8 January 2018Isaiah 43:1-7
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (v. 2)
Psalm: Psalm 89:1-18
The book of Isaiah is a complex collection of prophecies and poems, history and hope. It can be helpfully divided into three sections, which many scholars believe cover hundreds of years and three very different periods in the biblical story:
- Chapters 1-39 are mainly warnings of impending doom and how God’s people should avoid it.
- Chapters 40-55 are words of comfort, hope and encouragement to God’s people in exile (whose leaders did not heed the warnings of the ‘First Isaiah’).
- Chapters 56-66 are a combination of warnings and hope of ultimate redemption, from the difficult period after returning from exile.
(It may be helpful to think of Isaiah 1-39 as a sort-of “old testament”, and 40-66 as a “new testament”, especially since the numbers add up!)
Our passage today is about God’s servant, who we learn is Israel (Isaiah 41:8). However, this servant, who is in a special covenant with God and meant to be leading the peoples of the world into the light, has itself become blind. Isaiah 42 expresses the vocation of the servant, but also that it is more like the blind leading the blind. God could give up on Israel and find a new servant, BUT God will be faithful to God’s part of the covenant nevertheless. This same ‘but’ introduces chapter 43, along with the assurances that Israel will always be God’s redeemed people; called precious in God’s eyes. Through Isaiah’s words, God reminds them of their previous redemption from slavery in Egypt (verse 3). God will always be with them: even through the fire and water of God’s judgement, they will not be destroyed. God’s salvation plan moving forward must somehow be ‘through’ the Servant Israel, and not despite or instead of them.
- God does not promise Israel that they will never go through suffering or trial (water and fire), but rather that these things will not overwhelm or burn them, and God will be with them. When have you felt God allowing you to go through such difficult things and yet you have found strength and help (or cleansing or refining) in that experience?
- What hope or encouragement could this passage offer someone who feels they have messed up or lost their way with their faith?
- Meditate on the encouraging words in the passage: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. ... You are precious in my eyes, and honoured and I love you. ... Do not fear, for I am with you.”