A. Reasons not to fear.
1. (1) Fear not, knowing you belong to the LORD.
But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.”
a. Says the LORD, who created you…and He who formed you: God speaks to His people as their Creator. God has a special and unique claim upon us because He is our Creator. When men forget or reject God as Creator, they fail in the most basic obligation they have to God.
b. Fear not: This is a command, accompanied by promises. By outward circumstances, the people of Judah had reason to be afraid of Babylon’s army and exile. God points them past the present circumstances to both this command and promise.
c. For I have redeemed you: Not only did Israel have an obligation to God as their Creator but also as their Redeemer. He is the One who bought them out of literal exile and spiritual slavery.
i. The redeemer bought an unfortunate relative out of their slavery and debt. He rescued them and paid the slave price or debt they could not pay. When God calls Himself our Redeemer, it looks forward to the price that must be paid for our salvation.
d. I have called you by your name; You are mine: God twice owns His people. He has the right of ownership both as Creator and Redeemer. His ownership is personal because He says I have called you by your name. His ownership is certain because He seals it by saying You are mine.
i. Knowing that we belong to the LORD is a wonderful answer to fear. We can know that He holds us, protects us, guards us, and cares for us. We can know that He would not have created, redeemed, and called us unless He intended to finish His work in us. How can we be afraid when we know this God is for us, is looking out for our interests?
2. (2-7) Fear not, knowing the LORD is with you.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I gave Egypt for your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in your place.
Since you were precious in My sight,
You have been honored,
And I have loved you;
Therefore I will give men for you,
And people for your life.
Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your descendants from the east,
And gather you from the west;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’
Bring My sons from afar,
And My daughters from the ends of the earth;
Everyone who is called by My name,
Whom I have created for My glory;
I have formed him, yes, I have made him.
a. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you: Through any potential obstacle, God will be with us. Deep waters? I will be with you. Must you walk through the fire? Then you shall not be burned. When God is with us, He is for us, and who can be against us?
i. Israel had and would have their trials, but we have ours also. Trials are inevitable; it doesn’t say if you pass through the waters, it says when you pass through the waters. The text doesn’t say, “When you walk on a luxurious padded carpet, I will be with you.” It says God will be with us in the toughest of circumstances. Trials are varied; sometimes we face waters, sometimes rivers, and sometimes fire. Floods overwhelm, fires consume.
ii. The mention of the LORD’s presence and protection in the fire reminds us of the story of the three sons of Judah cast into the Babylonian furnace because they would not bow or bend to worship an idol. They also were preserved in the fire by the presence of God (Daniel 3:19-25).
iii. This passage is also full of images from the Exodus from Egypt. “The statement, ‘I am the Lord, your God’ would remind every Jewish reader of Exodus 20, where the divine description is followed by the words ‘who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’ (Exodus 20:2). So, learning from this past event, they could rest in his promise to bring them again into their own land.” (Grogan)
iv. “Israel is just as indestructible as God’s Word and Covenant are. Whoever can annihilate Israel can do more than Satan and all the powers of hell have been able to do in ages past. What is true of Israel, however, is equally true of the Church. Against it, too, the flames have raged and the waters have boiled but, according to His promise, the Lord Jesus has always been with her.” (Bultema)
b. Walk through the fire: God helping us, we can do this. We don’t have to panic, we don’t have to fear, and we don’t have to run as if we didn’t trust God. He can so strengthen us in our trials that we can walk through the fire.
i. “Walking is the pace at which you go when you are not in a hurry, when you are not concerned or alarmed. When you are not burdened or anxious, then you walk. ‘He that believeth shall not make haste’ (Isaiah 28:16).” (Redpath)
c. Since you were precious in My sight: God here describes the motivation for His work of redemption. He loves us! We are precious in His sight! This is an Old Testament example of the truth in John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.
i. “To prove His love for His people, God was willing to give Egypt, Cush, and Seba as a ransom for Israel. These three nations may symbolize Israel’s great worth, or they may have been named in anticipation of the subsequent Persian conquests.” (Wolf)
d. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east: God’s presence and blessing with Israel would also be demonstrated by unleashing the shackles of their exile. They could have hope for the future because they knew they were called by the name of the LORD, and they were created for His glory.
i. Whom I have created for My glory means that God not only has created us but that He has created us for a purpose. If we have no Creator, then we are purposeless; but God has created us, and He did it for a purpose, creating us for His glory. This means that when we are glorifying God, we are fulfilling the purpose we were created for, and will therefore be the happiest and fulfilled.
