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How do you keep on keeping on when there seems to be no way out, no way forward? Isaiah speaks to that sort of situation. The prophet writes to the people of Israel dispersed, depressed and divided among the occupying power of Babylon. Facing genocide, cultural erasure and imperially enforced emigration….there seems to be no way forward. How do you keep faith when you feel like God has deserted you, or worse that your God (as compared to another one like those of victorious Babylon) has lost and is nothing?
In this darkness Isaiah speaks the word of God. It’s not a small light in the darkness, contrasted with the surrounding obliqueness rather it’s a majestic bonfire exploding into the dimness, transforming night to day, reminding the people that their present and future are tied to the past – to the true past – not one trapped in history, imprisoned in defeat, or on trial for truth. The past, present and future of the people are tied up in the nature, person and sovereignty of God.
Reread the passage – and read the larger portion of it for a more accurate and holistically wider vision of the wondrous words : Isaiah 43:1-21.
God speaks directly to this fear and doubt. It’s as if God is on trial, knowing that the people – and maybe even Isaiah – are unsure of Yahweh’s faithfulness, sovereign power and constant love. Is God really slow to anger, abounding in love, forgiving of sin and rebellion, fighting for justice, punishing the evil-doers that wreck havoc and do evil in the world (Number 14:18)?
I’ve never faced genocide, imperial enslavement or deportation; yet I have asked those same questions in the desert and wilderness times of my life. It’s only natural to put God on trial when we languish in the valley of the shadow of death.
Look at what Isaiah says – verses 16 – 17 retell the past – remember the mighty hand of God that delivered the people from Pharaohs’ grasp in ancient Egypt. Paradoxically then verse 18-20 say not to consider those past things – the great things that God has done – for they are nothing, old hat, old school. God is doing something brand new – the seemingly impossible (like water in the desert). The final verses of our section 20-21 end not with a mighty defeat of the enemy, or the vanquishing of all suffering; rather the people who experience this life-changing, universe-transforming new thing re-discover, re-envision and re-claim their identity – they are the people of God – the children of God – with the vocation to give praise to the LORD, the Holy One. The message that God is doing something new, twisting our expectations, is actually given in a twisting of language, a tweaking of expectations.
Questions for going deeper: