God Glorifies Himself by Working a New Salvation
Bring my sons from far away, and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who bears my name and is created for my glory. I have formed them; indeed, I have made them. (Isa 43:6-7)
Main Idea: God displays his glory by rescuing his chosen people through the fire and water of his judgments, a new salvation, which he predicted and which is greater than the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.
- God Is Glorified by Rescuing His Children through Fire and Water (43:1-7).
- God claims his children as his own (43:1).
- God promises protection for his children through the fire and water (43:2).
- God gives up the nonelect for the sake of his elect (43:3-4).
- God is glorified by calling his children from the ends of the earth (43:5-7).
- God’s People Are His Witnesses That There Is No Other God (43:8-15).
- God puts the “gods” on trial, again (43:8-9).
- God’s people are God’s witnesses: there is no other God (43:10-13).
- God will redeem Israel by destroying Babylon (43:14-15).
- God Works a New Salvation Greater Than the Old (43:16-21).
- Remember the past: God saved Israel at the Red Sea (43:16-17).
- Forget the past! This new salvation will be even greater (43:18).
- God will make a way in the desert and streams for his people (43:19-21).
- God’s People Weary Him with Their Sins (43:22-28).
- God’s people have not wearied themselves in serving God (43:22-23).
- God’s people have wearied God by their sins (43:24).
- God has covered his people’s many sins for his own sake (43:25-28).
God Is Glorified by Rescuing His Children through Fire and Water
These verses are some of the sweetest in the book of Isaiah to the suffering children of God in every generation. Isaiah looked ahead a century and a half to the condition of Judah in exile in Babylon and spoke first to them a message of God’s loving redemption from the water and fire of his judgments. But it is right for Christians in every generation to receive deep comfort from these words:
I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you. (v. 2)
The “water” and the “fire” often represent God’s wrath and judgment; it was by water that he destroyed Noah’s generation, and it will be by fire that he destroys the world at the end of the age (2 Pet 3:10,12). But because God has chosen us, because he has redeemed us by the blood of Christ, because he has called us by name, we are his. He has linked the fullest display of his glory to our final salvation. And in Scripture, water and fire not only picture total destruction under the wrath of God but also purification from sin (Num 31:23; Isa 4:4; Ezek 36:25). God’s people pass through the waters; the rivers will not drown them. God’s people pass through the fire; the flames will not consume them. Rather, this kind of “fiery ordeal” (1 Pet 4:12) is specially designed by God to purify them of their wickedness (1 Cor 3:12-15). So it was with the Jews in their exile to Babylon, and so it will be in every generation of God’s elect until they are totally purified from sin, eternally glorifying God in heaven.
The special electing love of God for his people is clearly on display in these verses, for God says powerfully, “I have called you by your name; you are mine”! It is not because we are any better than those not chosen, but simply because he loves us (v. 4). The Jews who went into exile were just as sinful as Gentile nations who died under the wrath of God. But God speaks from the framework of sovereign election when he says, “I have given Egypt as a ransom for you, Cush and Seba in your place,” and “I will give people in exchange for you and nations instead of your life” (vv. 3-4). God is willing to bring his righteous judgments down on Egypt, Cush, and Seba but to deal by sovereign grace with his elect, not treating them as their sins deserve. Only in heaven will God’s people understand the many ways the truth of these verses has unfolded as God has given up one person to arrest or slaughter so that his chosen people could escape. The ultimate fulfillment of this concept is in the doctrine of reprobation, explained by Paul in Romans 9:22-23. There Paul teaches that God created and sustains the reprobate so that the elect may know more fully the riches of his glory. He gives the reprobate in exchange for the elect eternally, that the elect may know how astonishing is his grace to them, for there is no intrinsic difference between them.
