Opening illustration: I’ll never forget my first experience using an automatic car wash. Approaching it with the dread of going to the dentist, I pushed the money into the slot, nervously checked and rechecked my windows, eased the car up to the line, and waited. Powers beyond my control began moving my car forward as if on a conveyor belt. There I was, cocooned inside, when a thunderous rush of water, soap, and brushes hit my car from all directions. What if I get stuck in here or water crashes in? I thought irrationally. Suddenly the waters ceased. After a blow-dry, my car was propelled into the outside world again, clean and polished.
In the midst of all this, I remembered stormy times in my life when it seemed I was on a conveyor belt, a victim of forces beyond my control. “Car-wash experiences,” I now call them. I remembered that whenever I passed through deep waters my Redeemer had been with me, sheltering me against the rising tide (Isaiah 43: 2). When I came out on the other side, which I always did, I was able to say with joy and confidence, “He is a faithful God!”
Let us turn to Isaiah 43 and catch up with God’s promise for His people and check it out to see how it applies to us today.
Introduction: God’s favor and good-will to his people speak abundant comfort to all believers. The new creature, wherever it is, is of God’s forming. All who are redeemed with the blood of his Son, he has set apart for himself. Those that have God for them need not fear who or what can be against them. What are Egypt and Ethiopia, all their lives and treasures, compared with the blood of Christ? True believers are precious in God’s sight; his delight is in them, above any people. Though they went as through fire and water, yet, while they had God with them, they need fear no evil; they should be born up, and brought out. The faithful are encouraged. They were to be assembled from every quarter. And with this pleasing object in view, the prophet again dissuades from anxious fears.
What are the promises for God’s people?
1. Redemptive protection (vs. 1 – 2)
The opening statement lays the foundation of the Word of promise by affirming that this is the nation that God had formed. The language is covenantal: You are mine. The epithets that the prophet uses for God refer to the historical act of the foundation of the nation at Sinai - but the terms are creational. The expression “he who created you” (bora’aka) uses the main word for creation (bara’), a term that means to fashion or refashion something into a new and perfect creation. It can have the idea of renewal or transformation. In the biblical texts only God is the subject of this verb. So the formation of the Israelites into a nation, the people of God, is being called a creation. Likewise, Paul uses creation terminology for our salvation in the New Testament. The second epithet is “he who formed you” (yotserka). This word (yatsar) means to form or fashion something by design, a plan, a blueprint (Genesis 2: 7). It is the word for an artist - the participle is the Hebrew word “potter.” So the expression says that God is the creator of the nation, and that His creation is by design.
The main reason for the call to cast away fear in this verse is the expression “for I have redeemed you.” This verb is a little different from other words in the Bible that we translate “redeem”; this is the kinsman redeemer or avenger, the one who makes things right - pays debts, avenges death, judges the enemy, rescues the poor and needy, or marries the widow. The key idea seems to be “protect” - the family and various other institutions. When the verb describes the LORD’s activity, it usually always means judging the nations to deliver the people from bondage; in New Covenant passages it is eschatological. I would take the verb here to be prophetic perfect (or at least a perfect of resolve), for this is what He was about to do. Finally, the idea of “called you by name” is a reference to both creation and election. God chose His people, and by calling them by name exercised His sovereignty over them (compare other “naming” passages). In fact, the idiom of naming in the Babylonian account of creation represents creating. So the point of the first verse is clear: Israel belongs to God because He formed them into a nation in the first place and now will deliver them from bondage to Himself.
God uses some bold figures to express divine protection. Water is used for invasions and exiles in the prophets (we saw it already in Isaiah 8 with the water flooding up to Jerusalem); and fire is used for purging persecutions that come upon the people. All the imagery here is implied comparison. God did not say that by being His chosen people, neither the Israelites, nor we would be given the privilege not to go through tough times. He says, ‘When you go through …’ The implication is that we will surely go through tough times (whether we like it or not), but in all that we will have the privilege of God’s protect no matter what we go through. This privilege is not available to all, except His people. Amen!
Illustration: Lorrie Anderson, missionary to the head-shrinking Candoshi Shapra Indians of Peru, was looking for a quiet place for her daily time of Bible reading and prayer, so she went down by the edge of the river. After reading the Bible, she took up her prayer list. Eyes closed, she did not see the deadly anaconda weaving through the water until it struck, burying its fangs into her flesh. It withdrew to strike, hitting her arm again and again as it held her, screaming, in its coils. It reared up for the death blows. Then suddenly the giant snake, never known to release its prey, relaxed its grip and slithered off through the water. While Lorrie was being treated, a witch doctor from a nearby village burst into the hut and stared at her. She couldn’t believe Lorrie had survived. She said her son-in-law, also a witch doctor, had chanted to the spirit of the anaconda that morning and sent it to kill the young missionary. "I’m certain," Lorrie said, "that except for the protection of God, it would have worked."
2. Ransoming the precious (vs. 3 – 4)
Here Isaiah spells out the promise of the rescue from captivity. Here the self-revelation of the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, adds the epithet “your savior” (mosi’eka [mo-she-eh-ka], from yasa’ [ya-sha]). The verb “to save” is a common one in the Old Testament. The name “Jesus” (Ye-shua) is, of course, drawn from this verbal root, as is the name “Isaiah” (Yeshayahu) itself (“Yah saves”). Most of the words for salvation are military terms; this one basically means “deliver, save.” It can refer to an answer to prayer, a healing, rescue, deliverance from trouble, death, or disease - as well as from sin and its punishment (although “saved from sin” is not a very common usage). In this passage it refers to a deliverance from bondage (Israel from Egypt and the Egyptians), and so is essentially political, although this deliverance includes the fact that sin was the reason for the exile. So it is a physical-spiritual deliverance.
The word for “your ransom” (kophreka) is from the verbal root kipper, which means “atone, expiate, pacify, set free. The noun means to set free through some means of expiation. In this context the term is applied a little differently (as are the terms for salvation and redemption): God will set His people free from bondage - at the expense of the oppressors. So their destruction will be the ransom price - the exchange given to set Israel free.
The deliverance is because Israel is precious (and honored) in God’s sight. They are highly valued because rare - the chosen people. And the main motive for the deliverance is “because I love you” (‘ahabtika, from ‘ahab). The term for love conveys the idea of choosing spontaneously (as opposed to the idea of “hating” which means among other things “reject” - Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated). Other words for love will stress the covenant loyalty that God has for His people; but this one indicates that He chose them and His love for them remains constant. Of course, this does not mean that He overlooks idolatry, and unbelief - the captivity was intended to purge those who were not truly in the covenant.
Illustration: During the Exodus, the Egyptians pursuing the Israelites died in the ‘Red Sea.’ During the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, the Arab states of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria also contributed troops and arms. At the war’s end, Israel had gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The results of the war affect the geopolitics of the region to this day.
3. Re-gathering the Godly (vs. 5 -7)
God repeats the caution “Do not fear.” The promise of divine presence (meaning God will intervene for protection and provision) is the basis for the comfort. In this, and in the next couple of verses, in a number of ways God says that He will re-gather His people from all over the world. Not all of the exiled people went to Babylon - they were scattered. But as the Creator, God will speak to the north, south, east, and west, and the world will give up His people. With Godly ministers that preach the everlasting Gospel, to make it effectual to the conversion of many everywhere, as well as to bear thee up under all trials, and to cause thee to stand against all opposition.
Here we discover that with the repetition of the creation theme that God’s purpose for Israel was “for my glory.” Likewise, in the New Testament do we read that Christ always did things that the Father might be glorified. We shall see later in the book, and in Ezekiel, that the re-gathering is not because Israel deserved it, but because God’s reputation (=name) was at stake. And He will not let the sins of the people rob Him of His name and steal His glory. At the risk of making it too simple, we could say that the verse means that God’s establishment of a covenant people has as its purpose that God might be seen throughout the world, for “glory” means an enhanced reputation for the LORD, honor to Him. Everything He does is for that purpose, for all glory given to Him will attract many more to the Kingdom. Likewise when we glorify the LORD, it is meant in part to draw people to His love.
Application: Are you in the middle of a car-wash experience? Trust God to bring you through to the other side. You’ll then be a shining testimony of His keeping power. — Joanie Yoder
Final note: A tunnel of testing can produce a shining testimony.