what God had done and Who and What He was, and what His purposes were.

‘And I am God, yes, since the day was I am He.’ (Literally ‘yes, from the day, I He’). Thus it could mean ‘from the very first day (or the beginning of time) I am He’ or ‘from this day forward I am He’, or ‘at this very day I am He’. Or it may signify the whole course of time looking from the standpoint of the present (from the day looking backwards and forwards). The idea is clearly that in whatever period of time is being described Yahweh alone is God.

‘And there is none who can deliver out of My hand. I will work and who will hinder it?’ Added to that fact is His divine sovereignty. None can deliver from His hand, but He Himself can deliver from any hand and any situation, and none can prevent it. And He can do what He will.


Verses 14-21

Included In His Redeeming Activity Will Be His Judgment on The Pernicious Influence of the Rulers of Babylon When He Will ‘Bring Them Down’ As Fugitives In Their Ships (Isaiah 43:14-21).

Having declared how Yahweh is going to use Egypt and Cush as a ransom in order to rescue Judah, and how He is going to bring all the worldwide exiles from every part of the world (Isaiah 43:5-7), Isaiah now briefly turns his attention for the first time since chapter 39 to Babylon. He saw them as standing there as a threat from which God’s people need to be ‘redeemed’, a threat arising from what it has always represented, but enhanced by the fact that it had become a centre of operations for the Assyrians. So Yahweh will redeem His people from under the influence of Babylon, and exact vengeance on them also, by scattering them. He will remove the threat of Babylon.

If we wish to understand what Isaiah is saying here we must first try to climb into his shoes. We must ask, how did he at this time view Babylon? There is in fact no hint here of an independent Babylonian empire or of exiles. We must not read the later Nebuchadnezzar in here. His concern here is with the trouble that Babylon are being in one way or another to His people at this point in time, and we see from elsewhere in Isaiah that it is their religious influence that is the continual problem (Isaiah 47:9-13) from which Judah is to flee (Isaiah 48:20-21). What then is the background?

In chapters 13-14 Babylon was revealed, not only as one of the conspirators against Assyria, but as the enemy of all peoples. It may have at times been in submission to Assyria, but it was still in some ways the great earthly rival to God (Isaiah 13:19). It spoke of all that was contrary to God in the world. With its blasphemous kings (Isaiah 14:12-14) its pernicious influence reached out to the world. And as chapter Isaiah 47:8-15 reveals they were to be seen as the source of much of the false religion that was besetting God’s people. This in fact ties in with what Isaiah knew from the traditions of his people of how Babylon had from the first been the enemy of all men. It had established the first empire in connection with Assyria (Genesis 10:10). It had caused the scattering of peoples throughout the world and been the builder of a tower into heaven (Genesis 11:1-9). It had sought to threaten Abraham’s land (Genesis 14:1). It had always been a rebel. And then God had made him aware of the ultimate threat of Babylon, partly incited by the visit of ambassadors to Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:1-4), a visit that had filled him with dread. As he informed them, Judah could be sure that Babylon would only seek to swallow up His people and take possession of their wealth (Isaiah 39:6-7). So he would see anything that came from the direction of Babylon as a major threat, and it is probable that in his later days Assyria were actually exercising their influence over Judah through Babylon, for Esarhaddon has rebuilt it and when Manasseh was arraigned he was taken there.

Note On The Influence of Babylon at This Time.

While we do not have any knowledge of any depredations against Judah by Babylon in the days of Hezekiah, especially in the times when it was free from the Assyrian yoke (in for example 721-710 BC, and around 705 BC and after), there may have been some, for Isaiah clearly saw their influence as undesirable, and was afraid of it, and we do know that later, under Assyrian rule, Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, was taken as hostage to Babylon. This could surely only be because at this time Babylon was in some way acting as Judah’s overseer on behalf of Assyria. And this hostage taking could only have resulted from reprisals for an unsatisfactory response to Assyria’s approaches. It is quite possible that at the time when Manasseh was seized there would have been much looting and possibly grave damage done to the Temple by the Babylonian troops with a view to obtaining what silver and gold was left in it (2 Chronicles 33:11), for we can hardly doubt that Jerusalem would have put up some resistance, especially when they remembered what had happened the last time it was surrounded by the forces of the king of Assyria.

Nor need we doubt that Babylon, as a branch of the Assyrian empire, posed a continual threat and menace to Manasseh throughout his reign. For Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s son, had been made crown prince of Babylon, and when he became King of Assyria, his son Samas-sum-ukin in turn became the prince of Babylon, and in time even sought to establish himself there independently as king. It would seem therefore, in view of what happened to Manasseh, that, under Assyria, Babylon under the crown princes had at this time some kind of jurisdiction over Judah, and was very much affecting its welfare.

Thus we can be sure that at times through this period the belligerency and influence of Babylon was exerted against Judah. It may have happened in the periods when Babylon was independent, but it would probably be more so when they were under Assyrian rule. And with that belligerency would go the attempt to make them conform to the superstitious practises connected with Babylon (Isaiah 47:12-13).

This is why as His people’s Redeemer Yahweh purposes swift judgment on Babylon. They are not to be allowed to continue to menace or influence His people. But note that there is here no mention of exiles in Babylon. Babylon is not seen by Isaiah as a major recipient of exiles. The importance of Babylon to Isaiah was not the much later captivity of Nebuchadnezzar, of which he gives no hint, it was in what Babylon represented, and the influence it exerted during the reigns of Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh. As chapter 47 will make clear, Babylon was the stronghold of idolatry and widespread occult activity. It was they who had formed the world’s first empire (Genesis 10:8-11), and built a tower to heaven and caused the world to be divided (Genesis 11:1-9). And even now the tentacles of their influence reached everywhere, assisted by their Assyrian masters. They were the bastion of the gods (once Babylon was dealt with in chapter 47 the almost continual reference to the false gods ceases until the wholly new situation of chapter 57). And, at least while under Assyria, they were clearly seen as a centre of belligerence against Judah, as what happened to Manasseh demonstrates.

End of note.

Two past incidents are probably in his mind as Isaiah thinks of Israel’s redemption. The act of Yahweh as Kinsman Redeemer (‘your Redeemer’) would be a reminder of how Abraham acted as Lot’s kinsman-redeemer in Genesis 14 when bringing about the deliverance of captives and booty from a Babylonian king with his allies, an incident that we have been specifically reminded of in Isaiah 41:2. Here then we may again see the ravagers and thieves from Babylon, who would this time come and rob Jerusalem and take captives (2 Chronicles 22:11). And now they were to be hunted down by Israel’s Kinsman Redeemer (Isaiah 43:14) and made to restore their captives. And it would be a reminder of the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt by the exercise of miraculous power (Exodus 14-15).

Isaiah 43:14

‘Thus says Yahweh, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

“For your sake I have sent to Babylon, and I will bring all of them down as fugitives,

Even the Chaldeans, in the ships of their rejoicing.”

I am Yahweh your Holy One

The Creator of Israel, your King.”

Note how this sounds like a quick punitive strike against Babylon as a result of regarding it as a rather distant and bad influence, and a thorn in Judah’s side, and not like the description of the destruction of a mighty empire in which they have been exiled. And this even though we know that some exiles from Israel were in Babylon (Isaiah 11:11). The opening words are important. The redemption was for Judah’s sake. But a Redeemer is only needed when people are in trouble, so clearly Babylon are seen here as somehow oppressing and influencing Judah, so that Judah need to be ‘redeemed’ from their control and influence.

Note also that Yahweh has ‘sent to Babylon’. He is speaking as though located in Judah, but acting in Babylon for the sake of a people resident in Judah. Having prophesied what the king of Babylon would do in robbing Jerusalem of all its possessions (Isaiah 39:6-7), which itself would result in the looting the temple in order to get at its gold and silver, (the king’s house was connected with the Temple), and no doubt already aware of Babylonian menaces, Isaiah is now looking ahead to God’s vengeance on them for it. He wanted His people to know that while Babylon, with its continual threat as their regional controller, might harass them and influence them to their harm, it would not get away with its behaviour. It would be harassed in turn.

So as their Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, Yahweh would send (the verb is intensive (piel) denoting His authority over Babylon) to Babylon and ‘bring all of them down as fugitives’. For ‘bring down’ compare Amos 3:11; Obadiah 1:4. The thought is not of being brought to Canaan but of being brought down to defeat and humiliation. They had behaved badly towards Israel/Judah with their pernicious influences and made some of them fugitives, thus will the leaders in Babylon themselves become fugitives. ‘The Chaldeans’ were originally from south Babylonia but the word gradually came to signify the whole land. The ships of rejoicing may have been pleasure vessels on the Euphrates, now used as a means of flight because of their dire straits. Or it could simply be ships that they were proud of. But the point is that what should have been ships which gave them pleasure had become the means of their desperate escape.

This is possibly prophesying the end of Samas-sum-ukin and his followers when they rose against his brother (see above). Or, depending on when Isaiah wrote this, it could be describing the earlier flight of Merodach Baladan from Sennacherib, for he fled across the Persian Gulf by ship, and the ships that were to be sent in pursuit of him were only called off when it was learned that he had died. Isaiah may well have seen that as symbolic of Yahweh’s control over Babylon.

Thus by His treatment of Babylon which has misused His people, Israel/Judah will know that He is Yahweh, the Unique One, the Set Apart One (set apart from all others), the One especially set apart by His moral purity, and Israel’s Creator (Isaiah 43:1), Who brought Israel as it were out of nothing. And that He is their King, Who adopted them as His covenant people at Sinai and watches over them, and reveals Himself as King over all.

It should be noted that there is no idea here of the collapse of a mighty empire, but of a punitive stroke against Babylon which would cause its chief men to flee. It is very possible that Isaiah at this stage would have in mind how Abraham as kinsman redeemer had successfully gone against the king of Babylon, put him and his allies to rout, and delivered God’s people (Isaiah 41:2; Genesis 14). Now Yahweh was to be Israel’s Kinsman-redeemer, delivering them from the invader. However, the following description concentrates not on Abraham but on the miracle of the Reed Sea which more obviously revealed His saving power.

Isaiah 43:16-17

‘Thus says Yahweh,

Who makes a way in the sea,

And a path in the mighty waters,

Who brings forth the chariot and horse,

The army and the power,

They lie down together,

They shall not rise,

They are extinct,

Quenched as flax.’

The idea here is that this smiting of Babylon will be done by the Deliverer of Israel Who by His mighty power had delivered His people from Egypt and from Pharaoh’s army at the Reed Sea. And we may see as indicated within these verses that just as Yahweh delivered Israel at the Exodus from the mighty power of Egypt, by the exercise of His Own mighty power, so will now He destroy the power being exercised from Babylon.

The way in the sea and the path in the mighty waters was a poetic description of the crossing of the Reed Sea by which His people finally obtained their freedom from oppression and the concentration is not on the journey but on the ‘way’ in which they were delivered from the pursuing forces. He provided them a safe way to walk in. The chariot and horse being brought forth was a reminder of the way that Pharaoh’s chariot force and cavalry were drawn into God’s snare, together with his army and all his power. The result was that they all ‘lay down’ not to rise. They became extinct like a quenched flame. They were drowned. All oppression ceased.

Isaiah 43:18-21

Do not remember the former things,

Nor consider the things of old,

Behold I will do a new thing,

Now will it spring forth, shall you not know it?

I will even make a way in the wilderness,

And rivers in the desert,

The beasts of the field will honour me,

The jackals and the ostriches,

Because I give waters in the wilderness,

And rivers in the desert,

To give drink to my people, my chosen,

The people whom I formed for myself,

That they might set forth my praise.

God promises that once He has acted they will be able to forget the ancient wonders, because He will now do a new thing for them which they will be able to point at. He will make for His people ‘a way in the wilderness’. In Egypt he had provided a way in the sea which kept them safe. Here He will provide them with a way in the wilderness which will keep them safe. This may signify a water-endowed way set up by Yahweh in the ‘wilderness’ of Judah in which they now live, made a wilderness partly by Assyrio-Babylonian depredations, so that they can walk in it freely (compare 35. 1-2, 8) or it may be reminding them of the ‘way of the wilderness’ in which Yahweh had once enabled them to survive (Deuteronomy 8:15). In Isaiah ‘the way’ refers not to a journey but to the way of God’s paths (Isaiah 3:12), in contrast with the ‘way of the people’ (Isaiah 8:11), it is the way of the just which is uprightness (Isaiah 26:7), it is the way of His judgments (Isaiah 26:8). His own do not leave it through drunkenness (Isaiah 28:7), but rather when they begin to go astray to the right hand or to the left they hear a word behind them saying, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). In chapter 35 we were told it is ‘the way of holiness’ which He would make for His people to walk in. So the idea of ‘the way’ is not of a way on which to journey home, but of a way in which they can walk in the land

Here there is a special emphasis on the fact that it will be like a well-watered way in a dry wilderness area, envied and exulted in by the wild beasts. It would have every provision for their need. Provision of water is constantly Isaiah’s picture of blessing (Isaiah 30:25; Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 33:21; Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 66:12). Unlike us they did not have water on tap. Having water by the way was thus their idea of a good and pleasant land. So the inference is that their devastated and ruined land would once again be made a satisfying land for them to walk in. Rivers will be found in arid places, the wild animals, ostriches and jackals will honour Yahweh because the land has become so well watered, enabling His chosen people to drink their fill and be satisfied. And this will be because they are the ones whom He has chosen and formed for Himself so that they might show forth His praise. Note how this is then more emphatically spiritualised in Isaiah 44:1-5, where the water in dry places is like the Spirit at work in men’s hearts, and the specific connection is made back to this passage in the references to their being His chosen (Isaiah 43:20; Isaiah 44:1) and to being formed by Him (Isaiah 43:21; Isaiah 44:2). The picture then is of blessing in the land.

It is also possible that the ‘way in the wilderness’ was intended to remind them how, when they were wandering in the wilderness over their thirty eight year period of chastisement (when they were going nowhere), God had watched over them and cared for them even when there was no water (Deuteronomy 8:15). This would therefore be much better for them than that period. Now there would be water in the way that they had to tread. Note also that the ‘way of the wilderness’ is often spoken of as being the wilder areas in Israel/Judah (Joshua 8:15; Judges 20:42; 2 Samuel 2:24; 2 Samuel 15:23), not a way outside it. The Assyrian and Babylonian depredations just produced more of it. Here those wildernesses, which had multiplied after the Assyrian invasion, would now become watered.

Some seek to make this indicate a journey but there is no suggestion of them travelling either here or in any of the similar descriptions and comparison with parallel passages demonstrates that that is not the significance of the words (e.g. Isaiah 29:17; Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 35:1-10; Isaiah 41:17-20; Isaiah 44:3-5). The idea of a journey is never emphasised. (Although if we did see it as a journey it is the one described in Isaiah 43:6-7, the return from world-wide exile of all the people of Israel). It is more their walk in their own land that is in mind. They were used to walking in the heat along dusty trails in their own land, which had now partly become a wilderness, and longing for water from a spring was a common experience in the heat, so that a well-watered way in the wilderness would be a joy and delight (compare Isaiah 35:8-10). Here that longing would be satisfied in ‘the way’ that Yahweh provided. Note the interesting contrast between ‘the way in the sea and the path in the mighty waters’ (Isaiah 43:16), which is described elsewhere as ‘the way for the redeemed to pass over’ (to safety - Isaiah 51:10), emphasising the old way of escape provided from surrounding dangers, and ‘the way in the wilderness’ now become well-watered, provided for them to walk in, and so escape the wilderness, emphasising God’s provision for His own so that they might walk in the way of holiness. In devastated Judah at the time there would be many more ‘ways in the wilderness’ which were unsuitable to walk in than there had been, but for His own Yahweh would make one that was very suitable and abounding in water, so that they could walk in the way continually.

But its real fulfilment would be when His true people came home to Him through the ministry of Jesus and the church, to walk in ‘the way’. The early Christians saw themselves as the people of ‘The Way’ (Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14; Acts 24:22), and the designation may well have had verses like this in Isaiah in mind, as also may Jesus have had when He called Himself the Way (John 14:6). It is the Way of God. Here they would find abundantly poured out the ‘rain’ of the Holy Spirit of which they could drink and be satisfied (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5; John 3:5; John 4:10; John 4:13-14; John 7:37). And it again will find its complete fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem, when those who have entered it, the nations who walk amidst its light, will find themselves beside the great and fruitful river of Paradise (Revelation 21:24; Revelation 22:1-5).

‘Do not remember the former things.’ The past is not to be the measure of the future. They will not need to dwell on the past. Deliverance in the past was partial, delivery in the future will be gloriously complete. They will speak of ‘God now’ and not ‘God then’. See especially Deuteronomy 32:7 onwards.


