Isaiah 42:18-43:28 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. Who is the servant spoken of in Isaiah 42:18-19 (printed below) Note Isaiah 41:8 (also printed below) What does the Lord say about this servant?

Hear, you deaf! Look, you blind, and see! (19) Who other than my servant is blind? And who is as deaf as the messenger I send? Who is as blind as the one who is in fellowship with me? And who is as blind as Jehovah’s servant? (Isaiah 42:18-19)

You, Israel, my servant, Jacob—the one whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham my friend (Isaiah 41:8)

Who is the Lord’s servant in this passage? It is God’s own people, Israel (note Isaiah 41:8). Speaking to His servant, the Lord summons the deaf to hear and the blind to look so that they may see (verse 18). The command seems to indicate that there is here a willful spiritual deafness and blindness; the command is to pay attention and become spiritually alert. The questions posed in verse 19 serve to indicate the incomparable blindness and deafness of the Lord’s servant. The point is that Israel, uniquely called to be the Lord’s servant, was spiritually blind to his responsibility and obligation to serve the Lord.

2. What has happened to the Lord’s unfaithful servant? See Isaiah 42:22-25 (printed below)

But this is a people who have been robbed and plundered—all of them are trapped in caves or hidden away in prisons. They have become a prey, and there is none to rescue them. They have become a spoil, and there is no one to demand, Give them back! (23) Who among you will pay attention to this? Who will listen and give heed for the time to come? (24) Who handed Jacob over to be a spoil, and who gave Israel over to the robbers? Was it not Jehovah?—the one against whom we have sinned, the one in whose ways they would not walk, neither were they obedient to his law. (25) Therefore, he poured out upon him his burning anger and the violence of battle. It enveloped him in flames, but still he did not comprehend; it burned him, but he still did not take it to heart. (Isaiah 42:22-25)

Verse 21 declares that it pleased the Lord “to make his law great and glorious.” That is to say, the Lord determined to honor His law and abide by it; and He determined to do so for the sake of His righteousness—the Lord is righteous and He cannot deny Himself, He cannot allow His law and His covenant to be broken with impunity. What this means for His covenant-breaking people—those who are willfully blind and deaf to God’s moral demands—is now revealed in verse 22. As the consequence of their disobedience, the Lord in His righteousness has brought the curse of the covenant to bear against His people—the punishment taking the form of foreign invasion by the Assyrian armies. As verse 24b makes clear, it is the Lord Himself who has subjected His people to this plight, the Lord “against whom we have sinned, the one in whose ways they would not walk, neither were they obedient to his law. (25) Therefore he poured out upon him (i.e.; the nation of Israel portrayed as a collective individual) his burning anger and the violence of battle” (verses 24b-25a).

3. What word of comfort and assurance does the Lord now speak to His people? See Isaiah 43:1-3 (printed below)

But now, this is what Jehovah says—the one who created you, O Jacob, the one who formed you, O Israel. Do not be afraid, because I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name; you are mine. (2) When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze—(3) because I am Jehovah your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I have given Egypt as your ransom; I have given Ethiopia and Seba in your place. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

Now, in striking contrast to what has just been described—the righteous judgment of the Lord being enacted against His sinful people—there comes this word from the Lord: “But now, this is what Jehovah says…O Israel…I have redeemed you…” (Isaiah 43:1). In verse 3 the Lord reminds His people of what He did for them in the days of the Assyrian invasion: He gave Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba to the conquering Assyrians instead of giving Israel (i.e.; Judah) to them. (Note: the name “Israel” as it is used here is not a reference to the ten northern tribes who were carried away into exile by the invading Assyrian armies; rather, the name is now being applied to the two remaining southern tribes of Judah—they alone are left and they alone now constitute the nation of “Israel.”) To appreciate the significance of this act of God we must bear in mind two important facts: (1) the conquering Assyrian armies were the instrument of God’s righteous judgment (Isaiah 10:5), and (2) this instrument of judgment was sent against the sinful nation of Israel/Judah (Isaiah 10:6). But in His mercy to Israel/Judah, the Lord caused His judgment to fall upon Egypt and the other nations instead of upon Israel/Judah (note Isaiah 20:3-4 and Isaiah 37:33-35). Here is the principle of substitutionary atonement: God causing His righteous judgment to fall upon a substitute instead of upon His people. The ultimate Substitute, the One to whom all the Old Testament types and sacrifices point, is the Son of God Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. The words of prophecy recorded in Isaiah 43:8-21 speak of a time in the future (from Isaiah’s perspective) when the people of God would be held captive in the land of Babylon by the greatest empire on earth in its day. Nevertheless, the Lord declares that He will cause His people to be released and brought back home. The Lord is able to fulfill His promise because of who He is. How does He describe Himself in Isaiah 43:11-14 (printed below?)

I, I am Jehovah; and there is no Savior besides me. (12) I have proclaimed and I have saved and I have revealed—and there was no foreign god among you who could do so. Therefore, you are my witnesses, declares Jehovah, that I am God. (13) Indeed, since the beginning of time I am the one who is God; and there is no one who can deliver anything out of my hand. I will act, and who can hinder it? (14) This is what Jehovah, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, says, For your sake I will send to Babylon and I will throw them out like fugitives. All the Chaldeans will flee in the very ships in which they took pride. (Isaiah 43:11-14)

The Lord is able to fulfill His word because He is the Almighty God. The Lord emphatically testifies that He is the living God, and the only Savior (verse 11). He testifies that in the past He has spoken and fulfilled His word by saving His people (verse 12); no doubt referring primarily to the Exodus out of Egypt, but also to the many other Old Testament era deliverances accomplished by God for His people. Furthermore, He testifies that He is God from the beginning of the creation (verse 13). He always has been God, and because He is the true and living God, there is no one who can take His people out of His hand. The Lord declares that He will do yet another mighty and irresistible work of salvation: “I will act, and who can hinder it?” (verse 13b). For the sake of His people, and for their redemption, the Lord will cause the mighty Babylonians to be conquered and will thus set His people free (verse 14).

5. The Lord has proclaimed all that He will do for His people, but what have they failed to do? See Isaiah 43:22-24 (printed below) What would they finally do? See Jeremiah 29:10,12-14a (printed below)

But you have not called upon me, O Jacob; on the contrary, you have grown tired of me, O Israel. (23) You have not brought me sheep from your flocks for burnt offerings; nor have you honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you by requiring excessive grain offerings, nor wearied you with excessive demands for incense. (24) You have not bought me any fragrant calamus with your money, nor have you filled me with the fat of your sacrifices. On the contrary, you have burdened me with your sins; you have made me weary with your iniquities. (Isaiah 43:22-24)

This is what Jehovah says: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place… (12) Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (13) You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (14) I will be found by you, declares Jehovah, and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you, declares Jehovah, and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:10-14)

The Lord has proclaimed to Israel all that He will do for them; then, in verse 22, He declares, “But you have not called upon me, O Jacob.” They have not called upon the Lord to save them; they have not asked Him to be their Savior and to apply His work of salvation to them personally. Rather than call upon the Lord in order to obtain His salvation, Israel had done just the opposite—their apostasy is pointed out to them by the Lord in verses 23-24. If Israel is to receive the benefits of the Lord’s power and redemption, they must humbly call upon the Lord. By the grace of God, they would finally do so, crying out to Him for His salvation as they found themselves held captive in Babylon (note Jeremiah 29:10-14).