Blog #40 for November 20
“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,” (Isaiah 43:2, RSV).
Wow! What a promise! I reread it, hoping it applied to me—that God was with me, protecting me, for I did feel like I was passing through deep waters, fighting the current in a spiritual sense. I hoped, yet I wondered—why would God want to be with people whose own disobedience got them into trouble?
Here in chapter 43, Isaiah addresses the Jewish people in their exile in Babylon, which Isaiah had predicted was coming. The majority of the people had refused to walk in God’s ways or to obey and honor him, as we’ve already seen, so they were to be punished by this exile.
Like these people, many today think God has no right to tell them what to do.
Is the LORD qualified to be our God? Does he have a right to tell us what to do?—to expect us to pay attention to him?—to expect us to believe he can help us in our “robbed and plundered” condition? According to Isaiah 43:1, God has certain qualifications. He is the one who created, formed, redeemed, and called us.
Wouldn’t you expect something you created to function the way you created it to function?
It’s just as preposterous to shake our fists at God as it would be for the tiny people in a model train setup to tell the owner he has no right to tell them what to do.
Yet, God’s mercy is so astounding! Even if we defy him, the LORD stands ready to forgive and promises to be with those whom he has redeemed. Even if our own disobedience has gotten us into trouble, he loves us.
The reason the Judaeans were taken to Babylon was not that their God was too small or impotent to deliver them. Neither had he given up on them because of their sins. No, he sent them there for a purpose and would bring them back when the time was right and his purpose was fulfilled.
For us too, His purposes may not seem merciful at the time, but God is too good to be unkind. He is holy and righteous. He knows what is right to do and he does it.
Isaiah 43 emphasizes God’s mercy. He doesn’t give up on us, but disciplines us when we need it. The verse above says, “when.” It is expected that Christians will suffer heartaches, difficulties and trials. These are certainly not always because of our sin (i.e. the story of Job), but they could be.
Judah’s exile was because of sin and rebelliousness. Israel earlier had passed through the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan river. (See Ex.21:26 and Josh.7-17) Did they drown? No. God was with them. Later, three exiled Israelites walked through fire, (Daniel 3) and weren’t even burned: The exiles probably had read Isaiah 43 before being exiled. Perhaps this gave them courage.
This portion of Isaiah became extremely meaningful to me in when I was going through the most difficult time of my life—when I felt like I was drowning in heartache and struggling against an opposing current. The Holy Spirit made it clear to me through Isaiah 43:1-2 that I belong to God, and he would be with me no matter how rough the things I’d go through. He is always with me. (As Jesus also says in Matthew 28:20).
I’m so thankful he brought me through it all.
Judith Vander Wege