The road never traveled by
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The classic Robert Frost poem, "The road less traveled by," depicts a choice confronting a traveler in the woods. Two roads appeared before him. He took "the road less traveled by" and concludes that it "has made all the difference." The prophet Isaiah, in his poetry, talks not about a road less traveled by but a road never traveled by. He talks of a new road that the Lord creates for his people. He concludes that taking such a road, in our lives, will make all the difference. But if it's a road never traveled by, we made not be aware that it exists. In Isaiah 43:14-21, we are encouraged not only to be courageous, in taking the new road, but to be aware, in perceiving the new road. We are encouraged to watch for and take the new paths the Lord creates for us.
Our powerful and caring God (43:14-15)
This stanza is framed by the Lord's self-identification as the God of Israel who actively cares for her: "the Lord your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel," "your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King." (14a, 15). He redeems Israel, he expresses his holiness in behalf of Israel, he created Israel and he leads Israel.
This self-identification as both powerful and caring in behalf of Israel provides the framework for what the Lord promises to do "for your sake." The people are being held captive by Babylon, but the Lord says he has "sent" to Babylon-a reference to the raising up of Cyrus of Medo-Persia, who will conquer Babylon and allow the exiles to return to their land. The Babylonians will be "brought down as fugitives" when Cyrus appears. The Chaldeans, so substantial a part of Babylon that they stand for Babylon itself in this poem, will become refugees. As refugees fleeing from the onslaught of Cyrus, they will fill the ships that they earlier rejoiced in, that symbolized their power.
The Lord identifies himself as for us-as powerful and caring "for your sake." He will overthrow and "bring down as fugitives" the powers in our lives that keep us in bondage. Jesus Christ has already overthrown the evil one and his spiritual forces (Ephesians 1:20-21, Colossians 2:13-15) and is in the process of implementing that victory (1 Corinthians 15:25, Hebrews 10:12-13). One day, the devil will be vanquished (Revelation 20:10), as will our other spiritual enemies, the flesh (Revelation 21:2) and the world (Revelation 21:8).
The Lord's past acts (43:16-17)
The Lord then reminds Israel how he has acted for her sake in the past, in the exodus. The participles translated "who makes a way" and "who brings forth" remind Israel that the Lord still does these kinds of things.
The Lord made a way, more particularly a path to walk on, through the Red Sea, even though it constituted mighty waters that stood in the way of deliverance. As the Egyptian army closed in on the Israelites at the banks of the sea, all seemed lost, but the Lord made a way, creating a pathway of deliverance they couldn't conceive of. The path he made for the Israelites was also available to the Egyptians, who the Lord "brought forth" along that path. Just as the "mighty" waters stood in the way of deliverance, the overpowering Egyptian army, symbolized by the "mighty" man, was threatening to overtake the Israelites. Yet after the Israelites traversed the path, the Lord released the mighty waters, and the Egyptian army was destroyed. The poetic description of their destruction illustrates the ease ("quenched and extinguished like a wick") with which the Egyptians were completely destroyed ("lie down together and not rise again"). He reminds the Israelites of how he freed them from Egypt to show that his promise to free them from Babylon is valid.
For those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, the Lord has brought
about great deliverance in our lives-in the first place rescuing
us from "the dominion of Satan" so that we might "receive
forgiveness of sins and an inheritance" (Acts 26:18). He
has made a path for us through the mighty waters of our lives-the
chaos that stands in the way of deliverance that was seemingly
poised to engulf us if we walked into it. He "brought forth"
the Egyptian army-the sin and the wicked forces-to the fore of
our consciousness. He has brought our sin, and the forces that
create the environment for it, close to us to show us what it
is that we might confess it, that he might judge it and that we
might be free of it. Some of the wicked stuff that used to control
us doesn't control us anymore. No matter how far along you are
on your spiritual journey, you have seen the Lord do these things.
He has created a path through mighty waters to bring you to this
point. He still does these things. He will do these things. All
this wicked stuff will die not in the Red Sea but in the lake
of fire and brimstone (Revelation 20:10, 14-15).
Something new (43:18-19)
The Lord says, "Do not call to mind [literally, "remember"] the former things, or ponder things of the past." The former things, the things of the past, are the things of the exodus. Why, after reminding his people of the things of the exodus, would the Lord tell them to forget about them? The great acts of the exodus will loom especially large in their memory against the backdrop of the smallness of their lives in exile. They'll talk about what the Lord did once upon a time. They'll remember the Lord's acts of deliverance from Egypt and forget about the Lord's promise of deliverance from Babylon. Such a promise, given the strength of Babylon and the dreary routine of their lives, will seem as nonsense. The Lord reminds Israel of the exodus in order to show her the validity of his promise of another exodus. The people should call to mind and ponder the things of the exodus, yes, but not to glorify the good old days. The exodus should burn in their memories as a beacon calling attention to the great things the Lord is yet to do.
When Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, he remembered the exodus in order to show them the new exodus that was bursting upon them-an exodus from bondage to sin (Matthew 26:26-29, John 8:34, Romans 6:6).
"Behold," the Lord says, attempting to activate the perceptive faculties of his people. He says he will do "something new," and that this new thing, like a seed sprouting, is springing forth even now. He asks, "Will you not be aware of [literally, "know"] it?" With their minds oriented toward the past and therefore comfortable with the captivity of the present, they may not be able to perceive the new thing that the Lord is doing. The new thing is a new exodus, the creation of a "roadway in the wilderness" back to the promised land and "rivers in the desert" to provide the people with water on their journey (Exodus 13:20-21, 17:6). Just as the Lord made a "way" through the sea (verse 16), he will make, literally, a "way" in the wilderness.
The word "even" points out what a surprise the creation of rivers and a roadway would be to the exiles. The one place they wouldn't expect to find roadways and rivers is the desert, but that's where the Lord will create them. Neither would they expect to find a path through mighty waters, but the Lord made a way through the sea as well. Once again, the Lord is promising to free his people and bring them home. And it has all the earmarks of an even better exodus, for this one will involve not just water from a rock but rivers in the desert. So great is this exodus that the milk and honey of the promised land will spill over into the wilderness.
What causes us to glorify the things of the past? We do so because the present seems either boring or painful. We are therefore skeptical about the future. When we ponder the things of the past to glorify them, we've usually settled into some kind of captivity, mediocrity or spiritual deadness. That is a condition we should not tolerate. If we tolerate it, we'll miss out. Our ability to perceive and appreciate spiritual things will grow dull. In glorifying the former things, we settle for the present framework of sin and unbelief.
We thereby exclude the God of the present and of the future. We don't expect God to act. We expect things to continue just as they are. We're not open to new things, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things, new gifts from God that transcend our present way of thinking. We settle into bad patterns, often without knowing it, that rob us of freedom and vitality and hope. We miss God's great acts in the present and lose hope for his great acts in the future.
Even now, the Lord may be doing something new in your life. Now it is springing forth. Will you not be aware of it? It may not feel like the other things that have happened recently, that you've settled for. It may feel like something you've felt in the more distant past. It may feel something like deliverance. At first, it may feel like death. The shoreline of the Red Sea appeared for all the world to be the place of death. With the Red Sea in front of you and the Egyptian army closing in, you may feel that you're going to die. In reality, the old way dies. The old way has to die so that the Lord can give birth to a new way. Earlier, it was a way through the sea. Now, it is a way through the wilderness.
Just as the Red Sea stood in the way of deliverance when the Lord freed Israel from Egypt, the wilderness stands in the way of deliverance as the Lord frees them from Babylon. Babylon controls us, and the wilderness looms before us. But the Lord has "sent" to Babylon to liberate us (verse 14), and he'll make a way in the wilderness back to Jerusalem, to intimacy with him. It's easy to get lost in the wilderness. You may never have passed this way before. But the Lord will make a way. The road is being cut. Even if you know where you're going, it's easy to get dehydrated in the wilderness, the but the Lord will provide "rivers in the desert"-everything you need to sustain you on your way back to him. You don't expect to find a roadway in the wilderness or rivers in the desert, but there they are. The Lord sends to Babylon; he makes a way; he provides the water.