B. Witnesses to the work of the LORD.
1. (8-9) The nations and the people of Israel are called to either prove their case or accept God’s.
Bring out the blind people who have eyes,
And the deaf who have ears.
Let all the nations be gathered together,
And let the people be assembled.
Who among them can declare this,
And show us former things?
Let them bring out their witnesses, that they may be justified;
Or let them hear and say, “It is truth.”
a. Bring out the blind people who have eyes: Previously, in Isaiah 42:19, the LORD spoke of His blind and deaf servants, who had willingly closed their eyes and ears to His truth and ways. Now, God tells these blind and deaf servants of His to come forth – with all the nations who will be gathered together.
b. Who among them can declare this, and show us former things? Let them bring out their witnesses: God invites His people (who are blind and deaf) and the nations to testify: to prove Him to be wrong or to prove that they are justified in their rejection of Him. It is as if God is saying, “You have chosen to worship and honor other gods. Come before Me now and justify yourself. Bring plenty of witnesses.”
i. “We must not miss the pathos: imagine any litigant depending on the blind to testify to what they have seen and the deaf to what they have heard!” (Motyer)
2. (10-13) The LORD commissions His witnesses.
“You are My witnesses,” says the LORD,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
That you may know and believe Me,
And understand that I am He.
Before Me there was no God formed,
Nor shall there be after Me.
I, even I, am the LORD,
And besides Me there is no savior.
I have declared and saved,
I have proclaimed,
And there was no foreign god among you;
Therefore you are My witnesses,”
Says the LORD, “that I am God.
Indeed before the day was, I am He;
And there is no one who can deliver out of My hand;
I work, and who will reverse it?”
a. You are My witnesses: God’s people had witnessed the greatness of God. If only Israel would remember the great things God had done among them, they would see each wonderful work of His as a witness to the truth that He is the only true God.
i. The idol worshippers have nothing to say as witnesses because their gods can do nothing. But the people of God are witnesses of His greatness and power. They have seen it and experienced it.
b. And My servant whom I have chosen that you may know and believe Me: A witness is a passive observer of what someone has done, and Israel had seen the great works of God. But they were more than passive observers; God called Israel to be His servant. That was why they were chosen – not to sit around and glory in their chosenness, but to serve the LORD, and to know the LORD and believe Him in every way.
c. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me: In clear, certain words, God says that not only is He the most high God, but that there are no other gods beside Him. There are no “junior gods.” There are no “second class gods.” There was no God formed before the LORD, and there will be no God formed after Him.
i. What about Biblical passages which some take to suggest there are other gods? For example, in John 10:34, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6-7, saying You are gods. But the judges of Psalm 82 were called “gods” because in their office they determined the fate of other men. Also, in Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9, God speaks to earthly judges under the Hebrew word elohim [gods]. In John 10, Jesus is saying “if God gives these unjust judges the title ‘gods’ because of their office, why do you consider it blasphemy that I call Myself the ‘Son of God’ in light of the testimony of Me and My works?” Jesus did not take the phrase you are gods of Psalm 82 and applying it to all humanity, or to all believers. The use of gods in Psalm 82 was a metaphor.
ii. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul calls Satan the god of this age. Certainly, he does not mean Satan is a true god, a rival god to the Lord GOD. Satan can be called the god of this age because so many people regard him as god! But Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 8:4-5 that the idols the nations worship are merely so-called gods, and that there is no other God but one.
iii. This is an important point, because some – such as Jehovah’s Witnesses – take the opinion that Jesus is indeed a god, but something of a “junior level god.” They will allow that He is mighty God (Isaiah 9:6), but not that He is Almighty God. But when the LORD says through Isaiah, before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me, it proves there is only one true God. There are figurative or metaphorical gods, such as the judges of Psalm 82. There are false gods such as the devil or the idols of the nations. But there are no true Gods apart from the LORD, Yahweh, who is One God in Three Persons. Ironically, the Jehovah’s Witnesses took their title from this very passage which proves their doctrine regarding Jesus is wrong.
d. And besides Me there is no savior: The LORD God is the only savior. Only He has declared and saved – there was no foreign god among you who did any good. He is our help and support. Sadly, we often turn to our only savior as a last resort, instead of as a first resource.
i. Since Jesus is clearly our savior (Philippians 3:20, 2 Timothy 1:10), and there is no other savior beside the LORD, then Jesus must be the LORD. The LORD, Yahweh, is One God in Three Persons.
e. Therefore, you are My witnesses: If Israel would remember that only the LORD has ever rescued them, they would not be so quick to turn to other gods and to turn away from the LORD. We should all be witnesses to the saving, rescuing, and healing work of the LORD.
f. Indeed, before the day was, I am He: God’s credentials go beyond His saving work on behalf of His people. He comes before time itself. Before there was ever a day, God was. So, His strength is infinitely greater than anyone else’s; He can rightly say there is no one who can deliver out of My hand. When God does something, no one will reverse it.
