Sunday, January 10, 2021

New and Improved


New and Improved


            There are certain Scripture passages I find myself returning to often.  This is one of them.  Every time I find myself back on familiar ground I discover something new, something I haven’t seen before.  Here I am again at Isaiah 43.  The words are the same, but like v. 19, I’m finding a new thing.

            The backstory for this passage is familiar.  Israel hasn’t kept covenant with God.  God has allowed Assyria to invade the northern kingdom and destroy it completely.  The southern kingdom—tiny Judea—didn’t learn from the experience, so once again God allowed a nation to invade and conquer.  This time it was Babylon, who destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, took Judea’s leaders captive, and caused many of the people to scatter.

            God’s prophets, in some cases the same ones who foretold doom and punishment, are now telling those in captivity that God will not be angry forever.  There is still a price to be paid, a time of sorrow to be endured, but eventually, when the debt has been satisfied, the people will return to their land.

            The most encouraging of these prophets is Isaiah.  Things will get better, he says.  Conditions will improve.  Wait for it; it will happen.

            Isaiah, speaking God’s words, reminds the people who God is.  “I am the Lord,” God says, “your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your king.”  God is the Holy One of Israel, the One to whom the people owe thanksgiving for all their blessings.  God is their Creator, the One to whom they owe their very existence.  God is their King, the one to whom they owe not merely obedience, but obeisance.

            Then God promises them release from captivity.  “Forget about all that happened before,” God says.  “I’m going to do a new thing—something you haven’t seen before.”

            If God went no further than this we would have encouraging words with which to begin the new year.  This would be true of any year, but even more so of the one just past.  Over the last twelve months we have experienced a major health crisis as well as unprecedented political upheaval, and increased racial tension.  How wonderful to hear from God, “Forget all that, I’m doing something new.”  How welcome those words are!

            But God promises more.  God tells the people that not only will they be going home, but the way will be easy, unlike the Exodus. 

            Israel had never forgotten their escape from Egypt.  Throughout their history this was their touchstone.  God had led them out of captivity—slavery—and taken them to the Promised Land.  But the journey had been long, difficult, exhausting, and had cost the lives of everyone who had been an adult when they left Egypt.

            Now God says, “Forget that journey.  Remember it as part of your history, of course; but this time the trip will be much easier.  Yes, you must go through the wilderness, but it won’t take you forty years, and you won’t have to eat manna and drink water from a rock.  There will be streams in the desert, running water for you to drink.  You will have straight roads and enough food.  It’s beginning—do you see it?”

            New and improved.  How often have we heard those words applied to a product that manufacturers have tweaked a little—or not at all; perhaps just added a new ad campaign.  But with God it’s really true.  Things will be new—and improved.  God is doing a new thing.  God is always doing a new thing.  Do you see it?

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