One Great Purpose

| Isaiah 43:1-7

The Point:  We were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Created for God’s Glory:  Isaiah 43:1-7.

[1]  But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. [2]  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. [3]  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. [4]  Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. [5]  Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. [6]  I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, [7]  everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."  [ESV]

“With marvelous dramatic sense we are moved from considering the people under the fire of the Lord’s anger [42:25], and justly so, to the Lord promising that the fire will not burn them [43:2]. The Lord and His People [1].  The contrast here is not between present and past: But now introduces a divine comment on what has just preceded. Within the Lord’s covenant with His people there is wrath as well as grace, the curses of the covenant as well as its blessings, but above all there is the faithful Lord who will never go back on what He promised. Though Isaiah does not use the word ‘covenant’ here, he is moving in its theological ambit when he refuses to allow the fire of wrath to have the last word. Even in His punishments the Lord remains with His people. The biblical use of created points to such an act as must be ascribed to God, proceeding from His free determination that it should be so. In creation itself, the Lord originates, maintains, controls, directs; His relationship to His people is the same. Formed is more intimate [Gen. 2:7], indicating painstaking care whereby every circumstance of life is weighed and measured to give exactly the right pressure of the potter’s hand so that the finished vessel will match his specifications. More intimate still is redeemed, the Lord’s deliberate acceptance of all the rights of the next-of-kin, making the needs of His helpless ‘relative’ His own. Finally, in a crowning intimacy, there is naming; called you by name is a direct personal relationship involving having a specific plan and place for the one named. Hence the triumphant shout you are mine. The First Journey [2].  Many commentators urge that verse 2 describes the journey home from exile, but this is by no means obvious. First, the terms of extreme hardship suggest rigors and dangers imposed on captives enduring deportation. Fire is a more likely symbol of divine and enemy hostility than an experience chanced upon by those whose troubles are in the past. Secondly, when Isaiah speaks of the homeward road he does so in terms of transformed nature, ministering to the needs of the travelers [43:14,19-21; 48:20-21]. The sequence from 42:18-25 is far better served by understanding that the justified divine wrath of verse 25 issues in the consigning of the people to the hard road of the captive, but even when under His wrath they can still lean on those changeless realities which make them His protected, cherished people. Within each category of trial the movement is from general to specific (from waters to rivers, from fire to flame). The contrast between water and fire is an idiom of totality: trials of whatever sort and however they come. In all there is the Lord’s presence (I will be with you) and the Lord’s control, a divine ‘thus far and no further’, waters without drowning, fire without burning up. The Past [3]. The promises of verse 2 are founded in who the Lord is and what He has already done for His people [3]. The Lord your God is the exodus title [Ex. 20:2], and it prepares for the reference to Egypt and is the foundation name and title of Israel’s God [Ex. 3:15]. Your God is not ‘the God you have chosen’ but ‘the God who has chosen you’ [43:10]. The Holy One of Israel is Isaiah’s special title for the Lord, combining the full reality of divine holiness with the equal reality of His relationship to Israel. In context it is full of comfort, for though holiness has blazed into wrath the relationship remains. If His holiness and their sinfulness did not militate against forming the relationship then it cannot militate against its continuance. The root idea of deliverance behind Savior points up the message of comfort. We should allow the titles of the Lord in the first half of the verse to reach their natural target in the exodus wherein it was at the expense of Egypt that Israel was chosen and liberated. Ransom is the price to be paid. Cush and Seba refer to the extreme south of Egypt and lands lying further south and are a poetical elaboration of the picture. In exchange for you carries the sense of exact equivalence. The Future [4]Because indicates as a result of what was said before; it ties together verses 3 and 4. Precious … honored … love are all perfect tenses signifying here the past which continues into the present: ‘have been and still are’. They speak of the value the Lord sees in His people (precious), the dignity (honored) He has conferred in calling them His, and the love which undergirds all. This love is part of the unchanging nature of God and thus guarantees the continuing relationship come what may. The second half of verse 4 connects with the second half of verse 3 by the use of I give. Verse 4 expands the exchange that God makes on the behalf of Israel from Egypt [3] to men … peoples [4]. Isaiah now tells us that God’s choice to love Israel means that He rejects all other nations. The Second Journey [5-6].  The pledge to give men [4] is now given a context: the Lord’s people scattered world-wide. Just as once the choice was between the captor, Egypt and the threatened Israel, so if the world were to turn captor, Israel would still be chosen, for such is the Lord’s love for His people. Isaiah is therefore looking far beyond any threat that Babylon might impose. Isaiah rarely, if ever, comes to grips with history without launching out into those visions which for him are the final solution to the historical predicaments of God’s people. So it is here. He is about to mention Babylon [14] but in case his hearers should cherish wrong views about that deliverance he draws the curtain further back to expose a world-wide regathering. I will bring your offspringI will gather you indicates the continuity of the people of the eschatological day with those to whom Isaiah spoke. My sons … my daughters indicates the continuing relationship with the Lord, grounded in redemption. The Lord and His People [7]. The poem comes full circle. Just as their special relationship offers security in impending trouble [1-4], so it now affirms the certainty of future hopes [4-7]. Everyone concludes the series of descriptions of those whom the Lord will gather: your offspring [5] is their membership of the Lord’s people; my sons [6], their position as redeemed; everyone, the individuality of divine choice of those upon whom He will set His name. Name … created … formed refer back to verse 1. Made is part of the vocabulary of creation. In Genesis 1 it is used of the work of the Creator giving perfect expression to His creative designs, bringing the acts of creation to their intended concrete expression. So it is also used of the Lord’s providential dealings with Israel, His ongoing implementation of His original creative choice of them.”  [Motyer, pp. 330-333].

The Precious People. The previous chapter ended with the Lord’s chastisement of Israel and with their continuing obduracy even under such an experience of His wrath. The logic of retributive justice leads us to expect that there will follow an announcement of eternal condemnation, but it is the logic of divine grace which controls the prophet’s proclamation. The Lord has committed Himself to His people and, even though He disciplines them, His punishment is designed to be restorative. He is still concerned about them and promises them the protection of His presence [1-3a]. He reminds them of the deliverance He has extended to them in the past [3b-4], and urges them to cast off fear by relying on Him alone as He gathers them to Himself [5-7].  [1]  But now indicates a logical rather than a temporal transition. Jacob and Israel, the two terms for the nation as a historical entity – the first reminiscent of their origin and the second of their divinely given status – are used to refocus their thinking on the Lord and on the covenant relationship He has with them. Created you does not refer here to the original creation of the world, but to the free, constitutive act of the Lord by which He took the Israelites out of Egypt and made them into a nation. Formed you also applies the language of creation to their national origin. This word refers to a craftsman, particularly a potter, and pictures the care and skill that He employs regarding every aspect of what He produces. Behind the ongoing experience of the people is the reality of divine control and constancy. Therefore they should banish despondency and fear not. Already in their national history there had been the reality of the Lord’s action: I have redeemed you. This was not merely rescue from danger, but deliverance because of an acknowledged personal relationship. The ongoing bond meant that past divine action constituted a pledge on which anticipation of future saving intervention could be soundly based. Furthermore, the Lord testifies, I have called you by name. Abram [Gen. 17:5] and Jacob [Gen. 32:28] had been sovereignly renamed by the Lord when He had claimed them as His own. The covenant status which the divine Overlord had accorded their forefathers formed the basis for His continuing claim over their descendants: you are mine. As His possession He had given them their special role and destiny; they could therefore be certain that He would not abandon them. [2]  Though many commentators find here a reference to the difficulties to be encountered during a return from Babylon, the expressions are in fact quite general. Waters and fire represent extremes of danger. The redeemed people are not promised exemption from times of difficulty and trial but, whenever and in whatever form these arise, the Lord assures His own that He will be present with them, setting a divine limit to what they have to endure and enabling them to persevere. [3]  For anchors the promises of 43:2 in the reality of what the Lord, as the covenant God, has shown Himself to be – namely the Lord your God, addressing the nation as one entity in terms drawn from the exodus narrative [Ex. 20:2], the Holy One of Israel, who combines transcendent purity with a relationship to Israel, and also your Savior, who provides deliverance for those unable to help themselves. The evidence to substantiate these claims is to be found in the Exodus, when severe penalties were imposed on Egypt as the ransom price which had to be paid to effect the deliverance of Israel. No matter how great a nation is, if it stands in the way of the Lord’s purposes for His people, it will inevitably be swept aside. The reference in this verse is to the previous action of the Lord (I give) in which His overwhelming commitment to His people led Him to substitute others in exchange for you. [4]  Although the syntax of the verse is not totally certain, it is probable that precious, honored and love express three closely linked past actions of the Lord which establish a divine-human attachment with ongoing consequences. In His estimation they have a unique status because He had set them apart from other peoples. Consequently they were given a position of honor, but only because of the attitude that the Lord Himself had towards them: I love you. The verb love is used twenty-three times in the Old Testament of God’s forceful and sublime commitment to the covenant community or to specific individuals He has called to be His own. Electing love does not permit of any explanation, certainly not the existence of any notable or attractive quality in those loved; rather, it simply exists because of what God is. That irreversible bond, grounded in the divine being, translates into future action modelled on what He has already accomplished for His own. Instead of attempting to identify a specific fulfilment of this prophecy, it seems better to take the verb as a potential usage (“I would give”, and not “I will give”) expressing how far the Lord is prepared to go to promote the well-being of His people, even setting aside men (mankind in general) and peoples so as to ransom those whom He has chosen. [5]  The Lord’s speech continues with the injunction, Fear not, repeated from 43:1 for emphasis. His presence with Israel will secure their welfare and after the mention of humanity in general at the end of 43:4 the vision broadens out to include a worldwide picture of God’s people. The representation is given from a Palestinian viewpoint. In the first instance those who had been scattered from their land as a consequence of their spiritual estrangement from the Lord will be restored from wherever enemy deportations had taken them, or wherever they had fled for safety. The prophecy of the gathered exiles goes beyond any restoration that took place in the time of Cyrus or in subsequent centuries to embrace God’s final solution when He assembles all His people from throughout the world (from the east, and from the west I will gather you). [6-7]  Two more points of the compass are named to emphasize the inclusive nature of Isaiah’s vision. They also distinguish what is in view from any historic event of Old Testament times. Sons and daughters use corresponding masculine and feminine terms to express the totality of what will occur. The sonship of Israel proceeded from divine election, and they also belonged to the Lord because He had brought them into existence as a nation. Consequently He cares for them as a father does. This passage and Paul’s reference to it in 2 Corinthians 6:18 are the only places in Scripture where God uses the term my daughters. Called by my name shows that they participate in this gathering because of membership of the covenant community. While Give up and Do not withhold may hint at a measure of reluctance on the part of others, bring (literally, cause to come) points to a divine removal of obstacles that may be in the way. It is not just the group that is to be assisted in their passage, but everyone, each specific individual who shares in the new life given by the Lord. Created and formed, as well as made, are part of the vocabulary of Genesis 1 and speak of divine sovereignty, effectively and transformingly active. For my glory points to the restored people being the evidence of the Lord’s power and loving commitment, and their reclamation will lead to universal acclaim of the Lord’s sovereignty and greatness. Reflection.  The Lord’s comfort for His people is grounded in His personal interest in them and the assurance of His sustaining presence with them. This commitment is continued and intensified in Christ’s assurance to His church. The value the Lord sets on His elect can be inferred from the price that He is prepared to pay to effect their deliverance – a price which went beyond the overthrow of nations and was eventually nothing less than the death of His own Son. When faith keeps hold of the reality of the committed love of God, fear of being left unprovided for is banished. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? [Rom. 8:32]. That hope extends to the universal ingathering of the people of God from every point of the compass into His eternal kingdom [cf. Luke 13:29].”  [Mackay, pp. 109-115]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What do verses 1, 3 and 7 tell us concerning who God is and what He has done? What do the four verbs in verse 1 tell us about God’s work on behalf of His people? What do the three descriptions of God in verse 3 tell us about who He is? How should the fact that God formed and made you for His glory and calls you by His name impact the way you think and live?

2.         What does verse 4 tell us concerning the reason for God’s redeeming work? Meditate on these three statements in verse 4. What does it mean to you that you are precious in God’s eyes, honored by Him and loved my Him?

3.         Twice God commands His people to Fear not [3,5] and twice He gives His people the promise I am with you [3,5]. In the context of these verses this command and promise is given to a disobedient people. Why does a Holy God give a command to Fear not to a people who should be fearful of God’s punishment? How can a Holy God promise to be with His people when they are disobedient to Him? What strength and encouragement can you draw from this command and this promise?

 

References:

Commentary on Isaiah, Joseph Alexander, Kregel.

Isaiah, vol. 2, John Mackay, Evangelical Press.

The Prophecy of Isaiah, J. Alec Motyer, Inter Varsity.