26 March 2015

Isaiah 43:16-21

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (vv. 18-19)

Psalm: Psalm 131


The book of Isaiah is among the most important Old Testament texts for Christians. Themes from different parts of Isaiah's 66 books appear in the New Testament and have some part in the development of Christian understandings of Jesus' ministry and suffering.

Chapter 43 is part of a longer section (chapters 38-55) which develops the vision of Judah's fall to Babylon and the eventual restoration of Zion. The theme of the servant is especially important through this section. The servant, likely a reference to the people of Israel, is introduced in chapter 40. The divine calling of the servant to be a "light to the nations" is elucidated in chapter 42 (Isaiah 42:6). In chapter 43, the crescendo toward the restoration begins building. The promise of Babylon's fall and punishment, which includes the lament over their demise, comes in Isaiah 43:14-15. A hint emerges in the following passages of the people's coming freedom. Isaiah's words act like a 'book of remembrance' by reminding God's people of the Exodus, a defining moment in their history. Verses 16-17 recall the path God made through the (Red) Sea (Exodus 14). God's people passed through the waters unharmed, but the pursuing soldiers and chariots were covered over with water and drowned. Thus, "they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick..." (Isaiah 43:17b).

Almost with a sense of irony, the words turn from recalling the past to telling the people to 'remember not the former thing'. God is about to do a new thing. The past events and behaviour that led to the exile in Babylon are gone. The text gives way to a string of seemingly impossible things brought by God's action - pathways in the wilderness, streams in the desert, and wild beasts honouring the Lord. These are indeed hopeful words to an exiled people. Although they have sinned and withheld from God their sacrifices and offerings, God is still in relationship with them. God will forgive and renew them.

To Ponder

  • Why is it important to remember what God has done in the past?
  • In what sense does forgiving mean forgetting wrongs that we or other people have committed?
  • To what extent is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ a 'new thing' that brings forgiveness and renewal?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Cindy Wesley

Cindy Wesley is the director of studies at Wesley House in Cambridge. She is responsible for the life of the chapel and for advising students about their courses and modules.