Isaiah 43:16-21

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     Isaiah 43:16-21
Background to the Book of Isaiah 40 - 55

Historical Situation:xxxIn 598 BCE, 587 BCE, 582 BCE (Jeremiah 52:28-30), the Babylonians deported significant numbers of Israelites to Babylon, especially the leaders and highly educated people. It appears that the Babylonians allowed the exiles to own land (Jeremiah 29:5) and gave them much freedom. They could continue to worship (Ezekiel 8:1, 14:1,3, 20:1,29, Jeremiah 29:1), to participate in trade (Marashu business texts), to remain in tribal groups with their leaders (Jeremiah 29:5-7) and to serve on royal projects and in the military forces. The evidence of the Jeremiah, Deutero-Isaiah, Ezekiel and Priestly material shows that writing continued in the exile. An awareness of both the written and oral traditions of the past is seen in these books. While some writings (Deutero-Isaiah, Jeremiah, Deuteronomic History) probably received their final form in exile, other writings (Priestly, Psalms, Ezekiel) did not achieve their final form until much later. The people were aware of the Torah requirements (see Leviticus 26:14-45, an exilic sermon) and Ezekiel drew upon the laws in the Holiness Code in Leviticus 17-25. The later writings confirmed that the people in Babylon knew the requirements of the law (Ezra 7:11-20: Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law, the one sent by the God of heaven to Jerusalem with treasures for the temple and a commission to undertake teaching of the law and moral reform). We assume that if Ezra was going to Jerusalem as a teacher of the law he would also have been teaching the law to those in Babylon.

In summary, the exilic community appears to have been well organised, able to enjoy the benefits of Babylonian life and free to maintain its own religious life and worship. Although the people were not able to worship at the temple and offer sacrifices, they learnt about their past traditions (Isaiah 40-55) and the requirements of the law (Deuteronomic History, Ezekiel, Leviticus).

PURPOSE of Isaiah 40 - 55:xxxThese chapters in the scroll of Isaiah appear to address a situation later in the exile (circa 540 BCE) when the prophet proclaims that God wants them to return to Jerusalem. Most of the older generation would have died, those who remained would have heard the stories of Jerusalem, but this generation would be very comfortable, settled, well off, living in a fertile and cultured country. They were safe, had freedom and many obtained wealth.

The question is how do you get a group of people to move who are comfortable, settled, whose children are born in this new country, to move back to a wreck of a city taken over by people from the surrounding countries, Edom, Moab ,Transjordan etc. You want to transport them back to a rocky and barren landscape, where there was no immediate opportunities for making a living. We have the experience of Kosovar refugees who were only in Australia a few months not 40 plus years and some of them had no desire to return to probable hardship and possible death. I have no desire to return to a ‘but and ben' in the Highlands of Scotland on a permanent basis. A holiday is wonderful.

This is the task of the writer of Isaiah 40-55 - to convince the people to return to Jerusalem and build the temple and city again. The experience of the exile has made them realise that they have to rely on the grace of God alone and that it is only by God's loving kindness they can know forgiveness.

Literary Comments: xxxIsaiah 40-55 begins with a prologue in Isaiah 40-11 which sets out the message of the following sixteen chapters. The first verse declares that the people of Israel are forgiven and she has suffered enough for all her rebellion and unfaithfulness. Now God will lead them back to Jerusalem. The poetry is quite different to that used in Isaiah 1-39 and is regarded as some of the most beautiful in the Old Testament. Isaiah 40-55 proclaims God as creator and develops the explanation God as creator of the world first stated in Genesis 1. Not only is Yahweh creator of the world, but also redeemer of people within history. It is Isaiah 40-55 who has a fully monotheistic presentation of God. Up to this point there has been an acknowledgement and acceptance of other gods by the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures. These can be seen in many of the psalms we read.

The comments I have made about poetry, prophetic oracles and God speaking are applicable here.

Context of Isaiah 43:16-21

In Isaiah 42 the prophet declares that God's servant will bring justice and freedom to people. It reads as though the servant could be the prophet, Isaiah 40-55. In other places in Isaiah 40-55 the servant is Israel and the move from an individual person to corporate Israel occurs quite often in Hebrew writings. The chapter continues with vivid descriptions of what God will do and an acknowledgement that he was instrumental in their exile to Babylon.

Isaiah 43:1-7 is quite a contrast to the previous verses (42:18-25) in which God has berated them for their blindness, But now ... (43:1) we are given a picture of divine providence and overwhelming care of God for his people (Hanson:59). Verses 1a and 7 act as a frame around 2-6 in which God is proclaimed as creator of the human race. Verses 2b and 5-6 emphasise the assurance that they are to, Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name ... The verses continue with further actions of God, which explain why they do not have to fear.

The imagery of passing through the waters, the mention of Egypt, the first line of the Sinai covenant, their "chosenness", all recall to the people to the Exodus event by which God first brought them salvation and freedom. They are being asked to undergo a second exodus event, but this time it will be from prosperity to hardship.

Isaiah 43:8-15 begins with a call for witnesses to demonstrate that there are no other gods before or after Yahweh. This is a disavowal of previous theology which spoke of Yahweh as one god among many. There is no other saviour beside the Lord. All these profound statements which set forth God as all being and proclaims his power are prior to the words which state that he will make a way in the wilderness (v.19). A way which will lead the exiles back to Jerusalem. The offer of forgiveness followed by a description of God's great acts are all part of the plan to get the people in exile to return to Jerusalem and build up the ruined city and temple.

