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The Lord comforteth the people with his promises: he appealeth to the people for witness of his omnipotency: he foretelleth to them the destruction of Babylon, and his wonderful deliverance of his people: he reproveth the people as inexcusable.
Before Christ 712.
THE second part of this discourse is contained in this chapter, and the five first verses of the 44th. See the analysis of the preceding chapter. We have here, first, the consolatory part, containing a general consolatory proposition, supporting and raising the hope of the church. The first special promise, of preserving the church amid the calamities and afflictions of the future time, Isaiah 43:2-3. The second promise, concerning the destruction of the enemies of the church, Isaiah 43:4. The third, concerning its amplification and glory, from the conflux of Jews and Gentiles, Isaiah 43:5-7. We have, secondly, a doctrinal part, calculated to confirm the faithful in the true faith, and to teach them by what method they may best convince the degenerate Jews and idolatrous Gentiles of the truth of God; namely, from his illustrious doings, and from his prediction of those doings. This part contains a direct address to the believers and teachers of the church, whose business it should be to teach the idolatrous Jews and Gentiles the true divinity of God, from the certain prediction of those illustrious events, which our prophet had mentioned before, and which had been foretold no less by other prophets than by him, Isaiah 43:8-10. Then the great work of the deliverance of the people from Babylon, by Cyrus, is claimed to the God of Israel only, as the avenger and deliverer of his church; which is first illustrated by the preceding deliverance from Sennacherib, foretold by God, Isaiah 43:11-13. The great deliverance by Cyrus is then described, Isa 43:14-15 and is compared with the deliverance of the people from Egypt, Isaiah 43:16-17. The prophet then foretels a new work of the divine providence and grace, far superior to those foregoing; namely, the conversion of the Gentiles, Isaiah 43:18-21. Thirdly, this chapter contains a reproof, wherein God teaches and convinces his people, that these great benefits to be conferred upon the church are due to his grace, not to the merits of the Jewish people; wherein we have a conviction of the imperfect worship which the people had offered to God, and wherein they could not suppose any merit, Isaiah 43:22-24 a declaration wherein the grace of God alone is shewn to be the principal cause of these benefits, Isa 43:25 and a reproof of the crimes committed by the nobles, and by the nation, whereby they had merited all their punishments, Isaiah 43:26-28. The exhortatory part continues the consolation by a new and gracious address; and again foretels to the church the same benefit of grace, and the gift of the Holy Spirit which was spoken of before. See Isaiah 44:1-5.
Isaiah 43:1. O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel— Jacob and Israel are here to be understood mystically, of the true and spiritual Israel; for they are not all Israel who are of Israel, says the apostle, Romans 9:6. Vitringa thinks that the prophet here addresses the true believers of his own times; though there is no reason to confine the address, which may also refer to believers under the Gospel; for the consolation here offered unquestionably refers to the true Israelites of all times.
Isaiah 43:2. When thou passest through the waters, &c.— The general sense of the promise in this verse is, that God will so support and protect his spiritual church in those adversities and calamities which seem to threaten its destruction, that it shall never be destroyed; and that true believers shall always be supported by the hand of the Almighty. The expression in this verse seems to allude to some preceding events in the Jewish history, and to have respect to some succeeding ones. See Psalms 66:12.
Isaiah 43:3. For I am the Lord thy God— The Almighty by his prophet proceeds to assure his church of his particular affection towards her, by a remarkable proof of that affection; which is, that the evils and calamities threatening the destruction of the Jewish nation, had by his providence been averted from them, and turned upon the Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Sabeans. The prophet alludes to what is foretold in the 20th chapter.
Isaiah 43:4. Since thou wast precious, &c.— This verse refers, according to Vitringa, to the deliverance from Sennacherib, whereby God abundantly shewed that the Jewish nation was precious and honourable in his sight; and the men, in the last clause, refers to the Assyrians, and the people to the Chaldees. The Assyrians suffered a fearful slaughter under their king Sennacherib, for the sake of the church; and the empire of the Chaldees was to be overturned by the Medes and Persians, to procure the deliverance of the people of God: in both which instances God abundantly testified that his church was precious and honourable in his sight, and much beloved by him.
