"But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee." (Isaiah 43:1-3)
The next two chapters focus on Israel the servant. Unlike Messiah, Israel has failed God; yet, the Lord loves her greatly. He has chosen her to be His servant and His lovingkindness will keep her from complete destruction, and it will deliver her in the end. God uses the prophetic present. He has redeemed. He has called. Israel's deliverance is sure; therefore, it is presented as complete.
The waters and the fires are symbolic of tribulation. Psalm 66 uses the same language in describing the millennial restoration of Israel.
For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place (Psalm 66:10-12).
As in Psalm 66, Isaiah's focus is on Israel's complete deliverance at the Lord's return. The return of the Jews to their homeland in 539 BC was only a foretaste of Israel's complete renewal in the kingdom of the Messiah. God's position as the one and only Savior is prominent in these passages. The righteousness of God which has long been rejected of the Jews will someday be that to which they humbly flee for deliverance.
In bringing Israel out of Egypt, the Lord destroyed the land through the ten plagues. The Egyptians themselves said to Pharaoh, "...Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed (Exodus 10:7)?" In this, God gave Egypt as a ransom for His people. Also, in punishing Israel through the Assyrians and Babylonians, Egypt and Ethiopia (Cush) suffered great losses, because both Assyria and Babylon campaigned in the south. After the release of the exiled Jews under Cyrus, the Persian king Cambyses invaded Egypt sometime in 526 BC. Also, in the days of the tribulation, God has declared that the antichrist will attack Egypt and inflict damage.
He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape. But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps (Daniel 11:42-43).
When God used Nebuchadnezzar to invade Jerusalem and subsequently besiege Tyre, He used Egypt as payment for the Babylonian king's efforts (Ezekiel 29:18-19). When God speaks of giving the southern empire as a ransom for His people, it is unlikely that He is speaking of any one specific event but rather has all of history in view. God's eye is upon His people who will someday be purified through the righteousness of Christ, but His eye is against Israel's enemies.
The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead (Proverbs 11:8).
"Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life. Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him." (Isaiah 43:4-7)
Israel is precious to God not because of her uprightness. As every nation, Israel is wicked apart from God's healing power. The Lord loves her for His own sake. Her covenant of faith was made with Abraham and the Lord has promised to give her the inheritance in the end. God's mercies, not Israel's faithfulness, is the focus of the text.
The Lord commands her not to fear. The man who makes God's Son his Savior and hope need fear nothing. At Christ's return, Israel's citizens will be gathered out of every nation and returned to their rightful place according to Isaiah 66:20. Israel's rejection of her Messiah has caused her citizens to be scattered literally throughout the entire known world; however, the acceptance of her Messiah will cause her to be regathered. The Babylonian invasion was on the horizon when Isaiah penned these words. The God-fearing among Isaiah's countrymen could find hope in God's faithfulness regardless of man's failure.