Thus says the Lord, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army, till they lie prostrate together, never to rise, snuffed out and quenched like a wick.
Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers. Wild beasts honor me, jackals and ostriches, for I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise.(P) The word of the Lord.
When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing. (R)
Then they said among the nations, "The Lord had done great things for them." - The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad indeed. (R)
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the torrents in the southern desert. Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing. (R)
Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves. (R)
Brothers and sisters: I consider everything as loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of my Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God's upward calling, in Christ Jesus.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She replied, "No one, sir," Then Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
The Book of Isaiah is the first book containing the writings of the prophets in the Bible. While it is traditionally believed that the entire book was written by one man, Isaiah, and at different times in his life, it is also widely accepted that differences exist in theological ideas and themes, historical settings and perspectives, and language, especially the choice of vocabulary and literary style in the latter part of the book, Isaiah (1-39; 40-55; 56-66). These altogether point to more than one writer, known as the Second and Third Isaiah or the disciples of Isaiah.
The real and historical Isaiah, which in Hebrew means "the Lord is salvation", was the son of Amoz and also the brother of Amaziah, the king of Judah at that time, according to some ancient Jewish traditions, Isaiah (1:1). Therefore, Isaiah was of royal descent, and lived about seven hundred years before the birth of Christ in Jerusalem, the capital of the Kingdom of Judah. He was the first of four Major Prophets along with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel of the Bible. Furthermore, he was best known as the Hebrew prophet who predicted the coming of Israel's Messiah and Saviour.
The content of today's text, taken from the 43rd chapter of the second part of Isaiah shows that it was written during the exile or forced detention of Israelites in Babylonia, about 150 years after Isaiah's death. According to the scriptures, several times during the period between 607-586 years before Christ, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon sent his armies against the kingdom of Judah, ransacked the city of Jerusalem and the temple, and killed many people. Moreover, many thousands of Jews were taken captive, including the king, his mother, wives, officials, military leaders, and the finest and brightest young skilled workers, and thousands of others; only the poorest of the land were left. As a matter of fact, all these things happened as the Lord had forewarned through Isaiah, 2 Kings (24:10-20).
While in exile, the Israelites considered the exile as God's just punishment for their sins and saw themselves as being abandoned by God and felt that there was no hope of returning to their homeland. However, there was no question of God ever forgetting His covenant with them. They belonged to Him, for He had chosen them. Hence, through Isaiah, He wanted them to know that they would soon return to their homeland and rebuild their nation. Nevertheless, it was necessary for them to know about their Lord, to recall the great things He had done for their ancestors, and learn to turn to Him in faith and repentance.
In today's first reading, we read just exactly that:
The Lord introduces Himself as the Lord who makes a way. Isaiah proclaims, "Thus, says the Lord, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army, till they lie prostrate together, never to rise, snuffed out and quenched like a wick", Isaiah (43:16-17).
Israelites' passing through the sea is one of the most exciting events recorded in the Book of Exodus (11-19). It occurred around 1440 BC and about 700 years before the time of Isaiah. According to the scriptures, the descendants of Jacob had lived in Egypt for more than 450 years but 400 years of which were spent in slavery. When they pleaded to the Lord for help, He sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt. But, the Pharaoh at first refused to let the Israelites leave. Then, the Lord unleased 10 plagues on the Egyptians. It was the tenth plague - the plague of the first born - which eventually persuaded the Pharaoh to let them go.
However, he later changed his mind, and sent his army in pursuit of the Israelites who were well over 2 million, including women and children. Eventually, they caught up with the Israelites as they were camping by the sea. The Israelites, fearing for their lives, cried out to the Lord, who then parted the sea to help them walk through, but then made the waters return and destroy by drowning all of the Pharaoh's pursuing army, his chariots, and his horsemen; no one escaped. Now, by reminding the Israelites of the past during their captivity in Babylon, the Lord was giving them encouragement to trust in His power to make a way.
The Lord reminded the Israelites of the importance of looking forward, not backward. He says, "Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago, consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers", Isaiah (43:18-19).
"Remember" means "to call to mind", "to think of", "to recollect". The Old Testament records of the times that the Lord had commanded the Israelites through Moses and others to remember and not to forget the effects of His actions in the wilderness and all His works on their behalf, Exodus (12:1-13:16); Numbers (9:1-14); and Leviticus (23:5). The memory of these experiences became vital to their religious life. Moreover, the Lord had exhorted them to ensure that their children were also thoroughly taught about His deeds. But, in today's text, we read that the same God had urged them "not to remember the events of the past". Why?
By the time of their exile, the Israelites had witnessed many great events, wonders, victories, and hardships, turmoil and defeats. They gained freedom and were liberated from slavery in Egypt; Moses received God's Law on their behalf; they conquered the land of Canaan and entered the Promised Land; battled with enemies and conquerors; built the Temple of God; divided the nation into the north and the south, and so on. While the Lord continued to be faithful to them by performing miracle after miracle and blessing them with many good things; yet, they returned to Him only evil things. They turned to the worship of idols. They abused the poor and ignored the needy. Their continued rebellion eventually led to their exile from the Promised Land.
During the exile, they were in anguish, because it seemed that God had turned away from His promises to their father, Abraham. But God had neither lost His love for them nor had He abandoned them. Instead, through Isaiah, He held out the hand of hope. He instructed them to forget the past and look forward to the new manifestation of His power. In essence, God was saying that they needed to leave behind their past, both failures and glories; and that they should not continue feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, they must get ready to welcome something new. In fact, they should be able to recognize it because it was already springing up in their midst.
The Lord pointed out to them His unfailing power and strength to turn a seemingly impossible situation into a triumphant victory. Besides, His new manifestation would be something better, greater, grander, and more magnificent than they had ever seen or experienced before. The Lord declares, "In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers. Wild beasts honour me, jackals and ostriches, for I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise", Isaiah (43:20-21).
In the desert, there is commonly no path, and water is scarce. But the Lord wanted the children of Israel to know that just as He had made a way for their ancestors, providing them with overflowing streams of water to drink, besides manna in the desert that lay between Egypt and Canaan, He would also make a new way for them during their journey to their homeland and give them water to drink in the desert that lay between Babylon and Judea. Moreover, all of God's creation, including animals and all the chosen people of God, will participate in the benefits of the "new thing". In return, they will all give their hearts to God completely by praising, honouring and worshipping Him.
After 70 years of exile, this prophecy was fulfilled in 538 BC, when Cyrus, the King of Persia permitted the Israelites to return to their homeland and to rebuild the city plus the temple, for which he also gave them money. Even though the temple was restored, and God continued to dwell in the midst of the Israelites, it is actually considered to be a prefiguration of the even greater restoration - that of all the spiritual blessings and advantages in His heavenly kingdom which God confers upon all His people, in and through Jesus Christ, not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles, Ephesians (1:3). And at the same time, it also points to the prefiguration of the resurrection of the all the dead.
What is the message for us?
Though these verses of Isaiah were written more than 2,500 years ago and, they were about the Israelites, they are just as relevant now as they were back then. Like the Israelites in our sinfulness, we might sometimes find ourselves in exile or in a place of desolation, or estranged from our friends and family members, or in one of the painful, dark pits of life. But in those moments, we can do three things:
Remember, our God is still a God of love and mercy who does not ever want even those who reject Him to suffer forever. He loves us so passionately that in His goodness, He offers us a way of out of any situation that we are faced with. But the way He works is that He always does something new and extraordinary to show forth His glory. Countless times He comes to our rescue perhaps even when we fail to ask. Therefore, on our part, we need to do only one thing: we need to get past the worst of the guilt and shame. We ought to forget the past bad decisions and sin, which keep us captive and, instead, repent for our sins and look forward to the new things God is preparing for us.
God is always revealing many incredible things every day in nature and in our lives. When we look through the eyes of faith, we can see them. When we pray, when we worship, when we read and listen to His word, we can sense the presence of His spirit and see His manifold handiwork around us; we can know that we are His chosen people with incredible privileges and responsibilities and can also realize that we are being protected because we are made for Him and we are here to proclaim His praise.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!