Many people claim to have heard from God. Often in church culture, we hear about Elijah and the “still, small, voice of God” (1 Kings 19). In Psalm 29, however, the voice of the Lord is anything but quiet. Massive trees break, the earth shakes, deer giving premature birth, the woodlands stripped bare, all due to the voice of the Lord. The voice of the Lord can be quiet or loud, depending on what we need.
Through Isaiah, God calls out to the Israelites. The Israelites are in exile, and in despair. God reminds them that it is God who made them. It is God who formed not just humankind, but the people of Israel, reminding them of the promise made to Abraham.
After the reminder—which is also a statement of reassurance—comes the challenge. As the Israelites walk through the waters, rivers, and fire. God will be with them. It is not insignificant that God says, “…when you pass/walk through….” God is not talking about avoiding trials (waters, rivers, fire). God accompanies in the midst of trouble. It is not just the accompanying, though. The figure of speech of “through the waters/floods” is one of death into new life: Jacob became Israel; Israel leaves Egypt; Israel enters the promised land; Elijah’s last walk; Elijah’s prophetic beginning.
Walking “through the fire “is a symbol of purification. This is similar to the burned sacrifices, which were performed for the cleansing of sin. Through fire, metals are refined, and the impurities removed. In these times, fire was also a sign of life and security.
One can say when we perceive that God is with us and for us, we will walk through our trials and be transformed.
Even for Jesus, baptism (i.e., walk through waters) is a transition from life to death to life. When Jesus is baptized, he goes from the life he had (probably that of a carpenter) to the life of mission, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Just like us, Jesus “walks” through the waters. Jesus knows the things of our lives, for he walked them, too.
- Can you think when God has walked with you through times of refinement? What did you hear from God during this?
- When did you “walk” through a time of death into a new life (or way of living)? How did God walk beside them?
- What is similar between times of refinement, and times of death-to-life? What is different between them?
- [FD] What does baptism mean to you?