All of this should free God’s people from all fear in every generation. Twice in these verses, God says to us, “Do not fear.” He is working out his plan so that all who are called by his name may display his glory (v. 7). Thus the regathering spoken of in verses 5-7 cannot merely refer to the gathering of Judah from Babylon. The words soar beyond anything that happened under Cyrus the Great. Later in this chapter God will say that this redemption will be greater than what he achieved when he led Israel through the Red Sea and slaughtered Pharaoh’s army. The small band of 42,360 (Ezra 2:64) that returned to Palestine under Cyrus’s edict does not fulfill these verses. They came from the east (Babylon), not from all points of the compass. That regathering of the Jews to the promised land was a type, a shadow. The reality is found in Christ, specifically in the gathering of the elect from every nation by the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ. John said that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation and not for that nation only, “but also to unite the scattered children of God” (John 11:51-52). Therefore, Isaiah 43:5-7 displays the sovereign decree of almighty God to gather the elect from the ends of the earth under the call of the gospel, all who are called by his name, whom he created for his glory. And no fiery trial they undergo will destroy them, only purify them.
God’s People Are His Witnesses That There Is No Other God
Having established God’s eternal purpose to gather his elect by the call of the gospel, God makes plain his will that they should be his witnesses in every generation. God is once again putting the “gods” on trial to prove his supremacy over them. The “blind” and “deaf” of verse 8 may refer to God’s own people who will be gathered by his sovereign grace. All of the elect are called out of Satan’s darkness into the marvelous light of the kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13; 1 Pet 2:9). At one time, the exiles of Judah were idolaters, “blind” and “deaf” to the glory of God, exchanging his glory for that of images. Now God summons all nations to assemble together for the great trial of the universe. He will challenge the idols as he has already done (Isa 41:21-28). No idol foretold the future, no idol orchestrated history to make the prophecies come true. The peoples from all over the earth can testify to the prowess of their idols, but they are all vain and worthless. God calls on his elect people to be his witnesses in every generation, to say, “Our God is alive! He alone predicts the future, then makes it come to pass!” The three verbs in verse 12 make God’s achievement plain: “I alone declared, saved, and proclaimed.” That is, God predicted what he would do, then acted powerfully in history to make it happen, and then spread the news about his accomplishments.
The Lord makes plain that no “god” was formed before him nor has any been formed after him (v. 10). So the message of God’s solitary existence must be spread abroad over the surface of the earth to every nation and in every language. “You are my witnesses,” says the living God. What an incredible privilege God has entrusted to his people in every generation! God is the only Savior (v. 11), as he made plain in the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. He declares himself to be absolutely sovereign over all events of human history; when he acts, who is able to reverse it (v. 13)? So God will prove again when he causes the Babylonians to flee in the ships about which they had previously rejoiced (v. 14).
God Works a New Salvation Greater Than the Old
This section contains the interpretive key to the chapter. The Lord calls to their remembrance the mighty deliverance he worked over Egypt at the Red Sea (v. 17). But then God commands them to forget the former things (v. 18) as he unveils amazing news with the word “Look” (v. 19). He is going to work a far greater salvation in the future, something that will cause the exodus to shrink in memory. He will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, even causing the wild animals to honor him. He will give refreshing drink to his chosen people, whom he formed for himself to declare his praise (vv. 20-21).
Though this event could be understood as the journey of the Jews from Babylon back to the promised land, it seems difficult to fathom how a walk of forty thousand on a dusty road could be greater than what God did in bringing several million Israelites through the Red Sea. Therefore, the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem must be seen as a type or shadow of a far more glorious journey home—the salvation worked among all nations by Christ, bringing them to the Father (John 14:6). That awesome work of God will be so great that it will make the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt shrink in comparison.
The rivers flowing in the desert (vv. 19-20) speak of the gift of the Holy Spirit, as in Isaiah 44:3. The Spirit is often spoken of as if he were a liquid, “poured out” on God’s people (Isa 32:15; Ezek 39:29; Acts 2:33; John 7:38-39). So these verses predict the blessings of the new covenant. And they go beyond present spiritual salvation to speak of the redemption of nature as well because the desert and the wild creatures are included in the celebration (Rom 8:19-23).
