I Am the LORD, Your Holy One,

Israel's Creator, Your King

43: 8-21

   DIG: Although Isra'el has been blind and deaf to the LORD in the past (42:18-20), what is the purpose for which He will lead them out of Babylon (44:10, and also see 41:20)? What will that act of deliverance communicate to the nations? With what attitude do you imagine this witness will be carried out? What contrasting attitudes has God found in the Babylonians, in the wild animals, and in Isra'el (43:14, 20 and 22)? With what attitude do you imagine the exiles carried out their religious practices (43:22-28)?

   REFLECT: When has ADONAI worked to the good in your life despite your blindness and deafness? How would you explain to a non-believer what the LORD has done for you? What should be our motivation in witnessing to others of God’s grace in our lives? When has God seemed like a dusty memory to you? At those times, what helps you get in touch with Him? How might recalling the acts of ADONAI in your past give you courage to face the present and future? What has God done in your past that you especially can look to as evidence of His presence with you? What “streams in the desert” are bubbling up for you now? What new thing has the LORD done in your life? What is He doing now? What former things from your past, in 43:18, do you have difficulty forgetting? How might 43:25 help?

    ADONAI invited Isra'el, still spiritually blind and deaf (42:20, 48:8), to be brought before the nations. Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf (43:8). Imagine a litigant depending on the blind to testify on what they had seen and the deaf to what they had heard! So why can Isra'el serve as a witness? In spite of Isra'el’s blindness she can testify that God predicted the events that will come to pass about 200 years later. Even though Isra'el did not believe the prophecies at the time they were given, they must now testify that the prophecies were given and are in the process of being fulfilled.

    He calls the Gentile nations to produce the strongest case for idolatry to see if they can compare with what God has done. All the nations gather and the peoples assemble (43:9a). In theory, Isra'el is supposed to be dependent upon God. In theory, the nations are supposed to be dependent upon their idols. But rather than being consistent and worshiping her God alone, Isra'el was prone (up to the point of the Babylonian captivity) to worship the idols of the Gentiles. Now, both are called before God’s courtroom scene.

    Here ADONAI calls upon the nations to produce their case concerning the validity of the worshiping of idols. Which of them foretold this and proclaimed to us the things of the past (43:9b)? It is obvious that they cannot predict the future, so instead, let them explain the significance of the things that have happened in the past in order to validate that they are indeed gods. Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, “It is true” (43:9c). If they can do this, then idolatry would be valid. If idolatry is valid, then Isra'el would be justified in worshiping the idols. But if the idols are silent about both the past and the future, then Isra'el should turn away from her idolatry and worship the LORD alone.

    God then turned to His people, who perhaps thought they would merely be interested spectators at the trial, with the shocking realization that He would rest His claims of deity on their testimony. You are My witnesses, declares the LORD, and My Servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I Am He (43:10a). The opening pronoun, you, emphasizes that the Israelites, and no one else, were to be His witnesses, and that point is highlighted when He said: declares the LORD. This was no casual, offhand statement, but a profound word directly from ADONAI. These three verbs know, believe, and understand detail the progress of faith, extending from initial experience of the LORD through dependence on Him, to an understanding of His nature and ways.161 So now God asks Israel to speak the word to these Gentile nations that have gathered whether ADONAI has prophesied truthfully or not.

    The Israelites are asked to be witnesses to three things: First, that the LORD is the only true God. He has no competitor or equal. He alone is God. ADONAI alone holds this unique position. Before Me no god was formed, nor will there be one after Me (43:10b). Before the gods were made, He was, and after all the gods are gone, He will be. Consequently, what Isra'el is called to learn is that ADONAI is not merely great or loving, or just or powerful, but much more than that. He is the only One to whom all of creation must come to terms.

    Secondly, of all the religions in the world only Messiah guarantees salvation. I, yes I, am ADONAI; besides Me there is no Savior, there is no Savior (43:11). Other religions assemble quite a program, but they certainly do not guarantee salvation. The LORD said: Besides Me there is no M’falti. Free! Free indeed! Through M’falti, meaning the Savior or Deliverer, I am eternally released from the hands of my enemies, from all kinds of bondage, accusations, curses, and every sin that so easily entangles me. Then God brings up the subject of idolatry.

    The truth of the previous verse is made clear here. In an allusion to the challenge of the gods, ADONAI declares that He alone had revealed the future and made it known. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed – I, and not some foreign god among you. You are My witnesses, declares the LORD, that I Am God (43:12). Isra'el worshiped the god Bel, but Bel did not rescue the Jews from Babylon. Israel worshiped Baal, but Baal did not rescue the Jews from Babylon. Isra'el worshiped the Ashtoreth, but the Ashtoreth did not rescue the Jews from Babylon. Only one Person is going to redeem the Jews from Babylon, and that is the One God of Isra'el. So they must now witness to the fact that the LORD is the only Savior, for all the other gods the Jews had been prone to worship had failed to redeem the Jews from Babylon. It was as if God was saying, “As long as you will avoid idolatry and turn away from that will which will lead you away from Me, I will bless you.”

    Thirdly, no one can stop the LORD. Yes, and from ancient days I am He. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it (43:13)? From the first day of creation, He was the only God and whatever He chose to do, no other god could hinder. It was God who worked out the Babylonian captivity. And all the worship of the Bel, Baal, or the Ashtoreth could not save the Jews from it. So Isra'el, the blind witness, is called to worship. God asks: When I act, who can reverse it? The implied answer was, and is, of course, “No one!”

    Yeshua quoted 43:10 when He said to His disciples: You will be My witnesses (Acts 1:8), and He was using the term in the same sense that Isaiah used it. He was calling on His disciples to give evidence from their own personal experience that Jesus Christ was who He said He was. The apostle John also did that (First John 1:1-3). It is interesting that God does not command us to be His witnesses. He simply declares the fact: you are My witnesses.

    Being a witness means that a person has a vital, first-hand experience of Christ that has transformed the way he or she lives. Like it or not, we have been changed. If this is not the case, there is nothing to witness to. That person is a blind witness, just like Isra'el, with no knowledge of God or His ways. This is demonstrated by the sons of Sceva, who were evidently trying to minister out of a secondhand knowledge of Messiah. Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding (Acts 19:14-16).162 The only way to be an effective witness for Jesus is to have a personal relationship with Him. We are the evidence of the transforming power of the LORD. Being witnesses is not something we do, it is something we are.

    Then Isaiah revealed to the Israelites their deliverance from Babylon in 536 BC, a near historical prophecy given about 200 years beyond Isaiah’s own day. He starts out with a promise of the coming liberation. Three things should be noted here. First, God says that He is the only Redeemer that Isra'el will ever have. This is what the LORD says – our Kinsman Redeemer (43:14a). He is both willing and able to redeem them (see my commentary on Exodus Bz – Redemption).

    Secondly, although the people had not fulfilled their obligations, He will buy them back at the cross; He is the Kinsman Redeemer, and by position He is the Holy One of Isra'el (43:14b). The same unique moral qualities that made ADONAI not One to be mocked in Chapters 1-39, make Him uniquely able to save those who call on Him in Chapters 40-66. Thus, the two sections of the book complement each other on the nature and holiness of God. Yes, humanly speaking, it was Cyrus that overthrew Babylon. But it was actually the LORD working behind the scenes that had liberated the Israelites. If He used human instruments, that was well and good, but it was ADONAI who was actually at work.

    And thirdly, He spells out the judgment on Babylon. Why will these mighty events occur? For your sake I have sent the Medes and the Persians to Babylon to destroy it. These two nations were consolidated under Cyrus the Great to bring about the fall of the Babylonian Empire. Thus, the Babylonians would become fugitives on their own ships in which they took pride (43:14c). The Babylonians learned how to navigate the Euphrates River down to the Persian Gulf. And since they were able to do the very thing the Assyrians before them were unable to do, they took great pride in this. But now Isaiah says that the very thing in which they took pride in will be their means of escape when Babylon is conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire lead by Cyrus.

    Then God describes Himself as the Holy One who will judge Babylon, saying: I Am the LORD, your Holy One, Isra'el’s Creator, your King (43:15). God takes responsibility for bringing Isra'el into existence. Every anti-Semite should take note of this. He is her King. When Yeshua Messiah came to earth and made His claim to Kingship, the believing remnant knew He was claiming to be Immanuel . . . God with us (Matthew 1:23). Isaiah prophesied that the LORD would judge Babylon because she mistreated Isra'el and He is Isra'el’s Creator, her King.

    ADONAI makes plain that the reason for the coming miraculous deliverance from Babylon was not because of who the Israelites were, but because of whose they are (43:10-13). It was because they belong to the LORD, and because of what sort of God He is, that the end of the Babylonian Captivity was to come to an end. The four descriptions in 43:15 are a miniature theology of the TaNaKh. In short, He is the LORD who revealed Himself at Mount Sinai (see my commentary on Exodus Db – The Revelation at Mount Sinai), He is the Holy One who had called them to be holy because I, the LORD, am holy and have set you apart from the nations to be My own (Lev 20:26), He is Israel’s Creator who had called them into existence from nothing, He is their King whom they owe their complete allegiance.

    Verses 16 and 17 give an unusually long introduction to verse 18. The introduction is made up of a series of statements identifying ADONAI as the speaker by His actions. This kind of introduction is common in Chapters 40 through 45. It’s purpose is to establish both the context and credibility of the surprising announcement of the new thing in 43:18-21.

    Then Isaiah presents a contrast between the former thing, or old deliverance and the new thing, or the new deliverance. This is what the LORD says – He who made a way through the Sea of Reeds, a path through the mighty waters (43:16). Here Isaiah alludes to the parting of the waters in the Sea of Reeds by which the Jews crossed away from Egypt. The old deliverance concerned the Exodus; the new deliverance concerned the return from Babylon in 536 BC. First, look at the old deliverance. The Holy Spirit then alluded to the destruction of the Egyptian army. Who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick (43:17). This is military terminology illustrating how a general commands. ADONAI, not Pharaoh, was the commander of the Egyptian army and He drew them out to destruction, never to be seen again.