C. The LORD redeems a hard-hearted people.
1. (14-17) A promise to judge Babylon.
Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer,
The Holy One of Israel:
“For your sake I will send to Babylon,
And bring them all down as fugitives—
The Chaldeans, who rejoice in their ships.
I am the LORD, your Holy One,
The Creator of Israel, your King.”
Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea
And a path through the mighty waters,
Who brings forth the chariot and horse,
The army and the power
(They shall lie down together, they shall not rise;
They are extinguished, they are quenched like a wick):
a. For your sake I will send to Babylon: Isaiah prophesied before the Babylonians ever conquered Judah and sent the nation into a 70-year exile. Yet Isaiah prophesies, not only about the coming captivity but also beyond it to the eventual judgment upon Babylon for what they will do to Judah.
b. Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea: At the time Isaiah prophesied, Babylon was an up-and-coming world power. Before they would be judged, they would be a world dominating super-power. How could Israel be confident that God was up to the job of delivering them and judging Babylon? All they had to do was look at God’s great works in the past, such as when He made a way in the sea – when He parted the Red Sea so Israel could cross and escape the Egyptian armies (Exodus 14). Isaiah powerfully brings up these images when he writes of the chariot and the horse, the army and the power of these enemies of God’s people, and how they shall lie down together…they are extinguished. Just as God overwhelmed the Egyptian armies that had enslaved Israel, so would He judge the Babylonians also.
i. This teaches us that we can always justify trusting God right now by remembering the great things He has done.
ii. This teaches us that we never want to oppose the LORD or His people.
c. The LORD your Redeemer…the Holy One of Israel…your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King: In just these few verses, look at the glorious titles of God. In this passage, prophetically intended to comfort Israel in the midst of their Babylonian captivity, God powerfully put forth images of His own strength and power.
2. (18-21) God promises His exiled people a new work.
Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.
The beast of the field will honor Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I give waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert, to give drink
To My people, My chosen.
This people I have formed for Myself;
They shall declare My praise.
a. Do not remember the former things: As Isaiah wrote prophetically to Israel, they were mired in the desperate circumstances of captivity and exile. God wanted to put their eyes on the new work He would do, so He began with a reminder to not remember the former things. If they were stuck in the failure and sin and discouragement of the past, they would never go forward to the new thing God had for them.
i. It is a fascinating – and instructive – switch between Isaiah 43:16-17 and Isaiah 43:18. In Isaiah 43:16-17, Israel was told to look to the past by remembering the great things God did for them at the Red Sea. But in Isaiah 43:18, they were told, do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. This shows us that there is a sense in which we must remember the past, in terms of God’s great work on our behalf. There is also a sense in which we must forsake and forget the past, with all its discouragement and defeat, and move on to what God has for us in the future.
b. Behold, I will do a new thing: Staying stuck in the past can keep us from the new thing God wants to do. If Israel stayed stuck in the discouragement and seduction of Babylon, they would never look for the new thing of release from exile.
i. We can make an idol out of the “new.” We can err as the people of Athens did who spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing (Acts 17:21). We can be tossed about by every wind of doctrine. But we can also err on the other side of the balance, and work against the new thing God wants to do.
ii. Shall you not know it? God asks the same question today. “Will you stay in step with My Spirit? When He leads into something new, shall you not know it?”
c. I will even make a road in the wilderness: Between the captivity in Babylon and the return to Israel lay hundreds of miles of wilderness. God’s people didn’t need to be afraid because God would make a road in the wilderness, provide rivers in the desert, and even protect His people from animals, because the beast of the field will honor Me, the LORD says.
i. Often, when God makes a promise, we worry about the details or the obstacles for the fulfillment of the promise. God replies to us, “Don’t worry about it at all. I will even make a road in the wilderness. I have resources and plans you don’t know about. Leave those problems to Me.”
