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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 43

This chapter is evidently a continuation of the subject discussed in the previous chapters, and refers mainly to the promised deliverance from Babylon. The people of God are still contemplated by the prophet as suffering the evils of their long and painful captivity, and his object is to comfort them with the assurances of deliverance. The chapter may be regard as composed of a succession of arguments, all tending to show them that God would be their protector, and that their deliverance would be certain. These arguments are not distinguished by any very clear marks of transition, and all divisions of the chapter must he in a measure arbitrary. But perhaps the following arrangement will comprise the considerations which the prophet designed to suggest.

I. In the previous chapter he had severely rebuked the Jews, as being deaf, and blind, and had showed them that it was on account of their sins that these calamities had come upon them. Yet he now turns and says, that they are the people whom he had redeemed, and whom it was his purpose to deliver, and repeats the solemn assurance that they would be rescued Isaiah 43:1-7. This assurance consists of many items, or considerations, showing that they would be recovered, however far they were driven from their own land.

1. God had formed and redeemed them Isaiah 43:1. It followed from this that a God of covenant faithfulness would be with them in their trials Isaiah 43:2.

2. They had been so precious to him and valuable, that he had given entire nations for their ransom Isaiah 43:3. It followed from this, that he would continue to give more, if necessary, for their ransom Isaiah 43:4.

3. It was rite fixed purpose of God to gather them again, wherever they might be scattered, and they had, therefore, nothing to fear Isaiah 43:5-7.

II. God asserts his superiority to all idol-gods. He makes a solemn appeal, as he had done in Isaiah 41:0, to show that the idols had no power; and refers to all that he had predicted and to its fulfillment in proof that he was the only true God, and had been faithful to his people Isaiah 43:8-13. In doing this, he says:

1. That none of the idols had been able to predict future events Isaiah 43:8-9.

2. That the Jewish people were his witnesses that he was the true God, and the only Saviour Isaiah 43:10-12.

3. That he had existed forever, and that none could thwart his designs Isaiah 43:13.

III. God asserts his purpose to destroy the I power of Babylon Isaiah 43:14, Isaiah 43:17. He says:

1. That he had sent to Babylon (by Cyrus) to bring down their power, and prostrate their nobles Isaiah 43:14-15; and,

2. Appeals to what he had formerly done; refers to the deliverance from Egypt, and asserts it to be his characteristic that he made a way in the sea, and led forth the chariot, the horse, the army, and the power Isaiah 43:16-17.

IV. Yet he tells them Isaiah 43:18-21, that all his former wonderful interpositions would be surpassed; that he would do a new thing - so strange, so wonderful, and marvelous, that all that he had formerly done should be forgotten.

1. They are commanded not to remember the former things Isaiah 43:18.

2. He would do anew thing - a thing which in all his former interpositions had not been done Isaiah 43:19.

3. The characteristics of the future wonder would be, that he would make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert Isaiah 43:19; and that even the wild beasts of the desert should be made to honor him Isaiah 43:20.

4. He had formed that people for himself, and they should show forth his praise Isaiah 43:21.

V. From these promises of protection and assistance, and these assurances of favor, God turns to remind them of their sins, and assures them that it was by no merit of theirs that he would thus interpose to deliver them.

1. He reminds them of their having neglected, as a people, to honor him, and having witcheld what was his due Isaiah 43:22-24; yet,

2. He would blot out their sins, but it was by no merit of theirs, but by his mere mercy Isaiah 43:25-26.

3. They had been a sinful people, and he had, therefore, humbled their power, and given the nation to reproach, and a curse Isaiah 43:27-28. The same subject is resumed and prosecuted in the next chapter, and they should be read together without any interuption.

Verse 1

But now - This expression shows that this chapter is connected with the preceding. The sense is, “Though God has punished the nation, and showed them his displeasure Isaiah 42:24-25, yet now he will have mercy, and will deliver them.’

That created thee - The word ‘thee’ is used here evidently in a collective sense as denoting the Jewish people. It is used because the names ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel’ in the singular number are applied to the people. The word ‘created’ is used here to denote the idea that, as the special people of God, they owed their origin to him, as the universe owed its origin to his creative power. It means that, as a people, their institutions, laws, customs, and privileges, and whatever they had that was valuable, were all to be traced to him. The same word occurs in Isaiah 43:7, and again in Isaiah 43:15, ‘I am Yahweh - the Creator of Israel, your king’ (see also Isaiah 44:1; compare Psalms 100:3).

Fear not - This is to be understood as addressed to them when suffering the evils of the captivity of Babylon. Though they were captives, and had suffered long, yet they had nothing to fear in regard to their final extinction as a people. They should be redeemed from captivity, and restored again to the land of their fathers. The argument here is, that they were the chosen people of God; that he had organized them as his people for great and important purposes, and that those purposes must be accomplished. It would follow from that, that they must be redeemed from their captivity, and be restored again to their land.

For I have redeemed thee - The word גאל gā'al means properly “to redeem,” to ransom by means of a price, or a valuable consideration, as of captives taken in war; or to redeem a farm that was sold, by paying back the price. It is sometimes used, however, to denote deliverance from danger or bondage without specifying any price that was paid as a ransom. Thus the deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian bondage is sometimes spoken of as a redemption (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; compare Genesis 18:16; Isaiah 29:22; Isaiah 44:23; Jeremiah 31:11; see the note at Isaiah 1:27). It is not improbable, however, that wherever redemption is spoken of in the Scriptures, even in the most general manner, and as denoting deliverance from danger, oppression, or captivity, there is still retained the idea of a ransom in some form; a price paid; a valuable consideration; or something that was given in the place of that which was redeemed, and which answered the purpose of a valuable consideration, or a public reason of the deliverance. Thus, in regard to the deliverance from Egypt - Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba are mentioned as the ransom (see the note at Isaiah 43:3); and so in the deliverance from the captivity, Babylon was given in the place of the ransomed captives, or was destroyed in order that they might be redeemed. So in all notions of redemption; as, e. g., God destroyed the life of the great Redeemer, or caused him to be put to death, in order that his chosen people might be saved.