    But then He announced a new deliverance, which was deliverance from Babylon. Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past (43:18). God called upon Isra'el to no longer concentrate on the miracles of the old deliverance of the Exodus, but to concentrate on the miracles of the new deliverance, or the return from Babylon. For Isra'el, the glorious saving event of the past had become a straitjacket into which every other act of God was forced. As a result, the Israelites were frequently unable to recognize the LORD’s new actions when they came. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him (John 1:11). It was as if Isaiah was saying, “Remember, ADONAI has done many things, but do not limit the way He did them. Why? Because He is the Creator. He does not need to do things the same way twice. Of course He is consistent, but His methods can always be new. If we make an idol of His methods, we might miss His blessings.” The past can teach and illustrate but it must not bind. The LORD always has greater things in store for us; He is revealed in the past; however, He is always more than the past has revealed.

    The former things were those events that had already been predicted and fulfilled in the past (41:22, 42:9, 43:9, 46:9, 48:3); here, clearly the exodus. God was predicting a new exodus that should not be made to conform to the previous one but allowed to stand on its own. So then He announces: See, I am doing a new thing and promises to prosper the way home. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland (42:19). Looking with eyes of faith, the new thing seems to be exploding right before the prophet’s very eyes. Like the blindness of their imminent judgment, Isaiah is amazed that the Israelites do not recognize it.

    There is a song entitled, “Give Me That Old Time Religion.” And in the song it says, “It was good for the Hebrew children, and it is good enough for me.” But it wasn’t good enough for the Hebrew children. The faith of Abraham was not adequate for them; ADONAI had something more. The LORD had to deliver them from the bondage of Egypt and show them something new. The Sea of Reeds would part, Mount Sinai would explode with fire and with the voice of God. Commandments would be given and there would be new lessons learned in the wilderness. The song says, “It was good for Paul and Silas.” The truth is that the old time religion was not good enough for Paul and Silas. For years Paul wanted it to be good enough, until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He wanted to keep the old wineskin of Jewish tradition, but Yeshua was bursting the seams of that wineskin. New wine had come and new wineskins were called for. You can’t have the old time religion. Your mother’s faith will not do, it has to be your faith. Your father’s faith is not adequate, you have to have your own experience with the LORD. In fact, your faith, the faith used to get you by several years ago, will not do for today. If your faith has not grown since you first met Jesus Christ as a kid, the wineskin has dried and become brittle. It will not do for the new thing that God wants to do in you today. You can’t remain static. You can’t stay where you are. Yesterday’s experience will not do for today. Your faith must be current. In 43:18-19, ADONAI says: Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland (by Rodney Buchanan, Sermon Central).

    In the process of returning from Babylon, God will again perform miracles, such as providing water in the desert and streams in the wasteland to give drink to My people, My chosen (43:20). Earlier, Isaiah had said that when Messiah came there would be a spiritual refreshing. It would be like water gushing forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert (35:6b). Messiah could not be born in Babylon, He was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). The return of the exiles to Israel would be, in a sense, a spiritual refreshing because it would be from there that Messiah would come.

    It is perhaps hard for us to fully appreciate what a frightening prospect this journey must have been to those who faced it. First, it was across unknown territory. Most of those who were young and fit enough to travel would have been born in the exile, and although Babylon was not their true home it would have been the only place they knew. The wilderness represented a break with even that limited security. Secondly, Jerusalem was a long way off, between 500 and 900 miles, depending on the route. The returnees could expect to be traveling for at least four months through harsh terrain, in which they would be vulnerable not only to exhaustion but also to attack by bandits. The wilderness meant hardship and danger. And what could they expect on arrival? A reception with open arms? A land flowing with milk and honey? No. They would arrive to see a devastated land, and would face the difficult task of rebuilding their lives from scratch. In a different way the wilderness was just as frightening as captivity in Babylon.163 How would they make it? How would they survive? As we shall see next, it would only happen for them the way it only happens for us. The grace of God is, in reality, the only thing that can carry us through.

    Isaiah saw the purpose of the nation and why the Messianic people were formed. God says the people were formed for Myself, that they may proclaim My praise (43:21). The Israelites were created, formed, and chosen to be ADONAI’s witnesses (43:10 and 44:8), and this continues to be the function of His people today. Peter tells us: For you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light (First Peter 2:9). We have been formed to worship Him. The potter and the clay motif (Isaiah 41:24-26; Jeremiah 19:1-3; Romans 9:20-22) reminds us that we can face the troubles of life with confidence – even when, as here, we are the causes of our own misfortune by rebellion and disobedience. The pressures of life are the loving touches of the Potter’s hand as He perfects what He has planned.

 

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