Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
But now saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
Isaiah 43:1 &2
Isaiah was the prophet of God to Judah in her apostasy.
We read of this apostasy in chapter 42. Judah had trusted in graven images and said to molten images, Ye are our gods (v. 17). Not surprisingly, we find harsh words of judgment for Judah. Because of her unfaithfulness the Lord would give Judah over as spoils to robbers (vv. 22-24). This was a prophecy of the Babylonian captivity that would soon uproot Judah from the land.
Now follow words of comfort and hope. “But now saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not….”
How important these words were to Judah as she faced the harsh realities of captivity under God’s judgment.
And how important these words are today for the church and her members as she faces the harsh realities of life.
Passing through water and fire!
Water and fire speak of God’s judgment upon the wicked. Thus, for example, the world in Noah’s day was destroyed by the waters of a universal flood. This was God’s judgment upon a wicked world that had filled the cup of iniquity. In turn, the destruction of the world by the waters of the flood serve as a type or picture of the final judgment of God upon the wicked by fire (II Pet. 3:5-7).
To pass through the waters and to walk through fire, therefore, is to live through the time of God’s judgment.
But water and fire are also connected to persecution of the church. Thus, for example, in the time of Israel’s persecution in the bondage of Egypt, Israel was required to walk through the waters of the Red Sea as Pharaoh pursued them out of the land. For their refusal to bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, the three friends of Daniel were thrown into the burning, fiery furnace.
To pass through the waters and to walk through fire, therefore, is also to live under the persecution of the world.
When thou passest through the waters. When thou walkest through the fire. It’s not a matter of “if,” but of “when.” Certainly we will pass through the waters and fire of God’s judgment. For the judgment of God is upon the world in which we live. This dreadful judgment comes in the form of natural catastrophes (earthquakes, tornadoes, famine, etc.), plagues (AIDS), wars and rumors of wars, lawlessness and the breakdown of society…. The very fact that we live in the midst of an evil world under these judgments of God means that we too pass through the waters of God’s judgment upon sinful society.
But sometimes the judgment of God falls directly upon the church. For repeatedly the church and her members stray into sin. The judgment of God is also upon the unfaithfulness of His own people. This was the case with Judah in the time of Isaiah. For her departure from His word the Lord took Judah into captivity. No less is this true for the church and her members today. In judgment God has taken His Word from many churches that have refused to honor it. The judgment of God also falls upon individuals and families in the church for their personal sins, judgment such as marital and family problems, poverty, sickness, etc. Through these waters of God’s judgment every one of us passes sooner or later.
But the saints must also pass through the waters and fires of persecution.
The wicked world always hates and opposes the church. For the church is Christ’s church; and the world hates this church for Christ’s sake.
Consequently, the church will always walk through the fires of persecution. The Old Testament church of Israel did. She was repeatedly attacked by the surrounding nations. And although this was often the judgment of God upon Israel for her unfaithfulness, it was also the attempt of the wicked world to destroy the church of God. Even today there are places where the church is severely persecuted for Christ’s sake. Also in this country the world attacks the church of God and her members through slander, mockery, limiting our business and career opportunities….
When thou passest through the waters….
When Old Testament Israel passed through the waters, they were often afraid. Certainly the true Israel that believed the prophecy of Isaiah concerning captivity in Babylon was afraid. What would become of the nation? What would become of God’s covenant and His promises?
We also tend to be afraid when we pass through the waters. We often fear when war looms; when we are opposed for Christ’s sake; when we see the moral decline of the nation and the consequences for the church of the future; when there is lingering, debilitating sickness; when there is death.
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.
What a dreadful thing, to pass through the waters alone. Imagine having to deal with war, poverty, sickness, death, and all the harsh realities of life alone! This is what the world does. They pass through the waters of God’s judgment upon their sin alone. Consequently, the waters overflow them. The fires of God’s wrath set them ablaze and burn them. In other words, they perish under the judgment and wrath of God.
But the Lord promises to go with us, His people.
When we pass through the water of God’s judgment, whether that is God’s judgment upon the world’s sin or our own, the Lord will go with us. And when we walk through the fire of affliction and persecution, we walk with the Lord at our side.
For that reason the waters will not overflow us, nor will the fire set us ablaze so that we are burned. This does not mean that we will never suffer earthly or physical loss. We may lose many things, even our physical life, as we pass through the waters. But because of the Lord’s presence we will never be overcome spiritually. As we will walk through the fires of persecution, we will never lose our faith or our salvation. As we pass through the waters of God’s judgment upon sin, we will not suffer the eternal ruin of the world.
We are safe and secure.
For the Lord our God is with us.
The Lord is He that created Jacob and formed Israel.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, calling them into being out of nothing. Part of this creative work was to form man carefully out of dust of the ground. What an astounding work! It is a work that magnifies the greatness, power, and glory of God.
In a similar manner the Lord also created and formed Israel.
He created Israel as a nation by leading them out of the bondage of Egypt and organizing them into a nation by the laws of Sinai. More importantly, by these same laws the Lord formed Israel into a spiritual nation, a covenant people. This is to be compared to the original work of creation, making something glorious out of nothing.
This great work of creating Israel as His covenant people became a reality as the Lord redeemed Israel and called her by her name.
I have redeemed thee. To redeem is to deliver from the power of another through the payment of a price. Years before, the Lord had through Moses redeemed Israel from 400 years of bondage in Israel. That redemption from Egypt’s bondage was of greatest importance in that it pointed Israel ahead to her deeper, spiritual redemption through One who would be greater than Moses, namely,Jesus Christ. Even as the Lord redeemed Israel from earthly, physical bondage through Moses, so the Lord would one day redeem the same Israel from her spiritual bondage to sin through the Christ that was to come. I have redeemed thee. Although this great redemption lay in the future, it is described as already having taken place, in order to indicate its certainty.
I have called thee by thy name.
The nation of Judah was known by the name of its first father. The father of the nation was called Jacob, meaning “heel holder,” to indicate that he was the one who sought by faith to lay hold of the birthright blessing. Later Jacob’s name was changed by God to “Israel” to indicate that Jacob had prevailed in his quest for the blessing of God.
I have called thee by thy name. Through the call of the gospel that came through the prophets the Lord made the nation that which he had called her, namely, a nation who seeks the Lord’s blessings in faith and prevails.
Indeed, the Lord had created the nation.
And so she belonged to the Lord.
Could the people ever pass through the waters alone, or walk through the fires alone? The Lord their Creator, their Redeemer, would certainly go with them.
The church today is not an entity different from Old Testament Israel but a continuation of Israel in the New Testament era.
She too has been created by the Lord and formed by His hand to be His own. This has been accomplished through the work of redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ and the great call of the gospel which forms the church into those who seek the Lord’s blessings and prevail.
The church and her members belong to the Lord. Certainly He will also go with us as we pass through the waters and walk through the fire. Nor will the waters overflow us; the fires shall not consume us.
We are safe and secure in the Creator and Redeemer who accompanies us.