I have called thee by thy name - ‘To call by name’ denotes intimacy of friendship. Here it means that God had particularly designated them to be his people. His call had not been general, addressed to the nations at large, but had been addressed to them in particular. Compare Exodus 31:2, where God says that he had designated ‘by name’ Bezaleel to the work of constructing the tabernacle.

Thou art mine - They were his, because he had formed them as a people, and had originated their institutions; because he had redeemed them, and because he had particularly designated them as his. The same thing may be said of his church now; and in a still more important sense, that church is his. He has organized it; he has appointed its special institutions; he has redeemed it with precious blood; and he has called his people by name, and designated them as his own.

Verse 2

When thou passest through the waters - This is a general promise, and means that whenever and wherever they should pass through water or fire, he would protect them. It had been true in their past history as a people; and the assurance is here given in order that they might be comforted in view of the calamities which they were then suffering in Babylon. Fire and water are often used in the Scriptures to denote calamity - the latter because it overwhelms; the former because it consumes; see Psalms 69:1 - ‘The waters are come into my soul;’ also Psalms 73:10; Psalms 124:4-5; Psalms 66:12 - ‘We went through fire and through water.’

I will be with thee - (Compare the note at Isaiah 41:10).

And through the rivers - Also expressive of calamity and danger - like attempting to ford deep and rapid streams.

They shall not overflow thee - As was the case with the Jordan when they crossed it under the guidance of Joshua, and a pathway was made for the armies of Israel.

When thou walkest through the fire - This is expressive of calamity and danger in general like passing through fire. Yet it had a literal fulfillment in the case of the three pious Jews who were cast by Nebuchadnezzar into the burning furnace Daniel 3:25, Daniel 3:27.

Neither shall the flame kindle upon thee - It shall not only not consume thee, but it shall hog even burn, or injure thee (see Daniel 3:27). The Chaldee Paraphrase refers this verse to the passage through the Red Sea, and to the protection which God gave his people there. It is rendered, ‘In the beginning, when you passed through the Red Sea, my word was your aid. Pharaoh and Egypt, who were mighty like the waters of a river, were not able to prevail against you. And when thou didst go among a people who were formidable like fire, they could not prevail against you, and the kingdoms which were strong like flame could not consume you.’ It is, however, to be understood rather as a promise pertaining to the future; though the language is mainly derived, undoubtedly, from God’s protecting them in their perils in former times.

Verse 3

For I am the Lord thy God - This verse continues the statement of the reasons why he would protect them. He was Yahweh their God. He was not only the true God, but he was the God who had entered into solemn covenant with them, and who would therefore protect and defend them.

The Holy One of Israel - It was one of his characteristics that he was the God of Israel. Other nations worshipped other gods. He was the God of Israel; and as it was presumed that a god would protect his own people, so he bound himself to deliver them.

Thy Saviour - This was another characteristic. He had saved them in days of peril; and he had assumed toward them the relation of a Saviour; and he would maintain that character.

I gave Egypt for thy ransom - This is a very important passage in regard to the meaning of the word ‘ransom.’ The word נתתי nâthattı̂y - ‘I gave’ is rendered by Gesenius (Commentary in loc.), and by Noyes, in the future, ‘I will give.’ Gesenius supposes that it refers to the fact that the countries specified would be made desolate, in order to effect the deliverance of the Jews. He observes that although Cyrus did not conquer them, yet that it was done by his successors. In particular, he refers to the fact that Cambyses invaded and subdued Egypt (Herod. iii. 15); and that he then entered into, and subdued Ethiopia and Meroe (Strabo xvii.; Jos. Ant. ii. 10. 2). But the word properly refers to the past time, and the scope of the passage requires us to understand it of past events. For God is giving a reason why his people might expect protection, and the reason here is, that he had been their deliverer, and that his purpose to protect them was so fixed and determined, that he had even brought ruin on nations more mighty and numerous than themselves, in order to effect their deliverance.

The argument is, that if he had suffered Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba to be desolated and ruined instead of them, or in order to effect their deliverance, they had nothing to fear from Babylon or any other hostile nation, but that he would effect their deliverance even at the expense of the overthrow of the most mighty kingdoms. The word rendered ‘ransom’ here is כפר kôpher. It is derived from כפר kâphar - whence the Latin cooperio; the Italian coprire, the French couvrir; the Norman coverer, and converer; and the English cover, and means literally to cover; to cover over; to overlay with anything, as pitch, as in Genesis 6:14. Hence, to cover over sins; to overlook; to forgive; and hence, to make an expiation for sins, or to atone for transgression so that it may be forgiven Genesis 32:21; Exodus 30:15; Leviticus 4:20; 5:26; Leviticus 11:24; Leviticus 16:6; Psalms 65:4; Psalms 78:38; Proverbs 16:14; Jer. 18:25; Ezekiel 45:20; Daniel 9:24. The noun (כפר kôpher) means:

1. A village or hamlet, as beans a cover or shelter to the inhabitants (1 Samuel 6:18; compare the word כפר kâphâr in 1 Chronicles 27:25; Nehemiah 6:2; Song of Solomon 6:12).

2. Pitch, as a material for overlaying Genesis 6:14.

3. The cypressflower, the alhenna of the Arabs, so called because the powder of the leaves was used to cover over or besmear the nails in order to produce the reddish color which Oriental femmes regarded as an ornament (Simonis; Song of Solomon 1:14; Song of Solomon 4:13, margin.)

4. A ransom; a price of redemption, or an expiation; so called because by it sins were covered over, concealed, or removed Exodus 29:36; Exodus 30:10, Exodus 30:16. In such an expiation, that which was offered as the ransom was supposed to take the place of that for which the expiation was made, and this idea is distinctly retained in the versions of this passage.

Thus the Septuagint, Ἐποίησα ἄλλαγμά σου Αἴγυπτον, κ.τ.λ. Epoiēsa allagma sou Aigupton, etc. - ‘I made Egypt, etc., thy ἄλλαγμα allagma - a commutation for thee; a change for thee; I put it in thy place, and it was destroyed instead of thee.’ So the Chaldee, ‘I gave the Egyptians as a commutation for thee’ (חליפך chălı̂ypâk). So the Syriac, ‘I gave Egypt in thy place.’ The true interpretation, therefore, is, that Egypt was regarded as having been given up to desolation and destruction instead of the Israelites. One of them must perish; and God chose that Egypt, though so much more mighty and powerful, should be reduced to desolation in order to deliver his people. They took their place, and were destroyed instead of the Hebrews, in order that they might be delivered from the bondage under which they groaned. This may be used as a striking illustration of the atonement made for sin, when the Lord Jesus, the expiatory offering, was made to suffer in the stead - ἄλλαγμα allagma - of his people, and in order that sinners might live.

