12 April 2019Isaiah 51:7-11
Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over? (v. 10)
Psalm: Psalm 143
Continuing from where yesterday’s passage ended, these verses start with a reiteration of the eternal nature of God’s salvation, compared to the transience of earthly, material things. Repeating the image of the moth and garment (already used in 50:9) God’s deliverance is declared to be for ever contrasting with clothing that is so easily destroyed.
The faithful are called to attention in verse 7 with two evocative phrases, referred to as those who "know righteousness" and those who "have my teaching in your hearts". Scripture does not bear out the view sometimes put forward that the religion of the Old Testament is external and only with the coming of Jesus do we begin to understand the inner transformation. Although the Israelite people may have failed over and over again, there are clear signs throughout the Hebrew scriptures that God’s desire was for a people whose hearts had been turned to faithfulness.
Verses 9-10 clearly recall the supreme Old Testament story of rescue and salvation; the exodus from Egypt, particularly the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14-15). The Rahab mentioned in verse 9 is not the prostitute of Jericho, known to us from Joshua 2, but is a name given to another of the chaos-monsters who were thought to inhabit the depths of the oceans and be a source of constant danger and threat to any who ventured too close to the waters. These monsters (see also Leviathan in Psalms 74:14, 104:26 et al) were frequently identified with the nation of Egypt, often a symbol of danger in the Bible (cf Isaiah 30:7).
Just as God had triumphed for God’s people in the Exodus, using the sea itself, with all is inherent danger and perceived hostility, into "a way for the redeemed to cross over" (v. 10), so God will act again and the final verse of this passage is a joyful anticipation of that act of salvation. Prefiguring the pilgrimage to Zion that there will be for all who have been ransomed by God, it represents the climax of all that has been hoped for and expected from the earliest chapters of Isaiah (cf 2:2-4). ‘Away with our fears’ indeed (Singing the Faith 458).
- Parts of this passage are reminiscent of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount regarding the foolishness of worrying about clothing (Matthew 6:25). What might this say to us, living as we do in a largely consumerist, materialistic society?
- How do we ensure that our faith continues to be embedded in our hearts, not only in our outward actions and words?
- What are the ‘Rahabs’ that threaten the Christian community worldwide today?