The next two oracles of the book (Isaiah 43:1-13 and 43:14—44:5) focus on redemption from captivity. It is here that the message focuses on the idea of the Servant as the nation.
In the first one the LORD promises to regather His undeserving nation (servant) and renew them. Israel is first exhorted not to fear (43:1-7) because God formed them and called them in the past; and because they are precious to Him they will be regathered from the whole earth. The LORD then brings the people forth as a witness that He is God alone (43:8-13). Both this witness and the nations in general will recognize that the LORD is sovereign, that He acts without any assistance, and that none can oppose Him.
The layout of this section reveals parallel structures in the pattern of the text:
1 Do not fear—you are mine, I created you
2 you will be protected
3 I will ransom you because I am your Savior
4 I will exchange you because I love you
5 Do not fear—I am with you, I will gather you
6 I will call for the regathering of my people
7 gather my people whom I created for my glory
8 Call for blind and deaf (=Israel) to be witnesses for me
9 Challenge for the nations to be witnesses against me,
who can say they foretold this; others say it is true.
10 You are my witnesses, my Servant whom I chose,
I am He
there is no god before or after me
11 I, even I, am the LORD
there is no Savior apart from me
12 I declared, saved, proclaimed
I, not a foreign god
You are my witnesses—I am God
13 I am He, from the ancient days
no one can deliver out of my hand
I act, and who can reverse it?
From this layout we can see that there are essentially two parts to the passage. Verses 1-7 promise the regathering from the captivity so that the people have no reason to fear. There are two cycles to this message, the jussive “do not fear” serving as the structural markers. The rest of the passage is a trial; first, witnesses are called for the LORD and then witnesses are called for the nations, and second, the LORD makes His claim that the witnesses will attest to that He alone is the sovereign Lord. The proof of His divine sovereignty is that He conducts His people through history in a way that they can follow with confidence; and His ability to predict the future, to chart it out, to show the direction He was going, is great evidence of His sovereignty. Acts without words are open to all kinds of interpretation, and words without acts are hollow promises; but words that predict the acts, and acts that confirm the predictions, attest to the truth of the claims of the LORD and build confidence in the yet unfulfilled promises that He has made. In this passage that promise concerns the regathering of the nation: God is able to create a future out of the ruins of the past. He alone can do this. And even if Israel had been blind and deaf (i.e., disobedient to and ignorant of God’s Word), they would make superb witnesses to what He was able to do when they saw the promises begin to unfold in spite of their sin. This passage, then, may be used to build confidence in the promises of God—Do not fear, God says, I will ransom you from the world; you are my witnesses that I alone am the sovereign God and am able to do this.
The immediate fulfillment for Israel would be their return from the captivity—which had been predicted as well as their captivity. But that fulfillment was merely a harbinger of the greater ingathering that would take place at the end of the age.
For the Christian, it will be necessary to assess the promises of the New Covenant that await fulfillment. These overlap with the promises here in the prophets of Israel, for we have been grafted in to the New Covenant. Paul then says that the whole world is groaning, waiting for the day of redemption (Rom. 8). We are to be filled with confidence that God will keep His Word and deliver us from the bondage of the world. Such hope casts out fear.
But our confidence in the promises is only as strong as our knowledge of the LORD. So this passage, and those to come, will have very strong theology on the sovereignty of God—stronger than many would like. We must be sure to teach that as the necessary basis of our faith. One of the reasons that churches are so weak in the faith and so heretical today is because sound doctrine has been lost—there just is no teaching or preaching to speak of that would feed the hungry soul. There are little homilies that lack biblical and theological substance, various classes on related issues other than Scripture, and literature and music that is often shallow, experiential, and too frequently unbiblical. How could anyone grow? Well, the next 23 chapters of this book will be filled with strong meat—truth that will change people’s lives.
I. “DO NOT FEAR” GOD WILL REDEEM HIS PEOPLE FROM THE WORLD (43:1-7).
A. CYCLE ONE: GOD WILL RANSOM HIS PEOPLE (1-4).
Verse 1 lays the foundation of the Word of promise by affirming that this is the nation that God had formed. The language is covenantal: You are mine.
The epithets that the prophet uses for God refer to the historical act of the foundation of the nation at Sinai—but the terms are creational. The expression “he who created you” (bora’aka) uses the main word for creation (bara’), a term that means to fashion or refashion something into a new and perfect creation. It can have the idea of renewal or transformation. In the biblical texts only God is the subject of this verb. So the formation of the Israelites into a nation, the people of God, is being called a creation. Likewise, Paul uses creation terminology for our salvation in the New Testament.
