In this accessible chapter, God straightforwardly tells Israel who He is, that He will save them, and also describes how they have failed to honor Him.
The admonition in the first verse of chapter 43 builds on assurances that God gave Israel in chapter 41. In verse 10 of chapter 41, God says, “Fear not, for I am with you.” In verse 13 of the same chapter, He says, “Fear not, I will help you.” Here in chapter 43:10, God matures the idea to “Fear not, for I have redeemed you.” God also proclaims His love for the people by saying, “I have called you by your name; you are mine.”
Verse two, in addition to having assurances of protection to God’s people, also incorporates dangers that God has protected His people from in the past: water and fire. The Israelites passed through the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians in Exodus 14 and the Jordan River in Joshua 3. God also saves Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego from an extremely hot furnace in Daniel 3. At this point, these dangers can also be interpreted figuratively as the consequences of sin.
In verses 3-7, God tells the Israelites that He is their God and that they are precious to Him. God forsakes other nations for Israel and also will add to Israel from the east, west, north and south. Bringing all of His people back together reminds us of Deuteronomy 30:1-6.
In Deuteronomy 30:1-6, God’s revelation of the Old Law had just been made to the people through Moses and He renewed the covenant with them in chapter 29. Reading this passage from Deuteronomy, we can see how God is remembering and reiterating His promise to them in Isaiah 43. Deuteronomy 30:1-6:
“Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the LORD your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. Then the LORD your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”
The interesting part about linking verses 3-7 of Isaiah 43 with Deuteronomy 30:1-6 is the mention that God would circumcise hearts. Because one of the ways that God will bring Israel back and ultimately all mankind to Him is by healing man’s sinful nature by forgiving sin.
Many of us know that in the Old Testament, God’s people were different from others in that their males were circumcised. Well, ultimately when Christ came, such provisions of the old law were done away with and the new law Incorporated spiritual components over physical. This reference, “God will circumcise your heart,” is a precursor to spiritual motifs in the New Testament where obeying God in spirit is stressed over obeying God with physical actions. Take this passage from II Corinthians, which explains it well:
“clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” II Corinthians 3:3-6
God is communicating to His people in Isaiah (and to us as readers in the present day) that He has a plan to make all of His people return to Him, and the it will be done in a new way.
In these verses, God establishes that it is His way to salvation: it is His message and His alone to reveal. The many repeated reminders that He is God suggest to us that the people (and us!) need to be reminded that God alone is over all. God is Creator and King. He is the only one that is able to save us and He will choose the time and method to do so. For us, the time has passed; the method is Jesus Christ: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”” John 14:6
Through Isaiah, God has mentioned a way, a path, a highway and it has typically been in reference to two separate but related ideas:
1. God will save the faithful remnant of Israel by providing them a way of escape to safety from their enemies. This will preserve the lineage of the Savior Jesus.
2. God will save mankind from their sins through Jesus Christ.
This passage can be interpreted using these same two ideas. God will save the Israelites, and the “new thing” in verse 19 is salvation through Christ, through whom all can be saved. A “road in the wilderness” and “rivers in the desert” are ideas that suggest new and unexpected passages in previously difficult terrain. This description works perfectly because Christ is an unexpected escape from the previously inescapable inevitability of sin.
What of the mention of jackals and ostriches in verse 20? We know that an ostrich is specifically mentioned as unclean (Leviticus 11:16) and that a jackal is an animal that was unclean as well and was derided in the Word of God (Job 30:29). If these animals are not desirable animals, why is God saying that they will honor Him?
Well, we know from other passages that, along with the people, animals suffered as the result of God’s punishment to the people as well:
“And the wild donkeys stood in the desolate heights; They sniffed at the wind like jackals; Their eyes failed because there was no grass.”” Jeremiah 14:6
“Therefore the land will mourn; And everyone who dwells there will waste away With the beasts of the field And the birds of the air; Even the fish of the sea will be taken away.” Hosea 4:3
“How the animals groan! The herds of cattle are restless, Because they have no pasture; Even the flocks of sheep suffer punishment.” Joel 1:18
But here in verse 20, God tells us that even the unclean animals will be blessed and rejoice. The unclean animals represent the gentiles, that is, all of the other people that were not Israelites. Although God saw them as unclean and unworthy to know Him during the Old Covenant, they would have access to God through Jesus. This is why even “the beast of the field” will honor God.
Here at the end of the chapter however, God comes back to lament the fact that Israel has not honored Him despite all He has done for them. God reveals that He could have required more of them but He did not. Even still, Israel has grown tired of Him. God points out as counterpoint that He has grown tired of Israel because of their sin.
By way of conclusion, God says He blots out sins for His sake and that they (and we!) should remember Him because of this. But the great fear of retribution for sin still exists: “Your first father sinned, And your mediators have transgressed against Me. Therefore I will profane the princes of the sanctuary; I will give Jacob to the curse, And Israel to reproaches.” Isaiah 43:28
God’s offer of salvation is free for all, but if we do not take it, we will be lost in our sins for eternity.