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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Isaiah 29 likely takes place during Hezekiah’s reign and is part of a series of woes in chapters 28-33 against those who oppose God’s word.
Isa. 29:13-14 – The Lord said: Because these people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip-service – yet their hearts are far from Me, and their worship [consists of] man–made rules learned [by rote] – therefore I will again confound these people with wonder after wonder. The wisdom of their wise men will vanish, and the understanding of the perceptive will be hidden.
Lawrence O. Richards writes: “Jerusalem will be besieged and brought low (29:1–4), although God will at last fight against Israel’s enemies (vv. 5–9). Until then God’s people will be blind to the vision, for their hearts are far from God (vv. 10–16). One day the mockers will be destroyed. Then a shamed Israel will at last stand in awe of God and gain the understanding she now so tragically lacks (vv. 17–24)” (The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 425).
Jesus quotes verse 13 to describe the hypocritical Pharisees: “Then the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, ‘Why don’t Your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders, instead of eating bread with ritually unclean hands?’ He answered them, ‘Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men’” (Mark 7:5-7).
The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day are guilty of the same empty formalism – if not the idolatry – that brought God’s wrath down on Judah. In a similar manner, the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as Messiah in favor of their traditions would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple at the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D.
Judgment and Reprieve (Isa. 29:1-8)
The name “Ariel” is obscure and could mean “alter hearth” or “lion of God.” In any case, the reference clearly is to Jerusalem, as verse 1 confirms by calling it “the city where David camped” (see 2 Sam. 5:7, 9, 13) and as verse 8 confirms by identifying Ariel as “Mount Zion.” “Many interpreters say Ariel means ‘lion of God,’ in which case the city is seen as a strong, lionlike city. Ariel may also be translated ‘altar hearth,’ as in Isaiah 29:2; Ezekiel 43:15-16. Jerusalem is the place where the altar of burnt offering was located in the temple. Though Jerusalem is where festivals were celebrated before God (Isa. 29:1), the city would be besieged and fighting and bloodshed would turn it into a virtual altar hearth” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1078).
The Lord is going to use the city’s enemies to bring judgment on her. Four times in verses 2-3 Yahweh uses the personal pronoun “I” to make it clear He is sovereign over the affairs of men. The Lord will “oppress Ariel,” resulting in “mourning and crying.” He will “camp in a circle” around Jerusalem and “besiege” it with “earth ramps” and “siege towers” – all for the purpose of bringing His people back to Him.
In the end, however, the Lord of Hosts will miraculously deliver Ariel from certain defeat. This is partially fulfilled in 701 B.C. as the Lord strikes dead 185,000 Assyrians encamped around the city (Isa. 37:33-37). But the gathering of nations (vv. 5, 7-8) and the spectacular signs (v. 6) suggest a later, and greater, event, likely God’s deliverance of the Jews from her enemies at the time of Christ’s return. Warren Wiersbe observes, “This is what prophetic students call ‘the battle of Armageddon,’ though that title is not used in Scripture (Rev. 14:14–20; 16:13–21). When it looks as though the city is about to fall, and the enemy armies are sure of victory, Jesus Christ will return and deliver His people (19:11–21). The enemy victory will vanish” (Be Comforted, S. Is 29:1).
Israel’s Darkness Dispelled (Isa. 29:9-24)
This section of Isaiah’s prophecy contrasts Jerusalem’s present spiritual stupor with its future spiritual understanding. Like drunkards, the people stumble about, unable to grasp the reality of their situation as God’s people under God’s judgment. Their inability to discern God’s message is itself a judgment from the Lord, who has poured out on the people an “overwhelming urge to sleep,” and has shut the eyes of the prophets and covered the heads of the seers (v. 10).
The people are engaged in a cold and ritualistic form of man-made worship but do not honor the Lord with heart-felt adoration. Rather than devotion to God’s law, they pursue a legalistic path to secure His blessings. This is a pattern often repeated throughout Jewish history, perhaps most clearly in the days of Jesus, who quotes Isa. 29:13 to the scribes and Pharisees who challenge His disciples’ lack of conformity to the traditions of the elders (Matt. 15:8-9; Mark 7:6-7). As a result of Jerusalem’s cold-hearted worship, Isaiah says the Lord will take away wisdom from the wise men and understanding from the perceptive ones (v. 14).
The Lord then pronounces woe on those who believe they can perform their evil deeds in secret. Isaiah likens such people to clay pots challenging the creative power and wisdom of the potter. “You have turned things around,” he says, “as if the potter were the same as the clay” (v. 16). The people are demonstrating through their actions that they know very little, while Isaiah reminds them that God knows everything. Isaiah returns to the theme of the potter and the clay in Isa. 45:9; 64:8.
Beginning with verse 17, however, Isaiah looks expectantly toward the future. The phrase “in just a little while” is a reference to the millennial kingdom. Some commentators believe these words refer to the destruction of the Assyrian army a few years after this prophecy (Isa. 37:36), but the promise of more universal judgment and blessing seems to fit the days of the Messiah better than Jerusalem’s deliverance from an invading army. When the millennium comes, the deaf will hear and the blind will see (Isa. 32:3; 35:5). Jesus gives us a foretaste of that coming age in His miracles, which include opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. There also seems to be a spiritual application in this passage. Though the Lord is judging the people in Isaiah’s day with a spiritual stupor, in the future He will open their spiritual eyes and ears so they understand His ways.
The attitude of God’s people in Judah and Jerusalem will be transformed. They will no longer be humiliated by foreign domination or scuttled in their man-made plans for peace and security. Instead, they will honor the Lord’s name and “stand in awe of the God of Israel” (v. 23). “The Lord’s delivering them from Sennacherib was a foretaste of the ultimate deliverance they will experience. People who are wayward and who complain will change and will accept instruction. No longer will blindness prevail; then they will know God’s ways” (Walvoord and Zuck, S. 1:1079).
Warren Wiersbe comments: “Why were the people of Jerusalem so ignorant of what was going on? Their hearts were far from God (Isa. 29:13). They went through the outward forms of worship and faithfully kept the annual feasts … but it was not a true worship of God (Matt. 15:1–9). Going to the temple was the popular thing to do, but most of the people did not take their worship seriously. Therefore, God sent a ‘spiritual blindness’ and stupor on His people so that they could not understand their own Law. Such blindness persists today (Rom. 11:8; 2 Cor. 3:13–18). If people will not accept the truth, then they must become more and more blind and accept lies (See John 9:39–41 and 2 Thes. 2:1–12.)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 29:1).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips