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This section of Isaiah beautifully shows how merciful and loving, even warmly affectionate, our great God is.
We left off in chapter 42 with Israel's obstinate refusal to obey God. "But now," says God in Isaiah 43:1, "…Fear not, for I have redeemed you." God emphasizes that He is the One who created and formed Israel (verses 1, 7, 15, 21; 44:2, 21). He will help them and deliver them, even though they have not relied on Him (Isaiah 43:22). While God declared Himself Israel's "Redeemer" in Isaiah 41:14, it is in chapters 43 and 44 that this concept is discussed in detail. And the theme is revisited frequently throughout the remainder of the book.
God will demand the release of His people, just as He demanded it from Pharaoh in ancient Egypt (Isaiah 43:6). He will sacrifice other peoples for the sake of His people, particularly the Babylonians (verses 4, 14), just as He did with ancient Egypt (verse 3). Of course, God gave the ultimate sacrifice in the person of Jesus Christ—for not only Israel but for all people.
God's judgment on other nations in the course of redeeming His people applied in small measure to the fall of ancient Babylon, which allowed the return of a small portion of the Jewish captives to the Holy Land soon after. But there were no great and awesome visible miracles accompanying the ancient return of the exiles as those described in this chapter. Thus, the prophecy is primarily for the last days.
In Isaiah 11, God explained that He would bring His people back from modern Assyria and Egypt (verse 11). This, He said, would necessitate drying up the Euphrates River for the northern captives and drying up the Red Sea (as in Israel's ancient Exodus) for those returning from Egypt (verse 15). And in chapter 43 we again find mention of this deliverance through these waters (verses 2, 16).
Israel is to serve as witness to the fact that God alone is Savior (verses 10-13). Incidentally, it should be mentioned that some use verse 10—"Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me"—in an attempt to disprove Christ's divinity and to show that there will be no other future divine members of the God family. However, it should be recognized that the word "God" in the verse is Elohim—a name that itself denotes a plurality in the Godhead (see our free booklet Who Is God? to learn more). Furthermore, of course no God could be formed before or after God—for there is no such time as before or after God, who is eternal.
Continuing on, God's end-time deliverance of Israel in the second Exodus will be so great that the ancient deliverance in the first Exodus from Egypt will be little thought of (verse 18; compare Jeremiah 16:14-15). God will create the miraculous highway of return in the desert, a route provided for with a lush environment from new springs and rivers (Isaiah 43:19-21). This represents a spiritual reality as well. God will direct the footsteps of His people back to Him spiritually. And this will be accomplished through waters in the desert—representative, as explained in Isaiah 44:3, of the pouring out of God's Spirit. Indeed, Jesus mentions "rivers of living water" in reference to the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39).
Sadly, in the meantime, Israel is still given over to unfaithfulness and disobedience—failing even to call on the true God in time of trial. In listing the Israelites' problems, it is stated in Isaiah 43:27 that their "first father sinned." This might be a reference to Jacob, as his name is used in this passage (verses 22, 28). However, Jacob is an example of repentance and it therefore seems odd that he would be meant here. Perhaps the phrase denotes the father of all mankind, Adam, or even the reigning monarch or other national leader (compare 1 Samuel 24:11; 2 Chronicles 29:11). "Mediators" and "princes of the sanctuary" in verses 27-28 refer to the religious leaders. Until Israel repents, the entire nation is given over to punishment—indeed, "the curse," which they have brought on themselves (verse 28; compare Deuteronomy 27:11-26; Deuteronomy 28:15-68).
But Israel will yet be the model nation God intended it to be—a right example for the other nations to follow. In chapter 44, God again refers to Israel as "My servant" and "chosen" (verses 1-2)—and even "Jeshurun" (verse 2), a poetic name for Israel meaning "Upright One" (see Deuteronomy 32:15), symbolizing a cleansed and purified people. The people are brought back to God through His granting them repentance and then pouring out His Spirit on them (verse 3). Willow trees, in verse 4, need a great deal of water to be sustained. Just so, God will sustain His people spiritually through a great and steady supply of the Holy Spirit.
No longer will the name of Israel and worship of the Eternal be a reproach as it was in captivity. Indeed, the people will proudly bear the names of Israel and of God (verse 5).