43:14–17 Redemption from Babylon: a New Exodus

In this section the Exodus theme continues. The fall of Babylon is announced and promised. This is the first time Babylon is mentioned since 39:3–6 where the impending captivity in that land is foreshadowed. The captivity is to be followed, after 70 years, with restoration to the homeland. So rather than Babylon’s fall being succeeded by another conqueror and extended bondage, the Jewish captives would be assisted on a journey home divinely superintended. The fall of Babylon is thus a replica of the Egypt-exodus event.

Verse 14 “Thus saith Yahweh, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; For your sake I have sent to Babylon, and have brought down all their nobles and the Chaldeans, whose cry is in the ships.”

“Your redeemer” refer to verse 1.

“The Holy One of Israel” Here the moral purity of God is kept before His people, emphasising that He is true to His promises, and reminding them that liberation from Babylon will not solve the more basic problem of the standing of sinners before a holy God. To this subject He returns in verses 22–23.

“For your sake I have sent to Babylon”

This is the first reference to the Babylonian captivity since chapter 39 and the first of many to follow. Cyrus the Great would lead the armies of the Medes and Persians against the haughty city and bring about its fall. That Yahweh would superintend this event is clear from it being foretold by Him long before it happened (14:1–4; 45:1–13).

“and have brought down all their nobles”

The word translated “nobles” (Heb bariah) sometimes means “bars” (eg Neh 3:3; Jud 16:3), but can also denote one who flees, and probably refers to those endeavouring to escape the impending calamity. Hence Rotherham’s translation: “and will bring down as fugitives all of them”.

“and the Chaldeans, whose cry is in the ships”

Babylon was favourably situated as a naval and commercial power with the great River Euphrates running through it providing access to the Persian Gulf. Reference seems to be made to the Chaldeans’ boasting in their security, partly contributed by their substantial navy. Hence the niv “in the ships in which they took pride”.

Verse 15 “I am Yahweh, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King”

The overthrow of Babylon is prefaced by God calling Himself Yahweh, Redeemer and the Holy One; and sufficed by “Yahweh, the Holy One, Creator and King”.

In His redemptive acts for His people He is Holy, as He is in His acts of wrath upon the oppressors of His people. Morality is never divorced from His actions.

His name, Yahweh, guarantees the survival of His people (Exod 6:6–8; Mal 3:6; Hab 1:12–13); as “Creator of Israel”, we see Him as maintaining them in life, and by providential care directing them to His intended goal, which includes providing in His time the Saviour through whom they would become the new creation (cp 54:5; Eph 2:10). “King” adds a dimension; as His subjects they are committed to doing His will. In Israel kings were to be fathers, caring for the well-being of the nation (cp 9:6, 7; 22:21).

Verses 16–17 “Thus saith Yahweh, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters; which bringeth forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power; they shall lie down together, they shall not rise: they are extinct, they are quenched as tow.”

These two verses recount the whole drama of the Red Sea. How often recourse is made to the nation’s birth under the hand of the Almighty, without which Israel would have dissolved in oblivion! Briefly rehearsed is the division of the Sea providing a way and a path for Israel, but a watery grave for the enemy: “For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea, and Yahweh brought again the waters of the sea upon them; but the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea” (Exod 15:19).

The verbs “lie down” and “not rise” are in the imperfect tense: “they lie down, they cannot rise” (rsv), adding vividness to the picture! The last two verbs, “extinct” and “quenched” are in the perfect tense, dramatizing the fate of Pharaoh’s host. “They are extinguished, snuffed out as a wick” (mlb). The Exodus record emphasises the comprehensive, complete destruction (Exod 14:28; 15:5).

43:18–21 The New Thing Declared: Water in the Wilderness and Salvation to the Unclean Gentiles

Verse 18–19 “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 events to which the next four verses point have been interpreted as referring to the Jewish deliverance from Babylon by Cyrus and God’s provision and protection of them en route to the Holy Land. But the citations of these verses in the New Testament point to a future application and not a past. Paul refers to the new things in Christ and the reconciling of the world to God by him (2 Cor 5:17–19); and “he that sat upon the throne says, Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5).

“Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold I will do a new thing” Something that has not hitherto occurred, some unheard of and wonderful event is about to be revealed. The “former things”, the “things of old,” that is the deliverance from Egypt, great as that was, is going to be eclipsed by the new revelation!

“now shall it spring forth” “Spring” is imperfect; rsv “now it springs forth”, like a seed which has germinated and its time has come!

“shall ye not know it?” Affirmation and certainty is expressed by means of a question, the sense being, “You cannot miss it!”

“I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” There is a parallel here with the Exodus deliverance, for Yahweh provided the cloud and a pillar of fire to guide His people in the way (Exod 13:21–22), and a river in the desert (Exod 17:6; Deut 9:21; Psa 78:16; 114:8). But something more novel and unprecedented is indicated by this expression.

What is this way in the wilderness and what are these rivers in the desert? The language is poetic and spiritual rather than literal.

