I Wonder, Isaiah 43:16-21

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.

The Lord who makes a way in the sea…golly that sounds familiar…where have I heard that before? “A path in the water…chariot and horse” Ohhh. This reminds me of one of my all time favorite summer camp songs Pharaoh Pharaoh (you can listen here). If you’re unfamiliar it goes, “I raised my rod stuck it in the sand / and all of God’s people walked across dry land…Well-a pharaoh’s army is a comin to / so what do you think that I should do / I raised my rod and I cleared my throat / and all of pharaoh’s army did the dead man’s float.” This is, of course, a reference to the exodus. The same Lord who made a way in the sea is speaking here. There is something both incredibly awe inspiring and unbelievably comforting about a God that is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That alone provides plenty to wonder-even to marvel-at, but we continue.

I wonder why the reference to the miraculous departure from Egypt only to follow it up with “don’t remember prior things.” Is it simply to put emphasis on the new thing that is coming? I wonder if it’s a reminder to not get stuck in what has been but to look at what is coming? Could it be a, “don’t just sit and reminisce about the good ole’ days.?” Or is it more of a “you ain’t seen nothin yet” type of move. Like, “hey, remember that really amazing thing I did back then? Just wait until you see what’s next.”

I’m doing a new thing; now, it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I wonder how often I fail to recognize the new thing. Is there a new thing now that I’m missing? I love the imagery of it sprouting up. So small, so fragile, so easy to miss. But yet it feels…what is the right word? Some combination of achievable and completely out of reach, manageable yet still miraculous. What is the tone here? Don’t you recognize it? Is it incredulous? Sarcastic? I like to imagine it’s like when a parent brings their toddler to the zoo and they say “Look-do you see the lion? Isn’t it cool?” Less of a, “How could you not notice this?” and more of a, “I think this is incredible and I would love nothing more than to share it with you.”

I wonder what these jackals and ostriches think of God. I know, I know, they’re desert animals and they’re probably not thinking anything. But as someone whose favorite hobby is making up all the things my dog might say I enjoy wondering about the jackals (side note-in my brain the jackals sound like the hyenas from The Lion King). I love the picture of water in the desert and streams in the wilderness. I imagine finding water in the desert feels the same as…well since I started with a reference to summer camp lets end with one too. Imagine you have been sweating your ass off all day at summer camp and you feel like you will never be cool again and then, mercy of mercies, it is pool time. Is there anything more glorious than water in the desert?

What wonderings has this passage given to you?

2 thoughts on “I Wonder, Isaiah 43:16-21

  1. In the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Iraq the average noon temp in Nov is about 110F. Due to radiational cooling at night the temp cold plunge to well below 30F. Wear about 60 pounds of body armor and you can sweat about 3 quarts of fluid a day. Meaning you drink water, more water, and more water. I would go though about 2 gallons a day in the field. But here is the catch. If you only drink water alone you die. What you sweat is not so much water but salt and other life essencial minerals. Ancient Semitic desert based cultures knew this. It was not water that was life, but salt and manganese. Which is why David, the Prophets, Jesus had to have access to such essencial minerals in their daily diets. I went no where without my salt tablets and basic mineral supplements. You never want to pee brown, which is renal failure, and 600 miles from the closest ICU bed on the carrier, you would have a very bad day.

    Another fact of life in the Middle East are little creatures, scorpions, blood beetles, desert rats that seek the warmth of a boot, a shoe, a sleeping bag at night. You learned never to put your boots on when waking before you shake whatever was in out. Or shinning a flashlight in your bag before getting cozy at night. Found all sorts of little and not so little things in there over time.

    Point being life will at times take you into some very dicey to questionable areas of life and living. And we are not always provided with an alarm or magic watch to remind us, drink more, don’t forget you pills, check your bag or boot before you get comfy. And no, at times there are no ‘smoores’ camp fires, holding hands, or chlorinated pools to comfort us. Sometimes we are in the middle of ‘freaking’ hot waste land of life or a string of bad days, or you are in the ‘suck’ to use a term we did in the Marines. What do you do? Pray of course, but know you are not the first or last person in this time and place. Someone walked this path or journey before you. Someone will hold your hand and lead you through the Valley of the Shadows. Hold onto Him. He will show you the path to water, to salt, to minerals, the staffs of life.


  2. I am reading in Isaiah right now too so I especially enjoyed this post. Thank you. Being in the desert in this scene, it makes sense to mention the ostrich and the jackals. But it really got me thinking why bring this up? I was thinking back to Job 39 ( 37 and 38 for context). All those that thought they understood Job’s situation, his grief and pain had been going on for so long. Now a storm rises and God is coming to talk to his friend Job. God seals up the hand of every man so that people can see HIS work. God is not interested in the prideful work of the self righteous. The beasts all go into their dens. Everyone can do nothing but stop working and look up at God for what He can only do. They stop their work and let Him take over (37:7-9). God speaks out of the storm (38) to Job, reminding Job that He is creator and of Job in relation to him as creation – what did Job know that God did not know? And in this long build-up where God ultimately summarizes that He as God knows all and made all and in that context He specifically LOVES Job. Job’s friends are wrong and God will forgive them as they seek forgiveness from Job and God will restore. It is in the midst of this, God utilizes the ostrich metaphor that we see here. Even the animal “most devoid of wisdom” (Job 39) would come to honor God (Isaiah 43). Even the dumbest being (sorry Ostrich) could be redeemed and honoring. God is restoring life where there was only death, healing where there was only hurt and it wouldn’t come from the strength of people (God fearing or not). It wouldn’t come from prideful religious people like Job’s friends. It would come from God alone and would come to the brokenhearted (Isaiah 66:2). Anyways, that might be a little long, but that is what your writing sparked in me.


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