And if God’s giving up the Egyptians to destruction - themselves so guilty and deserving of death - in order to save his people, was a proof of his love for them, how much greater is the demonstration of his love when he gives his own holy Son to the bitter pains of death on a cross, in order that his church may be redeemed! There has been much variety, as has already been intimated, in the interpretation of this, and in regard to the time and events referred to. It has, by many, been supposed to refer to the invasion by Sennacherib, who, when he was about to fall upon Jerusalem, turned his arms against the Egyptians and their allies, by which means Jerusalem was saved by devoting those nations to desolation. Vitringa explains it of Shalmaneser’s design upon the kingdom of Judah, after he had destroyed that of Samaria, from which he was diverted by carrying the war against the Egyptians, Cusheans, and Sabeans. But of this, Lowth says, there is no clear proof in history.

Seeker supposes that it refers to the fact that Cyrus overcame those nations, and that they were given him for releasing the Jews. Lowth says, ‘perhaps it may mean, generally, that God had often saved his people at the expense of other nations, whom he had as it were in their stead given up to destruction.’ The exact historical facts in the case cannot be clearly made out; nor is this to be wondered at, that many things of this nature should remain obscure for want of the light of history, which in regard to those times is extremely deficient. In regard to Egypt, however, I think the case is clear. Nothing is more manifest than that the prophet refers to that great and wonderful fact - the commonplace illustration of the sacred writers - that the Egyptians were destroyed in order to effect the deliverance of the Jews, and were thus given as a ransom for them.

Ethiopia - Hebrew, ‘Cush.’ In regard to this country, see the note at Isaiah 18:1. It is not improbable that the prophet here refers to the facts referred to in that chapter, and the destruction which it is there said would come upon that land.

And Seba - This was the name of a people descended from Cush Genesis 10:7; and hence, the name of the country which they occupied. According to Josephus (Ant. ii. 10. 2), it seems to have been Meroe, a province of Ethiopia, distinguished for its wealth and commerce, surrounded by the two arms or branches of the Nile. There still remain the ruins of a metropolis of the same name, not far from the town of Shandy (Keppel’s Travels in Nubia and Arabia, 1829). Meroe is a great island or peninsula in the north of Ethiopia, and is formed by the Nile, and the Astaboras, which unites with the Nile. It was probably anciently called Seba, and was conquered by Cambyses, the successor of Cyrus, and by him called Meroe, after his sister. That it was near to Ethiopia is apparent from the fact that it is mentioned in connection with it (compare Psalms 72:10; Isaiah 45:14 : Herod. iii. 20). They would naturally ally themselves to the Ethiopians. and share the same fate.

Verse 4

Since thou wast precious in my sight - This verse contains another reason why God would defend and deliver them. That reason was, that he had loved them as his people; and he was willing, therefore, that other people should be overcome in order that they might be saved.

Thou hast been honorable - This does not refer so much to their personal character, as to the fact that they had been honored by him with being the depository of the precious truths of his religion. It means that he had made them honorable by the favors bestowed on them; not that they were honorable in reference to their own personal character and worth.

Therefore will I give men for thee - As in the case of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba Isaiah 43:3. He would cause other nations to be destroyed, if it were necessary, in order to effect their deliverance, and to restore them to their own land. We learn here:

1. That nations and armies are in the hand of God, and at his disposal.

2. That his people are dear to his heart, and that it is his purpose to defend them.

3. That the revolutions among nations, the rise of one empire, and the fall of another, are often in order to promote the welfare of his church, to defend it in danger, and deliver it in time of calamity.

4. That his people should put the utmost confidence in God as being able to defend them, and as having formed a purpose to preserve and save them.

Expressions similar to those used in this verse occur frequently among the Arabians (see Rosenmuller in loc).

For thy life - Margin, ‘Person.’ Hebrew, ‘For thy soul;’ that is, on account of thee; or in thy place (see the notes at Isaiah 43:3).

Verse 5

Fear not - (see the note at Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 41:14; compare Isaiah 43:1).

I will bring thy seed - Thy children; thy descendants. The sense is, I will re-collect my scattered people from all parts of the world. The passage appears to have been taken from Deuteronomy 30:3, where God promises to gather his people together again if they should be scattered among the nations, and should then repent. Vitringa understands this of the spiritual descendants of the Jews, or of those who should believe on the Messiah among the Gentiles, and who should become the people of God. But the more natural interpretation is, to refer it to the Jews who were scattered abroad during the exile at Babylon, and as a promise to re-collect them again in their own land.

From the east ... - From all parts of the earth; from all lands where they were scattered. That they were driven to other places than Babylon on the invasion of their land by the Chaldeans, is abundantly manifest in the historical records Jeremiah 9:16; Ezekiel 5:12; Ezekiel 17:21; Amos 9:9; Zechariah 2:6.

Verse 6

I will say to the north, Give up - Give up my people, or restore them to their own land.

Bring my sons ... - Bring all my people from the distant lands where they have been driven in their dispersion. This is a beautiful passage. As if all lands were under the control of God, and he could at once command and they would obey, he calls on them to yield up his people to their own country. He issues a commandment which is heard in all quarters of the globe, and the scattered people of God come flocking again to their own land.

Verse 7

Every one that is called by my name - To be called by the name of anyone, is synonymous with being regarded as his son, since a son bears the name of his father (see Isaiah 44:5; Isaiah 48:1). The expression, therefore, means here, all who were regarded as the children of God; and the promise is, that all such should be re-gathered to their own land.

For I have created him - (See the note at Isaiah 43:1).

For my glory - In order to show forth, and illustrate my glory. They shall be, therefore, defended and protected; and my glory shall be shown in their recovery and salvation.