Verses 22-28

But God’s People Have Failed To Be His True People And Must First Face Cursing And Revilement (Isaiah 43:22-28).

However, while there is the glorious vision of this future true people of God, Isaiah has not forgotten the present state of Israel. He was under no illusions about that. Indeed God had warned him what they would be like (Isaiah 6:9-11). Jacob was in a dreadful state even in spite of all God’s offers of forgiveness. Israel was not walking in the way.

These verses must be read with care. At no time did Judah and Jerusalem actually cease the Temple ritual, (it probably even continued, at least spasmodically, during the exile in the ruins of Jerusalem), they simply ceased genuinely offering it to Yahweh. Their home cultus, formally carried on, had become a meaningless ritual, a sideline to their offerings to other gods. That this is the meaning is evidenced by the first verse. Never in Israel’s whole existence did they cease outwardly calling on Yahweh, whether in the land or in exile. The ritual prayers continued, the Psalms were sung, the cult continued, dead though it might be. But here it is made clear that their hearts were not in it. They ceased because they had wearied of Him not because they had been driven from the land. (Note that the general cessation of sacrifice in exile was not due to weariness, so that this does not have that in mind). They were no longer really calling on Him, they simply muttered by rote. In the same way their sacrifices continued as a sideline to the religions they really took an interest in. They were offered mechanically, not as something really offered to a living and present Yahweh. This all ties in with the early part of the reign of Manasseh when there was a great turning back to false gods, probably under Babylonian influence.

This must not be taken too literally. It is the idea that matters. Not all in Judah rejected Yahweh. No doubt there were still some who treated Yahweh seriously, including Isaiah and his disciples for example, but the point is that the general trend was in this direction. This was what it looked like to those who saw them.

Israel Have Failed to Honour Him Therefore He Will Profane Them (Isaiah 43:22-28).

Isaiah 43:22

“Yet you have not called on me, O Jacob,

But you have been weary of me, O Israel,

You have not brought me the small cattle of your burnt offerings,

Nor have you honoured me with your sacrifices.

I have not made you to serve with offerings,

Nor wearied you with frankincense,

You have brought me no sweet cane with silver,

Nor have you filled me with the fat of your sacrifices,

But you have made me to serve with your sins,

You have wearied me with your iniquities.”

The picture of Israel’s present condition (that of Judah and Jerusalem) is a dismal one. They have not sought Him or genuinely called on Him, and it is because they are weary of Him. They have outwardly continued the ritual but their hearts have been with other gods, and it is on them that they have called and to whom they have looked. They have not brought their sacrifices with a glad heart, and with a genuine sense of worship. While they have continued with the cult it has been formal and dead. They were in fact not offerings madeto Him, simply temple ritual, following a dead custom.

‘I have not made you to serve --.’ They did not do it for Him. It was not the propulsive effect of their awareness of Yahweh that made them serve with offerings and an abundance of frankincense, but, in so far as they did it, simply habit and custom. It was not He, and the sense of His presence, Who made them carry out their service, because they looked to Him as living and as there, making demands on them, it was simply the fact that they were in a rut. Empty ritual went on but Yahweh was sidelined, indeed pushed out of mind. It was not He, and the thought of Him, that made them ‘serve’.

‘You have brought me no sweet cane (or ‘fragrant calamus’) with silver, nor have you filled me with the fat of your sacrifices.’ They brought Him no gifts of sweet cane or fragrant calamus (Exodus 30:23; Jeremiah 6:20) and silver. These extra gifts from a thankful and responding heart went to other gods, not to Yahweh. There was no lavishing on God of fat from freewill offerings. He was sidelined.

‘But you have made me to serve with your sins, you have wearied me with your iniquities.’ Rather than them serving Him, they had thought that through their ritual, offered so sinfully, they could actually make Him serve them, forcing Him to do their will, manipulating Him by their activity. Their whole attitude towards Him was sinful and was due to their sins. Sin unforgiven and not admitted always leads to formal worship. And all they have otherwise brought is their iniquities, which have wearied Him. And their sins and their iniquities have especially been brought to His attention by what they do in His house (compare Isaiah 1:12).

Isaiah 43:25

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,

And I will not remember your sins.”

Yet it should not be so. If only they were willing He was standing there ready to forgive. These wonderful words are a reminder to them of what the Temple service should have been all about, the removal of their sins, and a guarantee to those who were still faithful of forgiveness and of what He did for them. Let them remember that it is Yahweh, and only Yahweh, Who can truly blot out their sins, yes, and wills to do it. It is He Who can remove their sins in such a way that they are no longer remembered, but deliberately put aside, filed away as no longer relevant, and no longer held against them, because they are cancelled. And He does it for His own sake, that He might have them as His people. Let them remember this and come back to Him that He may do it. He is the blotter-out and non-rememberer of their sins. Let them therefore return to Him that they may obtain these blessings.

And He is still the same for us today. Once we become aware of our sins we can hear His voice calling to us, ““I, even I, am He Who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” And if we call on Him we can then be sure that He will do it. We can be sure that He will blot out our transgressions, our breaking of His Law and our coming short of His requirements, and He will put our iniquities in the place of non-remembrance (better than being forgotten for nothing will bring non-remembered sins back to God’s memory. They are deliberately excluded). Compare 1 John 1:7. But it is not automatic. It results from our response to His call.

Isaiah 43:26

‘Put me in remembrance. Let us plead together.

Set forth your cause that you may be shown to be right.

Your first fathers sinned,

And your representatives have transgressed against me,

Therefore I will profane the princes of the sanctuary,

And I will make Jacob a devoted thing,

And Israel a reviling.”

He pleads with His people to discuss matters with Him. Let them remind Him of their arguments. Let He and they both plead their two positions before a tribunal together. If they are right, let them set forth the case to prove that they are right. Then indeed will He have His opportunity to prove that they are wrong and He is right. But they will not listen. It is the same story all over again. Their fathers sinned in the wilderness almost immediately after the covenant had been written in stone, and continued to sin constantly, and now their own representatives and ambassadors to God have done the same. They have shown a continual obstinacy of heart.

‘Your first father(s).’ Actually in the singular but probably a composite or collective noun signifying all their fathers, whoever they looked to. But it may possibly specifically mean Adam, Abraham or Jacob. The continual reference to ‘Jacob/Israel’ in this section may suggest the latter.

‘Therefore I will profane the princes of the sanctuary, and I will make Jacob a devoted thing, and Israel a reviling.’ That is why He will profane the princes of the sanctuary. (He could only do this because the sanctuary was still standing). He will make the leading priests cease to be priests. They will be removed from priestly office. They will lose their ‘sanctity’. They will be made profane.

So the humiliation of the Temple is at the forefront of what Isaiah sees as inevitable. Those who serve in the Temple have humiliated God, and so He will now humiliate those who serve in the Temple. It may well be that he saw that this could only be achieved by the removal of these ‘princes of the Sanctuary’ to an unclean land. Thus he may have seen the final destruction of the temple for its treasures as inevitable, with the consequent cessation of the whole round of sacrifices and the slaughter of priests as they incongruously defended it, and the removal of the chief priests to captivity where they would certainly be ‘unclean’. Isaiah is becoming more aware of what the future holds, but probably only slowly. It will shortly lead on to his declaration that the Temple will one day need to be rebuilt.

‘And I will make Jacob a devoted thing, and Israel a reviling.’ This confirms that he is anticipating disaster for Jerusalem and for Israel. To be ‘a devoted thing’ was to be under sentence of death. Things that were ‘devoted’ had to be destroyed (see Joshua 7) for they were God’s alone. Thus Jacob/Israel will either be destroyed as profaned, or reviled because defeated and humiliated.

Isaiah is aware of Assyria’s continued dominance, but his thoughts are now fixed on what God had said concerning Babylon, the great anti-God which at present has jurisdiction over them under Assyrian overlordship, and his thoughts are now being turned more towards what God had said He would do through Babylon because of Hezekiah’s folly (Isaiah 39:6). He possibly fears not only subjection and looting but the destruction and rape of Jerusalem, although he does not specifically say so. He was probably not aware of the full details. He only knew that those who ran the Temple must be humiliated, and that Israel (Judah) also must be humiliated. And he is recognising more and more the implications of it. That is why in Isaiah 44:28 onwards he will introduce God’s partial solution to the problem that he foresees, although we have to interpret it with care.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 43:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-43.html. 2013.

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