The LORD your redeemer, the holy one of Israel, says, For your sake, I have sent an army to Babylon, and brought down all the bars, turning the Chaldeans’ singing into a lament. I am the LORD, your holy one, Israel’s creator, your king! The LORD says — who makes a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and battalion — they will lie down together and will not rise; they will be extinguished, extinguished like a wick.
Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history.
Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. The beasts of the field, the jackals and ostriches, will honor me, because I have put water in the desert and streams in the wilderness to give water to my people, my chosen ones, this people whom I formed for myself, who will recount my praise. – Isaiah 43:14-21 (CEB)
When I was in seminary, one of my class assignments was to reflect on a pastoral care situation and write a prayer for it. The next week, when we were paired up with a classmate to read our prayers, the professor asked us to describe the theology of the other person based on their prayer.
The content of the prayer was important, but the professor asked us to focus on the words we used. For example, the opening to my prayer was “Present and Loving God.” Chances are, no one in that class picked those names for God. I’ve said before the Incarnation is a key foundation in my personal faith and theology. Present and loving describe the Incarnation and are two of God’s characteristics that are very important to me.
There are over 100 names for God in Scripture. These God names are intentional and often speak to the context and message at hand. When God names Godself, we should pay attention. In the first two verses of this passage, God gives us five names: Lord (which is The I Am), our Redeemer, Holy One of Israel, Israel’s creator, and our King.
These names connote God’s divinity, strength, and power while also describing our relationship with God. God claims Israel personally — even when Israel has done all they can to reject the relationship, essentially denying every one of these names for God.
In the two verses that follow, Isaiah gives us an example of God’s divinity, strength, power, and relationship with Israel — a history lesson on the Exodus. Through Isaiah God reminds the people of who God is: their redeemer, the one who parted the sea and brought down armies. God is the one who brought water from a rock, provided manna when they woke in the morning and quail for their evening meal. In doing so, God redeems Israel and creates them to be a holy people.
I imagine when the Israelites heard this reminder, they were all, “Yeah, do it again Lord!”
But this isn’t the whole Exodus story. For if they are to remember who God is, they must also remember who they are: slow to recognize their own weakness, quick to forget who God is, and complaining when things are difficult or not what they used to be. They must remember that after the I Am brought them through the waters of the Jordan into the Promised Land how easily they wearied of what it means to be God’s people. They must remember how quickly they began to cling to false idols, oppress the weak, and ignore God’s prophets.God’s names, God’s actions are a reminder of who God is. This is why it’s important for us to tell the story over and over again of God’s faithfulness, even in the face of our unfaithfulness. #Faithfulness #remember #God Click To Tweet
God’s names, God’s actions are a reminder of who God is. This is why it’s important for us to tell the story over and over again of God’s faithfulness, even in the face of our unfaithfulness. As we remember how God has acted in the past, faithful in our times of need, we can be confident God will act again. Like the exiles, when we are suffering, we also pray for God to “do it again.” There’s nothing wrong with this. It is good and right to tell God’s story of salvation.
Remembering is important. Which is why, in the midst of the Israelites’ remembering, we are shocked to hear God say, “Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history.”
When I first read this, I thought God was reminding of the psalmist’s words: As far as east is from west — that’s how far God has removed our sin from us. Israel’s apostasy was in the past and they are ready to repent. We do the same each Sunday in our prayer of adoration and confession. When we hear the words of life, we are reminded that we are forgiven. The past is ancient history, and now we move forward in the redeemed life.
But Isaiah recounted their sin before we joined the passage and will go on to remind them again in just a few verses. It seems God does want them to remember their sin, so they don’t repeat the past. What is it, then, God wants them to forget?
Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?
God is doing a new thing, and we won’t we recognize it if we are focused on looking backwards. God doesn’t want us to simply put our sin behind us but our old expectations as well. As in our baptism, we become a new creation. It’s not that we shouldn’t tell the story of how God has saved us in the past, but we shouldn’t be expecting God to repeat the past.
We might want God to just “do it again” as God did it before because this is something we know. And in our knowing, we feel there is less risk and might even think we can be in control. But the exiles in Babylon were not the same people as the slaves coming out of Egypt. We are not the same people we were one, five, twenty years ago.
As we look for God to “do it again,” we might miss what God is doing now. As we look to God to show us the way, God asks us, “Don’t you recognize it?”
The truth is, we might not recognize it at first. It is a new thing, after all. Even as God tells the Israelites not to look back when they need to go forward, God reminds them what they do need to remember: who God is.
They are reminded — we are reminded — that God is still Lord (the I Am), our Redeemer, our Holy One, our creator, and our King. This doesn’t change. And despite our changing circumstances, we remain the ones whom God has formed for God’s purpose, out of God’s love.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! We are the ones who have been made new. We are the ones who are changed, not God. While we may want the seemingly easier way of God doing again what has been done in the past, the past is not what we need. As ones made new, and continuing to be renewed in Christ, God responds by doing new things. Same God, new things.
Faith is trusting that God can and will do these new things. The challenge of our faith is to stay close enough to God that we can recognize them. God is doing a new thing — do we recognize it? Amen.
God who moved over the waters of creation, who was born into humanity as an infant, who moves within us with wind and fire, teach us to remember who you are. Teach us to trust not in what you’ve done in the past but in the hope of what you are doing now. Open our eyes and hearts to see the way you make for us in the wilderness. Let us be willing to reach for the water you provide in the desert. For in all things, and in all changing things, you are still God and we belong to you. Amen.#Faith is trusting that God can and will do these new things. The challenge of our faith is to stay close enough to God that we can recognize them. God is doing a new thing — do we recognize it? Click To Tweet
 Psalm 103:12 (CEB)
 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV)