This section is the second oracle about the prophet’s message that God would deliver His people from bondage. The preceding section looked at God’s unchallenged ability to do it; this part stresses that Israel does not deserve it. The section falls into three main parts: the declaration that God will deliver them (14-21), the explanation that they do not deserve this (22-28), and the exhortation for them not to fear (44:1-5).
I. THE LORD PROMISES TO DELIVER HIS PEOPLE IN A GREAT EXODUS AND PROSPER THEM IN THE WAY (43:14-21).
A. THE COVENANT GOD PROMISES VICTORY (14-15).
Verse 14 declares that God has intervened to bring down Babylon on behalf of His people Israel. The verse begins with the double description of the LORD: the Holy One of Israel and their Redeemer.
Once again the text is probably using the Hebrew prophetic perfect tense, since the delivery lies in the future—the certain future. The content of the verse teaches that God will bring down their powerful adversaries (compare Daniel’s song in Daniel 2:20ff.). In this verse are included the Chaldeans, a general name for the Babylonians, but technically the ruling class of royal priests. Nebuchadnezzar was a Chaldean.
Verse 15 reiterates the self-revelation of the LORD as the Holy One, Creator, and King. “I am the LORD” is the declaration, couched in terms of the covenant made at Sinai (see Exodus 20). The epithet “your Holy One” stresses the uniqueness of the LORD as the covenant God. And “creator of Israel” recalls Sinai and underscores the fact that they owe their existence to Him. The expression “your King” makes the point that it is a theocracy and that they owe absolute allegiance to God.
B. THE LORD PROMISES A SAFE EXODUS (16-21)
First, in verses 16 and 17 the LORD reminds the people of the first exodus out of bondage in Egypt. The text does not mention the exodus by name, but by stating that the LORD makes a road through the Sea definitely alludes to that time, for they would not pass through the sea here. The allusion implies a comparison. Moreover, the usage of the verbs “form” and “create” in the context have already referred to that period of history. The prophet has also used “water” and “flood” as figures of this captivity. So the allusion to the escape from Egypt through the flood is a good one.
Verse 17 adds to the allusion: the LORD led out the armies of Egypt, horse and chariot in all their strength, and buried them in the sea (“they lie down together, without rising”). The LORD crushed them out of existence because they were chasing His people to enslave or destroy them. Now Israel should be reminded of that great deliverance that made them a nation in the first place. God is fully able to deliver His people from world powers.
Second, the LORD exhorts the people to forget the former exodus (verse 18). After recalling the exodus, the LORD tells Israel not to remember (zakar) nor consider (hitbonan from bin) it any more—they should not dwell on the past, because God is going to do something new and wonderful. Live for the future!
An application could easily be made along the way here: many Christians live only in the past with their focus on what Christ did back there—the passover/exodus, or on their own conversion experience; this is fine, but they are not looking for the next event, the culmination of the covenant program in the second coming! The events of Christ’s first coming laid the foundation for what He will do at the second.
Third, the LORD is going to bring a marvelous new deliverance through the desert (verses 19-20). The theme is announced in verse 19: “Behold, I am about to do a new thing.” What is coming is a new thing. “New” (kha-dash) can mean something completely new, or a renewal or transformation (it is often parallel with bara’, “create”).
The “new thing” will be a road through the wilderness (compare the road through the sea in the previous verses). The imagery compares this return to streams in the desert, probably the point of the comparison is that roads that might be empty or lightly traveled will be “flooded” with people returning to the land as wadis are flooded with water in the rainy season.
Verse 20 is a little more difficult to understand. It appears on the surface that the waters created to supply the needs of the returning Israelites would also refresh the animals, and this relief will lead to God’s glory.
Fourth, Israel will praise the LORD (verse 21). “This people I have formed for Myself—they shall declare My praise.” “Praise” is tehillah (from halal), the spontaneous expression of what is enjoyed. Israel, when released to return to their homeland, will offer such expressions of joy.
