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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 43

Verses 1-2

1, 2. The prophet returns to his usual consolatory tone. The first verse is inexpressibly tender; so, for the most part, is the entire chapter.

But now Hebrew, and now. Transition words suiting the change of tone in the address.

Jacob… Israel Both names, for poetic variety, intended for the one chosen body of people.

Fear not My love for thee, just now shadowed by my displeasure, returns in full power upon me. My work in calling Abraham, in multiplying Jacob, in delivering from Egypt, and in establishing in Canaan, is not to be for naught. See Daniel 3:17; Daniel 3:27.

Verses 1-28

Sec. 3. GOD’S CONTROVERSY WITH ISRAEL, Isaiah 42:17 to Isaiah 44:5.

The controversy with heathendom closed. Its period is from Abraham’s call ideally to the last triumph of Messiah. The message is now again to Israel. It began in Isaiah 1:2, and has been scatteringly resumed ever since.

Verses 3-4

3, 4. I gave Prophetic preterit for I will give.

Egypt for thy ransom Ransom from exile in Babylon through Cyrus. At a later time Cambyses took Egypt and made her subject, along with Ethiopia and Seba, on the upper Nile. Seba being, according to Josephus, between the Black and the White Nile branches. For the value Jehovah set on his recovered Israel he gave the restoring world-power those peoples who, for deserved judgment, received humiliation. This is simple amplification of meaning to the words, “I have redeemed thee,” etc., in Isaiah 43:1.

Ransom An idea from a law of Moses requiring the firstborn to be ransomed. Israel was Jehovah’s firstborn. “Egypt,” rather than others who also became subject, from her connexion with the first slavery of Israel. See Exodus 1:11.

Verses 5-7

5-7. Fear not Resumed from Isaiah 43:1, to add a second reason for Israel’s confidence because God commands restoration from every quarter from east, west, north, south. Not literal restoration of all the dispersed of Israel to the literal Zion, but a spiritual restoring, shall occur of every one… called by my name. Thus explaining why God has created… formed… made, Israel. Gentiles are hence intended as included with believing Jews.

Verses 8-9

8, 9. An excellent view, is that of Lowth’s. Opposed to interpreters who follow Vitringa, Lowth supposes the heathen world summoned to a grand convocation to test the claims of Jehovah against idols. The point to decide upon is, that of predictive power, as in Isaiah 41:20-24.

Blind people that have eyes… ears Such heathen as have improved natural faculties according to the light they have, (Romans 1:20,) let them be the judges as to whether idols can predict.

Former things A phrase not quite clear, but probably a list of fulfilled predictions.

Let them bring… their witnesses Their documents attesting such fulfilment, that they may be verified, or that they may be held veracious. If they have not such, let them hear from testimony or documents from the other side, and confess their own failure.

But why is this subject brought up again, having already occupied two chapters? Because the prophet’s soul has not a little fear that tenderness to the supposed obsolete idolatry will be the means of reviving it again. He aspires for the last traces of this old evil to be utterly gone. He aspires for its burial out of sight for ever.

Verse 10

10. Ye Israelites.

Are Or are to be.

My witnesses Emphasis on “ye.” God had often verified his predictions by the event, and had at numerous times manifested his power by his deliverances.

And my servant The sanctified portion of Israel the chosen ones. These, when called to the stand, give testimony fit to be graven on the eternal rocks for the use of the coming people of God.

I am he The Being described in preceding verses the only Being acquainted with future events.

Verses 11-13

11-13. The foregoing series of thoughts are here recapitulated with important additions and inferences.

I am the Lord Exodus vi: “I am that I am,” with, of course, no beginning, no ending. Before him was no god; of course no god will be after him, and no Saviour or deliverer beside him. The Jehovah-name ceases in the Old Testament, and the name of Jesus takes its place in the New Testament. To the ancients Jehovah was the ineffable, the unused name; Adonai, (Lord,) through sheer reverence, taking its place in pronunciation. Both the Septuagint and the Greek Testament render the name κυριος , (Lord,) which is equivalent to Jehovah, and in the New Testament refers for its meaning to the phrase, “The Lord Jesus Christ.” The Jews are witnesses that he is Jehovah, and that besides him there is no all-knowing and all-powerful One, and no Saviour.

Verses 14-15

14, 15. For your sake Many a time the Jews had possessed signal proofs of divine interference in their behalf. In this Babylonian deliverance, Jehovah’s character occurs to their minds as more than deliverer from earthly enemies. He is the Holy One who spiritually redeems and saves.

I have sent Cyrus and the Medes are instruments sent of God to Babylon; so obviously sent in their behalf that it amounts to a sure token of God’s spiritual not national purpose in the case.

