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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Isaiah 43

The certainty of redemption 42:10-43:7

God had not forgotten, nor was He unable to deliver His people (cf. Exodus 3:7-9). Their redemption was certain.

"This vision of what God will accomplish through his Servant is so exciting that Isaiah breaks into the ecstatic hymn of praise (Isaiah 42:10-13), which then functions as a bridge from this section, Isaiah 41:1 to Isaiah 42:9, into the next, Isaiah 42:10 to Isaiah 44:22." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 109.]

Verse 1

The Lord called His people not to fear, even though they were blind, deaf, and suffering for their sins. God had created the nation with painstaking care, had redeemed (Heb. ga’al) it in the Exodus, and adopted it as His special treasure at Mount Sinai. His acts for her, not her acts against Him, guaranteed her future. The dual reference to Jacob and Israel stresses God’s tenderness in dealing with the nation He had created.

"Thirteen times within the compass of chapters 40-49 Isaiah uses this double designation, and with one exception (Isaiah 41:8), in this order. Jacob was the deceiver and had to become an Israel [prince with God]. Hence in this order of the names there may be a hint that the Jacob character of the nation had to be abandoned. Implied also may be the thought that in Israel is expressed the true destiny of the people. They are to become an Israel, and as such the heirs of the promises that had once been made to their ancestor Israel." [Note: Young, 3:139.]

Verse 2

"Water" and "fire" are traditional symbols for testing that suggest totality when used together (cf. Psalms 32:6; Psalms 42:7; Psalms 66:12; James 1:2). God promised to protect His people from total destruction when they underwent their various trials. He had done this in the past, and He would do it in the future because He would be with His special people (cf. Daniel 3; Romans 8:31-39).

Verse 3

Three names heighten God’s unique relationship to Israel, and the Exodus and Sinai experiences had taught their meaning to the people. God would even sacrifice other nations to preserve Israel for Himself. Perhaps the Lord meant that He would give Persia rulership over Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba-as rewards for allowing the Israelites to return to their homeland. [Note: J. Martin, p. 1097.] I tend to favor this view. Another option is that He meant that He had given over Egypt and its southern extremities to redeem Israel at the Exodus. [Note: Motyer, pp. 331-32.] A third view is that these nations represent the heathen nations in general, whom God did not favor when He redeemed Israel. [Note: Young, 3:143.] In another larger sense, God sacrificed His Son as a ransom in the place of many whom He had called (cf. Isaiah 53:8-12; Matthew 20:28; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Verse 4

Yahweh would sacrifice other nations for Israel because of what the Israelites were to Him, in spite of themselves, as well as because of what He was to them (Isaiah 43:3).

Verses 5-6

Again, the Israelites should not fear (cf. Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 7:4; Isaiah 8:10). The reason is again that God was with them (cf. Isaiah 43:1-3). Worldwide scattering would not prevent Him from fulfilling His promises and giving them a future in the Promised Land (cf. Isaiah 11:11-12; Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 49:12; Isaiah 60:4; Deuteronomy 30:3-6). He would reassemble His sons and daughters from the ends of the earth (cf. Jeremiah 30:10-11; Ezekiel 37). Return from Babylonian captivity would not be from the four compass points and so does not qualify as the complete fulfillment. He will do this when Jesus Christ returns to the earth (cf. Isaiah 5:26; Matthew 24:31). Amillennialists often take this as the spiritual gathering of lost sinners to Jesus Christ. [Note: See ibid., 3:144-45.]

Verse 7

What qualifies these people for such treatment is their relationship to Yahweh. They are called by His name and are, therefore, part of His family (cf. Deuteronomy 28:10; Jeremiah 14:9; Jeremiah 15:16; Ezekiel 36:20). Furthermore, God brought them into existence to glorify Himself (cf. Isaiah 43:1). Their condition reflects on Him, and unless He restores them they cannot fulfill His purpose for them in the world.

There are many allusions in this section to Creation, the Exodus, the Exile, and the return from exile. [Note: See Eugene H. Merrill, "Pilgrimage and Procession: Motifs of Israel’s Return," in Israel’s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, pp. 261-72.] However, complete fulfillment of these prophecies of restoration awaits the eschaton.

Verse 8

Isaiah summoned an unidentified authority to bring out the Israelites: the spiritually blind and deaf (cf. Isaiah 42:18-25; cf. Deuteronomy 29:4; Jeremiah 5:21). The setting of this scene is a courtroom. The prophet was summoning them so God could address them (Isaiah 43:10) as His witnesses. Imagine calling blind and deaf people as witnesses in a court of law! Yet the Lord would use even them to testify to His greatness.

Verses 8-20

The witness to redemption 43:8-44:20

Isaiah continued to show that Yahweh was both willing and able to deliver His people, a theme begun in Isaiah 42:10. He confronted the gods, again (cf. Isaiah 41:21-29), but this time he challenged them to bring forth witnesses to their deity, namely, people who could confirm their ability to predict the future. The captive Judeans were Yahweh’s witnesses. They would, despite their spiritual blindness and deafness, give witness to His ability to predict their salvation and to accomplish it.

