Isaiah Chapter 43

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

Jehovah-Jesus never leaves His people in times of suffering.
He is with them in floods and flames, although not to sight as in olden
days. When, why and how are nations made to ransom Israel.


So swift, so striking, is the change from the last verse of the previous chapter that a separation was made here; but the address continues unbroken to verse 13, with only such rapid changes as are necessitated by either the apostate mass, or the penitent remnant coming into view.

If the miserable condition of verse 25 of the last chapter referred to Israel, the literal nation on earth, then the words of comfort here must also be so applied. The Church being quite hidden from Isaiah, Israel—the literal nation—has the first title to both the sorrow and the solace. That does not nullify the truth that God's dealings with that elect nation are typical of His dealings with His people as individuals today, nor that these exceeding great and precious promises are not "Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus," and so for all who are in Him. So our chapter opens with Jehovah gladly leaving His strange work of punishment and returning to what is far more congenial to Him. As another well puts it, "So the love that has been hidden behind the wrath returns to its prerogative again."

1: But now, saith Jehovah, Creator am I
Of Jacob, and Israel's Former.
Fear not, O fear not, for thee I've redeemed;
Thou art Mine; by thy name have I called thee.
2: When through the waters I cause thee to pass,
E'en then will I surely be with thee.
When through the floods, they shall not overflow;
Or when through the fire thou art walking,
Harmless the flame, thou shalt not be burnt,
Nor shall it e'en kindle upon thee.
3: For I am Jehovah, thine Elohim; I,
Israel's Saviour, most Holy.
Egypt as ransom for thee did I give,
Seba and Cush I gave for thee.
4: Since in My sight thus dear thou hast been,
Greatly hast thou been honored,
And I have tenderly loved thee.
Therefore I'll give up men in thy stead,
For thy life, too, will I give peoples.
5: Fear not, oh, fear not, for I am with thee;
Thy seed from the east will I bring back,
I'll gather them too from out of the west,
6: Commanding the north to release them.
To the south will I order, Hold them not back!
Bring back My sons from afar off,
From the ends of the earth bring My daughters.
7: Yea, leave none behind who're called by My name,
Whom I, for My glory, created,
Have fashioned, yea, finished completely.
How unspeakably precious are these gracious words! We too have some knowledge of what it means to pass through deep waters, so swift and deep that oftentimes faith finds no footing and has to float on these promises, and we know too something (all too little, for some are "of little faith" in the hour of trial) of His being with us in those trials as He was with the three Hebrew youths in the furnace heated to seven times its usual intensity. But Israel has the first claim on these promises. On what ground then is Israel to be saved through that time of trial? Is it superior holiness that has demanded, as it were, this discrimination? Surely not, but the submissive will, the heartfelt confession of utter worthlessness, that alone permits the Heart of God to have its way unhindered; and He cries from that Heart: "I have created—I have redeemed—I have called thee by thy name—thou art Mine!"

Precious beyond all thought, again I say, is this trinity of tender words! First "created"—we certainly had nothing to do with that—then "redeemed—and that too was His work entirely—and then, old enough to hear Him speak, we hear Him telling us that we belong to Him. He will surely take care of His own property.

In verses 3 and 4 we find a perplexity: "I have given Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia (or Cush), and Seba for thee," and again, "I give men in thy stead, and peoples in place of thy life." How are we to understand that? Notwithstanding that "none can give to God a ransom" for his brother (Ps. 49:7), can nations do what is thus impossible to individuals? The word for "ransom" is from the same root and has precisely the same force as that constantly used for "making atonement," as for instance in Exod. 30:10, 12, speaking of the atonement half-shekel of silver: "They shall give every man a ransom," and "Aaron shall make an atonement." Is then the suffering of one nation an atonement for the sins of another? That at least would seem impossible. It would deny, rather than evidence, the justice of God's government. Nor is there any specific word as to sins being atoned for at all. The earth, and the earth alone is in view, not heaven, nor eternal issues. But the earth affords types of heavenly truth, and for that, the righteousness of the divine government must be evidenced on the earth, among the nations. All these are evil, nor is Israel, although elect, less so. Indeed God says, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2). But at the standpoint of our chapter Israel has been severely punished, her sufferings have been extreme. Her city has long been trodden down of the Gentiles, who have been in the ascendant. It would look as if all of these were guiltless, and poor Jacob alone guilty. That unrighteousness must be set right; for it not only gives a false witness to God's government, but also to the work of Israel's Messiah. Israel is His "peculiar treasure" (Exod. 19:5), and He has bought the field in which that treasure is now hidden. It is being kept for this day of manifestation. Then the judgment of God shall pass to the Nations (here represented by Egypt, Cush and Seba) instead of Israel. It is a graphic way of putting before us what is clearly thus brought out later: "Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling . . . and will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee" (Isa. 51:17, 23).