Verse 8

Bring forth the blind people - Many have understood this of the Jews. So Vitringa, Rosenmuller, Grotius, and others understand it. But Lowth, more correctly, regards it as referring to the Gentiles. It is designed as an argument to show the superiority of God over all idols, and to demonstrate that he was able to deliver his people from captivity and exile. He appeals, therefore Isaiah 43:9, to his own people in proof of his divinity and power. None of the pagan Isaiah 43:8 had been able to predict future events, none of the pagan gods, therefore, could save; but Yahweh, who had so often foretold events that were fulfilled, was able to deliver, and of that fact his own people had had abundant evidence.

That have eyes - They had natural faculties to see and know God (compare Romans 1:20), but they had not improved them, and they had, therefore, run into the sin and folly of idolatry. The phrase ‘bring forth,’ implies a solemn appeal made by God to them to enter into an argument on the subject (compare the note at Isaiah 41:1).

Verse 9

Let all the nations be gathered together - Let them be assembled to give evidence, or to adduce proofs that their idols are worthy of confidence Isaiah 41:1.

Who among them can declare this? - Who among them hath predicted this state of things? Who has foretold the events which are now occurring? It is implied here, that Yahweh had done this, but none of the pagan gods had done it (see the note at Isaiah 41:21).

And show us former things - (see the note at Isaiah 41:22). The order of events, the manner in which one event shall succeed another. Not merely, who can declare one single event, but who can declare the succession, the order in which many events shall follow each other - a far more difficult thing than to declare one single future event. Neither had been done by the pagan; both had been done by God.

That they may be justified - That it may be demonstrated that they are what they pretend to be, and that they are worthy of the confidence of people. The word ‘justified’ here, is used in the sense of being right, or true; - let them in this manner show that their claims are just, and well founded.

Or let them hear, and say, It is truth - (See the note at Isaiah 41:26).

Verse 10

Ye are my witnesses - They were his witnesses, because, first, he had given in them predictions of future events which had been literally fulfilled: secondly, by his power of delivering them so often manifested, he had shown that he was a God able to save. Neither of these had been done by the idol-gods (compare Isaiah 44:8).

And believe me - Or rather, confide in me.

Before me there was no God formed - I am the only true, the eternal God. In this expression, Yahweh says that he was the first being. He derived his existence from no one. Perhaps the Hebrew will bear a little more emphasis than is conveyed by our translation. ‘Before me, God was not formed,’ implying that he was God, and that he existed anterior to all other beings. It was an opinion among the Greeks, that the same gods had not always reigned, but that the more ancient divinities had been expelled by the more modern. It is possible that some such opinion may have prevailed in the oriental idolatry, and that God here means to say, in opposition to that, that he had not succeeded any other God in his kingdom. His dominion was original, underived, and independent.

Neither shall there be after me - He would never cease to live; he would never vacate his throne for another. This expression is equivalent to that which occurs in the Book of Revelation, ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last’ Revelation 1:11; and it is remarkable that this language, which obviously implies eternity, and which in Isaiah is used expressly to prove the divinity of Yahweh, is, in the passage referred to in the Book of Revelation, applied no less unequivocally to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 11

I, even I, am the Lord - The repetition of the pronoun ‘I’ makes it emphatic. The design is, to affirm that there was no other being to whom the name ‘Yahweh’ pertained. There was no other one who had the attributes which the name involved; there was, therefore, no other God. On the meanins of the word Yahweh, see the note at Isaiah 1:2.

And beside me there is no Saviour - There is no one who can deliver from oppression, and captivity, and exile, such as the Jews suffered in Babylon; there is no one but he who can save from sin, and from hell. All salvation, therefore, must come from God; and if we obtain deliverance from temporal ills, or from eternal death, we must seek it from him.

Verse 12

I have declared - I have announced or predicted future events; I have warned of danger; I have marked out the path of safety. He had thus shown that he was the true God (see the note at Isaiah 41:22-23).

And have saved - I have delivered the nation in former times of danger, and have thus shown that I would protect them.

And have showed - Hebrew, ‘Caused to hear.’ I have made known future events, and have thus showed that I was God.

When there was no strange god among you - Before the time when there was any idol in the nation, and when, therefore, it could not be pretended that deliverance was to be traced to anyone but to Yahweh. The word ‘god’ here is not in the original, but is properly supplied. The word זר zâr is evidently used instead of זר אל 'êl zâr, as in Psalms 44:20; Psalms 81:9. It denotes a god that is worshipped by foreigners. The sense is, that their former deliverance could in no sense be traced to any such foreign god.

Therefore, ye are my witnesses - You who have so often been defended; you who have the predictions respecting future events, can be appealed to as evidence that I am the only true God, able to deliver. The doctrine taught in this passage is, that God may appeal to his dealings with his people as a demonstration that he is the true God, and that he is faithful and able to deliver - an appeal which may be made to his church at large in view of its trials, persecutions, and deliverances; and to every one who is his true friend and worshipper.

Verse 13

Yea, before the day was - Before the first day, or before the beginning of time; from eternity. The Septuagint renders it correctly, Ἀπ ̓ ἀρχης Ap' archēs, and the Vulgate (Ab initio), ‘From the beginning.’

I am he - I am the same Isaiah 43:10.

I will work - I will accomplish my designs.

And who shall let it? - Margin, as Hebrew, ‘Turn it back.’ The meaning is, ‘Who can hinder it?’ And the doctrine taught here is:

1. That God is from everlasting, for if he was before time, he must have been eternal.

2. That he is unchangeably the same - a doctrine which is, as it is here designed to be used, the only sure foundation for the security of his people - for who can trust a being who is fickle, changing, vacillating?

3. That he can deliver his people always, no matter what are their circumstances.

4. That he will accomplish all his plans; no matter whether to save his people, or to destroy his foes.

5. That no one - man or devil - can hinder him. How can the feeble arm of a creature resist God?

6. That opposition to him is as fruitless as it is wicked. If people wish for happiness, they must fall in with his plans, and aid in the furtherance of his designs.

Verse 14

Thus saith the Lord your Redeemer - This verse commences another argument for the safety of his people. It is the assurance to the Jews in Babylon that he had sent to them a deliverer, and would bring down the pride of the Chaldeans, and demolish their city.

Your Redeemer - (See the note at Isaiah 43:1).

I have sent to Babylon - That is, the Persians and Medes, under the command of Cyrus (compare the note at Isaiah 13:3). This implies that God had command over all their armies and had the power of sending them where he pleased (compare the notes at Isaiah 10:5-6). This is to be understood as seen by the prophet in vision. He sees the armies of Cyrus encompass Babylon and the haughty city fall, and then says that God had sent or directed them there.

And have brought down all their nobles - Margin, ‘Bars.’ But the word in this place probably means neither, but rather fugitives (compare the notes at Isaiah 27:1). The word used (בריח bârı̂yach), means sometimes bar, cross-bar, that which passed from one side of the tabernacle to the other through rings, in order to carry it; thou a harbor bolt of any kind Judges 16:3; Nehemiah 3:3. But the word may also denote one who flies; a fugitive; and is properly used in that sense here. The verb ברח bârach, from which the word is derived, means often to break away, to flee Genesis 16:8; Genesis 35:1, Genesis 35:7; 1 Samuel 19:12; Job 27:22; Jonah 1:3. Here it means those who endeavored to escape from the impending calamity and destruction; or it may refer to those who had taken refuge in Babylon from other lands, as Babylon was doubtless composed in part of those who had sought a refuge there from other nations - a conflux of strangers. But the former is the more probable interpretation; and the idea seems to be, that Yahweh had brought them down to their ships, or had led them to take refuge in their ships from the impending judgments. Jerome, however, understands it of removing the strong bars with which the prisoners of the exile Jews were protected, so that they would be permitted to go forth in peace and safety. Lowth renders it, ‘I will bring down all her strong bars.’ The Septuagint renders it, φεύγοντες πάντας pheugontes pantas - ‘All that fly.’ So the Syriac.

And the Chaldeans - The inhabitants of Babylon.

Whose cry is in the ships - Lowth renders this, ‘Exulting in their ships.’ Noyes, ‘Ships of their delight.’ The Vulgate, ‘Glorying in their ships.’ The Septuagint, ‘The Chaldeans shall be bound (δεθήσονται dethēsontai) in ships.’ The Syriac, ‘Who glory in their ships.’ The sense is, probably, that the Chaldeans, when their city was taken, would seek to take refuge in their ships in which they would raise a shout (Rosenmuller). Or it may be, as Lowth supposes, that it was one of the characteristics of the Chaldeans, that they boasted of their ships, and of their commerce. Babylon was, as he remarks, favorably situated to be a commercial and naval power. It was on the large river Euphrates, and hence, had access to the Persian Gulf and the ocean; and there can be no doubt that it was engaged, in the height of its power, in commercial enterprises. On the north of the city, the Euphrates was united to the Tigris by the canal called Nahar Malca or the Royal River, and thus a large part of the produce of the northern countries, as far as the Euxine and Caspian seas, naturally descended to Babylon (Herod. i. 194).

Semiramis, the founder of Babylon, is said to have had a fleet of three thousand galleys. After the taking of the city by Cyrus, we hear indeed little of the commerce of Babylon. The Euphrates was diverted from its course, and spread over the adjacent country; and the Persian monarchs, in order to prevent the danger of invasion from that quarter, purposely obstructed the navigation, by making dams across both the Tigris and the Euphrates (Strabo xvi.) It is not to be deemed remarkable, therefore, that, in the times of its prosperity, the city of Babylon should be noted for its commerce; or as a city exulting in its shipping, or raising the sailor’s cry - a cry such as is heard in any port now where shipping abounds. The word rendered ‘cry’ (רנה rinnâh) denotes properly a shout of rejoicing or joy 1 Kings 22:36; Psalms 31:6; Psalms 42:5; and then also a mournful cry, an outcry, wailing Psalms 17:1; Psalms 61:2. Here it may mean the joyful cry of commerce; the shout of the mariner as he leaves the port, or as he returns to his home - the shout, the clamor, which is heard at the wharfs of a commercial city. Such a cry is alluded to by Virgil in the naval games which AEneas celebrated:

- ferit athera clamor


AEneid, v. 140, 1.

The sense here is, that God had sent to bring down that exulting city, and to destroy all the indications of its commercial importance and prosperity.

Verse 15

I am the Lord - I am Yahweh - proved to be such, as the connection demands that we should interpret this, by sending to Babylon and bringing down your oppressors. This interposition in destroying Babylon would be a demonstration that he was Yahweh, the only true God, and their God.

The Creator of Israel - (See the note at Isaiah 43:1).

Your King - Ruling over you, and showing the right to do it by delivering you from your foes.

Verse 16

Thus saith the Lord - This verse contains a reference to the deliverance from Egyptian servitude - the great storehouse of argument and illustration with the sacred writers; the standing demonstration of God’s merciful interposition in behalf of their nation, and proof that he was their God.

Which maketh - Whose characteristic it is to open a path of safety for his people even when deep and rapid floods are before them The standing roof of this which undoubtedly the prophet had in his eye, was the deliverance from Egypt. Still, I think, he did not mean to refer to that alone, but to that as an illustration of what God was, and had ever been to his people.

A way in the sea - Referring to the path made through the waters of the Red Sea when the children of Israel were permitted to go on dry ground.

Verse 17

Which bringeth forth the chariot and horse - The reference here is, undoubtedly, to the occurrences which are recorded in Exodus 14:4, following, when Pharaoh and his host are said to have followed the Israelites, but were all submerged in the sea. God is said to have brought them forth in accordance with the general statement so often made, that he controls and directs princes and nations (see the note at Isaiah 10:5-6).

They shall lie down together - They shall sink together to death, as Pharaoh and his army sunk together in a watery grave.

Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them:

They sank as lead in the mighty waters.

Exodus 15:10

The depths have covered them:

They sank into the bottom as a stone.

Exodus 15:5

They are extinct - They are destroyed, as the wick of a lamp is quenched suddenly when immersed in water. This is a striking figure, to denote the suddenness with which it was done, and the completeness of their destruction. As a flame is entirely put out when plunged beneath the water, so the whole host of the Egyptians were suddenly and completely destroyed in the Red Sea. The sentiment in this verse is, that God has power over the nations to control them; that it is one of his characteristics to lead on the enemies of his people to destruction; and that they are suddenly destroyed, and their hopes, and joys, and triumphs put out forever. If it was so in regard to the Egyptians, it will be also in regard to all his foes. And if this took place in regard to a nation, it shall also in regard to individual sinners who oppose themselves to God.

