Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentISAIAH 43
There is a dramatic change in this chapter from the severe rebukes and denunciations of Israel in Isa. 42, where Israel appears as the blind and deaf servant, to the glorious comfort promised the people of God in this chapter. Many Christians have made this chapter their favorite of the whole prophecy of Isaiah.
However, it should never be overlooked that the blind and deaf servant (the physical Israel, the old Israel, the fleshly Israel) also appears in the last two verses of this chapter. Therefore, the words here are addressed, first to the New Israel, the True Israel, the Spiritual Israel; and then, in the last two verses, the address changes back to the prophecy regarding the former Israel.
There is, however, an almost universal misunderstanding of these first seven verses; and many commentators mistakenly apply them to the old physical Israel, the historical Jews, to which these particular verses have no reference at all.
These precious promises are not in any sense whatever applicable to the rebellious, wicked Israelites, who, as Isaiah wrote this, were still pursuing an exceedingly evil path of sin and rebellion against God. The horrible reign of Manasseh is the only proof of this fact that is needed.
There is no excuse whatever for the high handed manner in which alleged "scholars" have preempted these verses and interpreted them as promises to fleshly Israel, "purely through God's grace, and with no regard whatever to the evil character of that fleshly Israel." Yes indeed, God's grace is wonderful; but it is not that wonderful!. The basic fact of all holy religion is that there must be on the part of the people whom God will save, "A true holiness (sanctification) without which no man shall see God" (Heb. 12:14, KJV).
In the previous chapter here, Isaiah made it very clear that there are "two Israels"; and the very first necessity here is to determine which of the two was addressed by these marvelous promises of comfort, security, blessing, and salvation.
But now thus saith Jehovah that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am Jehovah thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour; I have given Egypt as thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in thy stead. Since thou hast been precious in my sight, [and] honorable, and I have loved thee; therefore will I give men in thy stead, and peoples instead of thy life. Fear not; for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the end of the earth; every one that is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory, whom I have formed, yea, whom I have made.
"The comfort and encouragement here (Isaiah 43:1-7) is to the pious."F1 Let it also be noted that the promises here are for "everyone that is called by" the name of God (Isaiah 43:7), a qualification that existed only centuries after Isaiah wrote and which pertains to God's children. Of course, the comfort here was not at all limited to people who would live in the times of the New Covenant; but the inclusion of such qualifications did have the utility of excluding the wicked from the promises of assurance and blessing given here. In the immediate foreground of these wonderful promises is God's projected return of his chosen people from Babylon. Let it never be forgotten, however, that God's "chosen people," from the very beginning never applied merely to people who were physically descended from Abraham, but always signified that "remnant" of the fleshly Israel who believed in God and tried faithfully to walk in God's ways. Jesus Christ elaborated this truth in John 8 in the New Testament.
The past tenses here: "I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, etc.," are verbs of prophetic certainty; and they have the same meaning as the future verbs: "I will bring thy seed from the east; I will be with thee, etc."
We believe that Adam Clarke was correct in his allegation that Isa. 43:1 should read, "Called thee by my name," instead of "thy name." He wrote:
It seems from the seventh verse, and from the thing itself, that we should read, "I have called thee by my name," for this form of speech often occurs, but the other never!F2
Cheyne thought that this chapter teaches that, "All Israel shall be saved."F3 However, he must have overlooked Isa. 43:28! His comment here is a fair example of the claims made by "faith only" and "grace only" advocates of a salvation totally unconnected with righteousness. It is precisely this type of antinomianism that has practically destroyed the Protestantism of the present century.
As Payne indicated, "The promise of release from exile is the theme here; but it is now widened and deepened."F4 This is true because: (a) the returnees are from all over the world, not merely from Babylon; (b) the promised redemption is an earmark of the new covenant; and (c) because of the emphasis upon God's love (Isaiah 43:3).