Verses 20, 21 “The beast [‘wild beast’ rsv, roth] of the field shall honour me [cp v23 ‘neither hast thou {Israel} honoured me’], the dragons [jackals] and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen. This people have I formed [Heb yatsar used of the potter] for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.”

The new thing that God would do was the extension of redemption to the Gentiles, the nations long removed from Him. “The desert” and “the wilderness” refer to the countries of the world bereft of spiritual moisture and water. The “way” is the way of life exemplified in the Son of God who declared himself to be “the way, the truth and the life”, and by whom alone a man might come to the Father. The “waters” and “river” which would flow into the desert is the life-giving message of the gospel of Christ (cp Jn 4:14; 7:38; Rev 7:16–17; Isa 49:10–11).

“the beast [‘wild beast’]… shall honour me… the dragon… the owls”

The allusion is clearly to unclean animals, which the Law forbad Israel to eat. They represented the nations that Israel cast out and were unclean because of their abominable ways (Lev 20:22–26). But now we find them responding to the water God has provided and honouring Him!

The following quotation puts the matter succinctly: “through Isaiah God declared that He would be honoured even by the unclean beasts of the Gentiles … Here the ‘now’ [verse 19] points to the days of the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. When he appeared in the ‘wilderness’, he said ‘I am the way…’ And when he ascended into heaven, and the Word had been rejected by Jacob… God specially revealed to Peter, on the housetop at Joppa… by vision from heaven thrice repeated, the Divine purpose to cleanse the wild and unclean beasts of the Gentiles, that they, with the faithful in Jacob, might ‘honour’ Him, and become ‘witnesses’ that He is God, and wait for the consolation of Israel” (Ministry of the Prophets CC Walker, pages 564–5).

Isaiah had earlier signalled the inclusion of the unclean in the Divine purpose (cp 34:16–35:1).

“to give drink to my people, my chosen” One is caused to wonder how such words could be spoken of Gentiles? Are not these terms exclusive to the national seed of Abraham? The fact is that the privileges once exclusive to that nation have been offered to all nations. The term, “my people”, used of Israel by Yahweh before Pharaoh, has a wider application now, embracing all who are “in Christ” (cp Isa 19:25—even Egypt in the Age to come; Rom 9:24–26; 1 Pet 2:9–10).

“This people have I formed for myself” Here the picture is of the potter, shaping vessels for His use. By the touches and pressures of the craftsman’s hand He perfects what He planned.

“they shall shew forth my praise” This is a beautiful phrase. It is also found in 60:6; in the Kingdom Gentiles are drawn to the light emanating from Zion and illuminating the darkness beyond. Zion’s heart will be enlarged as the abundance of the world is brought to her, and the lips of all nations shall “shew forth the praises of Yahweh”. In both occurrences of this phrase in Isaiah, it is used of enlightened Gentiles. Significantly also it is cited in 1 Pet 2:9–10. The context is the same: Gentiles that have been incorporated into the hope of Israel are partakers also of the once exclusive privileges.

43:22–24 Yahweh Wearied by the Heartless Formalism of Israel’s Worship

Verses 22–23 “But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel. Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt offerings; neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices [zebach, peace offerings]. I have not caused thee to serve [rsv ‘burdened you’] with an offering nor wearied thee with incense.”

“But thou hast not” The “but” highlights the contrast with those of the previous verses. These “wild beasts”, Gentiles converted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “honour me” (God), and “show forth my [God’s] praise” (verses 20–21).

“called upon me” “Me”, that is, God, occupied a prominent place in these verses and those that follow, occurring ten times. It was not that the rituals of the Mosaic law were not being enacted, but that Yahweh was not at the heart and centre of Israel’s worship. Their religion had degenerated into heartless formalism, a keeping of ritual devoid of the love of God and an appreciation of His goodness. In Isaiah 1:10–15 God expressed His displeasure in their offerings, feasts and prayers. He says there also, “I am weary to bear them” (v14). Dramatically He said, “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood” (v15).

Where ritual overtakes love and passion for God, the heart is not attuned to Him, and wickedness and sins can flourish. There is no value in service to Yahweh where there is disregard for His will and commandments. It is obnoxious to Him and hypocrisy. Compare Jesus’ strictures against tradition based religion that has departed from its intention as revealed in God’s Word (Matt 15:7–9).

“but thou hast been weary of me” Where worship lacks thankfulness, appreciation and love for God, even though mechanically carried out, it becomes wearisome (cp Amos 8:5; Mal 1:13, “Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it”).

“Thou hast not brought me the small cattle… neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices” The term “honoured me” expresses the heart of the accusation (cp Mal 1:6–7 where to offer polluted bread was to dishonour and despise God’s name). Clearly where worship is mechanical it is degraded to the level of a form of magic and is painful to God. God desires man to worship Him “in spirit [sincerity] and in truth” (John 4:23).