II. THE LORD DECLARES THAT THE PEOPLE ARE UNDESERVING OF THIS DELIVERANCE (43:22-28).
A. INDIFFERENCE TO SIN SHOWS UNWORTHINESS (22-24).
Israel demonstrated her present weariness with the LORD by her continued sin and by her failure even to give an offering to Him.
Verse 22 puts the contrast boldly: negatively, Israel has not called upon the LORD—they did not pray for this great deliverance; positively, they have been weary or tired of the LORD. The idea of “weary” is connected with toilsome labor (as in “much studying is a wearying of the flesh”). Through all their troubles they got tired of trying.
Verse 23 clarifies that Israel had not brought the LORD whole burnt offerings or peace offering sacrifices. In the foreign land sacrifice was not possible. So God did not make them weary with much sacrificing and burning of incense; He did not make them serve and He did not make them wear out.
The explanation of all this is now given in verse 24. God was brought no sacrifices and no sweet cane as a gift. Rather, God was made to serve because of their sins. These words are meant to imitate the words of the last verse: you made Me serve with your sins (I did not make you serve with offerings); you wearied Me with your iniquities (I did not weary you with incense). These words express the LORD’s distress caused by Israel’s sins, and intensified by the fact that Israel offered no sacrifices, and made no prayers for deliverance from sin and bondage.
B. GOD FORGIVES SIN FOR HIS OWN SAKE (25).
This verse is the heart of the passage. “I, even I, blot out your sins for my own sake; your sins I will not remember.” The verb “blot out” (the participle mo-kheh, from makhah) is a hypocatastasis, portraying the complete removal of sin. As a participle the construction should read, “I am the One who blots out your transgressions.”
The two words for sin are “transgressions” or rebellions (pesha’ [peh-sha]) and “sins” or failures (hata’ [khah-tah]). God will remember these no more. God knows everything, and so the idea of His not remembering is obviously anthropomorphic to express to express complete removal of the sins from the judicial record, so to speak. The point is the charges will never be brought up again.
In this verse we see clearly that the deliverance from Babylon was connected with the forgiveness of sins—which was one of the threefold words of comfort in the beginning of chapter 40. Or, to put it another way, the restoration was a sign that sins were forgiven.
But since Israel simply wearied God with sins, and made no plea to Him, and offered no gifts or sacrifices, this deliverance was completely by grace. “For my own sake” I do this. Ezekiel also will explain that God’s name (=reputation) is at stake, His Word must be fulfilled or His character will be called into question. God remains faithful to His promises even when His people prove unfaithful, or weary Him. They may profane His name, but He will sanctify it. This is why we pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”
C. GOD DISCIPLINES FOR UNCONFESSED SINS (26-28).
Verse 26 is worded as a challenge. Using “remember” yet again, God tells Israel to remind Him of anything He may have overlooked that would render forgiveness unnecessary—list any service records that could cancel out the marks against you. If they did not think that their deliverance was connected to forgiveness, they should now make their case to justify themselves.
Verse 27 affirms that sin has been with the nation from the beginning. “First father” means from its origin the nation was a transgressing people; the “interpreters,” especially the priests and prophets, had failed and rebelled by leading the people astray.
Verse 28 speaks of the punishment: “profaned” and “given to the curse.” The verb “profane” is from khalal; it means to treat something as common. There is a word play here with its antonym qadosh, “holy”—”The princes of the Sanctuary (or “holy place” or “holiness” or even “holy princes”) I have made unholy or common.” Sending unbelieving Israelites into exile was a way of showing (as Hosea had said) that they were not His people (Lo’ ‘Ammi, “Not My people”). The unbelieving in Israel were not holy, not set apart—they were lost like the pagans. Unfortunately, the remnant of true believers in Israel (the Jeremiahs, the Ezekiels, the Daniels) had to go into captivity because the majority were unbelievers; but the meaning of the exile was different for them.
