Chapter 43 foretells Israel’s eventual repentance and restoration in the latter days. In the first part of the chapter the Lord proclaims that He is God and that Israel, recipient of many blessings at His hand over their long existence as a people, are witnesses of His divinity. Next are presented prophecies of the gathering of repentant Israel and of great destructions among the wicked; these destructions are for the protection of the Lord’s people. The chapter concludes with the Lord stating that unrepentant Israel has forsaken His law, bringing great curses.
In verse 19, the Lord changes focus to blessings He would bestow upon Israel in the latter days: “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” The Great Isaiah Scroll reads “Behold, I will do a new thing; and therefore it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and paths in the desert.” The “way in the wilderness” means the strait and narrow way through the spiritual wilderness of our time, of which the pathway through the Red Sea is a type; thus, the old is a type for the “new thing” that the Lord would do. “Rivers in the desert” is a metaphor meaning that the Lord will cause the message of the gospel to come forth by revelation from on high in the latter days. The alternate phrase “paths in the desert” means that the strait and narrow way will be established in the world, or the spiritual desert. This statement—rendered either way—also foretells the establishment of Zion in the valleys of the mountains and the presence of living prophets among the Lord’s people. This event is the same as was foretold by Isaiah previously, in Chapter 41.
“I will do a new thing” also reflects the Lord establishing the new and everlasting covenant. The Lord, speaking through the Prophet Joseph Smith, explains:
For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.
And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God (emphasis added).
Verse 20 continues description of the foretold event: “The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen.” The Hebrew words from which “dragons” and “owls” are translated mean “serpents” and “ostriches.” These animals metaphorically represent peoples not of the covenant who should receive the blessings of the gospel in the latter days. “Waters” and “rivers” in dry places mean inspiration and revelation from heaven in what had been a spiritual wasteland. Zion established in the wilderness represents a temporal latter-day fulfillment.
Verse 21 continues the Lord’s description of the latter-day Zion: “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.” The latter-day work of the Lord would be manifest in the establishment of Zion in the wilderness, upon whom He would shower down revelation and blessings. In turn, those in the latter-day Zion are required to render praise to the Lord for blessings received.
Verses 19 through 21 contain a chiasm:
A: (19) Behold, I will do a new thing;
B: now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it?
C: I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.
D: (20) The beast of the field shall honour me,
D: the dragons and the owls:
C: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert,
B: to give drink to my people, my chosen.
A: (21) This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.
“I will do a new thing” matches “this people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.” These paired phrases describe the new and everlasting covenant to be established among the gathered of Israel in the latter days. “Spring forth” matches “give drink to my people, my chosen,” attesting that the people described would be nurtured by ongoing revelation; “a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” matches “waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert,” meaning that the way in the wilderness, or the strait and narrow path, would be established by revelation to this people of the new covenant who would live in the desert, or spiritual and temporal wilderness. “Beast of the field” and “dragons and the owls” indicate that even those not of the covenant would benefit from the establishment of the covenant people in the wilderness.
For a continued in-depth study of this chapter, please refer to Isaiah: The Times of Fulfillment, A Verse-by-Verse Commentary by Ivan D. Sanderson, which is available at Amazon, Deseret Book, and electronically for Kindle.