I'm just not sure what the it is referring to here, or is it implied? Is it connected to wherever there is?

Isaiah 48:16 (ESV)

Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.” And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit.

Is it:

  • the beginning
  • time itself
  • implied "creation"
  • an earlier referent I have missed?
  • Some other I have not thought of

How would your solution then have us understand the verse?

  • 2
    Interesting question (+1). Just to make sure this is accounted for in answers: the pronoun is feminine.
    – Susan
    Dec 21, 2015 at 0:50
  • @Susan what gender is common for creation, world, and for time? Or any other options we can think of. I really need to find a resource with Hebrew parsing for tense, gender, etc, All I have is interlinear that shows the root word in English.
    – Joshua
    Dec 21, 2015 at 16:12
  • 3
    My sense is that when a feminine pronoun is used, an explicit (feminine) antecedent is expected, since masculine tends to be the default (though not sure if that's always true). At first glance, the nearest by that makes sense seems to be 'erets (=earth) from v. 13.
    – Susan
    Dec 21, 2015 at 16:28
  • @Joshua, I found this from the Israel Museum's site:
    – Daisy
    Apr 24, 2016 at 16:29
  • @Daisy think your link or quote didn't paste in right :)
    – Joshua
    Apr 24, 2016 at 16:49

5 Answers 5


As is so often the case with questions we pose on BH.SE, we lack evidence to resolve the ambiguities we find in the Bible. In Isaiah 48:16, the antecedent for the 3rd feminine singular pronoun ~āh in מֵעֵ֥ת הֱיוֹתָ֖הּ = mēʿēt həyôtāh = "from the time of its coming to be" is one of those enigmatic obscurities: there simply is no evidence to clarify the ambiguity.

Given this situation, the possibilities can still be delimited: "its" can't simply be anything, and some possibilities have more likelihood than others. And it is always interesting to see how ancient interpreters (a.k.a. translators) understood it:

  • the Septuagint isn't a lot of help: ἡνίκα ἐγένετο = hēnika egeneto = "at the time when it happened" ... so no real insight here;
  • the Targum is more expansive (as it often is): מִתַמָן אַברָהָם אְבוּכוֹן קָרֵיבתֵיה לְפֻלחָנִי = "at that time I brought Abraham your father to my service" (Pauli translation), although there is no contextual trigger for "its time" being the call of Abraham (it might, however, be anticipating Isa 51:2, which is one of the four places where Abraham appears in the book of Isaiah, the others being Isa 29:22; 41:8; and 63:16).

One of the more recent commentaries on the Hebrew text simply identifies the main options -- John Goldingay & David Payne, Isaiah 40-55 Vol 2: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (T & T Clark, 2006), pp. 142-3:

  • if the context is to help, then 48:12ff. point to the time of creation, and "its" would be "the earth" (ʾereṣ being a feminine noun);
  • another speculative suggestion points to the call of Cyrus (cf. Isaiah 45:1ff);
  • it is also suggested that the reading in 1QIsaa at this point (b-ʿ-t "at the time", rather than m-ʿ-t "from the time") supports the "[time of] creation rather than the summoning of Cyrus":

    1QIsa/a/, 48:16

Summary - As it happens, Goldingay & Payne decline to choose between these alternatives, simply setting them out for their readers. Although other commentators do register a preference (e.g., both Claus Westermann and Shalom Paul in their commentaries opt for the "creation" understanding), there is, finally, insufficient evidence to mount a conclusive argument to arbitrate between the options. (I note, however, that both context and overall "creation" theology in Isaiah 40-48 suggest that inclining towards the "creation" option is, at least, sensible.)


What 'it' is depends on who is speaking:

  • The conservative Matthew Henry Commentary says that this is God speaking through the prophet.
  • Dr. Ross (Bible.org) sees difficulties in attributing these words to God, and suggests the pre-incarnate Christ is speaking.
  • The Pulpit Commentary agrees these words are not from God but does not see this speaker as being the pre-incarnate Christ, and therefore suggests the prophet as the most likely speaker.
  • The New American Bible (NAB) says in footnotes 1 and 2 that this is Cyrus speaking, after the defeat of Babylon. In this context I would point out that it is the consensus of scholars that Isaiah chapters 40-55 were written in Babylon shortly before the Return from Exile.

