A reflection on Isaiah 43:1-7 and Psalm 29 for the Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, January 9, 2022.
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’
Isaiah 43:1-7 (NRSVA)
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendour.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!
Psalm 29 (NRSVA)
From the inside of captivity it is hard to hear the voice of freedom – the voice of God.
We are far more likely to dwell on the ‘waters’, ‘rivers’, ‘fire’ and ‘flame’. We focus on our captors, rather than the redeemer who ‘created and ‘formed’ us. We all too easily forget that we are ‘precious’, ‘honoured’, and ‘loved’. We ‘fear’ – and need to be reminded that we are ‘called’ and owned by a ‘Saviour’. You ‘…are mine’.
Isaiah’s reminder is desperately needed. God’s people are forgetting their value in the eyes of the one who – as we saw in last week’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures – scatters and gathers.
There are repetitions here that are informative. Like well placed bookends our passage is hedged in with the reminder that there is one who ‘created’ and ‘formed’ Israel. Perhaps this is not just poetic reinforcement. God created these – and all – people in the beginning. God later formed this people as a nation. There is also a repeated call of God here: ‘Do not fear’.
Yes, even while they are foreign captives, Israel has a God who is both ‘near’ and is speaking hope into their lives and reality.
Perhaps the psalm above, no doubt known throughout the nation and used as a worshipful reminder of the formative power of the voice of God, was a comfort. Through Isaiah the ‘voice’ of God has spoken into their situation. The same voice is celebrated in Psalm 29 as the agent of change throughout the earth. Over and over the refrain is repeated here: ‘The voice of the Lord’.
To be sure, God’s is not the only voice in the cosmos. ‘Egypt’ has a voice. ‘Ethiopia’ and ‘Seba’ have voices too. Yet, even the voices of these powerful nations are not able to resist the history-altering sound of the creating and re-creating song that comes from the heart of this God who is always present.
God says: ‘I am with you’.
There is nothing to fear.
If the voice of God is so creative, what does this say about your voice – as one created in the image of God? Does this link make you want to use your voice more – or less?
Where do you feel most abandoned by God? Where do you feel God is closest?
Into what situation would you most like to hear the voice of God? How can this inform your prayers today?