Behold, I am doing something New Part I

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"Behold, I am doing something New" Is 43:19 Part I

What was the new thing God was doing in the midst of his people who were in exile?

Let us read the passage in context. 43:14-21.

The Chosen people of God are in exile because they had broken their covenant with God. God had sent numerous prophets proclaiming a call of repentance and return to the Lord their God, but the leaders and the people on the whole ignored the prophetic warnings. They trusted in those false prophets instead who tickled their ears, saying things they wanted to hear. They believed that since they were the Chosen people of God, that as long as they gave lip service to the law of the covenant they could live a double life. They looked back on their history and saw the many times God delivered them from their enemies. Why would he not do the same in their time and situation?

We know what happened. The prophetic word of God was fulfilled. Their enemies overwhelmed them after a long siege which devastated them almost to extinction. The remnant was brought to Babylon. Jeremiah the prophet was one of the ones who tried to warn the leaders. But they refused to listen. But after his prophetic word came true, he gave the exiles hope without them fully understanding. He said that their exile would last for 70 years.

During that time the word of God was still present to the people in exile. They were told to make the most of their situation; to remain faithful to the covenant and the laws of Moses.

The first part of the passage we read stresses that Yahweh will again redeem his people as he once did for their ancestors when they were slaves in Egypt. The Babylonians who were their present conquers will be overthrown. The point in fact is that the prophet is setting the stage for the divinely appointed mission of Cyrus, the Persian.. For it is he who would conquer Babylon and the fall of that city will usher in the opening act in the future drama of the Chosen people’s redemption again.

How does God assure them of this? He recalls for them the fact that it was He who made a way for the Israelites to cross through the Red Sea on dry soil; while at the same God destroyed the pursuing Egyptian charioteers who drowned when the waters returned to their normal level.

But it is not the past that the Lord wants them to reflect on or to live in. Remembrance of the past is only to help them to understand what God was about to do in the present moment for them because of his everlasting love. Just as mightily will God act on behalf of his people once again as he delivers them from Babylonian captivity and return them to the Promised Land. God is not the God of the past but of the present. What God did in a marvelous, miraculous way to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, he will do once more to redeem the Israelites in the present condition.

The present context is situated in the true identity of who God is. "Here is the words of Yahweh your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel....the Holy God, the creator of Israel, your King."(43:14, 15)

It is because who he is that he will redeem his people. As God made a way through the Red Sea which seemed impossible to the Israelites at the time with their backs to the sea and the Egyptians coming against them in battle array, so God will make a way for the present people through the desert back to Jerusalem. At the same time God will both protect and provide for them: protect them from their enemies and provide nourishment and drink during their journey.

As God prepared the people by proclaiming what he was about to do on their behalf because he was God, he also indicated what their response should be. Besides believing and acting on the word of God, they were to "proclaim his praises" both before and after it happens.

The passage that follows indicates that it was lack of true worship and sacrifice was the reason for the collapse of Israel and the resulting exile of the people. As the people are about to experience the redemptive mercy of Yahweh, they were freely to break into praise and glory before God as the Israelites did after their deliverance from Egypt.

What happened in fact was that God did fulfilled his prophetic word and did something new in the life of his people. But it went beyond their restoration and return to Jerusalem. For when they returned their hearts were disheartened because Jerusalem was in total ruin and the Temple burnt and destroyed. In prophecy God told the people that he was going to restore the beauty and life of Jerusalem and the Temple in such a way that the former glory would be nothing in comparison to the new glory. And so he did.

When the early Church Fathers reflected on this passage from Isaiah, they saw more than what actually happened. They also saw it to have a greater and fuller meaning. Ambrose saw it as applying to what God did in the Incarnation. Superceding the normal process of conception, doing what was beyond the imagination or expectation of human beings, God became Man in the person of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin.

Irenaeus interpreted this passage of God doing something new as a foreshadowing of the new covenant God will establish with his people: the new covenant established by Jesus at the Last Supper and on the Cross.

How are we to apply this passage to our present moment? First, we need to recall and respond with praise to the author of that Word: God, our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier. Our praise is not to be a mere lip service but an authentic offering of a heart and mind that stands continually in awe of God.

Secondly, we must recognize that the Word of God is timeless and though meant for the people who were the original recipients, the Word of God has a life beyond any particular point of history. So when we read that Jesus says, forgive or you will not be forgiven, those words were not meant only for his contemporaries but for us as well. When Jesus called for repentance, that is a call we must hear and respond to in our own lives on a daily basis.

Thirdly, we are called to be a people who is rooted firmly in the present moment in spite of the pull to look and long for the so-called glorious past or the pull to yearn for a future that is not yet. Yes, we are called to remember the past but not to idolize it nor allow shame and guilt to shackle us in the darkness of lost and despair. The past we are to remember is what God has done in spite of our sinfulness and failures. The future we are to keep before us is the prize on high won for us by Jesus through his death and resurrection. But it is neither in the past nor the future that we find life, only in the present moment in the presence of the living God who is doing something new now.

Fourthly, we are to perceive what is God is doing. This perception is a gift of the Holy Spirit who gives us all we need to correctly perceive the grace of God in our life in the present moment. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the gift of wisdom to enable us to perceive what is in the mind of God for us in the present moment. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the gift of knowledge to be able to have a clarity of what we perceive. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the gift of understanding to be able to draw the necessary conclusions of what we perceive and know. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the counsel and discernment to have certainty that we are following the will of God. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the courage and fortitude to be able act on this knowledge and understanding. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the desire to respond to the revelation of God with praise and thanksgiving. It is the Holy Spirit who brings us to a deeper awareness of the awesomeness of the God who reveal his plan to us.

Fifthly, we are to act on the new thing God is doing in the present moment in our life. It is in the present moment that we will hear God’s voice and see the move of his Spirit. We are to learn to be attentive to the present moment having studied and remembered the past. We are to open to the future direction of the Lord as we remain rooted in the present moment.

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