“I have not caused thee to serve [rsv ‘burdened you’] with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense” Worship of God as He appointed was distinctly in their interests. By it they would be exalted and redeemed. It could hardly be regarded as a burden or bond service (as used of the word in Lev 25:39; Exod 1:13; 6:5; Jer 22:13)! No it was not God who was subjecting them to servitude but rather the reverse.

Verse 24 “Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled (mlb, rsv ‘satisfied’; mg ‘made me drunk, or abundantly moistened’) me with the fat of thy sacrifices (zebach, peace offerings): but thou has made me to serve (rsv ‘burdened me’) with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities.”

“sweet cane” Fragrant calamine was used in the anointing oil (Exod 30:23).

“neither hast thou filled me” [niv ‘lavished on me’] God had not been sated or satisfied by their worship. Here He points out that there had been no worship in excess of that laid down; there was no joy in Him, no desire to please and satisfy their Maker. The reality was that they were void of the fear of God; and so alongside the physical enactments, the mechanics of worship, sins and iniquities abounded.

“thou hast made me to serve with thy sins [Heb chata]” Who was a burden to whom!? God had not enslaved them in worship, but they had been an ongoing burden to Him. Their hypocrisy grieved Him: and even in their worship of Him their wilful sin could not be overlooked. Ultimately redemption would come by God’s intervention in human affairs. He would send His Son into the world to bear away the sins of mankind (John 1:29). Though personally sinless, he was by nature touched with the feeling of our infirmities. By doing God’s will perfectly and submitting to the death of the cross, he destroyed that which has the power of death (Heb 2:14): thereby “he bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24). In this way God “served with our sins” (cp 42:23–25).

43:25–28 God Invites a Response: Does Evidence Justify Forgiveness?

Verse 25 “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.”

These words have emotional intensity. God brings to the fore the salient fact about His relationship to the nation! Sins were committed against Him! They were a breach of His laws! Israel was responsible to Him! He had the power alone to forgive! Without His forgiveness they were alienated from Him and in a desperate plight (59:1–2). Somehow Israel had lost sight of reality.

“I even I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake” Forgiveness is a Divine attribute, and intrinsic part of Yahweh’s character (Exod 34:7). Sin blots the character, and Yahweh sees the spot it leaves.

“blotteth out” The metaphor is taken from the custom of account keeping. When the debt is paid the charge is blotted out or cancelled. The verb is used in the sense of “wiping clean” (2 Kings 21:13) and of sin (Psa 51:1).

“for mine own sake” that is, not because it is deserved or merited, but because of the benevolence of His ways (cp Psa 103:8–14; Mic 7:18–19).

“and I will not remember thy sins” What He has forgiven can never again be raised up to challenge or condemn (cp Jer 31:34). The new covenant established in the blood of Christ brings forgiveness of sins: “this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins”, the Saviour said (Mat 26:28).

Verse 26 “Put me in remembrance: let us plead together [rsv ‘argue’, roth ‘enter into judgment’]: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified [rsv ‘proved right’].

This is an invitation to the sinner to make out his best case to vindicate himself and show that forgiveness is justified! Has God forgotten anything? Are there any extenuating circumstances He has not taken into account? Has there been undue severity or have they been charged with crimes they have not committed?

Following verse 26 there appears to be silence in the court. The accused has been given time to prepare his defence. But there is default and so the prosecution case continues and the possibility of the offer of forgiveness seems ever more remote.

Verse 27 “Thy first father, [roth ‘chief father’] hath sinned and thy teachers [rsv ‘mediators’, mlb, roth ‘interpreters’] have transgressed against me.”

The “first father” could refer to Adam, by whom sin entered the world (Rom 5:12), or Abraham the patriarch or chief father of the nation, or Jacob the father of the twelve sons from whom the twelve tribes have descended. The “teachers” (the word is translated “ambassadors” 2 Chron 32:31) refers to their “spokesmen” (niv), and the sense of the verse is that from their first founder through all subsequent leaders (and particularly the priests who interpreted the Law for the people), up until the contemporary generation the story is the same: there has been sin and rebellion (the verbs “sinned” and “transgressed” are verbs corresponding to the nouns in verse 25).

Verse 28 “Therefore have I profaned the princes of the sanctuary [niv ‘the dignitaries of your temple’] and have given Jacob to the curse [Heb cherem] and Israel to reproaches [roth ‘reviling’].”

The tenses of the verbs here could be past, present or future. There is a looking back at past judgment (as av) when the process began, to the continuing judgment in the present. The niv is the most vivid, making the verbs future.

The overriding sense is that seeing no case has been made out showing forgiveness was justified, and the record of sin and rebellion is unabated, there is only one verdict that can be given—the nation was guilty, and hence Yahweh’s profaning of the princes of the sanctuary, and the giving of Jacob to the curse (“destruction” niv) and Israel to reviling is justified. Note that the Hebrew word for “curse” is cherem and it indicates not merely destruction but the destruction of that which is abhorrent to Yahweh (cp Josh 6:18; 7:11 “the accursed thing”).