Isaiah 43:3
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior: I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for you.
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(3) I gave Egypt for thy ransom . . .—Speaking after the manner of men, the prophet paints Jehovah as surrendering Egypt and other kingdoms to the arms of Cyrus, as if they were a price paid to him for liberating the Jews of Babylon. Ethiopia (Heb., Cûsh) may be taken of either the Asiatic or African people that bore that name—Seba as Meroe, between the Blue and White Nile, the modern Dâr Sennâr. Historically, the words find a fulfilment in the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses, who carried into effect his father’s plans. For the thought of the “ransom” comp. Proverbs 11:8; Proverbs 21:18, and the next verse. As a man would sacrifice any number of slaves to ransom a son, so was it in Jehovah’s dealings with His people.

Isaiah 43:3-4. I gave Egypt for thy ransom — Some think this was fulfilled when God smote the firstborn and others in Egypt, and afterward drowned Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea, for the safety and benefit of his people. But it is more “commonly referred to the time of Sennacherib’s invasion; who, when he was just ready to fall upon Jerusalem, soon after his entering Judea, was providentially diverted from that design, and turned his arms against the Egyptians; and their allies the Cushean Arabians, with their neighbours the Sabeans, probably joined with them, under Tirhakah: see chap. 20., and 37:9. Or, as there are some reasonable objections to this opinion, perhaps it may mean, more generally, that God had often saved his people at the expense of other nations, whom he had, as it were, in their stead, given up to destruction.” — Bishop Lowth. Since thou wast precious, &c., thou hast been honourable — That is, from the time that I chose thee for my precious and peculiar treasure and people, I have had a great esteem and affection for thee. Bishop Lowth translates the clause, Because thou hast been precious in my sight, thou hast been honoured, &c. Vitringa thinks the prophet refers to the deliverance from Sennacherib, whereby God abundantly showed that the Jewish nation was precious and honourable in his sight; and the men, in the last clause, refers to the Assyrians, and the people to the Chaldeans. The Assyrians suffered a fearful slaughter (chap. 37:36) for the sake of the Jews, and the empire of the Chaldees was to be overturned by the Medes and Persians to procure their deliverance. In both which instances God abundantly testified that his church was precious, and honourable in his sight, and much beloved by him.43:1-7 God's favour and good-will to his people speak abundant comfort to all believers. The new creature, wherever it is, is of God's forming. All who are redeemed with the blood of his Son, he has set apart for himself. Those that have God for them need not fear who or what can be against them. What are Egypt and Ethiopia, all their lives and treasures, compared with the blood of Christ? True believers are precious in God's sight, his delight is in them, above any people. Though they went as through fire and water, yet, while they had God with them, they need fear no evil; they should be born up, and brought out. The faithful are encouraged. They were to be assembled from every quarter. And with this pleasing object in view, the prophet again dissuades from anxious fears.For I am the Lord thy God - This verse continues the statement of the reasons why he would protect them. He was Yahweh their God. He was not only the true God, but he was the God who had entered into solemn covenant with them, and who would therefore protect and defend them.

The Holy One of Israel - It was one of his characteristics that he was the God of Israel. Other nations worshipped other gods. He was the God of Israel; and as it was presumed that a god would protect his own people, so he bound himself to deliver them.

Thy Saviour - This was another characteristic. He had saved them in days of peril; and he had assumed toward them the relation of a Saviour; and he would maintain that character.

I gave Egypt for thy ransom - This is a very important passage in regard to the meaning of the word 'ransom.' The word נתתי nâthattı̂y - 'I gave' is rendered by Gesenius (Commentary in loc.), and by Noyes, in the future, 'I will give.' Gesenius supposes that it refers to the fact that the countries specified would be made desolate, in order to effect the deliverance of the Jews. He observes that although Cyrus did not conquer them, yet that it was done by his successors. In particular, he refers to the fact that Cambyses invaded and subdued Egypt (Herod. iii. 15); and that he then entered into, and subdued Ethiopia and Meroe (Strabo xvii.; Jos. Ant. ii. 10. 2). But the word properly refers to the past time, and the scope of the passage requires us to understand it of past events. For God is giving a reason why his people might expect protection, and the reason here is, that he had been their deliverer, and that his purpose to protect them was so fixed and determined, that he had even brought ruin on nations more mighty and numerous than themselves, in order to effect their deliverance.