Isaiah 43:5-7. Fear not— You see Isaiah here, in spirit, foretelling much greater and more important things than he seemed about to declare. We must observe, that while he appears to speak of one thing only, two are understood: the less includes the greater. Speaking literally and properly of the collection of the dispersed church from Babylon,—a more noble collection, the spiritual one of the Jews and Gentiles to the church of Christ, was in his view; and this is described in expressions taken from the external collection of the church from Babylon, and the restoration of the Jews under the Maccabees; exactly in the same manner as ch. xi 12 which should be compared with this place. The 7th verse plainly shews, that the spiritual seed of Israel is spoken of. Every one who is called by my name, means, "every one who is truly my son;" for to be called by the name of any one, is to be his son. See ch. Isaiah 44:5.
Isaiah 43:8-10. Bring forth the blind, &c.— Vitringa renders the 9th verse, Let, &c. Who among them could declare this? Either let them tell us what shall first happen, and bring their witnesses, that they may be justified; or let them [be content to] hear, and say, this is truth. The scope of this period is, to confirm the people of God in their belief of the true Divinity, from those remarkable events so clearly foretold by the prophet; and to instruct them, to convince the degenerate Jews, and idolatrous Gentiles, concerning this same belief from the same arguments; namely, from the deliverance of the people out of Babylon by Cyrus, and the mission of Jesus Christ, as the great prophet to convert the Gentiles; which again in the subsequent part of this chapter are repeated and set forth under different figures. The blind people that have eyes, &c. mean the blind and idolatrous Jews. See the preceding chapter, Isa 43:19 and ch. Isaiah 6:9-10. Ye are my witnesses, even my servant whom I have chosen, mean the true believers among the people: or more particularly the witnesses may signify the prophets and teachers of the church; and my servant, may mean Israel, or the believing people in general. See ch. Isaiah 41:8 Isaiah 44:1. More remotely, the Messiah, peculiarly God's servant, and the apostles, his witnesses, may be meant. See Vitringa.
Isaiah 43:11-13. I, even I, am the Lord, &c.— I even I, &c. Isaiah 43:12. I have declared and saved, and foreshewed, and not any strange god among you [hath done so]; therefore, &c. The argument of this whole discourse is so consistent in all its parts, that nothing heterogeneous is mixed with it. God is here introduced, as in the discourses immediately following, determined to vindicate the truth of his essence and divinity against idolaters and unbelievers, and to call them from error, superstition, and the worship of false deities, to the true faith, and to confirm believers in the same faith. Hence he commands the idolatrous and incredulous Jews, and all the nations, to be convoked, as it were, to a public disputation, and teaches his people the method of disputing with, and convicting them, from the great works already done, and hereafter to be done, as foretold only by him. But, as among those great works were the temporal deliverances which he had already wrought for his church according to the predictions of his prophets, and would hereafter perform by Cyrus, and the spiritual deliverance which he would procure for his people by the Messiah, the effect whereof would be the conversion of the Gentiles; he particularly appeals to these illustrious works of his providence, grace, and power, and evinces that they are to be ascribed only to him, as they were foretold only by him. See the analysis. This period treats, in my opinion, says Vitringa, concerning the deliverance of the people from the Assyrian, and stands here, by way of preface, to illustrate that other great deliverance of the church from the Chaldees. God is here represented, as shewing himself publicly in a great assembly of men, and vindicating to himself the glory taken from him by idolaters and unbelievers, which alone belongs to God, before whom all creatures must keep silence, and who alone, as the fountain of all perfection and honour, can be allowed to glory of himself.
Isaiah 43:14-15, Thus saith the Lord— In these verses the prophet foretels, and typically describes the benefit of deliverance from the Babylonish captivity, which God would perform for his people. The meaning, is, "I have sent to Babylon the Medes and Persians, with Cyrus at their head, who shall besiege Babylon, and that with so great consternation of the citizens and soldiers, that all of them, prepared for flight, and among the rest the Chaldeans, who were esteemed the best soldiers, shall fly with all imaginable speed to the vessels and boats which they have prepared to convey the commodities and luxuries of the Babylonians up the river Euphrates, in order to escape the hands of the Medes and Persians." The latter part of the 14th verse is rendered by Vitringa, And have made all their fugitives, even the Chaldeans, go down into their pleasure-boats.
Isaiah 43:16-17. Thus saith the Lord— The prophet in these words confirms what he had advanced respecting the deliverance from Babylon, by the former deliverance which God had wrought for his people from Egypt; thus, from the view of the past, strengthening the faith and hope of believers in what was to come. Some, however, suppose that these words are a kind of preface to the following period, in which the new work of grace is foretold.
Isaiah 43:18-21. Remember ye not, &c.— Call not to mind former things, &c. Another specimen is here produced of a mighty work of divine providence and grace, of a singular and wonderful benefit to be conferred upon the church, which is here described as greater and more excellent than the former ones. From which work foretold and effected, the truth of the God of Israel is asserted against idolaters, and an argument is drawn for the support and establishment of the hope of believers. God says, that he will make a way in the desart, rivers in the wilderness; that he will cause the beasts of the field, the dragons and the ostriches, to honour him, for the advantage of his people. There can be no doubt that the prophet speaks here of the conversion of the Gentile world under the new oeconomy. The same metaphors and ideas have before occurred and been explained. See chap. Isaiah 35:1-2, &c. Isaiah here embellishes the figure which he makes use of, with all the graces of variety. He describes the wild-beasts of the desart, and the dragons themselves, as having been parched with thirst, and praising God with their hisses and nocturnal howlings, for watering the sandy plains of Arabia. There is no image in which the eastern writers delight more than this; and he who has travelled himself into those parts, or read the travels of others, can be no stranger to the numerous concourse of wild beasts on the banks of rivers or other waters, and to their tremendous howlings in the night-time. See Michaelis and Vitringa.
Isaiah 43:22-24. But thou hast not called upon me— This reproof may be connected in a two-fold manner with the preceding discourse. First, that the prophet, while he consoles the better part of the church, and confirms their faith by the predictions and promises of great things to come, may at the same time reprove the greater and worst part of the church, and give them to know that these benefits were not conferred upon the church for their sake, or that they should have any part in them; but that, on the contrary, they might be assured that they should incur the severest judgments of God. Or, secondly, the connection may be thus: that after the prophet had foretold and promised the singular blessings of deliverance from exile, and the privileges of the oeconomy of grace, to be exhibited in their proper time, he yet informs the Jewish people that these benefits should proceed solely from the grace of God: that the worship which they had paid him by their sacrifices and offerings so abounded with defects, that it could not be esteemed true worship; nay, that Jehovah was determined not to pass by the grievous sins of the people and the priests unpunished. Therefore, whatever benefit should happen to the church, it was to be ascribed solely to his grace, not to their merits. This method of connecting the passage seems better to agree with the context; particularly the 27th verse. The sweet cane refers to that aromatic cane, probably the cinnamon, which was made use of for the incense. See Jeremiah 6:20. Bishop Lowth reads the last clause of Isa 43:23 and Isaiah 43:24. I have not burthened thee with exacting oblations; nor wearied thee with demands of frankincense: thou hast not purchased for me with silver the aromatic reed: neither hast thou satiated me with the fat of thy sacrifices. On the contrary, thou hast burthened me with thy sins, &c.
Isaiah 43:25-28. I, even I, am he that blotteth out— In the 25th verse the prophet declares, in words truly evangelical, that the divine grace alone, freely forgiving transgressions and sins, is the cause of the blessings and benefits predicted and promised. He then urges, Isa 43:26 the conviction begun, Isaiah 43:22. He offers to the Jews in the name of God, the condition of publicly disputing before just judges, and at the same time of choosing that side of the argument which they should judge most favourable to them. Put me in remembrance of thy merits; let us plead together in judgment: do thou begin to plead, that thou mayest be justified: but when, unable to urge any thing, they were utterly silent, God himself brings his action against them, accuses them of revolt, and not them only, but their teachers, and the high-priest, the first of their teachers; for by thy first father in the 27th verse is meant the high-priest; particularly Urijah, who was high-priest in the time of Ahaz; (see 2 Kings 16:10-11.) the consequence of whose sins, he declares in the 28th verse, should be the severe sentence of the divine judgment, whereby they should be devoted as an accursed thing to destruction: Therefore I will profane the chiefs of the sanctuary, and give Jacob to Anathema, or the curse, &c. See Jer 32:31-32 and Vitringa.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The gracious prophesy contained in this chapter, in its primary sense probably respects the recovery of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, but most eminently refers to the Gospel-days; when the church should, amidst all persecutions, rise great and glorious, and be increased with converts on every side.
1. God encourages them, from the most endearing views of his regard for them, and relation to them. But now, thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, created thee anew in Christ Jesus, and he that formed thee, O Israel, the spiritual and therefore peculiar work of his hands, fear not under any trials or discouragements; for I have redeemed thee by the blood and infinite merit of Jesus; I have called thee by thy name, called thee with power, and written my own name upon thy heart: thou art mine, in the most precious bonds of divine love.
2. He assures them of his constant support under every trial. However threatening, violent, or severe their sufferings, his presence and power shall both strengthen, comfort, and deliver them, so that they should receive not the least hurt or damage. Note; If God be for us, and with us, then in the midst of dangers we are safe; and even in the jaws of death can triumph.
3. He mentions the former instances of his care as the earnest of his present salvation of them. He calls himself their God, their Saviour from every foe. As of old he had destroyed Egypt for their sake, and done various other wondrous works, such should be still his regard towards them, that their enemies shall be all destroyed, because they were precious in his sight, through that Saviour in whom they were accepted, and honoured with the highest titles, the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, and as such beloved by him.
4. He promises a great increase of converts under the preaching of the Gospel. They need not fear, however diminished or brought low, for God is with them; and at his word, from the four quarters of the earth converts shall, as doves to their windows, flock into his church, being renewed by his Spirit, and fitted to shew forth his praise in all holy conversation and godliness. This may be applied particularly to the collecting of the Jews from their captivity, but seems more gloriously fulfilled in the conversion of the Gentiles by the preaching of the Gospel. Note; (1.) Every one called by Christ's name is bound to set forth his glory. (2.) The work of regeneration is God's own, wrought in the soul that believes in Christ; to GOD alone, therefore, must all the glory be given.
2nd, The worshippers of idols are called to appear and confront God's witnesses, if they dared maintain their wretched cause. God calls them the blind that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears, because, though they have the fashion of men, by such abominable idolatries they seem to have lost their reason and faculties. They cannot prove the divinity of their idols to justify their worship; they are the work of men's hands, and blinder and more impotent than their foolish votaries. But let God's witnesses appear, his Israel, and his servant, either the prophet Isaiah, or rather the Messiah, emphatically so called, chap. Isa 42:1 with all the preachers of the Gospel and all true believers, to prove his unrivalled godhead and glory; he alone was from eternity; the sole existent, self-existent God and Saviour; and besides him, there neither is nor can be any other. In proof of which, two arguments are urged, drawn from his prescience and his power. [1.] He hath declared things to come; his people's deliverance of old from Egypt, when as yet no strange God was among them, and now from Babylon, with numberless other things concerning the coming of the Messiah and his church; and surely none of the idols can pretend to such foreknowledge. [2.] He hath saved his people; from his hand, none can deliver; and when he works, none can let, whilst all the idols of the heathen are unprofitable and vain; unable in the least to assist or protect their worshippers. This they should observe to their conviction, and say, it is truth, acknowledging the folly of trusting to other gods, and giving the Lord alone the glory due unto his name.
3rdly, Great was the deliverance from Egypt, great the recovery from Babylon, but greater far the recovery of lost souls by Jesus Christ, whose redemption is here spoken of.
1. For the encouragement of his believing people, God calls himself their Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, their Creator, their King. For though they seemed now cast off, their state dissolved, and their kingdom destroyed, yet God calleth the things that are not, as though they were, because he only speaks, and it is done.
