Baptism of our Lord · Isaiah 43:1-7 · January 10, 2010
By Reed Lessing
“He Only Has Eyes For You!”
Overview of the text
The verb יצר creates an inclusio around Isaiah 43:1-7, as it appears in 43:1b and 7b. In the middle is Yahweh’s love for his people: “Because you are precious in my eyes, (and) valuable and I, I love you” (43:4). In order to stress his personal concern for the Babylonian exiles, Yahweh employs seventeen words in 43:1-5 that end with the second person masculine pronominal suffix.
Comments on the text
Isaiah 43:1—The disjunction in 43:1 could not be any stronger: “but now” (וְעַתָּה). The fire of judgment in 42:25 will now not harm the hostages (43:2). But this is not only grace for many people. It is an act of Yahweh for every individual, by name! Up to this point in chapters 40-55 Isaiah announces that Yahweh created (ברא) the heavenly lights (40:26), the earth’s most distant places (40:28), and the heavens (42:5). Since ברא (“to create”) in 43:1 is participial in form, Isaiah announces that Yahweh’s creation is occurring now in his act of restoring the exiles from Babylon.
The theme of Israel belonging to Yahweh (note the irregular syntax of the phrase לִי־אָתָה to suggest the emphatic, “you are mine“), harkens back to the idea of סְגֻלָּה (“priceless possession”), e.g., Ex 19:5; Deut 7:6.
43:2—The referents in this verse are examples of God’s presence with his people in times of hardship. The crossing at the Sea of Reeds (Ex 14:21-31) and the crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Jo 3:14—17) are two examples of Yahweh’s companionship “when you pass through the waters.” At the time of the Babylonian exile Israel experienced fire literally (2 Ki 25:9) as well as judgmentally, for fire is often indicative of Yahweh’s anger (e.g., Jer 4:4; Na 1:6; Lam 2:4). The example of walking through fire unscathed is unknown from Isaiah’s time, though the definitive examples are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dn 3:19-25). There will not be another Sea of Reeds where Israel felt hemmed in by the Egyptian army. Neither will there be another Babylon coming with consuming fire.
43:3—For the first time in Isaiah, Yahweh is identified as Israel’s Savior (from the root ישׁע = “to save”). The root appears seventy-two times in the book (fifty-two times as a noun; twenty times in a verbal form). Twenty-four of those are in chapters 40-55.
The preposition תַּחְתּיךָ (“instead of you”) appears two more times in 43:4. In Genesis 22:13 it denotes a substitution. It carries the sense of exact equivalence.
43:4— Commenting on the worth God gives to his people, Luther writes,
Because you are precious. Where? In My eyes. Who says that? The world does not say this. No, to the contrary, even in your own eyes you seem cast off. But in My eyes you are a noble jewel and emerald. Although in supreme trials you seem nothing in your own eyes and are condemned as one cast off by the world, in My eyes you are glorious. Therefore you may be vile in your own eyes, in the eyes of the world, and even in those of your brothers (as happened to us on the part of our Enthusiast brothers). Fear not. In My eyes I regard you as a precious jewel (LW, 17:88).
To the nations the nation seemed like nothing (Deut 7:7); even Israel did not think very highly of itself (41:14). Yet Yahweh says “you are honored” (נִכְבַּדְתָּ). The root כבד denotes value, importance, and great worth.
43:5-7—The directions east, west, north, and south create a geographical merism and as such imply the entire world (cf. 11:11-12; 27:13). Yahweh will gather כבץ) his people from all over. This verb appears in 40:11, as well as in 49:18 and 54:7. These gathering are a foreshadowing of Yahweh’s final gathering of the elect from the four corners of the world (Lk 13:28-29).
Homiletical development of the sermon
One of our family rituals every summer was going to Elitch Gardens, a theme park in Denver, CO. The park had rides and enough sticky cotton candy to amaze my litde life. But what always fascinated me were the mirrors. Some mirrors would make me look tall and skinny. Others would make me look short and fat. Still others would make me appear twisted and bent.
Isaiah holds up the mirror of God’s law in 42:18-25. He then follows in 43:1-7 with a beautiful description of how God sees us. The problem comes when we get stuck looking at ourselves through our distorted eyes.
Here reference the gospel words in the textual notes. They all focus upon Yahweh’s statement in 43:4, “You are precious in my eyes.” Luther’s quote may be followed up by an exposition on Mark 10:21, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
Because of the Father’s love in Jesus, we are precious and valuable in his eyes. Value is determined by how much someone is willing to pay. How much is your house worth? It’s worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Second, value is determined by who has owned it. A car that was owned by Elvis Presley will be more valuable than a car I have owned. A pair of sticky, sweat-stained, beaten-up shoes once sold for $4,000. They were owned by Michael Jordan. Our value is based upon who owns us and what someone is willing to pay for us. You belong to the Father (43:1) because he ultimately gave his Son for you (43:3b). He only has eyes for you!