The chapter finishes with another proclamation of God's forgiveness and the assurance that God will not remember their sins because Israel and Judah have suffered already because of their sins. The book continues with another servant song in Isaiah 44 and further assurances of God's guidance and faithfulness.

Insights/Message of Isaiah 43:16-21

Literary Insights:xxxIsaiah 43 is made up of four co-ordinated units: 1-7, 8-15, 16-21 and 22-28 (Seitz:374). Some scholars join the short oracle in vv.14-15 either to the previous section 8-13 (Seitz: 374) or to the following section 16-21 (Oswalt: 150). It does appear to go with vv.15-21 when it states that Babylon will be destroyed (vv.15) before the declaration in which God will make safe the ways for the return journey (vv.16-21).

The long introduction of God by use of participial clauses describes God by his actions: Creator, King and Redeemer. In doing this author is establishing context and credibility for the following commands (Oswalt: 154). The last two words of v.20 are developed in v.21 to link God's saving actions in Egypt back to creation followed by the purpose of their existence (v.21b).

The images recalled in 16-17 are those of the first Exodus when the Egyptians were caught in the waters of the Red Sea. V.18 is pivotal in this section vv.16-21, when it declares not to remember that Exodus, but the new one with its promises of a safe journey. There will be no need for wondrous miracles of water, but rivers from which to drink. Unlike the first exodus which brought forth much murmuring of dissatisfaction, this new exodus will bring forth praise (v.21). The wilderness way together with God's guidance are further developed from the prologue in Isaiah 40:1-11.

Message / Theology: xxxIn the message section of Lent 4 I raised the issue of some consistent theme which appeared to reflect the movement from the old to the new. In many instances this was sealed by some ritual which has become important in the life of Judah. Just as a reminder I'll repeat a little of what I said about the stories from the Old Testament each having ritual or symbolism depicting a movement from the old to the new. Deuteronomy (Lent 1) was the new start in the land together with the instructions to give thanks using the ritual of the first Fruits. Lent 2 was the story of Abraham and the repeated promise of descendants which was sealed with the covenant ritual. Isaiah 55 (Lent 3) was a call to come and take of food which was not available to be bought. It was a call to return to the Lord which was based on pure grace. Lent 4 was the story of the Passover at the point Joshua had crossed the Jordon into the land of Canaan. Passover marked the break from Egypt and the Feast of Unleavened Bread marked the thanksgiving of the barley harvest as a settled people. Now we have the new exodus made safe by God's action.

In the time of Lent one of colleagues suggested that it was consistent with the time to reflect on leaving behind old habits and ideas and allowing God to give us a new start in what ever is happening in our lives whether it is emotional, spiritual or physical.

Isaiah 40-55 is the climax for the proclamation of God as the one and only God (Monotheism). Up until this time the Old Testament had proclaimed Yahweh as their God as well recognising the existence of other gods, called Monolatry (Exodus 20:3-4, Deuteronomy 12:2, Josh 24:14-15, et al). Along side this developed theology is the Consistent declaration of God as creator of the world. Isaiah 43:20 is a further example of this when wild beasts, jackals and ostriches will honour God. The language in v.21, "I formed", underpins the declaration of God as Creator. This symbolism is seen more readily in the Northern Hemisphere where spring demonstrates in very poignant ways the new life that comes from the earth. New spring growth on trees especially is the welcome sign of warmth and new life in every sphere of nature.

Isa 43 is a tremendous call to trust in God in all of life's journeys and new decisions. Indeed, some decisions are like the Isrealites needing to leave the comfort and familiar to work or be in very different situations to that which we are used to. This text is one which I have held onto in especially difficult times.

Resources/Worship for Isaiah 43:16-21

Worship:xxxThe only comment I would like to make is to put the reading in context especially noting the role of vv.14-15.

Psalm 126 is a psalm of praise which was used as the pilgrims went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the special occasions. Since Isaiah 43:21 ends with the command to declare God's praise it would be appropriate to use it straight after the Old Testament Reading or after the sermon as a response if that was helpful.


The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book of Isaiah.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Baltzer, Klaus. Deutero-Isaiah: A Commentary on Isaiah 40-55. Herm. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2001.
Brueggemann, Walter. Isaiah 40-66. Westminster BC. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, c1998.
Childs, Brevard S. Isaiah. OTL. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Hanson, Paul D. Isaiah 40-66. Int. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox, 1995.
Muilenburg, James, and Henry Sloan Coffin. "The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66." In The Interpreter's Bible. 5:381-773. New York: Abingdon Press, 1956.
Oswalt, John. The Book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich. W. B. Eerdmans, 1998.
Scullion, John J. Isaiah 40-66. OTM. Wilmington, Del. Michael Glazier, 1982.
Seotz, Christopher. "The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66." In The Interpreter's Bible. 6:307-552: Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Thompson, Michael. Isaiah Chapters 40-66. Epworth Commentaries. Peterborough: Epworth Press, 2001.
Watts, John. Isaiah 34-66. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Book, 1987.
Westermann, Claus. Isaiah 40-66: A Commentary. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1966.b
Whybray, R. N. Isaiah 40-66. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott; Grand Rapids, Mich. W. B. Eerdmans, 1981, c1975.

Whybray, R. N. The Second Isaiah, OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1983.
Young, E. J. The Book of Isaiah: The English Text, with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. NICOT. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1972.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: