Tuesday, July 28
It is very likely that a majority of you have one or more far-away destinations that you could visit again and again. Perhaps some of you also have a favourite passage from the Bible. I wonder if a select few among you see some link between your destination and the particular chapter or verse in Scripture which together hold a special place close to your heart?
If I were to answer the “favourite passage” question, it would be Isaiah 43:1. “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.” Isaiah is the first of seventeen volumes in the Old Testament known as the Prophetic Books. This grouping forms a distinct part of the Bible in both the Jewish and Christian canons. In the Christian version, the Prophetic Books form the final section of the Old Testament Isaiah lived in the latter half of the 8th century BCE. The Book of Isaiah captures turbulent times for the people of Israel including war, conquest, exile and eventual freedom. Chapters 1-39 see Isaiah prophesize trouble ahead for Jerusalem because of the failure of its people to be faithful to Yahweh. Here the blame for the exile rests squarely at the feet of the people of Jerusalem. The exile is the punishment for their sins. In chapters 40-55, referred to by scholars as the Second Isaiah (probably a disciple of the original prophet), there is a change in tone offering words of comfort and promise in the return of the exiled Jewish people to Jerusalem. Now, let’s come back to why Isaiah is a favourite Bible passage of mine – there are four reasons.
First, this passage includes God’s comforting words “do not fear, for I have redeemed you” which while spoken by God to the nation of Israel centuries ago, still offers comfort to you and me in the 21st century. God’s commanding phrase “Do not fear” is reportedly found three hundred and sixty-six times in the Bible – making it a possible daily comforting reminder from our Lord as we daily struggle with life’s challenges – big and small. It also reminds me of the fact that you and I have been redeemed by our Saviour’s sacrifice on the Cross which erased the former dark and permanent reality of being separated from God due to our sins.
Secondly, this Old Testament verse states, “I have called you by name.” While this was directed by God to the people of Israel, it also generates a wonderful feeling in me. There are no doubt thousands of people who share my first name and thousands of others who share your name too. But to see in Isaiah’s writing that God has called us by our name reflects a delightful sense of intimacy between ourselves and our Creator. Just as the shepherd knows each of his flock, each of the sheep in the flock knows his voice and responds when called.
Thirdly, verse 1 in this passage ends with the assuring statement “you are mine.” Scholars of the Old Testament remind us that Yahweh’s calling Israel by name constituted a form of adoption ceremony between God as the parent and Israel as His child. For me, this verse ending reflects the intimate relationship you and I have with God as referenced in the endearment “Abba Father” seen in three separate Gospel passages. (Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15; and Galatians 4:6) The Christian writer Blair Parke (2019) noted that when you or I say “Abba Father” in prayer or hear it in a sermon, we should envision a Father who knows our greatest strength, our greatest weakness and knows our beginning and our end. Parke goes on to say that the Father, rather than forcing His will on us, allows us to meet Him in our own way that reflects a sense of intimacy that can only be felt between the Creator and the created.
The fourth reason I like Isaiah 43:1 brings us back to the start of today’s musing, about one of my favourite places to visit again and again. It also is where I (and perhaps you one day) can actually see Isaiah’s words – literally inscribed in that place. It is Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire, England which my wife and I have visited three times (I’ll say here “so far”) – first by chance and since then on purpose. On a self-guided driving holiday through Ireland, Scotland and England in 2005, we were heading through Wiltshire on a Sunday morning and could see this very large church in the distance – which turned out to be Salisbury Cathedral. We arrived during a worship service and I had a “magical moment” (which I will share with you at another time) while sitting near the back of that cathedral. It was life-changing and led me on return from vacation to wander through the doors of All Saints’ Church where I still find myself today. Now, the part about seeing Isaiah’s verse inscribed at Salisbury.
On the most recent visit to Salisbury, Debbie and I met friends, who were also travelling in England, at the Cathedral. We had our first chance to see the new baptismal font, designed by William Pye and consecrated in September 2008 (see the website ) . Much to my surprise, and delight, I saw Isaiah (43:1-2) inscribed on the font itself! It was another wonderful moment – same place, different time. You can see why I plan to return to Salisbury again and again; to not only read those marvelous prophetic words written by Isaiah, but also to sit and relish the splendour and tranquility of that 800 year old worship space where the most recent leg of my faith journey began some fifteen years ago.
Father God, I come into your presence so aware of my human frailty and yet overwhelmed by your love for me. I thank you that there is no human experience that I might walk through where your love cannot reach me. If I climb the highest mountain you are there and yet if I find myself in the darkest valley of my life, you are there. Teach me today to love you more. Help me to rest in that love that asks nothing more than the simple trusting heart of a child. In Jesus name. Amen.
– A Prayer for Resting in God’s Love (https://www.beliefnet.com)