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Isaiah 43

Chapter Forty-three:

v. 1: “I have called you by name….”  In other words, as Barnes notes, God had singled them out and chosen them as his people.

v. 3: When the prophet writes that God gives these nations as a ransom for Israel, I believe he means to say they will be destroyed (or seriously hurt) so that Israel may be free.  I think this means that they will be conquered by Persia as it follows up its conquest of the city of Babylon.  This is also Oxford’s interpretation.

However, according to Barnes, this verse should literally read, “I gave Egypt as your ransom….”  Since the verb is in the past tense, he believes this passage refers directly to Israel’s past deliverance from Egypt[1] rather than directly to some actual future event having to do with the deliverance from Babylon.  Isaiah seems to treat tense very fluidly in some of these prophecies[2], so an argument based solely on tense is not very strong.

Nevertheless, there are two other points to consider before rejecting Barnes’ interpretation.  First is the fact that vs. 16-17 are definitely references to the deliverance from Egypt, so Isaiah must have had that story in mind as he was writing.  Second, if Seba is in north east Africa (with Egypt and Ethiopia) the reference would be fairly specific, geographically speaking, and more closely describe the former deliverance from Egypt rather than a future deliverance from Babylon.

In answer to the first point, I would concede that vs. 16-17 are direct references to the past deliverance from Egypt and that those verses indirectly reference the future deliverance from Babylon.  But I do not see why v. 3 could not be a direct reference to future deliverance from Babylon even if vs. 16-17 are not direct references to it.  As for the second point, I am not convinced that Seba is in north east Africa.  Barnes believes it was, but Oxford claims Seba is Arabia.  To support his view, Barnes cites Josephus (Ant. ii. 10. 2) and Genesis 10:7, which records that Seba was a descendant of Cush, the son of Ham.  Still, I do not see why this should be a convincing argument since Sheba was also a descendant of Cush and Ham.  Genesis describes Sheba and Dedan (both in Arabia) as the sons of Raamah (the brother of Seba) the son of Cush (Ethiopia) the son of Ham (Genesis 10:6-7).  Also, according to Barnes, the term Sabean could apply to a native of Sheba as well as to a native of Seba (Isaiah II, 156).

Therefore, I believe that when Isaiah says God gives Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba in exchange for Judah, he is saying God gives the Gentiles across the Babylonian empire to Persia as a ransom for Judah.  Saying “Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba” then, is like saying “from west” (Africa) “to east” (Arabia).  Compare this with chapter 42 where God says something similar using the “coastlands” (Phoenicia) and “the villages of Kedar (located in Arabia).  See also 45:14 note.

v. 8: I believe “the people who are blind yet have eyes” are the Jews.  The language sounds very much like that of 42:19-20 and 43:8 and Isaiah 6, all of which apply to the Jews.

v. 10: The Jews are the witnesses of God to the Gentiles and to themselves.  They can testify to his reality and his strength because he predicts that he will deliver them and then does so when they are weak and nothing else could account for their deliverance.

v. 12: The prophet refers back to the good old days of their flight and deliverance from Egypt, when they followed no god but God and “there was no strange god among you” to take credit for the deliverance.

v. 13: I wonder if this verse alludes to the first time God told Moses that his name is I AM.  “I am God, and also henceforth I am He;” I suppose this could be paraphrased as “I am God and always will be God.”  The German translates this part as “Ich bin, ehe denn ein Tag war,” which I believe is “I am, before a day was.”  That reminds me of Christ’s saying: “[B]efore Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

Vs. 16-18: These verses are undoubtedly references to the deliverance from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the drowning of Pharaoh’s warriors.

v. 17: By saying “[God] brings out chariot and horse” the prophet emphasizes God’s active role not only in the destruction of Pharaoh’s army, but in its presence at the Red Sea in the first place.  Isaiah says that God brought them out, not that they came out.  I do not know if this is a poetic way of saying that God lured them out (thus keeping their free will intact) or if God overruled their free will and brought them out like chess pieces.  At some point, he did, after all, harden Pharaoh’s heart.

v. 19: Since God’s argument in this chapter (and in chapters 42 and 41) is that he can predict the future, I would expect the future reference in these verses to be quite clear, and they are.[3] The new thing[4] is the deliverance from Babylon.  The old thing is the deliverance from Egypt.

v. 20: The wild animals honor God on this particular occasion because they enjoy, second-hand, the blessings of the rivers that God makes flow for his people in the desert.

v. 23: Sometimes Israel only honored the external rituals of God and neglected to honor him with their hearts, but here they do not even perform the rituals.

“I have not burdened you with offerings, or wearied you with frankincense.”  I suppose this means that God had not burdened them with excessive or expensive religious rituals.  They, however, have burdened him (v. 24) with their sins.

v. 27: The “first ancestor” of Israel must be either Israel (Jacob) himself, for whom the people are named, or Abraham.  I do not believe it is Adam because the person being referred to is the first ancestor of the Jews specifically.

The “interpreters” must be the religious leaders (priests, prophets).  According to Barnes, the Hebrew word here translated as “interpreters” is derived from the verb meaning “to stammer” or “to speak unintelligibly.”  This reminds me of 28:11.

v. 28: Since “princes of the Sanctuary” must refer to priests, and since the Sanctuary was in Jerusalem, God must be referring to Judah and Jerusalem here.  It is interesting to note that even this long after the split from the northern kingdom, the term “Israel” is still interchangeable with “Judah.”


[1] Thus, the reference does suggest Israel’s future deliverance from Babylon, but not overtly or directly.

[2] See also notes on 3:4 and 22:8.

[3] “For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars…” (43:14).  See also 44:28.

[4] See note on 42:10.

10 Responses to “Isaiah 43”

  1. […] [1] See also notes on 3:4 and 43:3. […]

  2. […] [1] See also notes on 3:4 and 43:3. […]

  3. […] the past tense, he believes this passage refers directly to Israel’s past deliverance from Egypt[1] rather than directly to some actual future event having to do with the deliverance from Babylon.  […]

  4. […] [5] See 43:19 notes. […]

  5. […] be read in conjunction with 43:3, where these countries are also treated as a group.  (See note there.)  I think the grouping in both chapters signifies the same thing.  It is idiomatic for “from […]

  6. […] [7] See also note on 43: 9, 16-18. […]

  7. […] the past tense, he believes this passage refers directly to Israel’s past deliverance from Egypt[1] rather than directly to some actual future event having to do with the deliverance from Babylon.  […]

  8. […] [5] See 43:19 notes. […]

  9. […] be read in conjunction with 43:3, where these countries are also treated as a group.  (See note there.)  I think the grouping in both chapters signifies the same thing.  It is idiomatic for “from […]

  10. […] [7] See also note on 43: 9, 16-18. […]

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