d. They shall declare My praise: This is part of fulfilling the purpose God created us for, as mentioned in Isaiah 43:7 (Whom I created for My glory). When we declare our praise for God, we are giving Him glory, and fulfilling one of the purposes we were created for.
i. This passage has in view Israel’s prophesied deliverance from Babylon, but also more than that. It also has in mind the ultimate deliverance, brought by the Messiah.
ii. “From all these texts laid together, it appears that this latter deliverance, compared with that out of Egypt, is not to be confined to their freedom from the Babylonish captivity, but to be extended to the consequences of it, and especially to the redemption by Christ, because otherwise that Egyptian deliverance was more glorious and wonderful in many respects than the Babylonian.” (Poole)
3. (22-24) The hard-heartedness of God’s people.
But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob;
And you have been weary of Me, O Israel.
You have not brought Me the sheep for your burnt offerings,
Nor have you honored Me with your sacrifices.
I have not caused you to serve with grain offerings,
Nor wearied you with incense.
You have bought Me no sweet cane with money,
Nor have you satisfied Me with the fat of your sacrifices;
But you have burdened Me with your sins,
You have wearied Me with your iniquities.
a. But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob: Who is Isaiah speaking to? When is he speaking of? Isaiah may have come out of the prophetic future into the prophetic present and may be speaking to the people of Judah in his own day. He may still be speaking in the prophetic future and rebuking the hard-hearted complacency of many of the Babylonian exiles, most of whom had no interest in returning to the Promised Land.
b. And you have been weary of Me: In the flesh, sometimes we regard serving and obeying the LORD as a weary thing. We feel it is such a burden to serve the LORD. We think we are worse off for following His ways and we feel so oppressed and afflicted. Sometimes people say, “I just need to take a break,” and essentially mean that they need to take a break from the LORD.
i. When we feel like this, it is certain evidence that we are not in step with Jesus, and the true nature of Jesus. He said, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30) If following God always seems like some great, weary burden – then you really aren’t following Him.
c. You have not brought Me the sheep for your burnt offerings: When we are weary of the LORD like this, it often shows in our giving, and in immorality (you have burdened Me with your sins).
i. “Perhaps the Israelites were insincere in their worship. When they did bring offerings, they simply went through the motions of worship, and so God did not consider their empty sacrifices to be true sacrifices at all.” (Wolf)
d. You have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities: Isaiah spoke to God’s people who felt “burnt out,” burdened, and weary of the LORD. God replied to them, “You feel burdened? You feel weary? Try being Me! You have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities.”
4. (25-28) The LORD’s mercy to a hard-hearted people.
I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake;
And I will not remember your sins.
Put Me in remembrance;
Let us contend together;
State your case, that you may be acquitted.
Your first father sinned,
And your mediators have transgressed against Me.
Therefore I will profane the princes of the sanctuary;
I will give Jacob to the curse,
And Israel to reproaches.
a. I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions…I will not remember your sins: What will God do with such a hard-hearted people? He will forgive them at the earliest opportunity. He will forget their sins. Despite all their sin and disregard for God, He still loves His people and longs for their humble return.
i. Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son is a beautiful illustration of this principle. The Prodigal felt the father was a weary burden to be relieved, and he went his own way. But the father still loved him and was ready to forget all the sin as soon as the Prodigal humbly returned.
ii. I will not remember your sins: How can God forget? By simply choosing to not remember. God has forgotten our sin as being fully paid for by what Jesus endured on the cross. We can forget our sin also and put it far from us.
b. Let us contend together; state your case: God says to His people, “Do you want to justify yourself? Then do it. Present your best case.” But no matter what they say on their behalf, God has a stronger argument against them: Your first father sinned. “You are a child of Adam, and his sin has infected the whole human race, including yourself. You are a sinner through and through from birth. Stop trying to justify yourself and humbly look to Me for salvation.”
c. And your mediators have transgressed against me: Not only were they – and we – born in sin because of Adam, they also trusted in the wrong mediators. The ones they trusted to save them before God were sinners themselves. Looking to a perfect, sinless Mediator can only save us, for there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:5)
d. I will give Jacob to the curse: Because of this deep sinfulness, and failure to look to God’s solution for sin, there was only a curse for Jacob. Because we are born in sin, and when we reject God’s Mediator, then all there is left for us is the curse and reproaches.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com