Kidner caught the spirit of this passage perfectly with this comment:
"These seven verses (Isaiah 43:1-7) eloquently detail the assurance that Christ gave his Church, i.e., that the Gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Fire, water, distances, peoples etc. can take no toll. Everyone will prevail whom God calls `mine.'"F5
I have given Egypt as thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in thy stead
(Isaiah 43:3). This means that God granted to the Persians, beforehand, as a reward for their release of the captive Israel, the country of Egypt, and a portion of Ethiopia as additions to their empire.F6 There is a very good reason, however, behind the vigorous objections that some critical writers offer against this interpretation. As Rawlinson noted:
"Even the very latest dates assigned by skeptical critics to Second Isaiah (their imaginative author of this part of Isaiah) still makes this a very remarkable prophecy. Both Egypt and Ethiopia became part of Persia several years after Cyrus died, whose son Cambyses effected these conquests circa 527-526 B.C.F7
In order, therefore, to challenge the undeniable evidence here of predictive prophecy; many scholars soften the meaning here to be a mere prediction that God will remove even mighty nations whenever it is necessary to preserve Israel. Of course, such a proposition is indeed true; but we believe there is a more specific thing mentioned here.
The certainty that this passage promises the return from Babylonian captivity must be accepted; "But it also certainly looks beyond to the gathering of all God's people who are called by God's name. That great ingathering was accomplished and will continue to be accomplished only under the Servant Jesus Christ, whom God appointed to the task."F8
Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the peoples be assembled: who among them can declare this, and show us former things? let them bring their witnesses, that they may be justified; or let them hear, and say, It is truth. Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am Jehovah; and besides me there is no saviour. I have declared, and I have saved, and I have showed; and there was no strange [god] among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and I am God. Yea, since the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who can hinder it?
One of the big things in this paragraph is that the fleshly Israel, the deaf and blind Israel, are here commissioned as God's witness, whether or not they were willing; and this tremendous predictive prophecy is this very day being fulfilled all over the earth. The very existence of Israel is a witness for every single line of the Old Testament; and "These are they that testify of me," as Jesus stated it. Note that the imaginary court scene is again used as a device for emphasizing these significant facts.
The greatest possible triumph over false gods was demonstrated in the delivery of Israel from Egypt; and, in the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, the same sensational triumph was again demonstrated.
Israel (the old fleshly one) did not actually wish to be God's witness; but God required it of her any way. They did not wish to preach to the Gentiles; but, in spite of their efforts to avoid it, their greatest men, of whom was Paul the Apostle, preached the word to the Gentiles in spite of all Jewish efforts to stop it. That fulfilled the type seen in Jonah, who preferred death to preaching to Nineveh; but God put his hook in the nose of that prophet and compelled him to do it contrary to his personal desire.
There should be no misunderstanding relative to who are meant by those called "the blind with eyes, and the deaf with ears." "These are the Jews who had mixed themselves up with the heathen, learned their ways, and had rejected the Word of God."F9 It is the height of folly to suppose that the gracious promises of the first seven verses may be logically applied to such racial Israelites.
Yes indeed, Israel in time would witness for God; but it would not be by the controlling majority of the rebellious nation, but by that pitifully small remnant composed of people such as the apostles of Christ. That witnessing would not occur in the lifetime of Isaiah, nor in any of the events following the end of the exile; but, for ages, the fleshly Israel would continue to be "a passive and reluctant exhibit."F10 What a poor witness fleshly Israel proved to be! As Kelley wrote, "One of the amazing things that emerges from this passage is that a task so momentous should have been entrusted to a people as unfit as Israel (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7)."F11
Thus saith Jehovah, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I have sent to Babylon, and I will bring down all of them as fugitives, even the Chaldeans, in the ships of their rejoicing. I am Jehovah, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus saith Jehovah, who maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters; who bringeth forth the chariot and horse, the army and the mighty man (they lie down together, they shall not rise; they are extinct, they are quenched as a wick): Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now shall it spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field shall honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people which I formed for myself, that they might set forth my praise.