The judgment of God is over all the nations of the earth: Israel has already felt the force of that judgment; but at this time of which our prophet speaks, the oppressing Gentiles must take the place of, stand in the stead of, are substituted for, and so, and only so, are a ransom for oppressed Israel (comp. 2 Thess. 1: 6, 7). There are two scriptures that tend to confirm this interpretation. Prov. 21:18 reads: "The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous." That is very close to what we have been considering, especially as we know that the only "righteous" amongst men are those who from their hearts confess the truth that they are unrighteous; that is the only possible evidence of righteousness that any sinful son of Adam can give. But when is that the case? We turn to another proverb: "The righteous is delivered out of trouble and the wicked cometh in his stead" (Prov. 11:8). The time is certainly drawing near when a penitent Israel, seen in her remnant, righteous in her repentance, shall be "mourning as one mourneth for his only son" (Zech. 12:10-14). There we see the "righteous people," and the other proud, impenitent nations must "ransom" her by taking her place and drinking of her cup.

But we will go a little further. The intrusion of evil into God's creation has not been permitted apart from a profound and worthy purpose, whether we can discern it or not. Even the wicked shall be made to serve that purpose. But how can that be? Thus, they shall serve to manifest that side of God's nature, Light, His inflexible justice in the infliction of retribution against obdurate impenitence. How could God be fully known were that not shown? Thus all shall serve, as it is written: "God hath made all things for Himself, even the wicked for the day of evil" (Prov. 16:4). The devil, his angels, impenitent men, shall all eventually be seen as "vessels," or servants, but vessels to dishonor, and not to honor. Solemn truth!

How far from evidencing the righteousness of divine government is the earth today! There is no just discrimination whatever. Not only do sorrow, suffering and death come alike to all, but oppression, wrong, sin, meet with no equivalent retribution here; on the contrary, these seem often to have the easiest path. Can that condition be eternal? Most surely not. This prophecy tells of a day in which all these abnormal conditions shall be righted, and the activity of judgment on the impenitent shall as fully express the righteous government of God, as shall the perfect acceptance of the penitent; or, in the words we are considering, Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba shall then take the place of suffering Israel, and in this sense alone be a ransom. The righteousness of God's government of the earth must make discrimination between impenitence and penitence; in this sense the former shall be a ransom for the latter.

Of course this awakens further questions, as it is intended to do—questions which only find a perfectly satisfactory answer in that Cross where the "righteousness of God is manifested" in the infliction of full penalty on the most holy, but willing Substitute. The Cross of Christ alone meets all such difficulties. Well may we thank God that they are so met.

In verses 5 to 7 we see our Lord Jesus, having come in great glory, taking His place at Jerusalem, and with infinite majesty commanding every point of the compass to send back His long-scattered people to their homeland. East, West, North and South hear the summons; and not as fugitives flying from a Russian pogrom, or from a Nazi persecution, but as the elect of Jehovah they are conveyed with all honor as acceptable gifts to their God. We must never permit this joyous ending of all their wanderings and sorrows to be identified with the present return in unbelief. How firm the foundation that the perfect harmony of the word of prophecy gives us! Let the reader see how perfectly the Lord's words in Matt. 24:31 accord with those of the prophet.

We are once more taken back to hear Jehovah's challenge thus:

8: Cause to come forth the blind people with eyes,
And deaf to whom ears are not lacking.
9: Let all the nations be gathered as one,
And let the peoples assemble.
Who of them all this can declare,
Give us of former things tidings?
And that they may be fully approved
Let them bring witnesses with them,
Who, hearing, shall say: That is true!
10: Ye are My witnesses—so saith the Lord,
And My servant whom I have chosen,
That ye may know, and in Me believe,
I am He, thus clearly discerning!
Before Me no God ever was formed;
Nor after Me shall there be any.
11: I, even I, am Jehovah alone,
And beside Me there is not a Saviour!
12: 'Tis I who've proclaimed, 'tis I who have saved,
'Tis I who have caused to hearken,
When no strange god was among you.
Ye are My witnesses that I am God
(And none other), proclaimeth Jehovah.
13: Aye, from this very day, I AM HE!
And none from My hand can deliver;
'Tis I who will work—who shall hinder?
We have here another challenge to the idolatrous nations of the earth to gather and put the powers of the deities they confide in to the test. And that they may be publicly justified let them bring their witnesses with them, who will publicly announce how they shall answer to it. Israel has been through sore sorrows; were those sorrows foreseen and foretold by these prophets of false deities? Did they faithfully deal with her sin and warn of its certain retribution? Nay; was not all their prophesying ever of smooth things, and giving the assurance of ever-increasing prosperity? They were lies. Jehovah alone announced the sorrows that lay in the future; and by the very sufferings through which they passed, they can bear witness to that truth.

So has it ever been; so is it today. And so shall falsehood ever prophesy a pleasant future as long as the devil is unchained and can deceive the nations of the earth. How unanimous were those four hundred prophets in assuring King Ahab who hired them that God would deliver Ramoth-Gilead into the king's hand (2 Chron. 18:5), but smooth as were the words, you will remember that the end of that way was exceedingly rough for Ahab. Truth at the close of a dispensation is not always with majority of preachers.

So even to this day (and indeed I speak with much sorrow) false prophets have the same characteristic of preaching peace and prosperity to an impenitent Church. The New Testament shows us behind the little pulpit-pawns on the human chessboard the rebel-spirits that move them, for these are the real adversaries of our God and His Christ. But Jehovah has ever had a very efficient, if unwilling, witness to His truth in poor Israel: her whole history is an involuntary testimony to the one true God. When she no longer rejects her Messiah, she herself also shall recognize that that very Messiah has this divine mark; He too, as Jehovah Himself speaks here, is "The First and the Last," for so He proclaims Himself in Rev. 1:18.

Very precious to some of us is that short eleventh verse in which Jehovah cries, "Beside Me there is no Saviour." See, a human Babe rests upon a maiden's breast, and God Himself directs that He be called Jesus, or "Saviour" (Luke 1:31); and what is that but pronouncing that Babe to be very God of very God? Aye, that very Name means that in Him we have Immanuel, "God with us." As that far-off trial on Carmel in Elijah's time ended with the shout of the witnesses: "Jehovah, He is God! Jehovah, He is God!" we too cry, "Jesus is God over all, blessed forever!"

In verse 12 Jehovah insists that every movement in salvation comes—not from man Godward, but from Himself, even to the ability of listening in faith. Thus a wretched nation of unbelief shall express the goodness of and be the "witness" to Jehovah, by becoming a nation of penitents.

Stern are the words of verse 13, for we must remember that Israel's place, hopes and salvation are all, as a nation, upon the earth, and that salvation can only be brought about by a strong hand on her oppressors. This is here the "work" that none can hinder. The text is often applied to the power of the present gospel of His grace, but true as that is, its primary application is assuredly to the government of the earth. This verse closes a subdivision of our prophecy, as similar words did in Rev. 18, where Babylon in another form is suffering under the Hand of God (see verses 11, 17).

In verse 15 again we hear a thrice-repeated claim of absolute and unlimited supremacy: "I am Jehovah," the one unchanging, ever-existing, covenant-keeping God of Israel; that is His personal Name, as we may say. Next, He is the Holy One, with infinite abhorrence of all that is contrary to His own divine standard of holiness. Then He owns Himself as the Creator of Israel; and as such, Israel must be under the protection of His throne, and that forbids that she remain captive to Babylon.

