Isaiah 43: Walk Through the Fire

Isaiah 43: Walk Through the Fire (audio file / mp3)

Isaiah 43: Walk Through the Fire (study notes and work sheet / pdf)

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment Part 2: Historical Interlude Part 3: Salvation
Chapters 1-35 Chapters 36-39 Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapter 43 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance and the worldwide impact of the coming of Messiah.

Key verse:

Isa. 43:2 – I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and [when you pass] through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you.

Quick summary:

Despite Judah’s unfaithfulness, God promises to restore the nation after the Babylonian captivity.  The people are not to fear because the Lord created them, loves them and will carry out His promises to them. Just as God led the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea, He will bring them out of Babylon, across the desert and safely back into their homeland. As a result, the people will witness to the world that He is the one true God and only Savior.

Take note:

The Lord repeatedly rehearses His uniqueness as the only true God. For the Jews, this is both a reminder and a prophetic prompt. The Babylonian captivity will finally cure the people of their idolatry, although it will take a spiritual revival in the last days to fully draw the redeemed of Israel into declaring worldwide the wonder of the Holy One of Israel and the salvation of the Messiah. Note how the Lord describes Himself to the people in this chapter:

  • “I [am] the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior” (v. 3).
  • “I am He. No god was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me” (v. 10).
  • “I, I am the Lord, and there is no other Savior but Me” (v. 11).
  • “I alone declared, saved, and proclaimed … I am God” (v. 12).
  • “I am He [alone] … I act, and who can reverse it?” (v. 13).
  • “I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, Your King” (v. 15).
  • “It is I who sweep away your transgressions for My own sake and remember your sins no more” (v. 25).

The Restoration of Israel (Isa. 43:1-7)

“These verses give Israel in eloquent detail the assurance Christ gives to his church, that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it,” writes D.A. Carson (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 43:1). Raging waters, scorching fires, brutal enemies and great distances will not prevent the Lord’s people from obtaining their inheritance. For the Jews in Isaiah’s day, this means a return to Israel and a rebuilding of the temple following the Babylonian captivity, and ultimately the coming of the Messiah. For the church, it means an irrevocable citizenship in the kingdom of heaven based on the finished work of Christ and the promise of His glorious return one day. All of this is assured, not because of human righteousness, but because of the faithfulness of the covenant-keeping Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah reminds the Jews of some of the strands that bind them to God: creation, redemption and calling (verse 1); the Lord’s omnipresence (verse 2); love (verse 4); adoption (verse 6); and the honor of His name (verse 7). This unique relationship between God and His people is pictured in the bold image of a human ransom. Nations fall and people are displaced to make way for Israel (verses 3-4, 14). God is not unjust to act this way for all the world’s people have rejected Him and gone their own way. In choosing Israel, the Lord demonstrates His sovereignty and grace. Even more important, whatever the nations lose to Israel is more than compensated in the ransom Israel’s Messiah would pay for the sins of the world, bringing into the kingdom people of every “tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

The Response of Israel (Isa. 43:8-13)

The Lord invites Israel, still spiritually blind and deaf, to stand before the nations as a witness of His uniqueness as the one true and living God. He challenges the nations to present witnesses. Can they point to past prophecies, made by their seers, which came true? Can they predict the

future? Of course not (see Isa. 41:21-23). In contrast, Israel, as God’s chosen servant, takes the stand and testifies that no god was formed before the Holy One of Israel, and there will be none after Him (v. 10). The Lord reminds His people, “‘I, I am the Lord, and there is no other Savior but Me. I alone declared, saved, and proclaimed – and not some foreign god among you. So you are My witnesses’ – the Lord’s declaration – ‘and I am God’” (Isa. 43:11-12). The Lord’s deliverance of Israel shows He is the true God. No one can successfully oppose Him or thwart His plans.

The name “Savior” is one God gives Himself in this passage and Isaiah uses frequently throughout his writings. For example, the Lord is “the God of your salvation” in Isa. 17:10; “God of Israel, Savior” in 45:15; “a righteous God and Savior” in 45:21; “Savior and Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” in 60:16; and “your salvation” in 62:11. No foreign god can duplicate His wondrous works. No deity fashioned out of metal, wood or stone is able to save the people God created for His pleasure, purpose and glory.

Twice in this section the Lord calls the citizens of Judah “My witnesses.” Warren Wiersbe writes, “[I]t is in the history of Israel that God has revealed Himself to the world. Frederick the Great asked the Marquis D’Argens, ‘Can you give me one single irrefutable proof of God?’ The Marquis replied, ‘Yes, your majesty, the Jews’” (Be Comforted, S. Is 41:1). Matthew Henry notes that the Lord shows Himself as God by two proofs in this passage: “[1.] He has infinite and infallible knowledge, as is evident from the predictions of his word (v. 12) … [2.] He has an infinite and irresistible power, as is evident from the performances of his providence…. The cause of God is not afraid to stand a fair trial; but it may reasonably be expected that those who cannot justify themselves in their irreligion should submit to the power of the truth and true religion” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 43:8).

The Routing of Babylon (Isa. 43:14-21)

By God’s grace and for Israel’s sake, the Lord promises to destroy Babylon and deliver the Jews from captivity. Even though Assyria is the threat in Isaiah’s day, and Babylon is pursued as an ally, this powerful kingdom to the east will rise up and do to Judah what the Assyrians could not – conquer Jerusalem and destroy the temple. Even so, once God’s use of the Babylonians as His rod of punishment is completed, He will defeat Judah’s foes and bring His people home. This deliverance is the backdrop against which a greater work of God will be accomplished in the sending of Messiah and His redemption on the cross. As D.A. Carson writes, “For its real fulfillment we must look beyond the modest homecomings from Babylon of the sixth and fifth centuries bc, although these are certainly in view, to the exodus which the Son of God accomplished at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31; cf. 1 Cor. 10:4, 11), which alone justifies the language of this and kindred passages” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 43:1).

In verses 16-17, Isaiah alludes to God’s deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian captivity and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. The exodus is a standing illustration of God’s unchanging character toward His people and a reminder to the church today that the Lord is directing human history to its ultimate conclusion in the destruction of His enemies and the deliverance of His people into “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell” (2 Peter 3:13). The works that God will yet do for His people are so wonderful, they will not remember the sins God already has forgotten or “the past events” such as the defeat of Sennacherib or the return from exile in Babylon (v. 18). The apostle Paul, quoting Isaiah 52 and 64, gives Christians a similar glimpse of the future when he writes, “What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, and what has never come into a man’s heart, is what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

The Rebellion of Israel (Isa. 43:22-28)

With the temple destroyed and the nation exiled under Babylonian rule, the Jews in the coming days will not be able to offer atoning sacrifices. Nevertheless, their gracious God promises to forgive their mounting sins. “It is I who sweep away your transgressions for My own sake and remember your sins no more,” the Lord says in verse 25. At the same time, the people should not lose sight of why they’re going into captivity in the first place: “Jacob, you have not called on Me … Israel, you have become weary of Me … you have burdened Me with your sins; you have wearied Me with your iniquities” (vv. 22, 24).

Matthew Henry takes note of five sins of omission in this passage. The people have 1) “cast off prayer;” 2) “grown weary of their religion;” 3) “grudged the expense of their devotion;” 4) not honored God with their sacrifices, “and so they were, in effect, as no sacrifices;” and 5) “aggravated their neglect of sacrificing” because God had not made it a burden for them  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 43:22).

Even though the Lord will forgive Judah, He must discipline them. He invites the people to court and urges them to state their case. He then offers His evidence against them. Their “first father” sinned and their “mediators” rebelled against God. The “first father” is Adam (see Hosea 6:7), Abraham, or possibly Jacob. If Adam, then the point is that his sin nature was passed to all people (Rom. 5:12). If Abraham, then even the father of the Jewish race was in need of a Redeemer. If Jacob, then God is reminding the people that even their ancestors were sinful and fallen men. In addition, the “mediators” – the priests and prophets – have rebelled against God and failed to lead the people to live in a manner pleasing to Him. Therefore, God is going to punish the nation at the hands of Babylon.

Closing Thought

God’s chosen people should never presume upon His grace. While we are the recipients of the “richness of His grace” (Eph. 1:7), we also are the receivers of the full weight of His divine discipline when we fail to “walk worthy of God” (1 Thess. 2:12). D.A. Carson comments: “Israel’s devastating response to divine ardor is a yawn of apathy. No rebuff could be worse … The final thrust [v. 28] is deadly, for destruction is the Hebrew term herem, reserved for such objects of judgment as Jericho or the Amalekites, with whom no compromise was to be endured. It is the strongest term in the language” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 43:22).

Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips

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