Brought down all their nobles Both verbs, here, are prophetic preterits, implying “nobles” in the sense of foreign merchants living in Babylon for a time the crowd that naturally gathers at a great emporium. These, with the Chaldeans, become fugitives from the city on the invasion of an enemy. See Isaiah 13:14.

Whose cry is in the ships The rivers and canals at Babylon seem to have made the dwellers a maritime people. The cry of sailors conveying away the fleeing people seems referred to.

Verses 16-17

16, 17. A way in the sea… a path in the mighty waters The Lord is to do here similarly to his doing at the Red Sea, in the exodus. And a similar destruction as at the Red Sea is likely to occur in the case of fleeing ones from Babylon. Then the pursuers were, here the pursued are, destroyed.

Verse 18

18. Remember ye not An exhortation not to “remember” the fleeing dwellers, or that event, marvellous as that was: a more marvellous one is to come.

Verses 19-21

19-21. A new thing As the former event was common in invasions, sieges, etc., to the unfortunate conquered, the marvel now to be spoken of is the certainly approaching spiritual restoration, not on Jews only, but also on Gentiles.

A way in the wilderness… rivers in the desert Certainly the same figures, almost the same language, as in chap. xxv, manifestly used of the great renovation under Messiah, and it seems quite to establish again the same authorship of both compositions. See notes on chap. 35. Of this great renovation, to come over all men, the literal restoration from Babylon, is the type.

This people… formed for myself Probably the exiles from Babylon prefigure here the whole spiritual Israel of the coming Messianic ages. It was a great thing that the exiles were so far spiritually restored as never afterward to relapse into their old idolatry; and that which this prefigured was “the new thing” of Isaiah 43:19. A glorious fruitage awaits the budding of Messianic germs which the changed wilderness is showing. One thinks of Luke 19:40: “If these should hold their peace, the stones would cry out.” When Messiah shall reign as king and judge, all things will “show forth Jehovah’s praise.”

Verses 22-24

22-24. Sweet cane A “reed of fragrance,” from which perfuming extracts and ointments are made; used also in costly offerings. It is said “sweet cane” is not to be found in Syria. Gainsaying this, I quote from my journal of route from Sinai to Hebron, date March 6, 1870: “Found to-day, sixteen hours from Beersheba, in Wady El Abriad, moist from recent rains, a very fragrant reed, resembling Andropogon calamus, but the genus and species of which are unknown. These stalks were three feet high, of last year’s growth, and very fragrant.”

The tenor of these verses does not hold well with the preceding. The writer falls back to describing Jacob in another character than that which fits him for immediate restoration. How could this have been written by an unknown prophet at the end of the exile? But it tallies completely with Isaiah, through all these prophecies. From one subject to another he often leaps to the reader’s surprise. Then there is another difficulty for anti-supernaturalistic critics. The pious Jews were forbidden to offer sacrifices elsewhere than at Jerusalem. No remedy for the critics but to mutilate, as usual, the passage, and consign it to another origin. Yet this need not be done. The break here in Isaiah’s style of address, is in this wise explainable: His spirit had glowed in view of the grand Messianic outcome which the literal deliverance from exile suggested. But he at once bethought himself how unworthy, even yet, they were for so great a mercy, and he reminded them of it to show how great a gratuity they were to share, and how low in humiliation they needed to be. Failure of proper devotion to the temple was made an illustration of Israel’s habit of unfaithfulness.

Verse 25

25. I…

am he that blotteth out thy transgressions Love outweighs wrath still. Not for their merit, but for his own sake, he forgives. The lesson is: Be this a reminder of your unworthiness.

Verse 26

26. Put me in remembrance If this be not so if you are innocent bring forth proofs of it. Omniscient inspection reduces Israel’s unworthiness to a presumably finer point than Israel himself can see or is willing to confess. This may be presumed from the tone of what follows.

Verse 27

27. Not so worthy after all, (so seems the answer,) though coming from honourable ancestry.

Thy first father… sinned Probably Abraham is meant; his sin was in the matter of Pharaoh and of Abimelech. Descent from him cannot screen you.

Thy teachers Some think this means nothing except to sustain poetic parallelism: but the passage is probably meant to show that even such leaders, prophets, and priests as were made great account of by the nation, were stained with sin.

Verse 28

28. Therefore I have profaned Have esteemed less than sacred.

The princes of the sanctuary Because of the stains upon them. Your princes in themselves are of little honour to you. The so-called least sin is my abhorrence. It is such in the gross as sends Jacob to the curse. The curse of exile becomes a solemn anathema.

Israel to reproaches That is, such as are endured in exile life.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 43". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.