The second epithet is “he who formed you” (yotserka). This word (yatsar) means to form or fashion something by design, a plan, a blueprint (Gen. 2:7). It is the word for an artist—the participle is the Hebrew word “potter.” So the expression says that God is the creator of the nation, and that His creation is by design.
The main reason for the call to cast away fear in this verse is the expression “for I have redeemed you” (ge’altika [pronounced geh-al-tea-kah], from ga’al). This verb is a little different from other words in the Bible that we translate “redeem”; this is the kinsman redeemer or avenger, the one who makes things right—pays debts, avenges death, judges the enemy, rescues the poor and needy, or marries the widow. The key idea seems to be “protect”—the family and various other institutions. When the verb describes the LORD’s activity, it usually always means judging the nations to deliver the people from bondage; in New Covenant passages it is eschatological. I would take the verb here to be prophetic perfect (or at least a perfect of resolve), for this is what He was about to do.
Finally, the idea of “called you by name” is a reference to both creation and election. God chose His people, and by calling them by name exercised His sovereignty over them (compare other “naming” passages). In fact, the idiom of naming in the Babylonian account of creation (Enuma elish) represents creating.
So the point of the first verse is clear: Israel belongs to God because He formed them into a nation in the first place and now will deliver them from bondage to Himself.
Verse 2 uses some bold figures to express divine protection. Water is used for invasions and exiles in the prophets (we saw it already in Isaiah 8 with the water flooding up to Jerusalem); and fire is used for purging persecutions that come upon the people. All the imagery here is implied comparison. But it all means that God will protect His people.
Verse 3 begins to spell out the promise of the rescue from captivity. Here the self-revelation of the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, adds the epithet “your savior” (mosi’eka [mo-she-eh-ka], from yasa’ [ya-sha]). The verb “to save” is a common one in the Old Testament; John Sawyer has a discussion on it and the other words for salvation in the Old Testament in his book Semantics in Biblical Research, New Methods of Defining Hebrew Words for Salvation (SCM Press). The name “Jesus” (Ye-shua) is, of course, drawn from this verbal root, as is the name “Isaiah” (Yeshayahu) itself (“Yah saves”). Most of the words for salvation are military terms; this one basically means “deliver, save.” It can refer to an answer to prayer, a healing, rescue, deliverance from trouble, death, or disease—as well as from sin and its punishment (although “saved from sin” is not a very common usage). In this passage it refers to a deliverance from bondage, and so is essentially political, although this deliverance includes the fact that sin was the reason for the exile. So it is a physical-spiritual deliverance.
The word for “your ransom” (kophreka) is from the verbal root kipper, which means “atone, expiate, pacify, set free. The noun means to set free through some means of expiation. In this context the term is applied a little differently (as are the terms for salvation and redemption): God will set His people free from bondage—at the expense of the oppressors. So their destruction will be the ransom price—the exchange given to set Israel free.
Verse 4 continues this theme with two new words that call for attention. The deliverance is because Israel is precious (and honored) in God’s sight. They are highly valued because rare—the chosen people. And the main motive for the deliverance is “because I love you” (‘ahabtika, from ‘ahab). The term for love conveys the idea of choosing spontaneously (as opposed to the idea of “hating” which means among other things “reject”—Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated). Other words for love will stress the covenant loyalty that God has for His people; but this one indicates that He chose them and His love for them remains constant. Of course, this does not mean that He overlooks idolatry, and unbelief—the captivity was intended to purge those who were not truly in the covenant.
B. CYCLE TWO: GOD WILL GATHER HIS PEOPLE (5-7).
Verse 5 repeats the caution “Do not fear.” The promise of divine presence (meaning God will intervene for protection and provision) is the basis for the comfort. In this, and in the next couple of verses, in a number of ways God says that He will regather His people from all over the world. Not all of the exiled people went to Babylon—they were scattered. But as the Creator, God will speak to the north, south, east, and west, and the world will give up His people.
