Question: I have read many versions and several commentaries on Isaiah 43:4, and what a wide variety of interpretations there are!! Some seemed trivial, some missed the point (I felt), and some were just bizarre.
The immediate context makes it clear that God is talking directly to Israel:
Is. 43:1 But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
The broader context (Is. 42:18-25) reveals why God tells Israel not to fear—the nation is about to be ravaged by war because of her rebelliousness against Him. Historically, we know this devastating attack refers to the Babylonian invasion and seventy-years exile of the Jewish population.
Even so, God assures His people beforehand that His covenant love and promises still stand:
Is. 43:2 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.
In other words, Israel will suffer the consequences of her sinfulness but she will not be utterly destroyed. Then, in striking historical accuracy before the fact, Isaiah 43:3b-4 details how Israel will be redeemed from exile (v. 3b; 4b):
I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. …I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.
Then in verse 4a God explains why He will deliver His rebellious people:
Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you…
Through Isaiah, God promised Israel that her return to her homeland would not be accomplished purely out of the goodness of the Babylonian king’s heart. Rather, Cyrus—and later his son Darius I—would be lured by God to expand their empire to the Mediterranean Sea, invading Egypt, Cush and Seba. Transplanting the powerless descendants of the Jewish captivity—second and third generations growing up in Babylon—back into Palestine would provide a friendly stepping stone for such an invasion.
So when God declares in Isaiah 43:4 that He is willing to sacrifice three people groups for the sake of Israel’s return to Palestine He is making a very clear announcement to mankind as a whole: It is far better to be among God’s covenant people (even if temporarily out of favor with Him) than to be outside His covenant.
Those who belong to God by covenant are “precious” to Him. Think of it! God, the Creator and Lord of the universe, loves us and holds us in great honor! Only to His own does He say, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you” (Is. 43:5). All others have every reason to be terrified, for God is in the process of creating a Kingdom people and will not hesitate to eliminate those who refuse Him. As Jesus taught centuries after Isaiah,
Matt. 13:41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.