Maybe the Lord is making you aware of something new that is springing forth. Maybe he's already sent to Babylon. You feel a release of sorts, and the wilderness lies before you. What is the wilderness in your life? Where is that place where you never expected a road to appear or rivers to flow? Maybe the Lord is asking you to go there. Maybe the road is one you never wanted to take or ever thought you'd have to take. But maybe it's the way home to him. Maybe it's the way to know him as you've never known him before. When you take a road you've never taken before, you're trusting the Lord to sustain you along the way. As he sustains you, you see his power and grace poured out for you, which draws you closer to him.
Perhaps taking a new road the Lord creates means pursuing a career that interests and scares you rather than the safe and expected career that bores you. Perhaps it means committing to some ministry here or elsewhere-our hospitality team, a new outreach team we'll be trying to form in the coming months, youth ministry. Some of you have investigated serving with Young Life in East Palo Alto and have asked yourself, "What in the world am I doing here?" You have no idea how to connect with these kids. Give it a chance. Keep moving toward them, however artlessly. See if the Lord makes a way. Perhaps taking a new road means immersing yourself in this fellowship rather than remaining on the fringes. Perhaps it means being open to some new relationship or to the restoration of an old one. Perhaps it means seeking out a parent in a new way. Perhaps it means doing the hard but beautiful work of forgiving someone from your heart. Perhaps it means joining a small group or sharing in a deeper way in your small group. Perhaps it means expressing your true feelings instead of keeping them to yourself.
Perhaps it means looking at people in a new way. That's what it meant for Paul, who must have had Isaiah 43:18-19 in mind when he wrote, "Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him thus no longer. Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). He's telling us to "recognize" fellow believers as entirely new people and not to evaluate them according to worldly standards that are "according to the flesh."
For me, taking a new road the Lord creates has meant many of these things. Taking a new road, even if I stumbled and bumbled my way through, has invariably brought me closer to the Lord. I well remember a Wednesday night in 1986. It was the first time I showed up as a volunteer at a high school youth group meeting. I knew no one; no one knew me. Kids were bouncing off the walls. I thought I had walked into a human pinball machine. I was terrified. But I showed up the next week. And the next week. And the week after that. I went to the wilderness. I went to a place where I knew how to do nothing, so I depended on God, who knows how to do everything. He showed up. He made rivers in the desert. He poured out for me his power and his grace, drawing me closer to him.
Maybe you need to hit the wilderness road. As you go, you will pass right through the heart of Jesus. You'll find that he is the way (John 14:6), and that he makes a way for sinners such as us (John 8:11). He provides living water for thirsty souls (John 4:13-14, 7:38-39).
God has done some great things. But he is just getting started. You ain't seen nothing yet.
Refreshment on the other side (43:20-21)
The Lord's redemption of Israel, and his provision for them, will cause desert animals-beasts, jackals and ostriches-to glorify the Lord as his people pass by on their way to the promised land. The animals are groaning for God's people to enter into the total freedom of their humanity and rule wisely over creation (Romans 8:19), and their return from Babylon is a sign that such a development is in the works.
In Isaiah 43:2, waters and rivers were connected with the Lord's judgment on his people. They had to pass through those waters, so to speak, as they were taken into captivity. Now, the waters and rivers of judgment become the waters and rivers of provision for the homeward journey. The Lord judged them only to refresh them in the end, to give drink to his chosen people. Then those people, formed by the Lord for the Lord, for his pleasure, will praise his him because of the new thing that he has done: creating a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert for them. The Lord brings back to himself those he has formed for himself.
All creation glorifies God when we move toward him and thereby become more fully human. All creation is waiting for us to do precisely that so that it may enter into its own freedom. The Lord judges the sin in our lives, and we pass through the waters and rivers of judgment, but only that we might taste the waters and rivers of refreshment on the other side. We have been chosen by God-chosen by him to drink from his living waters as we journey through the wilderness toward him. After all, we were formed by him for him, for his pleasure, so he will take care of us as we seek him. As we drink from his living waters, as we move toward him on the wilderness road, we are the ones who praise him for the great new thing he has done, for making a way back to him. First Peter 2:9: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."
The new Jerusalem
Watch for and take the new roads the Lord creates. One day God will do something completely new, and we'll walk through the wilderness of this world into his presence in a new Jerusalem: "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband And he who sits on the throne said, "behold I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:1-2, 5).
Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ("NASB"). © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Where indicated, Scripture quotations were also taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ("NIV"). © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
March 12, 2000
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