Isa. 43:14 -- The mention here of "ships of their rejoicing" takes us back to the times when Isaiah lived, because at that time Babylon was indeed a maritime power, a fact that ended with the conquest of Cyrus, this fact fitting Isaiah as the author, not some imaginary prophet after the exile.F12
I have sent to Babylon
(Isaiah 43:14). Here again we have the past perfect tense, the tense of prophetic certainty.F13 This, of course, is a prophecy of Cyrus' coming against Babylon to destroy it,
God here promised to do "a new thing." It would be an even greater thing than that of the Exodus from Egypt; and "for the real fulfillment of this, we must look beyond the modest homecomings from Babylon, although these are in view, to that great Exodus which God accomplished in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31), which alone justifies the language of this and kindred passages."F14
We have already noted that God has used the word "Redeemer" as his title in the rescue of Israel, and that this word comes from an old Hebrew requirement that the "next of kin .... the Redeemer" was obligated to purchase his kinsman back from slavery if necessary; and here we have that word again; but it was surely a fact lost on the Jews of that day that the "redeemer" who would give himself as a sacrifice to redeem Israel would be a far different person from any that the Jews might have supposed.
This passage (Isaiah 43:14) promises that Babylon shall be destroyed, by Cyrus, although he is not mentioned by name until Isa. 44. The citizens of Babylon will take flight in their ships which were widely used in the navigation of the Euphrates, which, according to Kelley, "They used to transport their idols along the Euphrates, during the New Year Festival."F15 Lowth explains that due to the method of Cyrus' attack on Babylon, by changing the Euphrates out of its course, the suitability of that great river for navigation was greatly reduced; and besides, the Persians built dams and other obstructions which destroyed that use of the river.F16
The imperative clauses of Isa. 18 forbid the Jews to dwell upon past deliverances at the hands of God because, "God's future interpositions upon behalf of Israel would be so marvelous that all past deliverances shall be forgotten in comparison."F17
Yet thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel. Thou hast not brought me of thy sheep for burnt-offerings; neither hast thou honored me with thy sacrifices. I have not burdened thee with offerings, nor wearied thee with frankincense. Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices; but thou hast burdened me with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities.
If any further proof of when and by whom this chapter was written, here it is. Now, could any exilic, or post-exilic "Deutero-Isaiah," or "Second Isaiah" have written such a complaint to Israel at any time whatsoever after the onset of the captivity? Absolutely No! Why? Because at the time projected in such a ridiculous postulation, It was sinful for Israel to have offered any such sacrifices as those mentioned here anywhere else on earth except in Jerusalem! What kind of simpleton, therefore, must that alleged "Deutero-Isaiah" have been to complain of Israel's alleged action in this passage? On the other hand, Isaiah was writing of the conditions in Jerusalem over a century before the captivity during which Israel would have the comfort and encouragement of these passages. This is another example of how the radical critics overreach themselves and exhibit their own incompetence.
I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake; and I will not remember thy sins. Put me in remembrance; let us plead together: set thou forth [thy cause], that thou mayest be justified. Thy first father sinned, and thy teachers have transgressed against me. Therefore I will profane the princes of the sanctuary; and I will make Jacob a curse, and Israel a reviling.
Isa. 43:25 does not mean that God is forgiving Israel's sins without regard to their penitence; but it calls attention to the truth that only God can forgive their sins. The mention of the sins of "their first father," evidently Jacob, is apparently brought in here to demonstrate that the whole history of the Jews has been a dreary account of their wickedness and rebellion against God. Will God actually overlook all this and forgive the fleshly descendants of Abraham no matter what they do? Who could believe such a thing?
Adam Clarke commented on this final verse thus:
"Alas! What a curse does the old Israel still bear, and what reproach do they still suffer? No national crimes have ever equaled those of the Jewish nation; for no nation ever had such privileges to neglect, despise, and sin against. When shall the severity of God toward this people have an end? Answer: Whenever, with one heart, they turn to him, and receive the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ; and not till then."F18
Footnotes for Isaiah 43
1: E. Henderson, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., 1857), p. 341.
2: Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), p. 172.
3: T. K. Cheyne's Commentary, p. 272.
4: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 801.
5: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 613.
6: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 639.
7: The Pulpit Commentary, p. 136.
8: Homer Hailey, p. 362.
9: E. Henderson, p. 343.
10: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 613.
11: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 311.
12: The Pulpit Commentary, p. 139.
13: Homer Hailey, p. 364.
14: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 614.
15: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 311.
16: Robert Lowth's Commentary, p. 328.
17: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 479.
18: Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), p. 175.