The verb “curse” is kharam (the noun is kherem). It means “devoted, put under the ban, set apart.” In short, something under the “ban” was off-limits; it was for God to either keep for His own use or destroy—here destroy. (Recall what happened to Achan when he took the “cursed” garment).
So the judgment on Israel with the exile was twofold: humiliation and destruction. They had not heeded the prophets to turn from their sin, and so God brought the destruction. Now God challenged the people to convince Him that the exile was not deserved.
If that was deserved, then the regathering was by grace.
III. THE LORD ENCOURAGES HIS PEOPLE THAT HE WILL REVIVE THEM AGAIN (44:1-5).
In the first two verses of this chapter the LORD uses several motivations for Israel not to fear: “my servant,” “Israel whom I have chosen,” “made you,” “formed you,” “will help you,” and “Jeshurun.” This list of descriptions and qualifications solidly reiterates the covenant ties between God and Israel.
The name “Jeshurun” is a synonym for “Israel,” used in Deuteronomy 32. It looks to the future of the nation, the blessing awaiting it for the reward of the righteous. It seems to be connected with “upright, straight,” an adjective connected with the nation of believers.
The verb “will help” is from the root ‘azar (the noun ‘ezer is “helper” which is used for Eve but mostly for God). It means assistance, that is, doing for someone what that person cannot do for himself or herself.
Because the people belong to God, and because He is about to deliver them, they must respond to His Word or promise by faith and not with fear.
B. THE LORD WILL REVIVE HIS PEOPLE AGAIN (3-5).
First, in verses 3 and 4 the LORD announces that He will revive them physically and spiritually. Verse 3 says that God is going to pour out three things—water on the one who is thirsty, His Spirit on the seed of Israel, and His blessing on the people. The whole verse seems to be talking about the basic spiritual need of Israel. It may be that the physical thirst is a comparison to spiritual thirst (see Ps. 42:1 and 63:1). The restoration of Israel is like water to a plant in parched ground—they will grow and become healthy. Then, the Spirit would be the means of the deliverance, and the “blessing” the summary description of the restoration—so these are used metonymically. Westermann has a good little paperback book on “blessing” (which is the short title). He shows that the term means “enrichment” along with the enablement to obtain God’s good gifts. Here then the verse ties the (metonymies of) cause and the effect together. The divine Spirit is the source of the national revival and increase, which is the blessing (compare Ezekiel 37:9).
Verse 4 provides a comparison of how Israel will flourish—Israel’s offspring are to be as numerous as the blades of grass in well-irrigated meadows. Or, like poplars by the water courses.
Second, the text states that then the people will be attractive to the Gentiles (verse 5). The people represented as speaking here are Gentiles who became proselytes to the faith. They are attracted by the prosperity and the honor given to this ancient people by God’s blessing. So they wish to be numbered among them, to be called by their name. Gentiles coming to the faith and using Hebrew names in naming their children is good witness to the glorious prospect of such a prophecy.
The message of promised deliverance from bondage in the world continues into this section; but the emphasis here is on the grace of it all. I would make as the main focus the way that God develops how He has acted toward His people in keeping the covenant promises in spite of their indifference and sin. Even though we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. Moreover, a meticulous analysis of His titles and deeds toward His people will further underscore His grace. And, I would emphasize also how the demonstration of His sovereignty and grace attract Gentiles to the covenant of the LORD.
We today as believing Christians can look at any and all disciplines that God has brought into our lives, any of the effects of our sin, and know that we deserved them, and much more. We can look around the world and see suffering, pain, and even exile, and know that sin is the cause. But we Christians also have the sure promise of God that He will honor His covenant promises and complete the redemption He has begun. From beginning to end the plan of redemption is by grace; that we cannot deny. And so from this passage we are instructed not to fear, but to praise; not to remain in sin and indifference, but to respond to the Word of the LORD as faithful servants, and use the hope we have as a means of reaching out to the world.