The argument is, that if he had suffered Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba to be desolated and ruined instead of them, or in order to effect their deliverance, they had nothing to fear from Babylon or any other hostile nation, but that he would effect their deliverance even at the expense of the overthrow of the most mighty kingdoms. The word rendered 'ransom' here is כפר kôpher. It is derived from כפר kâphar - whence the Latin cooperio; the Italian coprire, the French couvrir; the Norman coverer, and converer; and the English cover, and means literally to cover; to cover over; to overlay with anything, as pitch, as in Genesis 6:14. Hence, to cover over sins; to overlook; to forgive; and hence, to make an expiation for sins, or to atone for transgression so that it may be forgiven Genesis 32:21; Exodus 30:15; Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 5:26; Leviticus 11:24; Leviticus 16:6; Psalm 65:4; Psalm 78:38; Proverbs 16:14; Jeremiah 18:25; Ezekiel 45:20; Daniel 9:24. The noun (כפר kôpher) means:

1. A village or hamlet, as beans a cover or shelter to the inhabitants (1 Samuel 6:18; compare the word כפר kâphâr in 1 Chronicles 27:25; Nehemiah 6:2; Sol 6:12).

2. Pitch, as a material for overlaying Genesis 6:14.

3. The cypressflower, the alhenna of the Arabs, so called because the powder of the leaves was used to cover over or besmear the nails in order to produce the reddish color which Oriental femmes regarded as an ornament (Simonis; Sol 1:14; Sol 4:13, margin.)

4. A ransom; a price of redemption, or an expiation; so called because by it sins were covered over, concealed, or removed Exodus 29:36; Exodus 30:10, Exodus 30:16. In such an expiation, that which was offered as the ransom was supposed to take the place of that for which the expiation was made, and this idea is distinctly retained in the versions of this passage.

Thus the Septuagint, Ἐποίησα ἄλλαγμά σου Αἴγυπτον, κ.τ.λ. Epoiēsa allagma sou Aigupton, etc. - 'I made Egypt, etc., thy ἄλλαγμα allagma - a commutation for thee; a change for thee; I put it in thy place, and it was destroyed instead of thee.' So the Chaldee, 'I gave the Egyptians as a commutation for thee' (חליפך chălı̂ypâk). So the Syriac, 'I gave Egypt in thy place.' The true interpretation, therefore, is, that Egypt was regarded as having been given up to desolation and destruction instead of the Israelites. One of them must perish; and God chose that Egypt, though so much more mighty and powerful, should be reduced to desolation in order to deliver his people. They took their place, and were destroyed instead of the Hebrews, in order that they might be delivered from the bondage under which they groaned. This may be used as a striking illustration of the atonement made for sin, when the Lord Jesus, the expiatory offering, was made to suffer in the stead - ἄλλαγμα allagma - of his people, and in order that sinners might live.

And if God's giving up the Egyptians to destruction - themselves so guilty and deserving of death - in order to save his people, was a proof of his love for them, how much greater is the demonstration of his love when he gives his own holy Son to the bitter pains of death on a cross, in order that his church may be redeemed! There has been much variety, as has already been intimated, in the interpretation of this, and in regard to the time and events referred to. It has, by many, been supposed to refer to the invasion by Sennacherib, who, when he was about to fall upon Jerusalem, turned his arms against the Egyptians and their allies, by which means Jerusalem was saved by devoting those nations to desolation. Vitringa explains it of Shalmaneser's design upon the kingdom of Judah, after he had destroyed that of Samaria, from which he was diverted by carrying the war against the Egyptians, Cusheans, and Sabeans. But of this, Lowth says, there is no clear proof in history.

Seeker supposes that it refers to the fact that Cyrus overcame those nations, and that they were given him for releasing the Jews. Lowth says, 'perhaps it may mean, generally, that God had often saved his people at the expense of other nations, whom he had as it were in their stead given up to destruction.' The exact historical facts in the case cannot be clearly made out; nor is this to be wondered at, that many things of this nature should remain obscure for want of the light of history, which in regard to those times is extremely deficient. In regard to Egypt, however, I think the case is clear. Nothing is more manifest than that the prophet refers to that great and wonderful fact - the commonplace illustration of the sacred writers - that the Egyptians were destroyed in order to effect the deliverance of the Jews, and were thus given as a ransom for them.

Ethiopia - Hebrew, 'Cush.' In regard to this country, see the note at Isaiah 18:1. It is not improbable that the prophet here refers to the facts referred to in that chapter, and the destruction which it is there said would come upon that land.

And Seba - This was the name of a people descended from Cush Genesis 10:7; and hence, the name of the country which they occupied. According to Josephus (Ant. ii. 10. 2), it seems to have been Meroe, a province of Ethiopia, distinguished for its wealth and commerce, surrounded by the two arms or branches of the Nile. There still remain the ruins of a metropolis of the same name, not far from the town of Shandy (Keppel's Travels in Nubia and Arabia, 1829). Meroe is a great island or peninsula in the north of Ethiopia, and is formed by the Nile, and the Astaboras, which unites with the Nile. It was probably anciently called Seba, and was conquered by Cambyses, the successor of Cyrus, and by him called Meroe, after his sister. That it was near to Ethiopia is apparent from the fact that it is mentioned in connection with it (compare Psalm 72:10; Isaiah 45:14 : Herod. iii. 20). They would naturally ally themselves to the Ethiopians. and share the same fate.

