This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise. “Yet you have not called on me, Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, Israel. You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with grain offerings nor wearied you with demands for incense. You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me, or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence. Your first father sinned; those I sent to teach you rebelled against me. So I disgraced the dignitaries of your temple; I consigned Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn. – Isaiah 43:16-28
I have been chewing on this passage for the better part of the last day and I am still puzzled by some parts of it. The passage starts out recounting the times that God has had the backs of the people of Israel when they crossed the red sea fleeing from the Egyptians. The sense is that this is ancient history and part of an old pattern of relationship between God and His people. God is saying that all this past interaction is about to change “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”. What is this “new thing” that God is speaking about?
The new thing “springs up” and makes “a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” This is very similar language to Isaiah 40:3-14 that I reflected on a few days ago, and the Gospels (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23). The “new thing” seems to begin here in Isaiah and culminates when God comes to earth in human form to show us what this new kind of relationship between God and His people looks like. This “new thing” is ongoing through all who follow God the Father through His son Jesus.
Jesus Himself is the stream in the wasteland as He said in John 7:37 “Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” So not only will Jesus be a stream in this land of oblivion but He will place this living water in each of us who ask for it. Truly this was the beginning of a “new thing”. Although the people of Israel had to wait for the coming of Jesus I think this part of Isaiah marks a beginning, or to quote Winston Churchill “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.
This new beginning was not just for “Jacob”, the people of Israel, for even “The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls”. This living water in the wilderness was for “my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise”. One could interpret this to be exclusive to the people of Israel, but I think God is extending this new thing to all who proclaim His praise. Basically all who hunger and thirst for Him to be their water source in the wilderness.
God makes it clear that the relationship between the people of Israel and Himself is broken. All the offerings and incense have not repaired this broken relationship because the fundamental problem is the sins of the people “you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses.” The passage then enters a truly deep pool when God says “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” This is a reminder that all sin is really between us and God. This is similar to a stretch of river back in Psalm 51:1-12.
The twist here is that God adds that He is going to blot out our transgression for His own sake. What does He mean by that? I have always been under the impression that the forgiveness of sins promised by Jesus’ death on the cross was for us, but here God is saying that it was also for His sake. As I have chewed and prayed about this it is becoming more clear. It is consistent with the idea that God cannot tolerate sin, or perhaps it is that sin is incompatible with the spiritual sea into which we must pass.
I think this is because all sin is really separation from God. It is almost as if sin is spiritual oil that cannot mix with the endless ocean that is God. So God blots out our transgressions so that He can be with us and we can be with Him. God knows we must pass through a door to be with Him and we have this huge growth attached to our souls that will not allow us to pass. He wants to be with us so He must remove this growth so we can pass. I am sure there are nuances and swirling eddies of meaning that I have missed here. I am really enjoying this part of Isaiah and the undercurrents of the Gospel I am finding here.
Prayer: God thank You for coming to be with us and blotting out our sins so we can be with You.