God would make His people the evidence of His deity (Isaiah 43:8-13).

Verse 9

Isaiah pictured all the nations in this courtroom. Some had already assembled, and others were on their way. Who among them, the prophet asked, could proclaim former things? These "former things" probably refer to things predicted in the past that had since come to pass. [Note: See A. Schoors, I Am God Your Savior: A Form-Critical Study of the Main Genres in Is. XL-LV, pp. 94, 225.] No one among the nations, none of their gods, could predict the future and then bring it into existence. Only Yahweh could do this. Furthermore, no one could serve as a witness that the idols could do this or confirm the testimony of someone else that they could.

Undoubtedly some pagan prognosticators claimed to be able to foretell the future and that their predictions had come to pass, just as today some psychics make such claims. However, none of them could predict with the specificity and accuracy that Yahweh did through His prophets. The biblical prophecies that had already been fulfilled were in an entirely different class than the predictions that marked the nations. If this were not the case, Isaiah would not have dared to claim what he did here.

Verse 10

Yahweh pointed to the people of Israel, His servant, as those who would be His witnesses that He could predict the future and bring it to pass. For example, He had promised to make Abraham a great nation, to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, to give them Canaan, and to make David’s dynasty secure. He had fulfilled all these promises and more. In the process He had made the Israelites His witnesses so they would learn that He alone is the true God (cf. Exodus 3:14). Similarly, Jesus told His disciples that they would be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). They had witnessed His works for several years and could testify to His uniqueness, even His deity. Thus the early confession of the church became "Jesus is Lord."

Verses 11-13

Yahweh alone, among all the "gods," is the only real deliverer, the one who knows the future, and the sovereign. He is unique. None of the idols was Yahweh. The Israelites could bear witness to that, but they were blind and deaf. Therefore the Lord had to testify in His own behalf.

"In the first part of his book, Isaiah had demonstrated that God alone can be trusted, that all other resources, especially the nations, would fail. Now he is showing that when we have refused to trust and have reaped the logical results of our false dependencies, God alone can save." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 148.]

Yahweh was the only God from the very beginning. Since He is the only deliverer, no other god can deliver people from His hand or overrule His decisions. It was foolish, then, for the Israelites, as it is for all God’s people, to look to anyone or anything else for salvation. Someone said, "In our world it’s cool to search for God, but uncool to find him." [Note: Quoted by Ortlund, p. 283.]

In the future, God would use Israel to demonstrate to the world in a fresh way that He was the only Savior, as He had done in the past. He would make His people the evidence of His deity by delivering them from captivity in Babylon (Isaiah 43:14-21) and from their sins (Isaiah 44:1-5). His salvation would be in spite of their lack of righteousness (Isaiah 43:22-28).

Verse 14

Yahweh, Israel’s Redeemer and the Holy One of Israel (cf. Isaiah 41:14), would bring judgment on Babylon for the sake of the Israelites. His judgment would be for their sake in two senses: it would demonstrate His sovereignty to them in a fresh way, and it would fulfill His covenant promises to preserve them. The Babylonians would flee as fugitives from the Lord and His instrument of punishment, the Medo-Persians. Isaiah pictured them fleeing in boats, sailing south down the Euphrates River. Note the similarity between the Babylonians in their ships on their river and the Egyptians, who also sailed ships on their river, the Nile. The Chaldeans, so-called by the Assyrians, were the warriors of southern Mesopotamia who forged the Babylonian Empire.

Verse 15

Reminders of who Israel’s God is (Isaiah 43:14 a, 15) bracket the promise of deliverance (Isaiah 43:14 b). God would not deliver His people because of who they were but because of whose they were. He was Yahweh, who had revealed Himself to them at Sinai and made a covenant with them. He was their Holy One who had showed them how to share in His holiness and so enjoy His fellowship. He was the Creator of Israel who had brought them into existence from nothing. And He was their King who was the true sovereign and father of their nation, who owned them, and to whom they owed their allegiance.

Verses 16-17

The prophet gave an unusually long description of the Giver of the promise to follow (Isaiah 43:18-21) because of the unusual content of the promise. The One giving the prediction was the One who in power, love, and faithfulness had delivered His people from Egypt in the Exodus. His destruction of the Egyptian adversary had been final.

Verse 18

Obviously God did not want His people to forget what He had done for them in the Exodus, but neither did He want them to look back on that event and conclude that it was His only act of redemption or the only method He could use to redeem them. The Exodus exemplified God’s ability, but it did not set a pattern that He had to follow thereafter (cf. Jeremiah 23:7-8).

Verses 19-20

God was going to do a new thing for Israel, something that would appear unexpectedly, like a sprout from barren soil. The Israelites would become aware of it even though they had no knowledge of it at that time. He would do for the captives in Babylon what He had done for their ancestors in Egypt, namely, make a highway for them through the wilderness and provide them with water (cf. Exodus 17). Instead of turning a sea into dry land, He would turn the dry land into waterways (cf. Isaiah 35:6-7). These images picture a second Exodus. Even the animals would acknowledge God’s greatness as they observed His acts and benefited from His goodness to His people.

"Here we see the acts of God bringing the whole world into harmony, a feature which will be perfected in the Messianic day (Isaiah 11:6-9[; Isaiah 65:25]). Here, the journeying people are met by a transformed world (19cd) into which the animal creation gladly enters with benefit." [Note: Motyer, p. 337.]

One writer took the water as symbolic of God’s sustaining provision for the Jews, and the animals as figures representing Gentile nations that will benefit from the witness of the restored Jews. [Note: Archer, p. 639]

Verse 21

More important, God’s chosen people, whom He carefully formed for Himself, not ultimately for their own welfare, would praise Him. God created Israel for His own praise, as human witnesses to His greatness. This continues to be the function of God’s people (cf. Luke 1:74-75; Ephesians 1:4-6; 1 Peter 2:9).

"Still a third and more glorious ’Exodus’ will take place when the Messiah returns to regather His people (cf. Isaiah 43:5-6) and establish His millennial reign on earth." [Note: J. Martin, p. 1097.]

Isaiah now clarified that the reason for this great blessing that God promised the Israelites lay in Himself, not in them (Isaiah 43:22-28). Their salvation would come out of His grace; it would not be a reward He owed them for their obedience (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).

Verse 22

The Israelites would genuinely worship God for His coming deliverance of them (Isaiah 43:21), but at present they were not doing so. They had forsaken their God, and their praise was only formal rather than heartfelt (cf. Isaiah 1:11-14; Isaiah 66:3; Jeremiah 7:5-10; Hosea 6:6; Amos 4:4-6; Micah 6:3-8; Malachi 1:13; Malachi 2:17; Matthew 15:9).

Verses 23-24

The people had brought few sacrifices and offerings to the Lord, even though His requirements of them in this regard were not excessive, and even what they had brought had not touched Him. Sweet cane (calamus) was an ingredient in the anointing oil (cf. Exodus 30:23; Jeremiah 6:20). What they had brought to Him in abundance was sin and iniquity. He was wearier of their worship than they were.

Verse 25

The Lord Himself (cf. Isaiah 43:11) would forgive His people for His own sake, not because they had earned forgiveness with their worship. Forgiveness of sin is a divine prerogative (cf. Matthew 9:2-6). He pictured forgiveness as erasing something previously written on a record (cf. Isaiah 44:22; 2 Kings 21:13; Psalms 51:1; Psalms 51:9). Another figure, forgetting sins committed against Himself, strengthens the promise of forgiveness (cf. Jeremiah 31:34; Micah 7:18-19). Since God is omniscient He never forgets anything, but in this promise He compared Himself to a person who does forget things (an anthropomorphism, cf. Isaiah 43:24) to illustrate the fact that He would not hold their sins against them. He would not call their sins to mind with a view to punishing them. It was sin, not captivity, that was the root trouble that needed dealing with. Later, Isaiah revealed that God would deal with it through His Servant’s ministry (Isaiah 53:10-12).

Verse 26

Here God offered His people the opportunity to correct Him if what He had said was false, or to remind Him of something that He may have forgotten (Isaiah 43:25; cf. Isaiah 1:18). This heavily ironic offer would have drawn a silent admission of guilt from honest Israelites. Their sin was the root of their troubles, and all their goodness could not get them out of their difficulties.

". . . until we recognize our need for grace, all our energies, energies designed for the praise of God [Isaiah 43:21], will be spent in fruitless self-justification." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 161.]

Verse 27

Israel’s sin was traceable all the way back to her namesake, Jacob (Isaiah 43:22; cf. Deuteronomy 26:5; Hosea 12:2-4). Other possibilities are that Adam or Abraham is in view. Even the leaders of Israel had consistently sinned against the Lord (cf. Isaiah 9:15; Isaiah 28:7; Isaiah 29:10; Jeremiah 5:31); it was not just the present generation that was unacceptable to Him.

Verse 28

God would also pollute the priests with guilt since they had for generations polluted His sacrifices with their guilt (cf. 2 Chronicles 24:5). They, of all people, should have been holy since they dealt with the holy things connected with Israel’s worship (cf. Isaiah 65:2-5; Leviticus 10:3). God would consign the whole nation to the ban (Heb. herem), something devoted to destruction. Israel had become like Canaan (cf. Isaiah 1:9-10; Joshua 6:17; 1 Samuel 15:21), and it would become the object of Gentile reviling as Canaan had been for the Israelites.

God would make His people the proof of His deity by delivering them from captivity in Babylon (Isaiah 43:14-21) and from their sins (Isaiah 44:1-5). The next pericope expands the focus of God’s promise from physical to spiritual deliverance, and extends it from an approaching to a more distant fulfillment.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 43". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.