Exploring Isaiah 43
In my 20s, the Bible came alive to me as I pored over various passages, personalising the words God spoke thousands of years ago. I especially revelled in the words of Isaiah 43:1–2, pondering them as if God was whispering them directly to me:
Don’t be afraid, Amy, for I’ve saved you. You’re passing through the waters, but don’t be afraid, for I am with you. The rivers won’t sweep over you, for I am the Lord your God.
When I reached verse 4, I wondered at the amazing promise of God:
You’re precious and honoured in my sight. And I love you.
A nudge in my spirit
Could this promise be meant for me? As I paused, I sensed a nudge in my spirit and a resounding ‘Yes!’ I reflected that because the words were there in the Bible, perhaps that voice was God – and he really did love me.
As I read each day from the scriptures and poured out my feelings to God, he started to heal the rift between my head and my heart as I came to understand that I was made in his image and worth loving. God changed me forever through his loving assurances through his word.
God changed me forever through his loving assurances through his word.
It was only later that I dug into the original context of the words I read. The book of Isaiah became one of my favourites as I learnt more about it. Some theologians call it a ‘mini Bible’, as it has 66 chapters, just as the Bible has 66 books. Indeed, all the main themes of the Bible can be found here, and there are also two major divisions: the first section is about judgement and the second, starting with chapter 40, is about hope, comfort and consolation to God’s people.
Songs from a deep well
In his recent book on Isaiah 40—55, Comfortable Words, Bishop Steven Croft writes:
The unknown prophet… sings at the end of the exile in Babylon, to call the people back to God, to give them strength again and to prepare the exiles for the work of rebuilding that would come. The songs are a deep well from which we can drink… in this most demanding of seasons.
The prophet writes to God’s people when the unbelievable has happened – they’ve been exiled. They think there’s no coming back from that, for in their experience, exiles don’t return. But Isaiah assures them the opposite; they need to trust in God. After all, they are his people, as God’s covenant with Abraham affirmed.
God hears their complaint; he knows they fear he has forgotten them, that he no longer cares for them. But he reminds them that he is the Lord, ‘the everlasting God,’ the creator. He will rescue and restore them. His people should trust him, place their faith in him, find their strength in him and wait for him to act.
Even though they face hardship – passing through rivers and walking in fire – they won’t drown or be burned. Why? Because God is with them. ‘I am the Lord your God,’ he says to them. This is God’s title in Exodus, a reminder that he’s saved them before. God thus tells them through the prophet not to fear: he released them from slavery in Egypt; he can do it again now.
God is doing a new thing because his people are precious and honoured in his sight and because he loves them. The verb ‘love’ in Hebrew is in the perfect tense, meaning that this love continues. Love is the unchanging nature of God.
Love is the unchanging nature of God.
As we consider the words of Isaiah 43, my hope is that we will all find ourselves ‘nudged by grace’; that God’s ancient promises of love, hope and salvation will be as real for us today as they were for the prophet and his people.