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SEE, I AM DOING A NEW THING!

Isaiah 43:1-43:28
Key Verse: 43:19

Isaiah 43 is about God’s plan to restore Israel from Babylonian captivity. Yet, it goes beyond the restoration of Israel, looking forward God’s redemption purpose for the salvation of all mankind through Christ Jesus. No one could think of and plan out such a thing. But God does so. It is a totally new thing in the history of Israel and in the history of the world. It is also God who can truly do a new thing in our lives. As we begin this new semester, welcoming freshmen, we may think of who this God is and find new hope in him.

First, “I am with you” (1-13). Look at verse 1. “But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.” Although this message is given to the nation, God speaks very personally, calling, “O Jacob”, “O Israel” as a father calls his child. He is the Creator of Jacob and the former of Israel. We imagine the exiles of Israel in Babylon as very fearful, not even sure of their survival. And they must have been full of fear and anxiety whenever they thought about the future of their children. But God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Here God uses perfect present tense for the future event. God knows them personally and assures that they are his regardless of their present human conditions. And then he says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” “Waters”, “rivers” and “fires” refer to extremely difficult life situations. It was true that when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, God was with them, dividing the Sea. Also, Jordan river could not sweep over them, as they passed through it. And Daniel’s three friends were not burned when they were thrown into the blazing furnace. The flames of fire cold not touch them. In the same way God would be with them and absolutely protect them from any dangers in their exiled situation.

Then the LORD continues in verses 3 and 4, “For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.” Here we see the words, “ransom” “stead| and “exchange.” Parents are willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake of their children, because they are precious in their eyes and the parents love them. This heart of parents is from God. Ultimately, this sacrifice looks forward to God’s Son, Christ Jesus, who would be a ransom sacrifice for the redemption of mankind because of God’s love for them. His sacrificial love is well expressed in John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Look at verse 5. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you;…” God again deals with their fear, saying, “Do not be afraid.” Just earlier in verse 1, he said, “Fear not…I will be with you.” Now he says, “I am with you.” Fear is one of the fundamental problems of mankind, ever since men left God and so lost God in their hearts. What is fear? According to Oxford dictionary, it is “an unpleasant emotion caused by exposure to danger, expectation of pain, etc.” Anyway, fear is reality and can be defined in many ways. Franklin, D. Roosevelt said in his 1933 Inaugural address, there is “Nothing to fear but fear itself.” But spiritually speaking, we can say that fear is the absence of God, as darkness is the absence of light. There seem to be people who are not fearful, although they have no part with God. Yet, according to the Bible, fear is there in the depth of each one’s heart. We know that darkness disappears as soon as light comes in. In the same way when there is God in one’s heart, fear is gone. That’s why God said, “I will be with you” and now, “I am with you.” This is the remedy for man’s fear. It is very interesting that Jacob called God, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac in Genesis 31:42, when he testified to God to Laban, who pursued him. One of God’s names is Fear, the Fear of Isaac, the one Isaac feared. Isaiah 8:12-13 says, “…do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The LORD Almighty is the one who are to regard as holy, he is the one who are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” When we believe that God is with me, we can have holy fear of God in our hearts. When we fear God, fear is gone from our hearts and we fear no one and nothing. Jesus also said, “Do not fear men…but him…” (Lk 12:4). Indeed believing that God is with me is the victory over fear. What can be greater love than the confession, “I am with you.” This can be the expression of God’s perfect love. So 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love drives out fear.”

After saying, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you,” God gives a promise concerning their children and themselves: “I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’” That God gathers them and their children is not just from Babylon but from east, west, north and south, from all over the world. When God is with them, any power cannot hold them, but let them go, according to God’s command. It is truly amazing to see that the nation Israel was established in 1948 after 2000 years of being scattered all over the world.

Then here is God’s command: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” This can be God’s hope and vision for the world through them. It is likely that God has so many lost children scattered even to far countries and to the ends of the earth. He wants to bring everyone who is called by his name, whom he created for his glory, whom he formed and made. The Israelites experienced the pain of being scattered, and would have the joy of being gathered by God’s grace. Then God wants them to participate in God’s pain and joy by giving them this command of bringing all his children from afar, from the ends of the earth. God’s scope of vision for them was great. It is written in Isaiah 49:6, “he says: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Their spiritual condition will be like being blind and deaf. Yet God says, “Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf.”

This was fulfilled when Jesus came as a light for the Gentiles (Lk 2:32). He came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind (Lk 4:18). He called twelve disciples and raised them up as apostles. After his resurrection from the dead, he gave them a great commission, “…go and make disciples of all nations…And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20). Here we learn the deep meaning of God’s being with us. It is not only to solve our own problems but ultimately to serve God’s world salvation purpose. Now he is with his believers in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ Jesus.

In other words, he is with us so that we may become his witnesses. Witnesses can be witnesses only of what they saw and experienced. Look at verse 9. “All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of them foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, ‘It is true.’” The world needs true witnesses in the midst of prevalent falsity. Yet to be true witnesses of the world is not easy. On top of that, the witnesses of the nations of the world cannot know what God is doing, and cannot be God’s witnesses.

God needs his witnesses. Look at verses 10-13. “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I even, I am the LORD, and apart from me there is no saviour. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he?’” God’s witnesses are to know and believe him and understand that he is the LORD, the only Saviour. This is the reason the LORD has revealed and saved and proclaimed so that they might become his witnesses that he is God. Being the witnesses of God is life-giving. Through God’s witnesses people of the world come to know the true God and have life in them. And no one can stop the work of God. He said, “When I act, who can reverse it?” (cf. 14:27). This is the reason Jesus told his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

In this part we learn that God is with us so that we might overcome fear and know him and become his witnesses to the world.

“See, I am doing a new thing” (14-28). Look at verse 14. “This is what the LORD says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘For your sake I will send to Babylon and bring down as fugitives all the Babylonians, in the ships in which they took pride.’” Here now God shows concretely how he would redeem Israelites in Babylon. In order to deliver the Israelites from the bondage of Pharaoh in Egypt, he sent his servant Moses. Now in order to deliver them from Babylonian captivity, he would send Cyrus, the king of Persia, who could conquer Babylon. When Cyrus came with his army to attack Babylon, all their nobles would be desperate to flee in the ship in which they took pleasures and rejoiced. It happened in history as God prophesied. After Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon, God would move the heart of Cyrus to let Israel go up to their own land. It is amazing that the name of Cyrus is written three times in Isaiah (44:38; 45:1,13), which was written before Israel’s being exiled in Babylon. God had the plan of how they would come out of Babylon even before their captivity in Babylon. He is the Ruler of history.

Look at verses 15-17. “I am the LORD, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your king. 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.” This alludes to the event of Exodus, how they could come of Egypt. He made a way through the Red Sea so that the Israelites could walk through the Sea as on dry land, while the Egyptian army were drowned with all their chariots and horses--reinforcements and all-- when the waters flew back. This was an unforgettable historical event as the unprecedented amazing work of God. Those who remembered this glorious work of God in their distressed national situation wished that such a thing would happen again in their time. A prophet said, “LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known” (Hab 3:2).

Then the LORD says in verse 18. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” What an unusual and uncommon response of God! It is important to have a sense of history. So it seemed that God should have said, “Remember the former things and pray that the work may be renewed.” Then what does it mean when he says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past”? There are people who dwell on their past, especially a glorious past, although their present condition is pitiful. They just wish that their glorious past would come back. The Israelites were like that, with a glorious past history in their lowly and depressed present situation. Some dwell on the past bitter and painful events or failures. That’s truly a miserable life. In that case they had to forget the former things and not dwell on the past. Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:13,14, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal…” Also, when God said, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past,” God wanted them not to cling to the way God did in the past, dividing the Red Sea and destroying Egyptian army. God can reveal his power in a different way. Also, God said, “Forget the former things” for the future thing would be far greater and even incomparable, so totally new that they would forget the former things.

Look at verse 19. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, he hardened the heart of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and imposed ten plagues on the land so that he would finally let Israel go. But when God was going to bring the Israelites out of Babylon, this time as we considered earlier, he would move the heart of Cyrus, the king of Persia. Cyrus became like a servant of God and shepherd to help Israelites to freely go back to their own to rebuild the city and its temple (2 Ch 36:32-33). He would even provide the materials for the construction. This was a totally different way God would reveal his power and liberate his people. In this work of God, the Israelites did not need to hurry as they had done to come out of Egypt. They would joyfully come back to their land. At the time of the Exodus, God made a way through the sea. Now he would make a way in the desert with the streams in the waste land, so that the Israelites would come back to their land through the desert. It was like a high way in the desert for them. It was really a new thing that they could not imagine. But God says, “Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

And in light of the whole Bible a new thing God is doing is far beyond the scope of the restoration of Israel. God is doing a completely new thing for the restoration of his kingdom for all people of the world by sending his Son Jesus Christ into this world. Moses said to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers…” That’s true. Jesus came like the 2nd Moses. Yet, the coming of the Son of God is completely different from the coming of any other human being. The Son of God would come and die on the cross and be raised from the dead to save all sinners and restore them into the kingdom of God. This is the gospel from God, to which the Law and the Prophets testify, yet apart from law (Ro 3:21). This is the good news of great joy that will be for all the people (Lk 2:11).

While on earth Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the father.” Jesus wants us to do new great things through faith. It is through prayer and the Holy Spirit. When Peter became a man of prayer and was filled with the Holy Spirit, at his preaching three thousand people repented and believed in Jesus. In his message he said, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see vision, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” The prophets are those who speak the word of God. So here “prophesy” includes becoming Bible teachers who speak the word of God. Through devoted Bible study in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our children and people of next generations can be excellent Bible teachers. And according to Amos, in the last days lovely young women strong young men will faint because of thirst and hunger for the word of God. So where there are those who speak the word of God, they will gather to hear the word of God. We can expect a new thing, greater work from God.

More personally, a new thing comes from God when one hears the word of God. When Abraham heard the word of God and accepted God’s calling personally in obedience to his word and with faith in his promise (Ge 12:1,2), truly a new thing could begin in his life. Newness or a new thing comes from God through his word, not human beings. In Isaiah 40 God let the prophet cry out, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breadth of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (40:6-8). May we invite freshmen to Bible study so that they can hear the word of God and a new thing can be done in their lives. May we also hear the word of the Lord and find new hope in him, whenever we face hard and hopeless situations.

Look at verse 20 and 21. “The wild animals honour me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert 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.” When God is doing a new thing, not just people but even the wild animals, like the two representative desert animals, jackals and owls (13:21-22), honour and praise God. In light of New Testament Jesus is the living water welling up to eternal life (Jn 4:14), and also the water can refer to the Holy Spirit, for Jesus said, “whoever believes in me…streams of living water will flow from within him” (Jn 7:38,39). And the ultimate purpose of all these blessings of God is for his people to proclaim his praise.

Then God deals with the present state of Israel. Look at verses 22-24. “Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel. You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honoured 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.” Serving God was their privilege and could be their expression of loving and honouring God. But they felt burdened with serving God and so were habitual and superficial. Then they burdened and wearied God with their sins and offenses. But how would God deal with their sins? Look at verse 25. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgression, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” This promise would be fulfilled in Christ Jesus, who became the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).

Look at verse 26. “Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together, state the case for your innocence.” God wants us to deal with unsolved life problems very clearly before him. Simple and clear repentance is the solution. “Your first father sinned (cf. Dt 26:5; Hos. 12:2-4); your spokesmen rebelled against me. So I will disgrace the dignities of your temple, and I will consign Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn.” From their “father” Jacob right up to the present they have continued in sin. The inevitable result is the one that occurred in 586 B.C., when God consigned “Jacob to destruction.” But God would do a new thing in his deep love and hope for them. And God does all things for his glory, for himself, for him, for his own sake, for his praise (7, 21, 24. 25. 26). Our lives should be always centred on God and glory, not on ourselves and our own happiness.

In this study we thank God for his love confession, ‘You are mine…I am with you.” Also, thank God for his hope, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” May we put our faith and hope in him as we live in this world.

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