Today’s reading: Isaiah 42-44.
God encourages his people not to be afraid in the face of tribulation, continuing the theme of comfort that dominates the last third of Isaiah.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 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. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3
I’m challenged by these verses, especially in light of the persecution facing believers around the world today. Were the words only meant for the exiles in Babylon, or do they apply to me as well? I’m being rhetorical. I think they apply to believers today as much as to the ancient Jews, but the following verses from Acts seem closer to the mark in today’s world:
After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:21-22
It’s not only today that believers have faced persecution and affliction, though it does seem to be accelerating. Christians have been living out their faith in the face of tribulation for 2,000 years. With that in mind, let’s look again at God’s promise in Isaiah that he will bring us through our floods and fires. First of all, we should note God’s claim that we are his and his promise that he will be with us. Since we belong to the LORD, we can be sure that he will keep us in his hand and not lose us. He will be with us all the way through the trial, and will still be with us when it is over.
Second, God doesn’t promise immunity from trouble. You could say the opposite, that he is expecting it or preparing us for it. “When you pass through… walk through…” His words are meant to give us courage when we face our trials. Third, God offers his character as proof of his promise. He is Jehovah, the great I AM, who has always been and will always be, knowing beforehand which trials we will face and existing long after our troubles are gone. He is God, creator and sustainer. He made the world and is greater than any creature in it. He is the Holy One of Israel. As holy he will do what is right. As Israel’s Holy One, he has bound himself to his people as their protector forever. As savior, he will deliver us.
Finally, though, we must deal with God’s promise that we will pass through our fiery trials. Here are some ways that one could interpret his word:
- His people as a group, whether Jew or Christian, will survive, though individuals may not.
- Each of us will ultimately pass beyond our tribulations, eternally unscathed in spirit, though some will suffer to the point of physical death.
- God is describing a principle rather than an absolute promise. He will always be with us in our tribulation and will keep us eternally secure, and usually physically safe.
This is a another example of needing to study “the whole counsel of God,” all of scripture, before making a decision. How do you interpret God’s promise to deliver us through our tribulations?
Image by GRP(MPK) on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0