This is another oracle of salvation that announces God's personal relationship with Israel. Because God promises to be with the people, they need not fear. God knows God's people by name, just as God knows the names of all the stars (40:26)--a sign of the intimacy of the divine-human relationship and of the relationship between God and creation described in this part of Isaiah.
Like others in Second Isaiah, this text has a careful poetic structure. It begins and ends with the reference to God's "creating" and "forming" the hearers (vv. 1, 7). Near the top of the passage, four dangers are named: waters, rivers, fire, and flame (v. 2); near the end, the four directions are named from which God will bring the people home: east, west, north, and south (vv. 5-6). Twice, people are urged not to fear (vv. 1 and 5); twice, God calls Israel by name (vv. 1 and 7). In the middle of this careful structure, we learn why God will take such pains: "Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you" (v. 4). God's love is announced throughout the Bible, of course, but this is the only passage with the simple "valentine" direct from God: "I love you."
As Israel's "redeemer" (see Theological Themes), God will do whatever it takes to get Israel home. In the metaphorical language of the text, Cyrus can have other nations in exchange, but God will have Israel. The language is poetic and does not mean that God does not care about other nations. As we have seen, precisely in these chapters God is concerned to save all the nations (see 45:22).
43But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, 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 Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia* and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not fear, 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 them up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
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.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011