How blessedly suggestive is this of the impossibility of one single redeemed individual from the race of mankind remaining captive either to sin, or its penalty, death. As sure as we are redeemed by the Blood of Christ, so sure is it that "Sin shall not have dominion over us"; that death has already lost all power or claim over our spirits, although, till the Lord comes, our bodies are still under its sentence; and that, as to those who have already passed away to be with Christ, as yet imperfect, disembodied, they shall again stand up as men; spirit, soul and body evidencing in that perfect condition, the perfect efficacy of the Cross of Christ.

16: Thus saith Jehovah, who maketh a roadway
E'en through the sea;
And through mighty billows a footpath;
17: He who the chariot and horses outbringeth;
Army and hero, They lie down together, rise nevermore!
They are extinguished, as tow are they quenched!
18: Remember no longer events of the old time,
Neither consider the things that are past;
19: Behold, I do work entirely a new thing—
Now shall it sprout, and shall ye not know it?
Aye, through the wilderness I'll make a road,
And streams in the desert!
20: The beasts of the field shall then give Me glory,
Dogs of the prairie and ostriches too.2
For in the wilderness I will give waters,
And streams in the desert,
To give drink to My people, even My chosen.
21: The people that I have formed for Myself,
My praise they shall tell out.
In verses 16-18 the reference is clearly to the past deliverance from Egypt, since it forms a figure of a deliverance still in the future. The "sea," of verse 16, is the Red Sea, through which a pathway was made by that violent east wind that blew in that dark night. The chariots and horses, "the army and soldiers," are the pursuing Egyptians. Then, as if that were a work no longer worthy of holding in memory in comparison with what lies still in the future, Forget, He cries, remember no longer, in view of what lies before you, all those long past events.

Of course, that is not a literal command. Israel could never forget that "night much to be observed," but another intervention is promised her that, in its glory, will eclipse that of the past. His mercies are never exhausted. His powers are not enfeebled by centuries; nor does He ever thus repeat Himself, as if the past evidenced the limit of either His power or grace. He always adds some "better thing." The same mighty Worker will always do a new thing; and even now if His people will look closely at the present conditions they may discern that new thing beginning to sprout, even as a gardener discerns the ripe and perfected fruit in the bud, for in the present revival of the national spirit among the Jews may we not see the "fig-tree" giving sure promise of a coming summer?

Literal was the rock struck in the desert, literal was the man and literal was the rod that struck it, and literal was the water that flowed; but all these literal earthly things were to provide types of the most profound heavenly truths. The bodily revival that the Israelites received by drinking that water was a type of the reviving of our spirits by the "word of Christ," itself vivified by the Spirit of God. What a key to many a difficulty is that basic truth that all of earth has been formed as it has been to give figures of heavenly and eternal verities.

Now we must listen to a reproach so tender, so replete with affection, that it becomes itself as sweet as these waters of which we have been speaking.

22: But thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob!
Yes, even of Me thou hast wearied, Israel!
23: Thou hast not brought Me lambs for burnt-offerings,
Nor with thy sacrifice given Me glory.
I have not burdened thee, demanding oblation;
Nor have I wearied thee, incense requiring.
24: Thou hast bought for Me no sweet cane with silver,
Neither refreshed Me with fat of thy gifts.
'Tis Me thou hast made to serve with thy sins,
'Tis Me thou hast wearied with all thy transgressions.
25: I, and I only, am He that doth blot out
For My own sake thy many revoltings,
And will remember thy sins nevermore.
26: Let us then come into judgment together,
And plead what thou canst for thy justification!
27: Even the first of thy forefathers sinned,
Thy teachers3 revolted against Me;
28: Then I profaned the sanctified princes;4
To curses gave Jacob; to scoffs, Israel.
Jacob's wanderings are over, Israel is fully restored, and here the restored nation is led to look back to the way it has been led to that restoration. It can but remind one of that analogous counsel given us: "Wherefore remember that ye being in times past Gentiles in the flesh," etc. (Eph. 2:11). Both Israel, as a nation, and each individual Christian will own, and gladly own, that salvation is due solely to free grace that bore with all waywardness so patiently. How delightful it will be to look back from the joy and security of the Father's house to the long path by which we have been led there! I can but think that here Jehovah tells His beloved Israel that He has been listening at the closed door of their heart, and mourns that it has been so silent toward Him.

In times of acute distress there are always those cries of which Elihu speaks: "By reason of the multitude of oppressions, they make the oppressed to cry" (Job 35:9); but the crisis past, silence once more reigns, showing that the heart had not been affected—it was but stricken nature's enforced cry. That will not satisfy Him who longs for filial confidence. Israel has been weary of God! Not that there was not "the form of godliness"—plenty of it—but it was a mere external form, as that of which Jehovah complains in the first chapter, and which He abhors. If the reference is merely to the daily sacrifices and the accompanying incense, then the Lord surely received what He desired, for all was in order as far as that went then. Have we not already heard: "I am full of the burnt offering of rams"? Surely He could not be both "full" and yet complain that His people had given none! No, it is the heart's love, the heart's confidence, that He values more than men value gold; but a dead "religiousness" from those dead in sin is nothing to Him.

So Israel, His dear Israel, has pressed Him with iniquity on iniquity, till He is weary under the load. Israel is not morally better than Egypt. But if all are equally evil, what causes the difference? Verse 25 gives the answer, thrilling in its terseness, of just three words: "I—I—He!" All the motive for the Love of God to man must be found—not in its poor object, man, but in Him who exercises it.5 Jehovah, and He alone, is the One who blots out all the rebellions of His people, and remembers them no more, and that for His own sake. Humbling, yet precious truth! It is thus that His blessing "addeth no sorrow with it"; for whilst indeed enwrapping us with a love from which none in heaven, earth, or under-world, can sever, yet it hides from us that pride that has been ever, and still is, the very cause of the sorrow.

Verse 26 is a gracious parallel to Chap. 1:18: "Come now, and let us reason together." Jehovah says, as it were, "I will take no advantage of My infinite superiority as God over thee, My poor sinful creature. Come into court with Me, call to remembrance everything in thy favor, and see if it be possible to stand there maintained by thine own righteousness."

It is impossible! Trace back thy lineage to thy first father, and you will find a poor erring man. Do you make your boast in being children of Abraham? Well, was he chosen because of his holiness? Nay, for what "hath Abraham our father as pertaining to the flesh found?" Grace, and nothing but grace from first to last, suited him; he too simply "believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness" (Rom. 4). And so all down the line of those who have taken the place of interpreting God and His ways, each and all of them have been but self-confessed erring men; all tell out, in one way or another, human sin, human frailty, human error. Even the high priests who have a place of rule—"princes," thus as they are—He has been compelled to expose as the reverse of holy. They are "holy" as to their position, but "profane" as to their condition. They may have an external holiness, but within—Matt. 23:25! So Jacob must be given up to the curse, and Israel to the revilings of the Gentiles.

It is well to bear in mind that there is ever an external sanctification that God Himself recognizes as that, quite distinct from personal holiness, a position of external acceptance in which there is "much advantage every way"; very precious privileges with corresponding responsibilities resulting from them, as in the days past, in Judaism; and so now in the Christian sphere on the earth, as 1 Cor. 7:10-14 evidences. Alas, it is greatly to be feared that very many who are thus sanctified as to position will be found even in perdition—that "sorer punishment" than that which befell him who despised Moses' law and died without mercy (Heb. 10:36). With deep grief do we hear from many so-called Christian pulpits teachings which count the "blood of the covenant wherewith they are sanctified an unholy thing," nor can we think of the end without trembling. "It is a fearful thing [thus] to fall into the hands of the living God."


Footnotes:


1 The word rinnah which I have rendered, "song of rejoicing," is a cry of deep emotion. Not once does Isaiah use it except as expressing a joyous sentiment; thus, here, a boast.

2 Literally, "monsters and daughters of a cry." See notes on chap. 13.

3 The prime meaning of the word is "to stammer," "to speak barbarously." Then as coming between the barbarous speaker and his hearers, "interpreter," as in Job 33:23, and thus may be rendered here, "teachers."

4 See I Chron. 24:5, rendered "governors of the sanctuary," evidently referring to those who have rule in holy things, as in contrast with civil authorities. These princes are priests too.

5 And do we not see Him, the same divine One, in John 13, serving His needy people even because of their proneness to the defilement of the way? Can we ever get low enough when God's beloved Son deigns even to be our Servant!