In verse 7 we discover that with the repetition of the creation theme that God’s purpose for Israel was “for my glory.” Likewise, in the New Testament do we read that Christ always did things that the Father might be glorified. We shall see later in the book, and in Ezekiel, that the regathering is not because Israel deserved it, but because God’s reputation (=name) was at stake. And He will not let the sins of the people rob Him of His name and steal His glory. At the risk of making it too simple, we could say that the verse means that God’s establishment of a covenant people has as its purpose that God might be seen throughout the world, for “glory” means an enhanced reputation for the LORD, honor to Him. Everything He does is for that purpose, for all glory given to Him will attract many more to the Kingdom. Likewise when we glorify the LORD, it is meant in part to draw people to His love.
II. “YOU ARE WITNESSES” THE LORD IS ABLE TO DELIVER HIS PEOPLE BECAUSE HE ALONE IS THE SOVEREIGN LORD GOD (43:8-13).
A. GOD CALLS WITNESSES FOR AND AGAINST HIS CLAIM (8, 9).
The setting of this section is a court scene to determine the veracity of the claims of the LORD. Witnesses are called on both sides of the case to see what the evidence will be.
From the use of the terms for “blindness” and “deafness” used earlier and elsewhere for Israel, we would conclude that verse 8 is a call for the disobedient and sinful nation to witness God’s gracious provision. The figures would be hypocatastases, comparing blindness and deafness to disobedience and spiritual ignorance. But even in that condition Israel had had the opportunity to see and hear what God was doing, and so would qualify as witnesses to the power of God. In fact, their witness would be more effective, for they were surprised by what God had done.
Verse 9 is a challenge from God for the other nations to say anything if they or their gods were able to do what the LORD could do—foretell this deliverance as He had done. Powerful acts can be attributed to deities or kings; but predicting them is quite another matter. God is on one side; all other powers on the other. Who in truth is the sovereign Lord? These witnesses will have to step forward and give their credentials (a theme that will run through several chapters), or finally admit the truth of the LORD’s claims.
Verse 10 begins with the first cycle of “You are my witnesses.” Israel is here addressed as the chosen servant of the LORD. In view of what follows this makes great sense. But believers do not always like the idea of being chosen, nor do they like the idea of being servants. But if God is God, they must be both servants and chosen. If God was chosen by us (!), and He is our servant (!), then He is not much of a God.
The verse focuses on the purpose of this election—that they might know and believe that “I am He.” This construction is made up of two simple pronouns: ‘ani hu’ (pronounced ah-nee who), “I [am] He.” The statement is fraught with significance. I am the One. There is no one else. Who else matters? I am the sovereign Lord who has no rivals. This point is expanded with “there is no god before or after me.” The Law said, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” The call to Moses said,”I AM that I AM.”
It seems to me that this theme running through this section of the book needs to be recaptured for today when the view of God is weak, or when theologians are busying themselves trying to “re-image” God, and in the process making God a god and not the only God. The LORD God Himself lays down the challenge—where are the rivals?
I believe that a very strong case can be made in these and other “I Am” revelations that within the Godhead we have here speaking the second person, the pre-incarnate Christ in the glory that He had before the foundation of the world. He is the Savior.
Verse 11 repeats and adds to this: “I, even I, am the LORD, there is no Savior apart from me.” The Hebrew is wonderfully cryptic again—’ani ‘ani YHWH, literally “I – I – Yahweh.” Now the personal, covenantal name is put in place of the pronoun “He,” and the epithet “Savior” is added to the exclusive statement. No religion in the ancient or modern world made such claims to exclusivity and salvation. There is only one God; and there is only one Savior—Yahweh.
Verse 12 brings in the theme of prophecy. The LORD alone, not a foreign god, was able to proclaim and declare in addition to save (see above comments on works and acts).
This verse, as well as verse 13, will affirm that the LORD is the only true God, always has been, always will be. And He is completely sovereign. No one can deliver out of His hand, and no one can make Him change His plans. One can only trust the LORD, certainly not rebel against Him. Deliverance comes from Him; judgment also comes from Him. He alone can save; no one can save from Him. Such knowledge of God must lead to faith.
The message of this chapter is rather straightforward. It is a message for the people of God not to fear the circumstances of life because the LORD is about to redeem them in fulfillment of His promises. He is fully able to do this because He is the sovereign Lord of the universe, as everyone will attest. So in our age we can transfer this theme rather easily. First, Jesus Christ is the sovereign Lord of creation, the great I AM, the only Savior. He has made promises to us, and those include ultimate redemption from the bondage of this world and transference to His Father’s House. As a result we should not fear, for He has overcome the world. So Christians should be strong in the faith, evaluate everything in line with eternal principles, and look forward in expectation to the great deliverance.