How oft is the candle of time wicked put out?

And how oft cometh their destruction upon them?

God distributeth sorrows in his anger.

They are as stubble before the wind,

And as chaff that the storm carrieth away.

Job 21:17-18

Verse 18

Remember ye not ... - So great and wonderful shall be God’s future interpositions in your behalf, that what he has done, great as that was, shall be comparatively forgotten.

The former things - The deliverance from Egypt, and the overthrow of his enemies there.

The things of old - The things that were formerly done.

Verse 19

I will do a new thing - Something that has not hitherto occurred, some unheard of and wonderful event, that shall far surpass all that he had formerly done (see the note at Isaiah 42:9).

Now it shall spring forth - (See the note at Isaiah 42:9). It shall spring up as the grass does from the earth; or it shall bud forth like the opening leaves and flowers - a beautiful figure, denoting the manner in which the events of Divine Providence come to pass.

I will even make a way in the wilderness - In this part of the verse, the prophet describes the anxious care which God would show in protecting his people, and providing for them in conducting them to their native land. See the expressions fully explained in the notes at Isaiah 41:17-19.

Verse 20

The beast of the field shall honor me - The sense of this passage is plain, and the image is highly poetical and beautiful. God would pour such copious floods of waters through the waste sandy deserts to supply his people, that even the wild beasts would be sensible of his abundant goodness, and would break forth into thanksgiving and praise for the unusual supply.

The dragons - (See the note at Isaiah 13:22). The Septuagint renders the word used here (תנין tannı̂yn), by σειρῆνες seirēnes - ’sirens’ - among the ancients a marine monster that was fabled to use sweet and alluring tones of music. It is probable, however, that the Septuagint understood here some species of wild-fowl which responded to one another. The Syriac translator here interprets it as denoting some wild animal of the canine species - a wood-dog.

And the owls - Margin, as Hebrew, ‘Daughters of the owl, or ostrich’ (see the note at Isaiah 13:21).

Verse 21

This people have I formed for myself - To preserve the remembrance of my name; to transmit the knowledge of the true God to future times, and to celebrate my praise (see the notes at Isaiah 43:1).

They shall show forth my praise - They shall celebrate my goodness; or, by their restoration to their own land, they shall show manifestly that they are my people.

Verse 22

But thou hast not called upon me - The design of this and the following verses, is to show them that they were indebted to the divine mercy alone for their deliverance from bondage. It was not because they had been either meritorious or faithful; it was not because they had deserved these favors at his hand, for they had been a people that had been distinguished for neglecting their God. On that account, these calamities had come upon them, and their deliverance, therefore, was to be an act of mere unmerited favor.

Thou hast been weary - As a people, you have been weary of my service. They had accounted his laws grievous and oppressive; and they had groaned under what they regarded as burdensome rites and ceremonies (see Amos 8:5-6; Malachi 1:13). God here refers, doubtless, to the times before the captivity, and is stating what was the general characteristic of the people.

Verse 23

Thou hast not brought me - As a people you have witcheld from me the sacrifices which were commanded. They had not maintained and observed his worship as he had required.

The small cattle - Margin, ‘Lambs,’ or ‘kids.’ The Hebrew word (שׂה s'eh) denotes properly one of a flock - a sheep or a goat. It should have been so rendered here. These animals were used for burnt-offerings, and the Jews were required to offer them daily to God.

Of thy burnt-offerings - (Compare Exodus 29:38; Numbers 28:3). The burnt-offering was wholly consumed on the altar.

With thy sacrifices - Bloody offerings. There is little difference between this word and that rendered ‘burnt-offerings.’ If there is any, it is that the word rendered ‘sacrifice’ (זבח zebach) is of wider signification, and expresses sacrifice in general; the word rendered ‘burnt-offering’ (עלה olâh), denotes that which is consumed, or which ascends as an offering. The holocaust refers to its being burned; the sacrifice to the offering, however made.

I have not caused thee to serve with an offering - ‘I have not made a slave of thee; I have not exacted such a service as would be oppressive and intolerable - such as is imposed on a slave.’ The word used here (עבד âbad), is often used in such a sense, and with such a reference Leviticus 25:39; ‘Thou shalt not compel him to serve the service of a bondman’ Exodus 1:14; Jeremiah 22:13; Jeremiah 25:14; Jeremiah 30:8. The sense is, that the laws of God on the subject, were not grievous and oppressive.

With an offering - The word used here (מנחה minchāh) denotes properly a bloodless oblation, and is thus distinguished from those mentioned before. It consisted of flour mingled with salt, oil, and incense; or of the fruits of the earth, etc. (see the notes at Isaiah 1:11; compare Leviticus 2:2; Numbers 28:5.

Nor wearied thee - By exacting incense. I have not so exacted it as to make it burdensome and wearisome to you.

With incense - (See the note at Isaiah 1:13). The word לבונה lebônâh (Greek λίβανος libanos) denotes properly frankincense, a substance so called from its white color, from לבן lāban, “to be white.” It is found in Arabia Isaiah 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20, and in Palestine Song of Solomon 4:6, Song of Solomon 4:14, and was obtained by making incisions in the bark of trees. It was much used in worship among the Jews as well as by other nations. It was burned in order to produce an agreeable fragrance Exodus 30:8; Exodus 37:29; Leviticus 16:13.

Verse 24

Thou hast bought me - You have not purchased this - implying that it was not produced in Palestine, but was an article of commerce. It was to be obtained only from abroad. This is expressly affirmed in Jeremiah 6:20 : ‘To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from afar country?’ That it was an article of commerce is also apparent from Ezekiel 27:19 : ‘Dan also and Javan going to and fro occupied in thy fairs (that is, Tyre): bright iron, cassia, and calamus (קנה qâneh), were in thy market.’

