Isaiah 43
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
But now thus saith the LORD 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.

(1) But now . . .—The outpouring of love that follows is contrasted with the wrath of the preceding verse.

The Lord that created thee.—The title implies something more than “the Maker of heaven and earth.” Jehovah has created Israel as specially answering, as other created things did, to an archetype in His own purpose. To “call by nameis everywhere, but pre-eminently in the East, the mark of an individualising tenderness (John 10:3), almost of a predestinating love that makes the name a witness of its purpose.

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.
(2) When thou passest through the waters . . .—The two contrasted forms of elemental perils are used, as elsewhere, proverbially for all forms of danger (Psalm 66:12).

For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.
(3) I gave Egypt for thy ransom . . .—Speaking after the manner of men, the prophet paints Jehovah as surrendering Egypt and other kingdoms to the arms of Cyrus, as if they were a price paid to him for liberating the Jews of Babylon. Ethiopia (Heb., Cûsh) may be taken of either the Asiatic or African people that bore that name—Seba as Meroe, between the Blue and White Nile, the modern Dâr Sennâr. Historically, the words find a fulfilment in the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses, who carried into effect his father’s plans. For the thought of the “ransom” comp. Proverbs 11:8; Proverbs 21:18, and the next verse. As a man would sacrifice any number of slaves to ransom a son, so was it in Jehovah’s dealings with His people.

Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west;
(5) From the east . . .—Even from Isaiah’s stand-point, the dispersion of Israel might well be contemplated in all this wide extent. The Ten Tribes were already carried off to the cities of the Medes (2Kings 17:6). The Babylonian exile had its beginning under Esar-haddon (2Chronicles 33:11); others may have been found before the time of Zephaniah (Zephaniah 3:10) beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. Even in the time of Joel the slave-trade of the Phœnicians had carried the sons of Judah and Jerusalem to the western isles of Javan, or Ionia (Joel 3:6).

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 ends of the earth;
(6) Bring my sons . . .—The words imply an escort of honour, given by the heathen nations to the returning exiles.

Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.
(7) Every one that is called by my namei.e., who is marked as belonging to the people that is chosen as the Lord’s servant

Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears.
(8) Bring forth the blind people . . .—The command comes abruptly, as from a Divine voice, and is, as it were, a reversed echo of Isaiah 42:18-20. There Israel saw but did not observe, had eyes and yet was blind. Here the blind and deaf—i.e., the heathen, or the Israel that had fallen into heathenism—are spoken of as having capacities for sight and hearing which will one day be developed.

Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and shew us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth.
(9) Who among them . . .—The challenge of Isaiah 41:22-23 is repeated. Who among their gods has foretold the “former things”? has predicted events that were then in the future, and have now come to pass?

Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, 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.
(10) Ye are my witnesses . . .—These are collectively addressed as the servant of Jehovah. Their calling and election had not been cancelled, and they might yet fulfil it. They, in that restoration from exile which Isaiah had foretold, should be a living proof of the foresight granted to the prophets, and, therefore, of the foreknowledge of Him who alone could say, “I am He,” to whom past, present, and future were as one; and He, the Eternal, proclaims Himself as being also the only Saviour.

I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, that I am God.
(12) When there was no strange god among you.—Better, and there was . . . It was no heathen oracle or soothsayer that had foretold the restoration. Israel as a people, through its whole future history, was to be a living witness of the oneness and eternity of its God, and the eternity implies (Isaiah 43:13) omnipotence.

Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?
(13) Who shall let it?—Literally, who shall turn it back? One of the numerous echoes from Job (Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 11:10).

Thus saith the LORD, 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.
(14) I have sent to Babylon.—For the first time in 2 Isaiah, the place of exile is named. For “have brought down all their nobles” read, I will bring them all down as fugitives. The marginal “bars” represents a various reading, defences, in the sense of defenders.

The Chaldeans, whose cry is in the ships.—Better, into the ships of their shouting—i.e., the ships which used to echo with the exulting joy of sailors. The word for “shouting” is purposely chosen to suggest the thought that there will be a shout of another kind, even the wailing cry of despair. The commerce of Babylon, and its position on the Euphrates, made it, as it were, the Venice of the earlier East (Herod., 1:194). The prophet sees the inhabitants of Babylon fleeing in their ships from the presence of their conqueror.