I agree with Dr. Ross, the Pulpit Commentary and the NAB that there are difficulties in attributing these words to God, since it tells us "And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit." I also think it is hard to really imagine that the prophet has said this on his own behalf. Verses 14-15 are references to Cyrus and verse 20 tells us that he sets the Jews free, so I also agree with NAB this is the person in verse 16 that God sent.

If this was Cyrus the Great, speaking to the Jews he is about to liberate, then 'it' is something personal to Cyrus. The text is ambiguous, but is likely to refer to the conquest of Babylon: "it came to be" - the conquest came to be. He has been open about his intentions ("not spoken in secret"), has been sent by the LORD and tells the captives that their Redeemer has spoken verse 17). Here and elsewhere, Second Isaiah portrays Cyrus as the instrument of the Lord.

  • Before the conquest of Babylon came to be Christ was there? At the conquest? At Babylon? I actually agree with Ross as well, though I didn't want to make this question about the Trinity aspect of the last sentence, or at least to have it overshadow the main question. I agree who is speaking is important, so I suppose it's unavoidable. So your first half is great, but I'm still confused when it comes to the main question.
    – Joshua
    Dec 20, 2015 at 20:56
  • @JoshuaBigbee We see in Is 45:1 that God calls Cyrus "his anointed ... , whose right hand I have holden." This does place Cyrus in the mix for this passage. So I am agreeing with NAB, not with Ross - although the range of opinions shows that anything is possible. PC sees it as unlikely that Christ would say God and his spirit sent him. If the person speaking in 16 is Cyrus, he can say God sent him; then in 17, he can quote God in a way that would seem strange if the speaker were the pre-incarnate Christ (especially calling God "thy Redeemer"). Dec 20, 2015 at 22:41
  • 1
    Feel like we're getting hung up on who. I'm fine with you wanting to say it's Cyrus, I'm just confused how to understand that sentence if Cyrus is speaking. Back to the Main question. What is the antecedent of it?
    – Joshua
    Dec 20, 2015 at 22:46
  • 4
    I don't understand how Cyrus is a possibility for the speaker here. In v.14, "these things" seems to point back to what immediately precedes in v. 13 that he "laid the foundation of the earth" and "spread out the heavens". How could the prophet attribute the creation of the cosmos to Cyrus, a mere man?
    – flob6469
    Dec 20, 2015 at 23:01
  • 1
    @Dick_Harfield I understand your reasoning about the speaker most likely being Cyrus, but your argument(as well as that of "the consensus of scholars" and "some theologians") hinges on whether Isaiah needed to have a conscious understanding of Jesus in order to write about him. From a secular standpoint, your answer looks sound, but I can't accept the premise that God could not have influenced Isaiah(with or without him being conscious of it) to foreshadow Jesus.
    – flob6469
    Dec 21, 2015 at 5:12

From the time what came to be? - Isaiah 48:16

Isaiah 48: 14-17 (NRSV)

14 "Assemble, all of you, and hear! Who among them has declared these things? The Lord loves him; he shall perform his purpose on Babylon, and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans. 15 I, even I, have spoken and called him, I have brought him, and he will prosper in his way.

God in an inviting tone thru his prophet (Inspired by God's spirit )continues:

16 "Draw near to me, hear this! From the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there. And now the Lord God has sent me and his spirit. 17 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go."

"Who among them has declared these things", - the worthless idols cannot foretell any of these things, only God can foretell evens to happen accurately ."The Lord loves him"- Who was it ?-Cyrus the anointed one of God was chosen to conqueror Babylon and to liberate his people . (Isaiah 44:28, 45:1)

"Draw near to me, hear this! From the beginning I have not spoken in secret."- God has always by means of his prophets , spoken openly to his people and not in secrets.

"From the time it came to be I have been there."- Nothing is new to God or unforeseen by him, for example , by means of Isaiah, God foretold (it),about 150 years in advance that Cyrus would conquer Babylon. As their Redeemer, God reassures the Israelites, that he is going to liberate them from Babylon.

God is not afraid to prophesy in advance. He is not foretelling it secretly, so that nobody will later be able to say that he did not foretold it . He knows what he will do and foretells it in advance, so that his people at that time and also we down in this time may be assured that he is the true God ,unlike idols that cannot foretell the future.

The Persian ruler "Cyrus the Great" was the one appointed by God, to overthrow Babylon and to liberate the Israelites from their bondage there. The prophesy was made over 150 years earlier, even before Cyrus was born and rise to power, God declared that Cyrus would act as His shepherd: “He is my shepherd,and he shall carry out all my purpose”; and who says of Jerusalem, “It shall be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”(Isaiah 44:28 NRSV)


The answer to this is found back in 48:5 where "it" is found: (both the nasb in the footnotes, and the old King James, are acknowledging the actual Hebrew) "It" being indicative of what the former Prophets were saying before "it" in fact came true, God saying "it" before they could give credit to their Idols. The last part of verse sixteen is a rare interjection from Isaiah. Look at Isa 59:21, where Jehovah is bearing witness on behalf of Isaiah, that His Spirit is upon him. Falling back to the beginning of a chapter, or the previous chapters, is always essential in order that context is not betrayed. What follows Isaiah's interjection v.17a "Thus saith the LORD" is further proof that is supportive of these conclusions. And finally look at verses six thru eight of the Chapter (48) as these statements are providing the whole context of what is being said by the end of the chapter. Even the greater context that needs to be considered is that of the former prophets declaring when Israel would first be enslaved (Egypt) then the Assyrian oppressions, and thereafter the Babylonian captivity, in which all was prophesied by the former prophets, and all of "it" came true... Within the book of Isaiah, the prophet is reminding his people regarding all of these things.

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    Nov 27, 2021 at 13:59

The answer is so found in the very verse in question. He states "From the beginning". The translation of this word "הֱיוֹתָ֖הּ" "that it was" roots from the Holy Name "היה" meaning Manifest. Specifically so "it manifest". Therefore from the manifestation of the beginning the Lord has not spoken in secret.

"Not from the Head in secret spoken from the time it manifest there I and {Now [Lord (will Be)]} has sent and his breath(spirit)."


The first word in the Bible means "in the small head" translated as "In the beginning". This head is so the reference that the Is makes.


  • Is that feminine as well so they match up as @Susan pointed out? Or do you have an explanation for its feminine (or not) form?
    – Joshua
    Dec 26, 2015 at 1:07
  • For a feminine description of Lord Existence some use "Mother Nature". However -Is- describes himself as the "Son of Man" or the "Bridegroom" giving male gender. The Holy name יהוה uses the male prefix "he will" for "he will Be". Yet the gender of the now and the future (the throne of the "I will objects") we can consider as both genders. For the image of the will of objects came to Is first as a man yet from the man came the woman. The original image of the man contain both male and female. The female was removed from the man see.
    – Decrypted
    Dec 26, 2015 at 3:39
  • Sorry, I was maybe unclear. I was speaking specifically about the grammar of the text and how it related to your solution for it: the beginning. Is from the beginning feminine like it is?
    – Joshua
    Dec 26, 2015 at 4:32
  • The word meaning "it manifest" is so a verb. That's like asking the gender of the word "run". Perhaps run has a gender perhaps החוצה has a gender. I do not know.
    – Decrypted
    Dec 26, 2015 at 9:49
  • 2
    @JoshuaBigbee The the word "beginning" here (literally "head") is rōʾš, and it is masculine.
    – Susan
    Dec 26, 2015 at 15:06

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