“But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel,…”Isaiah 43:1-28
This idea of ‘Yahweh’ which is the covenant name for God as Creator is a predominant theme throughout chapters 40 through 66 of the book of Isaiah. Notice as it mentions “O Jacob”, “O Israel”, now those are synonymous terms, they’re used in a parallel Hebrew relationship. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with the angel at the ford of Jabbok (cf. Genesis 32:22-32). so one is the idea of the man, and the other became the name for the nation. Notice as it says, “who formed you, O Israel” – this is not so much creation like in Genesis, but this is creation like making them into a nation which occurred during the Exodus and the wilderness wandering period. That’s the idea here. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;…” ‘Do not fear’ is such a common theme throughout the Bible for God’s encouragement to man. The children of Israel have been extremely disrupted in the Exile, and now these words of comfort are coming back again and again. The word ‘redeemed’ is a very important word. It’s in the perfect tense here Hebrew which speaks of completed action. “I have redeemed you” – it’s a finished thought, it comes from the word ‘to buy back’ one from slavery; to buy back one from slavery, to buy back from a prisoner of war. The root of this is the term ‘go-el’ which is found in the book of Ruth for the kinsman redeemer; that close-kin person that redeems us from problems, or avenges. And so really it’s the Redeemer Avenger thing, and God acts as both. He is going to buy Israel back, and He is going to be their Avenger on the nations who hurt them. And that’s the idea here. In the last phrase of verse 1 it says, “I have called you by name; you are Mine! – this is also a perfect tense in Hebrew, which speaks of a fulfilled action when it says “I have called you by name”. We see much of this in Hosea chapter 11:1-4 where God calls Israel, “My son”, then it says “you are mine”. The verse i guess that speaks to me most in this is, Exodus 19:5-6 where it says, “You’re a peculiar teasure, my own possession for all the world is mine”, that’s the ideal here.
Verse 2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through rivers they will not overflow; when you walk through the fire, it will not scorch you nor the flame burn you.” – Water and fire are often used as a metaphor for problems and obstacles, both physical and spiritual. And you might want to see Psalms 66:12, a beautiful parallel passage that speaks of the great truth that God’s not going to deliver them from problems. God’s not going to provide just a panacea kind of solution; there’s going to be problems, there’s going to be difficulties, but the greatest promise of the Bible is not that God changes our circumstances, but that God promises to walk through whatever circumstance we find ourselves in with us. Psalms 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” – so God is saying there won’t be trouble, but He’s saying, “I’ll be there right with you”. The ideal of the “…nor flame will burn you.” is the end day prophetically, and of course in the period of the Babylonian captivity in Daniel chapter 3 about the fiery furnace story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three friends whom God protected by His presence.
And then in verse 3, we have several names for God. The first one is the LORD (all caps), it’s the word Yahweh, the covenant name for God. You see it’s used in verses 1 through 10 and 12. Then the word God is used which is the word Elohim, and it’s in 3, 10, and 12. The rabbis say that Yahweh is ‘mercy’, and the word Elohim is judge, and that may be true to some extent. In verse 3, we have the Savior, that’s the Hebrew word Yeshua. Jesus is Yeshua, which means you add the covenant name for God to the the verb ‘to save’ and you got Yahweh saves, and that’s what Jesus name is as the Old Testament ‘Joshua’ is. And then we have “I Am He” in verses 10 and 13; a very cryptic kind of reference but it’s the reference that lends itself to “God is the only God”. Then we have the noun form ‘Redeemer’ from the Hebrew root ‘go-el’ in verse 14. And then the ‘Creator’ with the definite article (verse 15) and finally the ‘melek’ which is the word for ‘King’. So a tremendous number of different titles for God in this particular chapter. Notice where it says, “I Am the LORD”, of course there’s a redundancy here because the word ‘Yahweh’ our Lord means I Am that I Am that Hebrew verb ‘to be’. You might want to see John 8:58 where Jesus says, “Before Abrahan was, I am”, the ideal of which is, He is the Holy One of Israel your Savior, from the root verb ‘to be’. In the Old Testament, the root of the word savior or the root of the word to ‘to save’ is the word ‘Yeshua’, while in the New Testament, it’s ‘soter’, but in the Old Testament it has the ideal ‘to be wide’, ‘to be spacious, or ‘to set someone in a large place’. And these were desert people, and their faith fell when trapped indoors, or confined in a forest or something. ‘To be wide’, ‘to be in an expanse’ was to them to be liberated and free – that’s the root or etymology of this word.
