Lent 5 • Isaiah 43:16–21 • March 21, 2010
by Thomas Egger
As the season of Lent approaches its climax—Jesus’s suffering, death, and resurrection—our Lord summons our attention: “Behold! I am about to do a new thing! Right now it sprouts forth—don’t you perceive it?” (Is 43:19) Ultimately, this pericope has an eschatological thrust. On this Sunday, however, it resonates with the rich Lenten hymns which pray for a right pondering of Jesus’s holy Passion.
Throughout chapter 43, God drapes the promise of coming restoration in the imagery of his ancient saving deeds. The mighty, redeeming faithfulness of the Lord will sprout forth again in ways so grand and decisive that the former things of God’s saving work for Israel will seem only a prelude. Rhetorically addressed to exiled Israel, pining away in Babylon, God declares the truly new act which he is about to perform.
What is about to sprout forth? First, God will topple proud Babylon, opening the way for the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Is 43:13–14; 44:24–28). Second, the context anticipates a yet greater restoration which will be accomplished when God himself shall come to his people and lead them (40:3–5, 9–11; 42:13–16), blot out their transgressions (43:25; 44:22–23; 53:5–11), and renew them and the whole creation (44:3–4; cf. 65:17–18). All this sprouts forth in and from the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, until the day when it suddenly blooms forth in visible fullness at his second coming.
Verses 16-17: A promise is as good as the one who makes it. The promises of this text are spoken by the one who made a way for Israel through the sea. The mighty waters and the armed forces of Egypt were no obstacle to his power, by which he fulfills every word he declares (cf. Ex 3:19–22; 6:6-8; 11:1; 14:4, 13–18; Is 41:21–29; 43:9–12; 44:7–8).
Verse 18: Former (or first) things (רִֽאשֹׁנֹות) and things of old (קַדְמֹנִיֹּות) refer (a) to Yahweh’s Exodus deliverance, (b) more generally to all his creating, calling, and delivering acts from the beginning, and (c) ultimately to all that belongs to this age over against the coming age which Yahweh’s new thing will inaugurate (Rom 8:18; 1 Cor 10:11; Rv 21:4–5; Is 65:17). The ESV’s consider (Hithpolel of בין) refers to sustained attention—to dwell on, to ponder. The admonition not to remember the past is not an absolute prohibition; it is a dramatic declaration, alongside verse 19, that the coming salvation will be so glorious as to warrant full devotion of the heart.
Verse 19a: The opening syntax here (הִנְה + participle) suggests imminent action—“I am about to . . .” The radical newness of the new thing that God is preparing can hardly be overstated. Its aim is not to satisfy perpetual human craving for novelty. Instead, it addresses the deep brokenness of humanity and the creation with the promise that, finally, “something new under the sun” is about to break in. Springs forth is literally “sprouts” (צמח)—see also 44:3–5; 45:8; 58:8; and especially 4:2 and 61:11. Do you not know it? (הֲלֹוא תֵֽדָעוּהָ) assumes a positive reply—indeed they will, or should. Tragically, the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Lk 20:9–20) recounts that the “scribes and chief priests” did not perceive God’s new work of salvation when it came. As Jesus declares to Jerusalem in Luke 19:44: “They will not leave one stone upon another . . . because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Verses 19b–20: These verses depict the restoration of exiled Israel as both a new exodus and a new creation. Just as the whole creation suffers the consequences of human sin, so also the non-human creatures will join in honoring/glorifying (כבד) God when they behold his life-restoring provision for his people.
Verse 21: Here My people, my chosen one is further described as a people whom I formed for myself (זו here as a relative pronoun). Yahweh will form (יצר) new sons and daughters for Zion from all corners of the earth (see esp. Is 43:5–7). He will cause them to sprout up (צמח) through the water of his life-giving Spirit (Is 44:3–5). They will join the animal chorus (v. 20) in praising God for his renewing work. There is no God like him. His people know this (v. 19a) and thus serve as his witnesses (43:10, 12; 44:8).
Sermon Theme: “Want Something New?”
A sermon could begin by depicting the common longing for “something new.” Apart from our God, this longing leads only to a futile chase—always grasping for that new thing that might heal the brokenness or fill the emptiness of life. But in the end, everything new turns out to be the “same old same old.”
People often see Christianity as something stuck in the past—outmoded, worn out—and the stories of the Bible as, well, ancient history. But in Isaiah 43, God declares himself to be the sole author of that which is truly new! That newness is rooted in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. It has sprouted forth in a renewed people in the world who declare his praise. When Jesus returns, God’s new work will sprout forth in a completely renewed world and existence.
In Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, Jesus stumbles on his walk to Calvary, and Mary runs to him. On his own, Jesus stands up resolutely and looks deeply into Mary’s troubled eyes. Right then the film places into his mouth words from Revelation 21:5: “I am making all things new.” This is, indeed, what Holy Week and Easter are all about.