God’s People Weary Him with Their Sins
The chapter ends with a snap back to reality. In Isaiah’s day the wicked idolatry that would result in the exile to Babylon had yet to take place. And even if one takes verses 22-28 to be God’s message to the exiled Jews right before their restoration, their grievous neglect of godly duties convicts us all. God’s commands are not a burden (1 John 5:3) in any case. But Judah had not called on God in prayer because they had become weary of God. They had not wearied themselves in their religious services to God, but rather they had wearied him with their sins (v. 24). “Aromatic cane with silver” represents costly sacrifice, and while God had not required that of them, they should have been cheerfully willing to give far more. But so often, instead of laying it all on the line for Christ, we are lazy and hold back and actually weary God with our sins, grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).
Because of these sins, God would soon be judging Judah and Jerusalem (v. 28). Sin had been woven through the tapestry of every generation of Israel’s history, and this holy God would soon be handing the sanctuary and Jacob over to total destruction. But we know that God’s final word for his chosen people is not judgment but grace. So God reminds them that he is the one who sweeps our transgressions away and remembers our sins no more (v. 25). God will do all this “for [his] own sake,” that is, “for the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6). We were created for his glory (Isa 43:7), and so we will be redeemed for his glory.
The wisest way for twenty-first-century Christians to begin to apply this marvelous chapter is to take the advice given in verse 18: “Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old.” This doesn’t mean to disregard past successes in redemptive history entirely. But some commentators on Isaiah 43 focus exclusively on the author’s original intent (the author being Isaiah) and speak only about the restoration of the Jews after the exile. Yet the chapter points to a far greater achievement, that worked by Jesus Christ at the cross and by the Holy Spirit in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. Therefore, while we Christians should respect the historical setting for this chapter, within it we see clues that God meant to speak a word of great encouragement to every generation of his chosen people.
So, we should begin by personally treasuring the words God speaks to his chosen people in verses 1-7. We should hold up each phrase like a rare gemstone and press it to our hearts in delight. We should bask in the electing love of God, that God has both created us and redeemed us for his glory. We should feel the intense power of God’s cry, “I have called you by your name; you are mine!” We should heed his command not to fear the fire or the water, realizing that God does not mean to condemn us by them but rather to purify us. We should memorize verse 2 for the next “fiery ordeal” (1 Pet 4:12) God chooses to bring us through and say those words to our souls when the fire of the ordeal seems to burn our earthly hopes to ashes. Perhaps we have heard the worst possible result from the cancer test; perhaps the same has happened to our spouse; perhaps we must attend the funeral for our toddler this afternoon, and our hearts are screaming to a sullen sky for some reason why; perhaps we have been unemployed for months, and no prospects are on the horizon; perhaps we are elderly, in an assisted living center, and no one ever seems to call. Whatever the fire or water through which we are passing, we should cling to the faith Isaiah 43 was written to give us.
We must also embrace the challenge in the chapter to be God’s witnesses in an idol-saturated world. We should prove to the idolaters that only the God of the Bible has “declared, saved, and proclaimed” (v. 12). We should learn to marshal the evidence of fulfilled prophecies to prove that God alone is powerful over human history. There are no fulfilled prophecies in any other world religion.
Finally, we should humbly realize that nothing within us compelled God to choose us; it was merely because he loved us that we are precious in his sight (v. 4). We should realize that God does all of this mighty work on our behalf for his own sake, for his own glory. We were created for his glory (v. 7) and redeemed to praise his glory (v. 21).
Reflect and Discuss
- How does this chapter display the greatness and majesty of God?
- How does it display the electing love of God for his people?
- How can we use the words of this chapter for hope and encouragement when we are going through the fire or the water of severe trials?
- What is the significance of God saying, “I have called you by your name; you are mine” (v. 1)?
- How do you understand verses 3-4? How do they relate to Romans 9:22-23?
- Isaiah 43:7 is the only verse in the Bible that clearly declares that God created us for his glory. What is the significance of that concept? How can we live that out?
- How does this chapter (especially in vv. 8-15) teach us to be witnesses for God in this present idolatrous age?
- Why does God command us to forget the former things in verse 18? What saving work of God is greater than the Red Sea crossing?
- How do verses 19-20 point to the work of the Holy Spirit? How does that help us to understand verse 21?
- How do verses 22-28 convict you of sin? How does verse 25 encourage you about God’s grace?