Thus saith the LORD, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters;
(16) Which maketh a way in the sea . . .—A distinct echo of Exodus 14:16 and Psalm 77:19. The return from Babylon is to be as a second Exodus from another house of bondage. In the one, as in the other, the “horse and his rider” are to be thrown into the sea.

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.
(17) Quenched as towi.e., as the wick of a lamp going out. (See Note on Isaiah 42:3.)

Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.
(18, 19) Remember ye not . . .—All the wonders of the great historic past of Israel were to be as nothing compared with the new manifestation of the power of Jehovah, which Isaiah sees as already dawning in the future.

Shall ye not know it?—Better, Will ye not give heed to it?

I will even make a way in the wilderness . . .—The literal and the spiritual senses melt into each other. The very beasts of the field shall lose their ferocity in the presence of the saints of God. For “dragons and owls,” read jackals and ostriches.

But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.
(22) But thou hast not called upon me.—The startling abruptness of the complaint has led many critics to question the genuineness of these verses (22-24). Their insertion, however, by a later writer would be at least as hard to understand as their having come from the hand of the same writer as the glowing picture that precedes them. May we not find the solution of the problem in the fact that Isaiah’s experience taught him that there would be in the future, as in the past, a dark as well as a bright side to the picture? that the mercies shown to the exiles would not be according to their merits, but to God’s great goodness? The worship of the restored exiles would be as that of the people had been in his own time, meagre and unthankful. Visions of failure alternate with the glowing hope that the ideal will be realised, and this alternation constitutes the great problem of the book, as it does of all like apocalyptic intimations.

But thou hast been weary.—Better, so that thou shouldest be weary. Others render it, Much less hast thou toiled for me. Sacrifices elsewhere than in the Temple were forbidden by the Law, and the prophet does not so much blame the people for not offering these as for not compensating for their absence by the true worship of which they were the symbols.

Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt offerings; neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices. I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense.
(23) I have not caused thee to serve . . .—The words practically imply the suspension of sacrifices during the exile. Jehovah had not imposed that bond service on them—had not wearied them with demanding incense when they were far away from the Temple to whose ritual it belonged.

Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities.
(24) No sweet cane . . .—Probably some species of Amomum for the anointing oil (Exodus 30:23). It is distinguished from the incense, and is not one of the ingredients (Exodus 30:34).

Thou hast made me to serve.—The verbs of Isaiah 43:23 are repeated with the emphasis of scorn, the thought being analogous to that of Isaiah 1:14. The people had made this hypocritical worship as a service which their God had to endure, till He was altogether weary of it.

I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.
(25) I, even I . . .—As in Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 1:18, the analogy with which may be noted as evidence of identity of authorship, the incisive words that prove the guilt of Israel are followed by the fullest offer of pardon on repentance. And this he does “for His own sake,” to manifest the everlasting righteousness which is also the everlasting love. The “blotting out” finds an echo in Colossians 2:14.

Put me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified.
(26) Put me in remembrance . . .—The object of the verb has been differently supplied: (1) “Remind me, if thou canst, of thy merits; plead in thine own defence for an acquittal;” and (2) “Remind me of my promise to thee, of that electing grace which called thee to be my servant.” The former seems to fit in best with what follows.

Thy first father hath sinned, and thy teachers have transgressed against me.
(27) Thy first father hath sinned . . .—The words have been interpreted: (1) of Adam; (2) of Abraham; (3) of Jacob; (4) of the ancestors of Israel collectively; (5) of this or that high priest individually. (3) fits in best. (See Isaiah 43:28.)

Thy teachers.—Literally, thy interpreters (Job 33:23), or thy mediators. The term is used in 2Chronicles 32:31 of the “ambassadors “of the king of Babylon, and stands here for the priests and the prophets, who ought officially to have been the expounders of the Divine will.

Therefore I have profaned the princes of the sanctuary, and have given Jacob to the curse, and Israel to reproaches.
(28) I have profaned the princes of the sanctuary.—Better, holy princes. The title is given to the chief priests in 1Chronicles 24:5. In the exile their priestly functions were in abeyance. They were practically desecrated.

The curse.—The cherem, or ban, answering to the anathema. The state described answers to that of Hosea 3:4.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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