Then it says, “I have given Egypt as your ransom,…” – now this has the idea of the same word ‘redeemer’ as ‘ransom but it’s used in the sense of a very high cost of God’s love when it says, “I’ve given Cush and Seba in your place”. This is the ideal of what was known of Africa that day. It’s a metaphor and should not be taken literally. He’s saying ‘I would give Africa for you, a whole continent for you. You”ve got to remember how insignificant Israel was; she was a slave nation, she was rebellious, she was stiff-necked, she was hostile, she had constinued in sin, she had been taken in exile, and God says, “but I love you”. You see Israel is the perfect example of God’s unconditional love. God picked them not because of their special merit but because their such a pain in the neck, and He shows His love over and over again by His faithfulness to this small rebellious, stiff-necked nation Israel. Now notice as it says in verse 4, and really verses 4 through 7 have the same kind of idea, “Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.” – this is something of the mystery of God’s love. I think that God’s love is unconditional; that it’s oriented in grace. And finally i think we have here something of what’s going to be fully developed in the New Testament on the substitutionary atonement. In Israel’s history, it took ann innocent animal to deal with the problem of sin in man’s life. But there’s coming a day when it’s going to take a human being to fully deal with man’s sin problem; that of course is the Mediator, the Messiah. Then verses 5 through 7 i think shows a bit of how God’s going to bring back the Jews from all over the world, from the four parts of the compass. The Jews really scattered everywhere. Many were taken into captivity. Many fled to Egypt, or to the north to get away from Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Listen to this, “Do not fear, for I am with you;” – that’s a beautiful promise. “I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west. “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar And My daughters from the ends of the earth,”. What a beautiful picture not only of the Exile being over, not only having returned from the Exile, but we learn in Matthew chapters 24 and 25 that the angels are going to gather the elect from the four corners of the world. These prophecies have a historical foundation, and an eschatological orientation. Now it says in verse 7, “Everyone who is called by My name,And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” – this is not based on merit, it’s based on God’s purpose, and you might want to see verse 8, “Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, And the deaf, even though they have ears.” – this goes back to chapter 42:18-22 where God says, ‘My people are still stiff-necked; they’re still rebellious, I’m going to bring them back, and there hasn’t been a real spiritual change in many of them. Now, why would God bring them back from the Exile without the condition of the spiritual change. Well, i think it emphasizes the fact that God’s love is based on grace and not on merit; that God always takes the initiative; that God does fulfill His promises and it’s not based on man’s response as much as it’s based on God’s nature and heart. I think every covenant between man and God has a conditional element and an unconditional element. It’s the unconditional love of God that men must individually respond to. You see here we’re in a corporate sense, but even in a corporate sense we must remember that not all Israel was always right with God.
Now notice verse 10 as it says, “You are My witnesses, declares the Lord, And My servant whom I have chosen,” – you might want to see chapter 44 verse 8 about “my witnesses”. This nation was to be a kingdom of priests. They were to witness to the world both in words and actions the uniquenesses of their God. They did not do it, but God still used them in a negative sense to proclaim who He is. We will learn later in chapters 45-48 that God used Cyrus the Great to accomplish His will, though he did not know God. Now notice in the last part of verse 10 down through 13, “Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me…” it’s very monotheistic oriented, and really what God is saying is, ‘there’s nothing in my category’. This is that strong affirmation that somehow the nation Israel is a witness to the power, the love, and mercy of the One God of the universe; that there is no one who can deliver them except Him. What’s God is saying there is, “I’m in control of History, you may think of Syria as a world power, or Babylon, or Egypt, but I want you to know that I am in control”. You see in the ancient world the deities were caught up with the nations. There were national deities, and so when Israel was defeated, people said “Well, God’s not as strong as Marduk or Baal”. And God’s saying, “Look, I’m in control of history, there is no god beside me. I Am the only One”. “I’ve allowed this to happen because of your sin, and I’m going to bring you back to show the world that I’m powerful, that I’m God.”
And in verse 14, “Thus says the Lord your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, (it has the idea of God as an ethical God), “For your sake I have sent to Babylon,” And will bring them all down as fugitives, Even the Chaldeans, into the ships in which they rejoice.” – because of His promises to Israel, to show them that He is more powerful than any other God, He is going to bring Marduk and the Babylon nation to their knees. As a matter of fact when it says the word ‘Babylon’, the word ‘Chaldean’ has been used 2 ways; it can refer ethnically to those who speak the Chaldean language which would be the Babylonians or it can refer to a group of wisemen of which Daniel was later a part; the Chaldeans which seem to originate in Median. But here it’s obviously ethnic, meaning the Babylonians. “And will bring them all down as fugitives, Even the Chaldeans, into the ships in which they rejoice.” – these are the very ships that they went up and the down the river through Babylon on. They’re going to be the very ships they’re going to have to flee from the power of God. It may even as strong as saying, “I’m going to take them into exile on the very ships they once used for their pleasure cruises; their great merchant fleet. That’s the idea here.
Verse 15, ““I am the Lord, your Holy One, The Creator of Israel, your King – what a series of titles! – in effect, He is saying ‘I Am your God, and I Am the God of all the earth’. Then it continues is verse 16, “Thus says the Lord, Who makes a way through the sea…” – this and following is going to use the historical occurrence of the Exodus, as God split the Red Sea and split the Jordan River, and provided them water and gave them manna, and walked with them, and protected them as they became a nation. He’s going to do even a greater work now in bringing them back from captivity and making them a nation again – that’s the allusion here. “Who brings forth the chariot and the horse,…” – that’s all back in Exodus. And verse 19, “Behold, I will do something new. Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,…” – Now this ‘roadway in the wilderness’ goes back to Isaiah 40:3-4 about this royal visit; the king is going to visit his people and we kind of flipped-flopped the metaphor here. The royal team is going to make the roadway for his people to go home. And then in verse 20, “The beasts of the field will glorify Me, The jackals and the ostriches, Because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people.” – this thing about ‘providing water in the wilderness’, it goes back to the Exodus experience where God provided them water miraculously. This deal about the ‘beasts of the field, glorifying Me; jackals and ostriches’, we’re real unsure about the etymology of those terms. We learn from other Semitic languages, these refer to some names of deities of these foreign nations, that took on animals as their national gods. But what it’s saying here is much like the passage in Romans 8:18-22 that all creation groans for the revealing of the sons of God. And as Jesus came into Jerusalem, He said to the pharisees who were preventing the crowd from praising Him, “If these were silent, the stones would cry out”. Creation knew who’s the Creator, so the animals here are going to glorify God (cf. Lk. 19:40).
Then in verse 22-23, “Yet you have not called on Me, O Jacob; But you have become weary of Me, O Israel. You have not brought to Me the sheep of your burnt offerings, nor have you honored Me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, nor wearied you with incense.” – many folks have said that this verse means that the prophets are against the sacrificial system. Now Jeremiah chapter 7 is a beautiful parallel here – it’s not God saying that sacrifices are the probem. What God’s saying, “Your attitude is the pits”! Now, people can do all kinds of religious actions, and attend church, and go through all kinds of rituals, and give their money and all that, and still their hearts be far away from God. The trick is, these people were very religious but they had left God for their idols. Their attitude was not in their worship, and not in their sacrifices. That’s a real problem. How many times is our heart really not on our prayers, and not on our worship, and not in our giving. That’s the idea here. It’s not blasting on sacrifices; it’s blasting on impure and improper motives. I think the essence of faith is the right heart’s attitude toward God and man.