3. Egypt for thy ransom—Either Egypt or Israel must perish; God chose that Egypt, though so much more mighty, should be destroyed, in order that His people might be delivered; thus Egypt stood, instead of Israel, as a kind of "ransom." The Hebrew, kopher, means properly "that with which anything is overlaid," as the pitch with which the ark was overlaid; hence that which covers over sins, an atonement. Nebuchadnezzar had subdued Egypt, Ethiopia (Hebrew, Cush), and Saba (descended from Cush, Ge 10:7, probably Meroe of Ethiopia, a great island formed by the Astaboras and the Nile, conquered by Cambyses, successor of Cyrus). Cyrus received these from God with the rest of the Babylonian dominions, in consideration of his being about to deliver Israel. However, the reference may be to the three years' war in which Sargon overcame these countries, and so had his attention diverted from Israel (see on [787]Isa 20:1) [Vitringa]. But the reference is probably more general, namely, to all the instances in which Jehovah sacrificed mighty heathen nations, when the safety of Israel required it. I gave Egypt for thy ransom: this was fulfilled either,

1. When God smote the Egyptians, both first-born and others, in Egypt, and drowned Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for the safety and benefit of his people; or,

2. When the king of Assyria, either Sennacherib, as many think, or rather Esar-haddon, who designed to revenge his father’s disgrace and loss before Jerusalem upon the Jews, but was diverted and directed by God to employ his forces against Egypt, and Ethiopia, and Seba, as it follows. See Poole "Isaiah 20:1", &c. Ethiopia and Seba; the Sabeans, who were confederate with the Ethiopians or Cushites. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour,.... The Lord is the covenant God of his people, holy in himself, and the sanctifier of them, and their Saviour in time of trouble; and therefore need no doubt of his presence and support amidst all their afflictions; and besides they should call to mind past experiences of his goodness, to encourage their faith in him, as to present help and assistance:

I gave Egypt for thy ransom; he sacrificed the Egyptians instead of the Israelites; he destroyed the firstborn of Egypt, and saved Israel his firstborn; he drowned the Egyptians in the Red sea, when the Israelites passed safely through it; and the destruction of the former was to make way for the salvation of the latter, and so said to be a ransom for them; see Proverbs 11:8,

Ethiopia and Seba for thee; this refers either to the rumour brought to Sennacherib of Tirhakah king of Ethiopia coming against him to war, which diverted him from the siege of Jerusalem for a time, and caused him to turn his forces upon the Ethiopians and Sabeans, whereby the Jews had a respite, 2 Kings 19:9 or rather to the overthrow of the Ethiopians in the time of Asa, 2 Chronicles 14:9 or to the king of Assyria, perhaps Shalmaneser's being diverted from Palestine and Judea, and turning his forces upon Egypt and Ethiopia, as in Isaiah 20:1 and the Lord, by putting his people in mind of these instances, suggests hereby that he will sacrifice all their enemies, rather than they shall be destroyed, and therefore they need not fear.

For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave {d} Egypt for thy ransom, Cush and Seba for thee.

(d) I turned Sennacherib's power against these countries, and made them suffer the affliction which you would have done, and so were as the payment of our ransom, Isa 37:9.

3. thy Saviour] or, “Deliverer”; a favourite designation of Jehovah with this prophet; Isaiah 43:11, ch. Isaiah 45:15; Isaiah 45:21, Isaiah 49:26 (Isaiah 60:16, Isaiah 63:8). The second half of the verse shews on how large a scale this deliverance is to be executed.

I give Egypt as thy ransom …] The meaning appears to be that Cyrus will be compensated for the emancipation of Israel by the conquest of these African nations, which did not belong to the Babylonian Empire. As a matter of fact the conquest of Egypt was effected by Cambyses, the son and successor of Cyrus, although it is said to have been contemplated by Cyrus himself (Herod. 1:153) and is actually (though wrongly) attributed to him by Xenophon (Cyrop. VIII. 6. 20).