Sweet cane - The word used here (קנה qâneh), denotes properly “cane, reed, calamus” (Greek κάννα kanna and κάννη kannē, Latin canna, whence the English, cane; French, canne; Italian, canna). It usually refers to a reed growing in wet or marshy ground. It denotes also sweet cane, calamus aromaticus. It is sometimes joined with the word בשׂם bôs'em, aromatic, odor, fragrance, spice, as in Exodus 30:23; see also Jeremiah 6:20. According to Pliny (xii. 22) it grew in Arabia, Syria, and India; according to Theophrastus, in the vales of Lebanon (Hist. Plant. ix. 7). It was used among the Hebrews in compounding the sacred perfumes Exodus 30:23. It is a knotty root, of a reddish color, and contains a soft white pith - in resemblance probably not unlike the calamus so well known in this country. Strabo and Diodorus Siculus say that it grew in Saba. Hasselquist says that it is common in the deserts of the two Arabias. It is gathered near Jumbo, a port town of Arabia Petrea, from where it is brought into Egypt. The Venetians purchase it, and use it in the composition of their ‘theriaca.’ It is much esteemed among the Arabs on account of its fragrance. See Calmet (Art. Cane), and Gesenius (Lex. and Commentary in loc). It was not probably used in the worship of God anywhere except among the Hebrews. The pagans made use of incense, but I do not know that they used the calamus.

Neither hast thou filled me - Margin, ‘Made me drunk,’ or ‘abundantly moistened.’ The word used here (רוה râvâh), means properly “to drink to the full, to be satisfied, sated with drink.” See it explained in the notes at Isaiah 34:6. It is applied to water which is drank, or to fat which is sucked in or drank rather than eaten Psalms 36:9; or to a sword as drinking up blood. Here it means to satiate, or to satisfy. They had not offered the fat of sacrifices so as to satiate God. Probably this passage does not mean that the Jews had wholly neglected the public worship of God; they had not worshipped him with a proper spirit, and had thus served him with their sins, and wearied him with their transgressions. It is true, also, that while they were abundant in external rites and ceremonies, they frequently made oblations to idols, rather than to the true God. Perhaps, therefore, an emphasis is to be placed on the word ‘me’ in this passage, meaning, that however diligent and regular they had been in the performance of the external rites and duties of religion, yet that God had been neglected.

Thou hast made me to serve with thy sins - You have made it oppressive, burdensome, wearisome for me, like the hard and onerous service of a slave (see the note at Isaiah 43:23; compare the note at Isaiah 1:14).

Verse 25

I, even I, am he - This verse contains a gracious assurance that their sins would be blotted out, and the reason why it would be done. The pronoun ‘I’ is repeated to make it emphatic, as in Isaiah 43:11. Perhaps also God designs to show them the evil of the sins which are mentioned in the previous verses, by the assurance that they were committed against him who alone could forgive, and who had promised them pardon. The passage also reminds them, that it was God alone who could pardon the sins of which, as a nation, they had been guilty.

That blotteth out thy transgressions - This metaphor is taken from the custom of keeping accounts, where, when a debt is paid, the charge is blotted or cancelled. Thus God says he blotted out the sins of the Jews. He cancelled them. He forgave them. Of course, when forgiven, punishment could not be exacted, and he would treat them as pardoned; that is, as his friends.

For mine own sake - Not because you deserve it, or have any claim, or that it would not be right to punish you. Not even primarily to promote your happiness and salvation, but for my sake;

1. To show the benevolence of my character;

2. To promote my glory by your forgiveness and salvation (see Ezekiel 36:22).

And will not remember thy sins - They shall be forgiven. Hezekiah Isaiah 38:17 expresses the same idea by saying ‘thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.’ We may learn from this verse:

1. That it is God only who can pardon sin. How vain, then, is it for man to attempt it! How wicked for man to claim the prerogative! And yet it is an essential part of the papal system that the Pope and his priests have the power of remitting the penalty of transgression.

2. That this is done by God solely for his own sake. It is not

(a) because we have any claim to it, for then it would not be pardon, but justice. It is not

(b) because we have any power to compel God to forgive, for who can contend with him, and how could mere power procure pardon? It is not

(c) because we have any merit, for then also it would be justice, and we have no merit. Nor is it

(d) primarily in order that we may be happy, for our happiness is a matter not worthy to be named, compared with the honor of God. But it is solely for his own sake - to promote his glory - to show his perfections - to evince the greatness of his mercy and compassion - and to show his boundless and eternal love.

3. They who are pardoned should live to his glory, and not to themselves. For that they were forgiven, and it should be the grand purpose of their lives so to live as to show forth the goodness, compassion, and love of that merciful Being who has blotted out their sins.

4. If people are ever pardoned, they must come to God - and to God alone. They must come, not to justify themselves, but to confess their crimes. And they must come with a willingness that God should pardon them on just such terms as he pleases; at just such a time as he pleases; and solely with a view to the promotion of his own glory. Unless they have this feeling, they never can be forgiven, nor should they be forgiven.

Verse 26

Put me in remembrance - That is, urge all the arguments in your own defense which you can urge. State everything in self-vindication which can be stated. The language here is taken from the practice of courts when a cause is on trial; and God urges them on their side, to urge all in self-vindication which they can urge. On his part, he alleged that the princes and rulers of the nation had sinned Isaiah 43:27; that the whole nation had transgressed Isaiah 43:23-24, and that for this they were justly punished Isaiah 43:28. He here urges them to advance all in self-defense which they could - if they could pretend that He had forgotten anything; that they had merits which he had not considered; or that he had charged them with crime with undue severity.

Let us plead together - Hebrew, ‘Let us be judged together’ (see the note at Isaiah 41:1).

Declare thou, that thou mayest be justified - That you may show that you are just, or righteous; that you may demonstrate that you are unjustly accused of crime, and punished with undue severity.

Verse 27

Thy first father hath sinned - This is the argument on the side of God, to show that they were neither unjustly punished, nor punished with undue severity. The argument is, that their rulers and teachers had been guilty of crime, and that therefore it was right to bring all this vengeance upon the nation. Various interpretations have been given of the phrase ‘thy first father.’ A slight notice of them will lead to the correct exposition.

1. Many have supposed that Adam is referred to here. Thus Piscator, Calovius, and most of the fathers, understand it; and, among the Jews, Kimchi. But the objections to this are plain:

(a) Adam was not peculiarly the first father or ancestor of the Jews, but of the whole human race.

(b) The Jews never boasted, or gloried in him as the founder of their nation, but they always referred to Abraham under this appellation Matthew 3:9; John 8:33, John 8:39.

(c) It would have been irrelevant to the design of the prophet to have referred to the sin of Adam in this case. God was vindicating his own cause and conduct in destroying their capital and temple, and in sending them as captives to a distant land. How would it prove that he was right in this, to say that Adam was a transgressor? How would it demonstrate his justice in these special inflictions of his anger to refer to the apostasy of the ancestor of the whole human race?

2. Others refer it to Abraham. This was the sentiment of Jerome, and of some others; and by those who maintain this opinion, it is supposed to refer to his doubting the truth of the promise Genesis 15:8; or to the denial of his wife, and his sin in inducing her to say that she was his sister Genesis 12:11; Genesis 20:2; or to the fact that when young he was an idolater. But the obvious objection to this is, that Abraham is everywhere in the Scriptures proposed as an example of one eminently devoted to God; nor could it be said that these calamities had come upon them in consequence of his unfaithfulness, and his sins.

3. Others refer it to the rulers and princes individually. Thus Grotius refers it to Manasseh; Aben Ezra to Jeroboam, etc.

4. Others, as Vitringa, refer it to the high priest, and particularly to Uriah, who lived in the time of Ahaz, and particularly to the fact, that, in obedience to the command of Ahaz, he constructed an altar in Jerusalem like the one which he had seen and admired in Damascus 2 Kings 16:10-16. The objection to this interpretation is, that no reason can be given for selecting this particular act from a number of similar abominations on the part of the priests and rulers, as the cause of the national calamities. It was only one instance out of many of the crimes which brought the national judgments upon them.

5. Others, as Gesenius, suppose that the word is to be taken collectively, not as referring to any particular individual, but to the high priests in general. It is not uncommon to give the name ‘father’ thus to a principal man among a people, and especially to one eminent in religious authority. The word ‘first’ here does not refer to time, but to rank; not the ancestor of the people, but the one having appropriately the title of father, who had the priority also in rank. The Septuagint renders it, Οἱ πατέρες ὑμῶν πρῶτοι Hoi pateres humōn prōtoi. It refers therefore, probably, to the character of the presiding officers in religion, and means that the priests, supreme in rank, and whose example was so important, had sinned; that there was irreligion at the very foundation of influence and authority; and that therefore it was necessary to bring these heavy judgments on the nation. No one acquainted with the history of the Jewish people in the times immediately preceding the captivity, can doubt that this was the character of the high priesthood.

(Gesenius and some others give the words a collective sense, as signifying either the succession of priests or ancestors in general. The interpretation which understands the phrase of Abraham, is supposed by some to be at variance with the uniform mention of that patriarch in terms of commendation. But these terms are perfectly consistent with the proposition that he was a sinner, which may here be the exact sense of חטא châṭâ'. To the application of the phrase to Adam, it has been objected, that he was not peculiarly the father of the Jews. To this it may be answered, that if the guilt of the national progenitor would prove the point in question, much more would it be established by the fact of their belonging to a guilty race. At the same time it may be considered as implied, that all their fathers, who had since lived, shared in the original depravity; and thus the same sense is obtained that would have been expressed by the collective explanation of first father, while the latter is still taken in its strict and full sense, as denoting the progenitor of all mankind. - Alexander)

And thy teachers - Margin, ‘Interpreters.’ The word used here (מלציך melı̂ytseykā) is derived from לוץ lûts. This word means to stammer, to speak unintelligibly; and then to speak in a foreign and barbarous language, and then to interpret, from the idea of speaking a foreign tongue. Hence, it may be used in the sense of an internuncius, or a messenger (2 Chronicles 32:31; compare the notes at Job 33:23). That it refers here to the priests, there can be no doubt, and is properly applied to them because they sustained the office of interpreting his will to the people, and generally of acting as internuncii or messengers between God and them. The Septuagint renders it, ” Ἄρχοντρς Archontes - ‘Rulers.’

Verse 28

Therefore I have profaned - The princes of the sanctuary, that is, the priests, were by their office regarded as sacred, or set apart to the service of God. To depose them from that office, to subject them to punishment, and to send them into captivity, was, therefore, regarded as profaning them. They were stripped of their office, and robes, and honors, and reduced to the same condition, and compelled to meet with the same treatment, as the common people. The sense is, that he had made them common (for so the word חלל châlal is used in Exodus 31:14; Exodus 19:22; Leviticus 19:8; Leviticus 21:9; Malachi 1:12; Malachi 2:2); he did not regard their office; he used them all alike.

The princes of the sanctuary - Margin, ‘Holy princes.’ It means, either those who presided over and directed the services of the sanctuary, called in 1 Chronicles 24:5, ‘governors of the sanctuary;’ or those who were holy in office. The Septuagint renders it, Οἱ ἄρχοντες τὰ ἅγια μον Hoi archontes ta hagia mou - ‘Who preside over my holy things,’ or my sanctuary. Vulgate, Principes sanctos - ‘Holy princes.’ The Syriac, ‘Thy princes have profaned the sanctuary.’ The sense is, that God had disregarded the official character of those who were set apart to the sacred office, and had punished them in common with the people at large for their sins.

And have given Jacob to the curse - The Septuagint renders it, ‘I have given Jacob to be destroyed’ (ἀπωλέσαι apōlesai). The Hebrew word here (חרם chērem), is that which is commonly used to denote a solemn anathema, excommunication, or devotion to destruction (see the note at Isaiah 34:5).

To reproaches - The reproach, contempt, and scorn which they met with in their captivity, and in a land of strangers (compare Psalms 137:3-4).

Thus far God states the reasons why he had punished the nation. It had been on account of the national irreligion and sins, and the destruction had come upon all, but pre-eminently on the priests and the rulers. In the arbitrary division which is made in the Bible into chapters, a very improper separation has been made by making the chapter close here. The sense of the whole passage is materially injured by this division, and the scope of the whole argument is forgotten. The design of the entire argument is, to show that God would not leave his people; that though he punished them, he would not utterly destroy them; and that he would appear again for their rescue, and restore them to their own land. This argument is prosecuted in the following chapter; and in the commencement of that chapter the thought is pursued, that though God had thus punished them, yet he would appear and save them. The beginning of that chapter is properly the continuation and completion of the argument urged here, and this chapter should have closed at what is now Isaiah 44:5.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 43". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.