In verse 24 it mentions, “You have bought Me not sweet cane with money,…” – you night want to see Exodus 30:23 for this use of sweet cane. And then down in verse 24 it says, “Rather you have burdened Me with your sins,” – the root word of the word ‘burdened’ is the word ‘servant’, and so we catch the idea here i think in Isaiah 53 completely, of the ‘servant bearing the sins’ – same root ‘servant, ‘burden’. Then in verse 25, “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” – this verse means so much to me. Here is God saying, ‘it’s not on the account of your actions, your merits, your motives, your wonderfulness that I’m going to forgive you. But Israel I’m going to forgive you because of who I Am. The essence of forgiveness is always the grace of God; it’s never our merit. Every spiritual action starts in the heart of God, not in the heart of man. Now, this word ‘forgiveness’ means He’s going to wipe away our transgressions and remember our sins no more. When i really think about how God has completely and totally accepted me the way i am because of His love for me through Christ, when i realize that He has totally delivered me from the consequences of my evil, these verses mean so much to me: Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 38:17; Isaiah 44:22. These are the strongest passages i know on the grace of God. It is by the grace of God that God delivered His people from Egypt; it is an act of mercy and grace before He gave them the 10 Commandments. Grace always, always, always, comes first.
In verse 26, “Put Me in remembrance, let us argue our case together; state your cause, that you may be proved right.” – this reminds me so much of Isaiah 1:18 where God says, “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool”. This is the legal sense of a person coming to trial and arguing his case, and God says ‘though you are really sinful; though you have played the fool, I’m going to forgive you because of my great love, and we learn in the New Testament it’s because of the sacrifice of Christ that God is able to deal with us in mercy and not in justice. Lord deliver me from justice; i want nothing less than your mercy! Now in verse 27, “Thy first father hath sinned, and thy teachers have transgressed against me.” – this could be Adam, or it could be Abraham, but it’s probably Jacob because Jacob is the originator of the twelve tribes of Israel. “…and your teachers (or spokesmen)…” here means prophets or priests, or maybe political leaders. Notice God’s saying, ‘You’ve played the fool, your leaders have sinned, your ancestors sinned, you have sinned, but I’m going to forgive you because of who I am not because of who you are. Friends, the day you put your trust totally on what God has done in Jesus Christ; totally in God’s nature of love, and acceptance through Christ’s sacrifice, and totally released yourself from relying on what you’ve done, on your works, on your selfish attitude is the day you’re going to find peace with God. God’s assurance can only be based on God’s finished work, not on our actions because we are still sinful and we still play the fools. Verse 28, “Therefore I have profaned the princes of the sanctuary” – you might want to see 2 Kings 25:18-21. It may be what this is talking about, i just don’t know. “…and have given Jacob to the curse, and Israel to reproaches.” – this is the ideal of ‘corban’ or making something wholly dedicated to God. Remember Jericho was dedicated to God, and so unusable by fallen humanity, therefore, it must be destroyed. When something was given to God it became holy. It became set apart for the exclusive use of God and so man couldn’t use it. And the only way man could protect himself against something that was holy was to destroy it, or keep away from it. That’s the idea here that Israel has become a ‘ban’; it’s often translated as ‘a curse’ because of what they’ve done in turning their backs from their covenant-making God. I think this chapter has a beautiful picture of two very important things: Number one, that God has made a promise to Israel, and He’s going to stick with it. Number two, that God’s chose a little weak slave nation, a rebellious stiff-necked people to show that His love is not based on man’s merit, and that His word is not conditional on man’s response. Now, Israel was taken out of the land but God brought it back. God always comes to man first in grace, and it’s for His sake not for our sake.