Seba (Genesis 10:7; Psalm 72:10; ch. Isaiah 45:14) was, according to Josephus, Meroë, the northern province of Ethiopia, lying between the Blue and the White Nile.

ransom is strictly a money payment by which a man escapes the forfeit of his life (see Exodus 21:30; Numbers 35:31 f.; Proverbs 6:35 &c.).Verse 3. - The Holy One of Israel (comp. Isaiah 41:14, 20, with the comment). Thy Saviour. He who had saved them front Pharaoh (Exodus 14:23-31), from Jabin (Judges 4.), from Midian (Judges 7.), from the Philistines (2 Samuel 8:1), from Zerah (2 Chronicles 14:9-15), from Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:36). The term is first used of God by David in 2 Samuel 22:3 and Psalm 106:21 (if that psalm be Davidical). It is also applied to God once in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 14:8), and once in Hosea (Hosea 13:4). With Isaiah, in these later chapters it is a favourite epithet, being used of God no fewer than eight times (see ver. 11; Isaiah 45:15, 21; Isaiah 47:15; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 60:16; Isaiah 63:8) With his eye fixed on the deliverance of Israel out of the double captivity of sin and of Babylon, he naturally had much before him this aspect of Jehovah. I gave Egypt for thy ransom, etc.; rather, I have given; that is to say, "In my counsels I have already assigned to the Persians, as compensation for their letting thee go free, the broad countries of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba." Even the latest date assigned by sceptical critics to "the Second Isaiah" would make this a most remarkable prophecy. Egypt was not reduced, nor was Ethiopia made tributary to Persia until several years after the death of Cyrus, whose son, Cambyses, effected the conquests about B.C. 527-6. Human foresight could not, in the lifetime of Cyrus, have predicted with any certainty what would be the result of collision between Egypt and Persia; much less could it have ventured on the improbable supposition that the remote Ethiopia would submit itself to the Achae-menisn yoke. Yet this was the result of the invasion of Cambyses, who made Egypt a Persian province, and forced the Ethiopians to submit to the payment of an annual tribute (see Herod., 3:97; 7:69). And Seba. If "Seba" is "the land of Meroe, which is enclosed between the White and Blue Niles" (Delitzsch), it may be questioned whether really this ever formed a portion of the Persian empire. But Isaiah has probably no very distinct knowledge of the geographical position of Seba, or of the relations between the Sabaeans and the rest of the Ethiopians. He couples the two together, both here and in Isaiah 45:14, as forming two portions of one nation. The subjection of the Ethiopians involves, in his eyes, the subjection of the Sabaeans. And we cannot say that he is wrong, since it is not at all clear that the Sabaeans were not generally spread through Ethiopia, or at any rate scattered in various parts of the country. The reproof, which affects Israel a potiori, now proceeds still further, as follows. "Thou hast seen much, and yet keepest not; opening the ears, he yet doth not hear. Jehovah was pleased for His righteousness' sake: He gave a thorah great and glorious. And yet it is a people robbed and plundered; fastened in holes all of them, and they are hidden in prison-houses: they have become booty, without deliverers; a spoil, without any one saying, Give it up again!" In Isaiah 42:20 "thou" and "he" alternate, like "they" and "ye" in Isaiah 1:29, and "I" and "he" in Isaiah 14:30. ראית, which points back to the past, is to be preserved. The reading of the keri is ראות (inf. abs. like שׁתות, Isaiah 22:13, and ערות, Habakkuk 3:13), which makes the two half-verses uniform. Israel has had many and great things to see, but without keeping the admonitions they contained; opening its ears, namely to the earnestness of the preaching, it hears, and yet does not hear, i.e., it only hears outwardly, but without taking it into itself. Isaiah 42:21 shows us to what Isaiah 42:20 chiefly refers. חפץ is followed here by the future instead of by Lamed with an infinitive, just as in Isaiah 53:10 it is followed by the perfect (Ges. 142, 3, b). Jehovah was pleased for His righteousness' sake (which is mentioned here, not as that which recompenses for works of the law, but as that which bestows mercy according to His purpose, His promise, and the plan of salvation) to make thorâh, i.e., the direction, instruction, revelation which He gave to His people, great and glorious. The reference is primarily and chiefly to the Sinaitic law, and the verbs relate not to the solemnity of the promulgation, but to the riches and exalted character of the contents. But what a glaring contrast did the existing condition of Israel present to these manifestations and purposes of mercy on the part of its God! The intervening thought expressed by Hosea (Hosea 8:12), viz., that this condition was the punishment of unfaithfulness, may easily be supplied. The inf. abs. הפח is introduced to give life to the picture, as in Isaiah 22:13. Hahn renders it, "They pant (hiphil of puuach) in the holes all of them," but kullâm (all of them) must be the accusative of the object; so that the true meaning is, "They have fastened (hiphil of pâchach) all of them," etc. (Ges. 131, 4, b). Schegg adopts the rendering, "All his youths fall into traps," which is wrong in two respects; for bachūrı̄m is the plural of chūr (Isaiah 11:8), and it is parallel to the double plural כלאים בּתּי, houses of custodies. The whole nation in all its members is, as it were, put into bonds, and confined in prisons of all kinds (an allegorizing picture of the homelessness and servitude of exile), without any one thinking of demanding it back (השׁב equals השׁב, as in Ezekiel 21:32; a pausal form here: vid., Ges. 29, 4 Anm.).
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