2. He tells them what he intended to do for their sakes, which he speaks of as already accomplished; even to destroy the Babylonians, who fly in vain to their ships to escape; or, bound captives by the Medes and Persians, with bitter cries were transported far away.
3. He reminds them of what he had done for them, when, at the Red Sea, the chariots and horses of Pharaoh were utterly overthrown, and such would be the case of their present enemies; and as then he opened a path in the Red Sea for their passage, so would he, amidst all difficulties, bring them safe once more to their own land. Note; In our deepest affliction we should remember God's wonders of old time, and wait in faith for his salvation.
4. Yet greater things than these would he do for them: such miracles of grace as would obliterate, as it were, the remembrance of all that was past. Behold, I will do a new thing, which would astonish and surprise them, even the incarnation of Jesus Christ; now it shall spring forth as a branch in a short time; shall ye not know it, and thankfully receive this great Redeemer? In consequence of whose appearing, a wondrous change will be wrought in the world; the Gentile nations, before like a wilderness, impassable, uncultivated, and barren, shall be laid open for the Gospel, and become fruitful like a well-watered land. Men, whose tempers before were savage as the beasts, fierce as the dragons, and stupid as the owls, shall be renewed and turned to the worship and service of the true God; and, in this once desolate world of heathenism, there shall be a plentiful effusion of Gospel-grace, like the waters of a river, and God will own the Gentile converts as his people, formed by his Spirit for his glory, and called to shew forth his praise. Note; (1.) Man does not naturally differ more from the beasts, than man does from man, when divine grace hath changed his heart. (2.) Wherever the Gospel comes, powerful and blessed are its effects: the wilderness then becomes a fruitful field. (3.) All that is good in the hearts of men, is God's own work in believing souls, and designed for his own glory. (4.) It must be our labour, study, and prayer, to correspond with the divine intentions, and to shew forth his praise who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
4thly, The unworthiness of the sinner the more exalts and magnifies the glory and grace of the Saviour. We have,
1. A heavy charge brought against Israel. They had neglected prayer and the worship of God; yea, had counted his service wearisome, and wanted to be rid of it. Though dwelling in a land of plenty, they grudged the expence of God's temple, withheld their burnt-offerings and sacrifices, and prepared no sweet cane for the holy anointing oil and the sweet incense. Yet God had not caused them to serve with an offering, nor wearied them with incense, and did not exact from them difficult or burdensome services: the idolaters paid much greater honours and offered more expensive sacrifices to their false gods, than they were required to offer to the living Jehovah: whereas they not only neglected his worship, but openly violated his laws; till, weary with their iniquities, nothing seemed to await them but just and condign punishment.
2. A wondrous promise comes in. When we might have expected to hear, I, even I, am he that blotteth out their name from under heaven, God, in mercy transcendently glorious, declares, I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. Note; (1.) Forgiveness of sin is the great glory of the Gospel; of all sin; and the vilest need not despair. (2.) It is an act of free and unmerited grace in God to forgive sin; the least sin is in its nature deadly, and nothing we can do could ever save us from eternal ruin, unless his rich mercy interposed to pardon us.
3. God commands his people to put him in remembrance, and plead his promises with him, that they may be justified. But others understand this as a reproof to the self-righteous, challenging them to produce the good works on which they depend for justification; the vanity of which would be manifested, and they reduced to seek the free pardon offered, or perish in their pride.
4. He reminds them that all their sufferings proceeded from their sins; to repent of which, his gracious promises were the greatest encouragement. Thy first father hath sinned, Adam, or their more immediate ancestors, or rather their high-priest, and thy teachers have transgressed against me; they who should have directed others, erred themselves, and led their brethren astray. In consequence of which, God had afflicted them, or would; for it seems spoken of their captivity in Babylon, or their last visitation by the Romans. Therefore I have profaned the princes of the sanctuary, the priests and Levites, and have given Jacob to the curse, and Israel to reproaches, under which they still lie, monuments of God's righteous judgments, till the Spirit shall be poured on them from on high; and at last they will return to him, from whom they have so greatly departed, and find that pardon and grace in Jesus which they have despised.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 43". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany